A YouTube video purporting to be the work of the international hacking group Anonymous surfaced Thursday threatening to target the city of Sacramento if it doesn’t suspend its ban on urban camping.
But even as the video message threatened to unleash the “formidable talent of Anonymous,” city officials said they would not change their strategies on addressing homelessness and said they have no plans to lift the anti-camping ordinance. The Police Department and the FBI said they were aware of the video.
The video said police activity on Jan. 2 at a monthlong protest outside City Hall was unacceptable. Roughly 40 officers converged on the downtown government complex in a predawn operation to enforce a city ordinance that prohibits the homeless and others from urban camping.
Three protesters were charged with illegal camping during the police sweep and another was charged with a probation violation, according to Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department records. About 20 protesters were present when the police moved in. Police have made 10 arrests on illegal camping charges within city limits in the past week, records show.
It was unclear Thursday whether the video was a product of the official Anonymous group that has received worldwide attention for its activism and hacks of both government and corporate websites. The video directed at Sacramento resembled one that threatened Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 2014 before the websites of that city and its mayor crashed for several hours.
Protesters remained at City Hall on Thursday, although their numbers appear to have dwindled.
One remaining activist was Mohammed Abughannam, 30, who has been arrested multiple times at the site since last week. Minutes after he arrived at City Hall on Thursday morning, police came to the scene and began informing campers it was illegal to keep their gear in the plaza. The encounters were mostly friendly.
Abughannam smiled when asked about the Anonymous video.
“I support anything that has to be done to get the right thing done,” he said. “Whatever needs to be done to get the end result of what is right for humanity … whether it be going to jail, sitting out here fasting or spending the whole time videotaping everything. If a group wants to come in and help us and they have another tactic, they are not necessarily affiliated with us but they have the same common goal, then I’m all for it.”
The scene at City Hall was much more heated Tuesday night, when roughly three dozen activists testified at a Sacramento City Council meeting. Some of those in attendance had been camping outside City Hall since early December.
Following the meeting, Mayor Kevin Johnson appointed council members Jay Schenirer, Steve Hansen and Jeff Harris to a City Council task force on homelessness. The group will meet with service providers and homeless rights groups, including the activists camping outside City Hall.
“The mayor remains committed to helping our most vulnerable population, not because of external pressure, but because it’s the right thing to do,” mayoral spokesman Ben Sosenko said. “Although we have made progress, we could always do more.”
Schenirer said the Anonymous video would not escalate tensions and said the group protesting at City Hall is only one part of a much broader movement.
“We understand (homelessness is) a major problem and we’re going to continue to work at it,” he said. “But I think we’re going to do it in a smart and thoughtful way and that doesn’t only include talking to 15 individuals.”
Led by Sacramento Steps Forward, the county’s main homeless service and outreach organization, the city’s focus in recent months has been on creating permanent housing for the homeless with direct links to services. Schenirer said he thinks “the city is going to continue to follow the path we’ve chosen.”
City Manager John Shirey’s office released a statement Thursday saying the city spends more than $13.6 million each year addressing homelessness. The statement said 495 veterans and 396 chronically homeless individuals have been moved into permanent housing in the past year.
On Monday, state Senate Democrats and Sacramento mayoral candidate Darrell Steinberg proposed spending $2 billion to build housing for homeless men and women with mental illnesses. The money would come from Proposition 63 – an existing 1 percent income tax on Californians who earn more than $1 million a year – and could fund construction of at least 10,000 units around the state.
Some activists have demanded the city of Sacramento spend more on housing, particularly temporary shelter and housing for homeless individuals with disabilities.
The Anonymous message features an individual in a ghostly Guy Fawkes mask and dark robe reading a demand statement in a computer-generated voice. The message says in part:
“We ask politely that an immediate moratorium on enforcement of the do-not-rest statute be imposed while interested parties negotiate a solution. During this 60-day period a good-faith effort will be made to accommodate the homeless in your city.
“We applaud the efforts you have made to provide for some of your homeless population. There is more work to be done. Should you decide our request is untenable or refuse to answer it, we will bring the formidable talent of Anonymous to your city.”
The group then ends with the typical tagline, “We are Anonymous. We are legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget.”
The 3-minute, 25-second message includes footage of the arrests at City Hall on Jan. 2.
It remains unclear whether the video is directly tied to the international Anonymous network of computer hackers.
The video was shared by a YouTube channel named “Anonymous Legion,” which was created in 2013 and has 1,829 subscribers and about 146,000 views. The “Anonymous Official” channel was created in 2012, has 536,736 subscribers and more than 20 million views. There are several other channels claiming to be part of the Anonymous movement.
Sacramento police spokeswoman Officer Traci Trapani said the department has been monitoring its websites since noticing the video.
“We are aware of it,” said Trapani. “Our intelligence department is keeping an eye on it.”
Trapani said that she could not say whether the video was posted by someone belonging to the Anonymous effort.
The FBI in Sacramento said Thursday that agents “are aware of the posting” and that the agency is “in contact with with city of Sacramento.”
FBI spokeswoman Gina Swankie did not elaborate.
In December 2014, the websites of the city of Fort Lauderdale and its mayor were disabled less than 24 hours after a similar video from Anonymous demanded the city eliminate laws that restrict homeless activity. The next month, the city spent $430,000 on computer security, according to the Sun-Sentinel.