Anonymous takes on a Mexican drug cartel

The hacker group says the Los Zetas cartel has kidnapped one of its members

Anonymous, the malevolent Internet culture sometimes described as a group of hackers, has set sights on Los Zetas, a major cartel active in Mexico’s bloody drug wars.

In a recent YouTube upload, Los Zetas is accused by a masked Anon of kidnapping one of Anonymous’ members in Veracruz, in southern Mexico, during “Operation Paperstorm,” a worldwide “raid” in which members were encouraged to cover their respective hometowns in flyers supporting Julian Assange and Wikileaks.

The video demands the release of the kidnapped fellow Anon. If Los Zetas fails to comply by Nov. 5, Anonymous threatens to release the names of journalists, cabbies, cops and others on Los Zetas’ payroll. Nov. 5 is of course Guy Fawkes day, the anniversary of the death of the 17th century anti-monarchist conspirator, who–thanks to a great comic book and a lousy movie–has become a revolutionary figurehead to Anonymous, whose members conceal their faces with Fawkes masks.

This is only the most recent development in the online side of Mexico’s drug wars. The cartels have been targeting not just journalists but also social media users who attempt to expose and condemn the drug trade. Last month, NPR reported that the corpses of a young man and woman were found hanging from a bridge in Nuevo Laredo, in northern Mexico, with a sign that read: “This is what happens to people who post funny things on the Internet. Pay attention.”

While targeting those who post anti-narco content under their own names, the cartels have also been using the Internet to terrorize Mexicans through anonymous web sites. Blog del Narco, for example, publishes gruesome photos of beheadings and mass burials as warnings to those who might defy the cartels.

Yet Anonymous may prove a difficult target for the Mexican Mafia. Organized crime relies on the we-know-where-you-live threat. Well, what if they don’t this time?

Besides, assuming that Anonymous actually has the names and addresses of regular citizens implicated with Los Zetas, exposing them will have quite an impact. It will leave these individuals vulnerable to violence from Sinoloa, Los Zetas’ enemies. But it will also complicate the usual cooperate-or-die business model of the cartels. If working for Los Zetas means being exposed online as a narco collaborator and then murdered all the same, ordinary Joes–or Joses in this case–may find the courage to just say no.

It may sound crazy, but a similar anti-crime transparency campaign has had results in Italy. The anti-Mafia website AddioPizzo.Org asks businesses to stop paying protection money, and proudly display stickers at their storefronts announcing their defiance. Consumers are in turn encouraged to only shop at stores that refuse to co-operate. The hope is to make paying collection money (“pizzo”) a lose/lose proposition for business owners while publicly shaming organized crime. Hundreds of businesses and thousands of consumers have signed on.

So far, only one AddioPizzo signee has been killed. In Italy, that might be progress.

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