Before he was a member of the El Paso City Council, or a popular Democratic lawmaker in the deeply-red state of Texas, Beto O’Rourke was part of a notorious hacking group that helped create the era of “hacktivism,” in which human rights-driven security work has become the focus of tech savvy benefactors.
The Texas Democrat — who launched a bid for the White House this week — secretly went by the username “Psychedelic Warlord” as a member of the Cult of the Dead Cow, the oldest network of hackers in American history.
Cult of the Dead Cow was responsible for many of the first tools that allowed users nationwide to hack computers operating with Microsoft Windows.
More than a dozen members of the hacktivist group have come forward and shared their experiences as fellow members of the organisation along with Mr O’Rourke, who ended his membership after enrolling with Columbia University at the age of 18.
The revelations were first reported by Reuters and detailed in a forthcoming book, titled Cult of the Dead Cow: How the Original Hacking Supergroup Might Just Save the World.
“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,” Mr O’Rourke reportedly said about his hacking experiences. “I think of the Cult of the Dead Cow as a great example of that.”
While Mr O’Rourke may not have participated in the most brazen hacks carried out by the group, according to Reuters, his involvement with hacking groups may have helped form his set of both liberal and libertarian ideals — as well as his support for net neutrality.
The Democrat’s longtime friends have attributed his rise in politics to his membership with the Cult of Dead Cows — which jokingly derived its name from an abandoned Texas slaughterhouse.
“When dad bought an Apple IIe and a 300-baud modem and I started to get on boards, it was the Facebook of its day,” Mr O’Rourke said. “You just wanted to be part of a community.”
He created his own digital board within the group called TacoLand, which served as an avenue for punk music enthusiasts. Mr O’Rourke was previously a member of a punk rock group that toured the state of Texas in his younger years.
“This was the counterculture: Maximum Rock & Roll [magazine], buying records by catalogue you couldn’t find at record stores,” he said.
Mr O’Rourke regularly used the hacking boards to download “cracked” video games for free, bypassing digital rights protections, according to his fellow members, who previously kept the former lawmaker’s membership to the Cult of Dead Cows a secret.
“I understand the democratising power of the Internet, and how transformative it was for me personally, and how it leveraged the extraordinary intelligence of these people all over the country who were sharing ideas and techniques,” he said.