Jeremy Hammond in 2007
Barack Obama smiling warmly on the cover might be the draw for some readers of the latest Rolling Stone issue, but the most riveting story in the magazine is Janet Reitman’s piece on Chicago area hacker Jeremy Hammond.
The story, titled “Enemy of the State,” is in some ways a continuation of a profile of the Glenbard East grad that appeared in this magazine more than five years ago (Reitman actually mentions our piece near the beginning of the article). When Stuart Luman wrote that story, Hammond—then 22 and a self-proclaimed “electronic Robin Hood”—had served five months of his two years at the Federal Correctional Institute at Greenville, Illinois, for hacking into a conservative group’s website and accessing credit card numbers with which he planned to donate to left-wing causes.
Luman wrote in 2007: “Hammond had served five months when I talked to his father again. He said prison had been neither violent nor threatening, since most of the other inmates were drug offenders or white-collar criminals. ‘It's not like The Shawshank Redemption; nobody is trying to kill each other,’ Jack Hammond said.”
But Reitman reports in 2012: “[Hammond] doesn’t speak very much about Greenville, but his mother suggests it was a far cry from the Cook County jail, where he had been held on numerous occasions. ‘The first time I went to visit him, he’d been there less than a month and he was trembling,’ she says. ‘He told me, ‘Mom, when I get out, I’m going to be a better person.’ He was scared. I thought, ‘This is not Jeremy.’”
When he was released in the summer of 2008, Hammond, who had been arrested and jailed several times before for his activism, had “returned to Chicago and what was supposed to be a new life,” Reitman writes.
And that’s when the Rolling Stones story becomes really absorbing. The piece becomes a play-by-play of how, after a year of "polite activism" and more trouble with the law, Hammond became involved in the “hacktivist” collective known as Anonymous; how he and four other hackers allegedly executed a cyberattack on Texas-based intelligence contractor Stratfor; and how the FBI built its case against the former UIC student with an IQ of 168.
Reitman's thorough reporting and smart story organization sucked me in despite the fact that I have zero interest in the world of hackers. There's not much jargon to wade through, just solid character development and engrossing narrative. And I’m a fan of stories that leave me feeling conflicted—about people’s motives, about the world we live in—and this tale of “the rise and fall of an American revolutionary” does just that.
A link would be nice, yes? While the Web version of the story is only available to “all access” members of the site, Google “Rolling Stone” and “Jeremy Hammond,” and you’ll find plenty of bootleg PDF files—as well as tweets with the hashtag #freehammond. As one linker (the Google account appears to belong to Anonymous) said, "You cannot write an article on a hacktivist and then be surprised when it gets leaked. Information wants to be free so we are sharing the article; no copywrong intended."
Photograph: Jim Newberry