Kentuckian Deric Lostutter made the Steubenville rape case a national story. Now he may go to jail for it

Jun 19, 2013 at 5:00 am
Photo by Joe Sonka

Deric Lostutter returned from an unfruitful turkey hunt near his home in Winchester, Ky., on April 15, and sat down at his computer.

His pit bull, Thor, jumped excitedly at the door, which typically means a visitor has come to his farm, where the 26-year-old lives with his girlfriend. Lostutter saw what looked like a Fed Ex truck in the driveway, assuming a T-shirt he recently ordered had arrived.

But the truck was not there to deliver a shirt. Instead, it carried an FBI SWAT team armed with M-16s, which moments later were pointed at him as they delivered a warrant to search his property. The agents yelled at Lostutter to get down on the ground, handcuffed him, seized his computers, Xbox and cell phones, and then proceeded to interrogate him for three hours.

Seated on the back porch, an FBI agent opened his questioning by asking Lostutter if he knew why the federal government had paid him such an unwelcome visit.

“Yes, I know exactly why you’re here,” Lostutter replied. “I am KYAnonymous.”

Though he wasn’t arrested that day — and has yet to be charged with any crime — Lostutter recently received word that a federal grand jury may soon indict him on felony charges for his alleged role in the hacking of an Ohio high school’s athletics website and the email account of its webmaster, which could land him a 10-year prison sentence.

Such a sentence would be considerably harsher than the punishment imposed on two Steubenville, Ohio, star football players who were convicted in March of raping an unconscious 16-year-old girl the previous summer. Several students who witnessed the rapes — and who not only did nothing to stop it, but joked about it later on social media — have not been charged.

Lostutter denies that he committed the hacking but admits he anonymously led the charge online to release information, attract media attention, and organize action — as well as deliver outright threats — to seek justice for the rape victim. These actions would turn the football-crazy, decaying steel town of Steubenville into a household name, not just raising awareness of rape but igniting a debate over the culture that allows young men to commit such a vicious crime, then laugh about it after the fact.

It would also open a debate about the “hacktivism” of the increasingly bold digital outlaws known as “Anonymous,” the loosely organized, shadowy group of online activists who seek vigilante justice in the name of government transparency or good old fashioned righteous retribution. Some view them as heroes, others as marauding terrorists.

On June 5, Lostutter came out publicly with his name and story, hoping to raise money for legal fees and play offense in the media in an attempt to convince prosecutors not to go forward with charges against him.

His story — that of a self-taught computer geek who is part pick-up-truck-driving, Bud Light-drinking, flag-waving country boy, part entrepreneurial rapper, part digital outlaw targeting bullies and rape culture — would be truly unique, if it wasn’t for the unique age we live in.

LEO Weekly recently traveled to Winchester to meet with Lostutter, who admits that while he made mistakes and currently faces the possibility of serious jail time, he has no regrets.

“Fuck it,” Lostutter says. “I’d do it again.”

I meet Deric Lostutter in Winchester — a town of 18,000 just east of Lexington — on their biggest day of the year, the Beer Cheese Festival, as thousands pay $5 to taste endless samples of beer-infused dairy spread. Winchester is best known for the festival, its many years of bottling Ale-8-One soft drink, and now the turkey-hunting rapper and digital outlaw in the crosshairs of the federal government.

Lostutter spots me and hops a short fence as he approaches, looking nothing like the photos in national news stories about him since coming out as KYAnonymous and telling the story of his FBI raid and possible indictment.

Many of those stories prominently featured the fact that he is a rapper by the name of Shadow — who has released an album and plays small shows in the region — showing photos of him blinged out in a tough-looking pose.

On this early June day, he sports a blue golf shirt with a box of flyers under his arm that tell his story and link to the page where he is soliciting donations to his legal defense fund, which has already garnered more than $30,000.

“My girlfriend told me I needed to look respectable or nobody would take a flyer from me,” Lostutter says with a laugh.

Though Lostutter describes his newfound loss of anonymity as “nerve-wracking,” he has been pleasantly surprised by the reaction to him nationally. “I expected to get a whole lot more hate than I’m getting, but a lot of people are being really supportive.”

The local Winchester Sun published a story about him on this Saturday morning, and many friends expressed shock on his Facebook page that he was the infamous KYAnonymous of Steubenville. He had only confided in two people about what he was up to before the raid, not even his girlfriend.

“She told me, ‘I always knew you were up to something,’” Lostutter says.

After handing a flyer to a woman waiting behind him in line for a beer, her jaw drops as she blurts out “That was you?!” She shakes Lostutter’s hand and thanks him for what he did to ensure justice was served in the Steubenville rape case.

RollRedRoll.com is the athletics booster website for Steubenville High School, which typically shows updates on the school’s teams as their fight song plays in the background.

But on Dec. 24 of last year, the website simply displayed a YouTube video of a man in a Guy Fawkes mask, the official uniform of sorts for those in the Anonymous collective. Via a computerized voice, the man threatened to expose the dirty secrets of a town he alleged was covering up the crimes of football players they hold up as heroes.

“This is a warning shot to school faculty, the parents of those involved, and those involved especially,” said the masked man. “You can hide no longer. You have attracted the attention of the hive. We will not sit tightly and watch a group of young men who turn to rape as a game or sport get the pass because of athletic ability and small town luck.”

The masked man was Deric Lostutter, who threatened to release every imaginable piece of private information about the students who committed or witnessed the crime, as well as the school’s football coaches and principal, unless they came forward by New Year’s Day with a public apology to the victim.

