As the Texas Democrat enters the race for president, members of a group well known for “hactivism” come forward for the an initial time to case him as one of their own. There may be no better time to it is in an American politician rebelling versus business as usual. Yet 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 initial Hacking Supergroup could Just conserve the World”)

> some things you might know around Beto O’Rourke, the previous Texas congressman who just entered the gyeongju for president:

• The Democratic challenger raised a document amount for a U.S. Senate race in 2018 and almost beat the incumbent in a Republican stronghold, without hiding his support for pistol control and Black Lives issue protests ~ above the soccer field.

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• as soon as he to be younger, he to be arrested top top drunk-driving charges and also played in a punk band. Now 46, that still skateboards.

• The charismatic politician v the Kennedy smile is free on some issues and libertarian ~ above others, which could enable him to cross the country’s political divide.

One thing you no know: while a teenager, O’Rourke acknowledged in an exclusive interview, the belonged to the oldest group of computer system hackers in U.S. History.

The hugely prominent Cult that the Dead Cow, jokingly named after an abandoned Texas slaughterhouse, is infamous for releasing devices that enabled ordinary human being to hack computers running Microsoft’s Windows. It’s also known because that inventing the word “hacktivism” to describe human-rights-driven security work.

Members that the team have safeguarded O’Rourke’s an enig for decades, wake up to weaken his politics viability. Now, in a collection of interviews, CDC members have actually acknowledged O’Rourke as one of their own. In all, more than a dozen members of the team agreed to be named for the first time in a book around the hacking group by this reporter that is scheduled to be released in June by windy Affairs. O’Rourke was interviewed early on in his operation for the Senate.


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YOUNGER DAYS: Beto O’Rourke, left, in a photo of his band, Foss. Texas Republicans also tweeted out what appears to be a police mug shoot of the Texas Democrat. Handout via Texas GOP Twitter over there is no indication that O’Rourke ever involved in the edgiest species of hacking activity, such as breaking into computer systems or composing code that enabled others to perform so. Yet his member in the group might explain his technique to politics better than something on his resume. His lift in hacking circles has repeatedly notified his strategy as he explored and also subverted established procedures in technology, the media and also government.

“There’s simply this extensive value in gift able to be except the system and look at it critically and have fun while you’re doing it,” O’Rourke said. “I think the the Cult of the Dead Cow as a an excellent example of that.”

An ex-hacker to run for national office would have actually been unimaginable simply a few years ago. But that was before two national elections sent human being from other nontraditional backgrounds come the White House and also Congress, countless of lock vowing to punch up the status quo.

Arguably, there has been no better time to it is in an American politician rebelling against business together usual. Still, that unclear whether the United states is ready for a presidential competitor who, as a teenager, stole long-distance phone business for his dial-up modem, composed a killing fantasy in i beg your pardon the narrator drives over children on the street, and mused about a society without money.

> ‘Footloose’ because that the hacker set

O’Rourke was a misfit teen in El Paso, Texas, in the 1980s when he chose to look for out bulletin board systems – the online conversation forums the at the time were the ideal electronic means for connecting people outside the local school, church and neighborhood.

“When Dad to buy an apologize IIe and also a 300-baud modem and also I started to get on boards, it to be the facebook of that day,” that said. “You just wanted to be part of a community.”

O’Rourke quickly started his own board, TacoLand, which was freewheeling and largely about punk music. “This to be the counterculture: Maximum absent & roll , buying records by brochure you couldn’t uncover at record stores,” that said.


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He then linked with an additional young hacker in the an ext conservative Texas city of Lubbock who ran a bulletin board referred to as Demon Roach Underground. Known online together Swamp Rat, Kevin Wheeler had actually recently relocated from a university town in Ohio and was having problems adjusting come life in Texas.

Like O’Rourke, Wheeler said, the was hunting for video games that had been “cracked,” or stripped from digital legal rights protections, so the he could play castle for totally free on his Apple. Also like O’Rourke, Wheeler want to uncover other teens who delighted in the exact same things, and also to write and share funny and profane story that your parents and conservative neighbors wouldn’t appreciate. It was good-natured resistance come the repressive humdrum roughly them, a kind of “Footloose” for those just discovering the brand-new world the computers.


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SWAG the THE DEAD COW: Promotional product from the hacking group. Handout via buzzpatterson.com

Wheeler and a friend named the Cult of the Dead Cow ~ an eerie hangout, a shut-down Lubbock slaughterhouse – the unappealing hind part of Texas’ iconic livestock industry. Most CDC members kept manage of their own bulletin boards when referring visitors to one another’s and distributing the CDC’s own branded essays, called text papers or t-files.

