Anonymous Arrives In Maryville

Tuesday, October 15, 2013 - 02:02 PM

The Guy Fawkes mask, logo for Anonymous and seen at protests around the world. (From Anroir on Flickr/flickr)

On Sunday, the Kansas City Star published a story about a horrific rape in Maryville, Missouri. 

If you haven't, you should read the whole thing yourself. Two girls, thirteen and fourteen, were raped last year. Despite a confession and video evidence, the local authorities dropped all charges. The piece strongly suggests the charges were dropped because the alleged rapists were locally powerful and the victims were outsiders. 

In the year after the rape, the town turned on the victim's family. Threats were levied against the kids. One mother was fired from her job, because, her boss said, the possiblity that she might sue the town's law enforcement was “putting stress on everybody in here.” The same mother's home was set on fire by an arsonist. burned to the ground, although investigators don't yet know if it was by arson or coincidence. 

The story is part of an emerging genre: small town defends an alleged rapist, the internet finds out, the story becomes national news. There was Stuebenville, where a local blogger published documents that brought national scrutiny to another small town rape case. There was also Torrington, Connecticut, where a town's support on social media for two football players accused of rape became a brief, national scandal. 

And now we're at the part of the arc where Anonymous promises to mete out justice. Here's their statement:

We demand an immediate investigation into the handling by local authorities of Daisy’s* case. Why was a suspect, who confessed to a crime, released with no charges? How was video and medical evidence not enough to put one of these football players inside a court room? What is the connection of these prosecutors, if any, to Rep. Rex Barnett? Most of all, We are wondering, how do the residents of Maryville sleep at night? If Maryville won’t defend these young girls, if the police are too cowardly or corrupt to do their jobs, if justice system has abandoned them, then we will have to stand for them. Mayor Jim Fall, your hands are dirty. Maryville, expect us.

There's been triumphalism on Twitter, and, even among some reporters, about Anonymous's arrival.(From The Daily Dot"There’s a new fighter in the Colemans’ corner now. Place your bets.")

I'm glad sunlight is falling on this case, but I'm worried about Anonymous's mode of trial by e-mob. This past August, The New Yorker's Ariel Levy wrote about Stubenville a year after the fact. She found that the internet vigilantes (Anonymous and one local blogger) were instrumental in publicizing the case, in making sure that it got sustained national attention. But they also got a ton wrong, alleging a town-wide conspiracy to cover-up of the rape case when there was none. People's reputations were destroyed in the process. 

I don't know what will happen here. I'm glad the Kansas City Star has Dugan Arnett covering this. I'm glad smart, prominent writers like Emily Bazelon and Rebecca Traister are paying attention. I'm very skeptical that Anonymous will do a better job of self-policing here than they have in the past. But we'll see. Maybe mobs can get smarter.





*The family of the victim has consented to having her name publicized, otherwise this would be redacted.


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Comments [4]

allstonian from Boston

It's Steubenville. Between two posts (this one and the follow-up posted 10/16) the town was referred to three times, and the name was spelled incorrectly every time, with two different misspellings.

Oct. 17 2013 01:21 PM
Courtney from Lawrence, Kan.

Thanks for the correction PJ, and for keeping it transparent. Mistakes happen, but as a reader it gives me a lot more confidence in a news outlet to simply acknowledge it, correct it and not hide it.

Oct. 15 2013 07:09 PM

Hey Courtney, fair point. I'm going to go in and change the language. Thanks for keeping me honest.

Oct. 15 2013 06:15 PM
Courtney from Lawrence, Kan.

For what it's worth, the Star is my local big city daily, and their story on this was amazing, heartbreaking and unfortunately not surprising.

However, while you're lamenting the false information that Anonymous spread, you should make sure to check your own facts. No where in the original Star story does it say arson in regards the house fire. Neither public fire department nor private insurance investigations could identify a cause. Sure, given how the family was treated following the rapes, arson does leap to ones mind. But you've just factually identified it as an arson when no one else has, and there is no supporting evidence. That's the same kind of assumption and blame that Anonymous has engaged in.

Oct. 15 2013 05:02 PM

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