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Hackers descend on small Ohio town after rape

The former steel town of Steubenville, Ohio, seemed destined to fade into 20th century oblivion when a very 21st century problem suddenly exploded inside town limits.

The public face of Anonymous . Image via ETECHMAG.
The public face of Anonymous . Image via ETECHMAG.Read moreImage via ETECHMAG

The former steel town of Steubenville, Ohio, seemed destined to fade into 20th century oblivion when suddenly a very 21st century problem exploded inside town limits.

A still-evolving tale of social media, hackers, high school football players and gang rape allegations has torn up this Rust Belt community ever since a girl was brutally assaulted and drugged one late summer night in August.

The charges against two star 16-year-old players was enough to make headlines across the state, but the reason the case is gaining traction nationally surrounds some hackers who emerged out of nowhere to become social media vigilantes.

A cell of the hacker collective, Anonymous, earlier this week began reposting video and tweets related to the alleged August attack, including one 12-minute video of a teenager not charged in the rape detailing in unsettling clarity and crudeness a sexual assault that apparently occurred earlier the same night. The teenager in the video was identified as Michael Colin Nodianos, now 18 and a student at Ohio State University. Nodianos, talking to friends, says over and over again how "dead" the victim is, invoking the deaths of Andy Reid's son and O.J. Simpson's wife at different points. He also remarked, "They peed on her. That's how you know she's dead."

The appearance of the group calling itself #KnightSec has led to an abrupt and powerful social media backlash. A rally is scheduled at noon Saturday at Steubenville's City Hall. One #KnightSec supporter boasted in a tweet to have "just picked up my mask!" in reference to the face-hiding vigilante in the movie "V."

"This controversy goes way beyond Steubenville at this point," said Scott Greenwood, a volunteer attorney for the Ohio ACLU who defended a blogger against a lawsuit by parents of a Steubenville football player not charged with rape. The family thought the teenager was being libeled in blog posts about high school football players not charged, but linked, to the suspects. "It involves a football team, allegations of coverup and less than zealous involvement by local authorities. Then you have this problem of young people who have apparently no sense or privacy or propriety."

Much of the gruesome details that unfolded Aug. 11 at and after a teenage party are captured in photos, video and tweets posted essentially in real time.

Police reportedly used much of the evidence that surfaced online to charge the two local football stars, Trent Mays and Malik Richmond, with rape of a girl from a neighboring town.

That evidence was eventually scrubbed from the seeing eyes of the Internet-viewing public - or so everyone thought. #KnightSec was able to find and repost much of the disturbing online evidence.

"What you put on the Internet lives forever," Greenwood said. "So even efforts to delete tweets or posts or YouTube videos can be retrieved."

Efforts to reach those affiliated with the hacker group were unsuccessful.

Ohio state Attorney General Mike DeWine said Friday that the investigation is ongoing and active, but he would not say if he expected more arrests. The trail of social media posts and images that re-emerged this week has been seen by law enforcement already, DeWine said.

"It's a different world we live in and makes it even more difficult for the victim who suffers through the event and then it gets replayed, shared and makes its way to social media and onto the Internet," DeWine said. "It's very, very sad."

Mays and Richmond will be tried Feb. 13 on the rape charge in Jefferson County Juvenile Court, he said. Mays also faces an additional charge related to pornography.

Their trial is expected to take three days and be held before a judge from the other side of Ohio, to avoid any local conflicts of interest in a region where everyone knows the high school football players.

The case's evidence will live on the Internet well beyond the end of the trial, no matter the outcome. And Saturday's City Hall rally dubbed #OccupySteubenville may not be the last of its kind as the court date nears.

"This is a victim we allege and believe was raped. She suffered through that and now [she and her family] have to suffer through the social media and things continually posted," DeWine said. "The video of this man reposted two days ago is disgusting and despicable. That video we have in our possession."

So does everyone else.