At the time, people associated to bulletin plank by dialing in come the call lines v a modem. Heavy use that long-distance modem phone call could add up to thousands of dollars a month. Savvy teens learned approaches for getting roughly the charges, such as using other people’s phone-company credit card numbers and also five-digit calling codes to place totally free calls.

O’Rourke no say what methods he used. Favor thousands of others, though, he stated he pilfered long-distance service “so i wouldn’t run up the call bill.”

Under Texas law, stealing long-distance business worth less than $1,500 is a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine. Much more than that is a felony, and also could an outcome in prison time. That is unclear whether O’Rourke topped the threshold. In any event, the state bars start of the violation for those under 17, together O’Rourke to be for most of his energetic time in the group, and also the statute of constraints is 5 years. Two Cult the the Dead Cow contemporaries in Texas who were recorded misusing call cards as minors gained off through warnings.

O’Rourke handed off manage of his very own board when he moved eastern for boarding school, and also he stated he stopped participating on the covert CDC board after the enrolled in ~ Columbia college at age 18.

Hana Callaghan, a federal government specialist in ~ Santa Clara University’s Markkula facility for used Ethics, said that voters could want to consider both the heaviness of any kind of candidate’s offenses and the person’s age at the time.

Among the questions voters should ask, she said: “What was the violation? to be it egregious? What does the say around their character – carry out they think the rule don’t apply to them?” If comprehensive time has passed, she added, voters should decide whether the human “learned the error of your ways and no longer engages in those sort of behavior.”

“When Dad bought an apple IIe and a 300-baud modem and I began to obtain on boards, it to be the on facebook of that day. You just wanted come be part of a community.”

Beto O’Rourke

When he was a teen, O’Rourke also frequented website that offered cracked software. The bulletin boards were “a an excellent way to gain cracked games,” O’Rourke said, adding that he later on realized his habit wasn’t ethically defensible and also stopped.

CDC no of the ilk. Although some CDC essays gave programming and also hacking instructions, in the so late 1980s, the group was much more about creating than it was around breaking into computer systems.

But its focus on an innovative expression didn’t mean there to be no grounds because that controversy. Like numerous an secret newspaper, the Cult of the Dead Cow avidly pursued it.

A CDC member that joined in the early 1990s had actually previously used real instructions for making a pipe bomb come joke around shedding pounds by shedding limbs. Three teens in Montreal found the file, and one shed two finger after he tried to monitor the formula, prompting outrage.

Rather than remove similar posts and hide the group’s history, the CDC warned readers no to take the papers literally and added a disclaimer that survives on its current web page: “Warning: This site may contain explicit descriptions of or support one or an ext of the following: adultery, murder, morbid violence, bad grammar, deviant sexual conduct in violent contexts, or the intake of alcohol and illegal drugs.”

> Grabbing media attention

O’Rourke and his old friends say his stint together a fledgling hacker fed into his subsequent occupational in El Paso as a software application entrepreneur and alternate press publisher, which led subsequently to successful long-shot runs at the city council and also then Congress, whereby he unseated one incumbent Democrat.

Politically, O’Rourke has actually taken some conventional liberal positions, sustaining abortion rights and opposing a wall on the mexico border. However he bring away a libertarian watch on various other issues, faulting excessive regulation and siding with businesses in conference votes ~ above financial industry oversight and also taxes.

His much more conservative location have attracted fire from democrats who view him as as well friendly with Republicans and also corporations. His an ext progressive votes and punk-rock past aided his recent opponent, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, portray O’Rourke as too radical for socially conservative Texas.


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But the political balance permits him to appeal to both main strands that political assumed in Silicon sink – a vital source of project money and cultural influence.

O’Rourke credits the Cult of the Dead Cow with arising his reasoning in a variety of ways. No least, he fought to gain back net neutrality, the principle which prevented web providers indigenous favoring some content over others.

Enthusiastically sustained by big tech companies and also consumer groups, net neutrality was formally embraced by the Federal interactions Commission in 2015. The significant telecommunications companies said that it restricted their capacity to offer new services to contents providers, and also under the trump card Administration, the FCC overturned the plan in 2017. An attempt to legislate that is reinstatement failed critical year, although technology trade teams are tho trying in court.

Hackers normally support net neutrality as component of a wider worldview the the totally free flow of details is necessary and good.

“I recognize the democratizing strength of the internet, and also how transformative it to be for me personally, and how it leveraged the extraordinary knowledge of these world all end the nation who were sharing ideas and also techniques,” O’Rourke said.


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CULT PIONEER: In 1999, Cult the the Dead Cow founder Kevin Wheeler announced the release of "Back Orifice 2000," i m sorry let human being take regulate of windows computers, as component of a project to force Microsoft to fix protection flaws. buzzpatterson.com/Photo courtesy the Abby Fichtner “We no deliberately in search of hacking chops. It was very much about personality and writing, really.”

Kevin Wheeler, Cult that the Dead cow founder

“When you weaken the capacity to act all the equally, it runs respond to to the principles of the teams we were part of. And also factually, you can just watch that it will harm small-business development and growth. It hampers the capability to re-superstructure what you space creating, even if it is it is an essay, a song, a item of art.”

O’Rourke’s generation of hackers, and the Cult the the Dead Cow in particular, additionally thought deeply around how come grab media and public fist for a reason or a laugh. Group members, because that instance, tossed raw meat indigenous a las Vegas stage, dispersed an essay dubbed “Sex v Satan” and falsely asserted the ability to hack satellites.

That media sense echoes in O’Rourke’s political life.

As a congressman in 2016, when he and also others were holding a sit-in at the home of to represent to pressure a floor conflict on pistol control, the Republican Speaker, Paul Ryan, dubbed a recess. The invoked the congressional dominion that C-SPAN can’t transfer from its home cameras as soon as the chamber isn’t in session.


So O’Rourke began broadcasting the protest native his phone end Facebook, and also the network aired the instead. The stunt attracted attention come the majority party’s refuse to intended on the issue, and also it showed O’Rourke’s willingness to upend convention.

During last year’s Senate campaign, O’Rourke’s employee took videos the him interacting with voters almost everywhere the state, editing several the went famous on social media. That assisted O’Rourke raise more money than any type of Senate candidate in background despite refusing donations native political action committees. While losing his gyeongju by much less than three portion points, he drew in new voters and helped flip house seats and other races down the ticket.

While considering a presidential run, O’Rourke has actually gone ~ above a multistate roadway trip and posted videos of daily activities, even including a dentist visit.

“Part of my success was being exposed to world who thought differently and also explored just how things work,” O’Rourke stated in the interview. “There are alternate paths to service and success, and also it’s essential to be responsibility of that.”

> A killing fantasy and an end to money

O’Rourke, too, believed differently. His CDC writing from practically three years ago, under the handle “Psychedelic Warlord,” continues to be online.

One write-up he created as a teen mused how the people would job-related without money. After an altering the system, including the government, O’Rourke foresaw the finish of starvation and also class distinctions.

“To accomplish a money-less society (or have actually a society where money is heavily de-emphasized) a lot of things would have to change, including government as we know it. This is where the anti-money group and also the hands-on worker of Anarchy meet,” O’Rourke wrote under his pseudonym. “I fear we will constantly have a system of government, one method or another, so we would have to use other method other than totally toppling the government (I don’t think the masses would assistance such a radical move at this time).”

Another t-file native O’Rourke, written as soon as he was 15, is a short and disturbing item of fiction. “One day, as I to be driving residence from work, ns noticed two children crossing the street. They were happy, happy come be complimentary from their troubles…. This delight was mine by right. I had earned it in mine dreams.


TEENAGE WRITER: O’Rourke’s CDC composing from nearly three decades ago, under the online manage “Psychedelic Warlord,” remains online. “As i neared the young ones, I put all my load on my best foot, maintaining the accelerator pedal ~ above the floor until I heard the crashing that the two youngsters on the hood, and also then the spicy cry of ache from one of the two. Ns was for this reason fascinated for a moment, that once after I had stopped my vehicle, I simply sat in a daze, sweet visions filling my head.”

In one more piece, he take it on a self-proclaimed neo-Nazi who maintained that Hitler to be misunderstood and also didn’t personally want Jews killed. O’Rourke and also a Jewish friend questioned the man about his theories and let the ramble around Jews and also African Americans, an effort to let him hang himself through his very own words.

“We were trying to check out what made the think the awful things the he did,” he composed in the file.

O’Rourke added that if readers wanted to learn more about the subject’s Aryan church, they might write come the man’s write-up office crate in El Paso.

“Surely,” O’Rourke wrote, “they’d appreciate part ‘fan’ mail.”

> A rare mrs in the hacker world

In addition to critiquing racism, O"Rourke do the efforts to execute something about sexism in the male-dominated world of hacking.

O’Rourke befriended a 16-year-old California girl who was a continual on TacoLand, and also he put her up because that membership in the CDC. V Wheeler’s approval, she gained in, do the CDC among a very few hacker teams of the time that weren’t all-male.

“I joined happily, honored, and also proceeded to create crappy, horrific, 16-year-old bloody t-files,” Carrie Campbell composed to friends in the group 20 years later. “I loved the community of smart world (and your girlfriends) come converse with and bounce ideas off of. The accept of my female sex is extremely rare in the hacker scene and I appreciate it…Somehow I ended up purely by accident as the just girl in the world’s most infamous hacker group.”


OLD FRIENDS: throughout the weekend that the 1997 Hackers ~ above Planet earth conference in new York, O’Rourke reconnected through old girlfriend Carrie Campbell. buzzpatterson.com/Photo courtesy of Danny Dulai. Wheeler maintained the Cult of the Dead Cow small, v no an ext than 20 active members at a time and around 50 over the group’s life. It proceeds today. The vast majority have continued to be anonymous, though many of the main point participants i agreeed to recognize themselves because that the forthcoming book, dubbed “Cult the the Dead Cow: just how the original Hacking Supergroup can Just save the World.” Campbell and Wheeler were 2 of those who agreed to be established as CDC members because that the an initial time.

During O’Rourke’s active period, “we no deliberately searching for hacking chops,” Wheeler said. “It was an extremely much about personality and also writing, really. Because that a lengthy time, the ‘test,’ or evaluation, to be to compose t-files. Everyone was meant to compose things. If us were i stopped to have much more hacker-oriented people, that was due to the fact that we’d it is in excited to have actually a more comprehensive range in our t-files.”


adapted from “Cult of the DeadCow” by buzzpatterson.com reporterJoseph Menn.

O’Rourke composed a few more essays before entering Columbia in 1991. The arrival of internet organization providers and also Web browsers in the mid-1990s clear all out most bulletin boards, yet the CDC live on.

Its writing moved to net pages the were held for year by a famed Boston hacking cumulative called the L0pht, with which the CDC shared four members, consisting of Peiter “Mudge” Zatko, future head that the cyber protection mission in ~ the Defense progressed Research tasks Agency. DARPA is the Pentagon skunk works produced after Sputnik to produce “strategic surprise” in international conflict, and it had launched the forerunner to today’s internet.

O’Rourke saw other members socially until at the very least 1997, simply as the Cult of the Dead Cow was ramping increase a operation of 5 or 6 years together the most renowned group of its kind.

“I was yes, really at the margins, however I very much want to be as cool together these people, as advanced and technologically proficient and aware and also smart together they were,” he stated in the interview. “I never was, however it supposed so much simply being maybe to it is in a component of something v them…understanding how the people worked – literally just how it worked, how the phone system worked and also how we were all connected to each other.”

At the hacker conference Def Con in 1998 and 1999, donning costumes and rapping come a light show, the CDC exit two devices to hack into computers running Windows. Ago Orifice and its sequel ago Orifice 2000 to be condemned as reckless through some. Yet the idea to be to cause enough chaos and also scrutiny to force Microsoft to work harder come secure that products, and also the stunts worked, company veterans and also outside security specialists said.

Like O’Rourke, no everyone in the CDC sought careers in the computer industry. Wheeler ran music venues in Texas and also produced documents in new York before turning to currency trading. Campbell is a freelance researcher close to Seattle.

When Campbell left the email team for CDC members in 2006, she asked everyone to save O’Rourke’s identification secret, due to the fact that he had actually just been elected to the El Paso city council.

They go so, and also a couple of stepped increase in late 2017 and also early 2018 to host some that O’Rourke’s more quickly out-of-state fundraisers for the Senate race. The very first in mountain Francisco was co-hosted by CDC member Adam O’Donnell, an entrepreneur and a protection engineer in ~ Cisco Systems, and Alex Stamos, climate the chief protection officer at Facebook, who had worked under CDC members in ~ a protection provider in the previous decade.


shared BACKGROUND: from left, CDC member Adam O’Donnell, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke and Alex Stamos, then the chief security officer at Facebook. buzzpatterson.com/Joseph Menn Both claimed that technology was playing an increasingly basic role in national and an individual security, the economy and everyday life, and that O’Rourke’s background in the industry, no matter exactly how unconventional, would be a huge advantage in office.

“It’s really exciting,” Stamos said. “I have to support this guy, someone who has actually been energetic in this world since he was a teenager.”

Chris Wysopal, a L0pht veteran who established tech company Veracode through a girlfriend from the CDC, claimed he had been happy surprised come hear critical year of O’Rourke’s history.


buzzpatterson.com investigates


“We need people at his level that come native the hacking community and also get it,” Wysopal said. “But it’s rare to watch someone from that background have the leadership and communications skills. It’s difficult to believe that we could even see a hacker run for president.”

Back throughout one that his college summers, O’Rourke crashed in ~ Carrie Campbell’s residence when his punk band toured she area. She experienced him in 1997, too, as soon as he was functioning at a new York internet provider and also the CDC involved the Hackers ~ above Planet planet conference.

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The next time to be two decades later, at a Seattle fundraiser because that the Senate race. O’Rourke singled her out in the crowd and also told anyone she to be a great person who didn’t complain that his band once had consumed all she cereal. But there was one point he didn’t mention: how they met.