by DON VAN NATTA Jr.
Anonymous has declared a cyberwar against the City of Orlando, disabling Web sites for the city’s leading redevelopment organization, the local Fraternal Order of Police and the mayor’s re-election campaign.
The group described its attacks as punishment for the city’s recent practice of arresting members of Orlando Food Not Bombs, an antipoverty group that provides vegan and vegetarian meals twice a week to homeless people in one of the city’s largest parks.
“Anonymous believes that people have the right to organize, that people have the right to give to the less fortunate and that people have the right to commit acts of kindness and compassion,” the group’s members said in a news release and video posted on YouTube on Thursday. “However, it appears the police and your lawmakers of Orlando do not.”
A 2006 city ordinance requires organizations to obtain permits to feed groups of 25 people or more in downtown parks. The law was passed after numerous complaints by residents and businesses owners about the twice-weekly feedings in Lake Eola Park, city officials said. The law limits any group to no more than two permits per year per park.
Since June 1, the city police have arrested 25 Orlando Food Not Bombs volunteers without permits as they provided meals to large groups of homeless people in the park. One of those arrested last week on trespassing charges was Keith McHenry, a co-founder of the first Food Not Bombs chapter in 1980 in Cambridge, Mass. He remained in the Orange County Jail on Thursday awaiting a bond hearing.
This week Anonymous offered a “cease-fire” if no volunteers were arrested during Wednesday evening’s feeding of the homeless. But the police arrested two volunteers, and on Thursday morning Anonymous disrupted the Web site Downtown Orlando, which promotes redevelopment there and is run by the city. An organization spokeswoman confirmed the attack but declined to comment, referring questions to the mayor’s office.
A spokeswoman for Mayor Buddy Dyer, whose re-election campaign site was disabled on Tuesday, called the attack on the Downtown Orlando site an “inconvenience.” She said the city would not change its policy of arresting volunteers who feed homeless people without a permit.
“We will continue to enforce the city ordinance,” said the spokeswoman, who asked not to be identified out of a concern she would become a target of Anonymous. “We must continue to focus on what our Orlando residents want and not the desires of others from outside the community.”
The attack on the Orlando Web sites was the second on a city or state government in two weeks. Last week, hackers gained access to the computer system of the Arizona Department of Public Safety and released law-enforcement records.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Orlando Police Department are investigating, officials said.
Members of Orlando Food Not Bombs condemned the cyberattacks. “We have absolutely nothing to do with Anonymous or any other group that is doing this kind of thing,” said one member, Ben Markeson. “And what Anonymous is doing is a distraction from the real issue at hand.”
Mr. Markeson said the Orlando mayor and City Council members had attempted to “criminalize poverty” by passing a series of ordinances intended to “hide the homeless.”
“Mayor Dyer wants to hide the poor and the hungry people living in our community,” he said.
The mayor’s spokesman denied the allegation, saying: “Nothing could be further from the truth. The city has a strong relationship with our region’s homeless providers and will continue to dedicate resources and services that assist our homeless population.”
Anonymous has become known for prominent denial-of-service attacks on high-traffic Web sites. A denial-of-service attack takes place when an overwhelming crush of Web traffic is intentionally sent to a Web site until it is incapacitated and knocked off line.
Anonymous members rallied a call-to-arms against the city as part of a campaign it dubbed Operation Orlando. Its members promised that future arrests of volunteers helping the homeless would be met with fresh attacks. “For every arrested person,” the group said on Twitter, “Anonymous will deface or assault TEN websites in Orlando.”
The following video is the recording of the incident against which the protests occured: