“They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto,” – Exodus 32:8
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As the Texas Democrat enters the race for president, members of a group famous for “hactivism” come forward for the first time to claim him as one of their own. There may be no better time to be an American politician rebelling against business as usual. But is the United States ready for O’Rourke’s teenage exploits?
(This article is adapted from a forthcoming book, “Cult of the Dead Cow: How the Original Hacking Supergroup Might Just Save the World”)
> Some things you might know about Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman who just entered the race for president:
• The Democratic contender raised a record amount for a U.S. Senate race in 2018 and almost beat the incumbent in a Republican stronghold, without hiding his support for gun control and Black Lives Matter protests on the football field.
• When he was younger, he was arrested on drunk-driving charges and played in a punk band. Now 46, he still skateboards.
• The charismatic politician with the Kennedy smile is liberal on some issues and libertarian on others, which could allow him to cross the country’s political divide.
One thing you didn’t know: While a teenager, O’Rourke acknowledged in an exclusive interview, he belonged to the oldest group of computer hackers in U.S. history.
The hugely influential Cult of the Dead Cow, jokingly named after an abandoned Texas slaughterhouse, is notorious for releasing tools that allowed ordinary people to hack computers running Microsoft’s Windows. It’s also known for inventing the word “hacktivism” to describe human-rights-driven security work.
Members of the group have protected O’Rourke’s secret for decades, reluctant to compromise his political viability. Now, in a series of interviews, CDC members have acknowledged O’Rourke as one of their own. In all, more than a dozen members of the group agreed to be named for the first time in a book about the hacking group by this reporter that is scheduled to be published in June by Public Affairs. O’Rourke was interviewed early in his run for the Senate.
There is no indication that O’Rourke ever engaged in the edgiest sorts of hacking activity, such as breaking into computers or writing code that enabled others to do so. But his membership in the group could explain his approach to politics better than anything on his resume. His background in hacking circles has repeatedly informed his strategy as he explored and subverted established procedures in technology, the media and government.
“There’s just this profound value in being able to be apart from the system and look at it critically and have fun while you’re doing it,” O’Rourke said. “I think of the Cult of the Dead Cow as a great example of that.”
An ex-hacker running for national office would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. But that was before two national elections sent people from other nontraditional backgrounds to the White House and Congress, many of them vowing to blow up the status quo.
Arguably, there has been no better time to be an American politician rebelling against business as usual. Still, it’s unclear whether the United States is ready for a presidential contender who, as a teenager, stole long-distance phone service for his dial-up modem, wrote a murder fantasy in which the narrator drives over children on the street, and mused about a society without money.
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