The video — which Lostutter claims another Anonymous hacker is responsible for posting — ended with screenshots of chilling jokes Steubenville students made about the rape on social media, including an Instagram picture of the unconscious victim being carried by two football players on the night of Aug. 11, 2012. Those players — Ma’Lik Richmond and Trent Mays, both 16 at the time — had been the stars of the team’s first scrimmage earlier that day, and would be arrested two weeks later, both charged as juveniles for allegedly raping an incapacitated Jane Doe; Mays also was charged with the additional crime of sending nude pictures of the passed out girl to his friends.

Several of the players who witnessed and joked about the rape — a total of 16 witnesses would refuse to cooperate during the trial — played the entire football season before being suspended during playoffs. Text messages sent during the trial suggested the head coach — who threatened a New York Times reporter for asking questions — assured the players in the days after the rape that it was not a big deal.

Prior to the website hack, a blogger by the name of Alexandria Goddard — who previously lived in Steubenville — closely followed the case. Goddard posted many of the aforementioned screenshots on her website, devoting attention to the crimes for months, fearing the football-obsessed town would let the players involved off with a slap of the wrist or no punishment at all. But by December, her blog had gone silent after the parents of a football player present the night of the rape and who joked online about the victim sued Goddard and 25 of her anonymous commenters for spreading misinformation about their son. (The lawsuit has since been dismissed.)

And just one week before the hack, The New York Times wrote an expansive story painting Steubenville as a town bitterly divided by the alleged crimes. Many locals — even coaches — claimed Jane Doe made up the story, or was “asking for it” based on her abuse of alcohol that evening. Others spoke of the longstanding unchecked entitlement of football players, getting away with crimes and bad behavior due to the worship of the championship football program in a town that has little else to celebrate.

Still, The New York Times article failed to make the story go viral nationally, with most of the county’s focus on the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre that month and the pending fiscal cliff deadline. That would change with Lostutter’s big reveal on Jan. 2.

Instead of releasing the personal information of those he threatened, Lostutter posted a previously unseen video that had been leaked to him. The video showed several Steubenville athletes joking about the rape that had occurred earlier that night. During the hard-to-watch 12-minute video, the students repeatedly laugh about the rape of what they called a “dead body.”

The video sparked national outrage, with media from around the country descending on the Ohio town. A rally featuring a crowd of 2,000 assembled on the courthouse steps — organized by Lostutter and Anonymous, and dubbed Occupy Steubenville — with many locals wearing Guy Fawkes masks and speaking out for the victim, with some sharing their own stories about being raped in the town.

Comedian Roseanne Barr attended the rally and applauded Anonymous for shedding light on the crimes, and former porn actress Traci Lords spoke publicly about being raped as a child growing up in Steubenville. Louisville teenager Savannah Dietrich — who made national headlines last year when she was threatened with jail for tweeting out the names of the Trinity High School boys who assaulted her in an eerily similar crime — also voiced support. “I truly applaud everyone in anonymous and all their efforts,” Dietrich tweeted in January. “They’re all truly heroic. The dark knight this girl needs.”

But not everyone viewed Lostutter and his Anonymous posse as heroes. While Lostutter exposed the public to credible information about the case, he and others also spread wildly false rumors and conspiracies about those involved. Threats of violence were made against both the victim and local residents, with law enforcement and one prosecutor saying Anonymous’ rogue entrance into the fray damaged their ability to prosecute the case.

In the end, Richmond was found guilty of rape and sentenced to at least one year in a juvenile detention facility, and Mays was found guilty of rape and distributing nude photos of the victim, resulting in a sentence of at least two years. In addition, a grand jury has convened to weigh the possibility of indicting more people involved that night.

Deric Lostutter has lived the better part of five years in Winchester, with the exception of a yearlong stint spent living out of his car in North Carolina as he battled an alcohol problem. He currently works as an IT cyber-security consultant — mostly self-taught — though work has been scarce since the FBI seized his computers.

Last summer, the thought of Lostutter handing out flyers or organizing a nationwide campaign for justice would have seemed absurd to him.

“If somebody brings up politics or an issue at a party or stuff like that, I’ll argue,” says Lostutter, who labels himself a “constitutionalist” and cares most about keeping government transparent and in check. “But I’d never really gone out activism-wise, like preaching out in the streets.”

The light bulb moment that changed Lostutter’s life came last summer when he watched a leaked copy of the documentary “We Are Legion” on YouTube, which tells the story of the rise of Anonymous. Formerly just an online community of computer geeks focused on juvenile pranks, Anonymous slowly developed a conscience and began to use their collective force for what they deem moral goods. Their targets typically are those limiting Internet freedom, and they are a strong ally of Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks, which has released scores of classified government documents. They even helped play a vital role in assisting the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

“There’s people there in mass, and they’re getting off the couch and doing something about the world,” Lostutter says. “So I was like, ‘There’s guys out there like me; I’ve got to join, I’ve got to run with these guys!’”

Anonymous has no formal entry rules for those who want to participate, so Lostutter dove in head first last September — admitting he had no idea what he was doing — creating his KYAnonymous Twitter handle.

In November, Lostutter made his first big splash when he targeted Hunter Moore, the sleaze who operated a website where men could enact revenge on ex-girlfriends by posting nude pictures of them. After Moore said his new site would allow users to track the address of the women it posted pictures of — and publicly mocked KYAnonymous’ threats — Lostutter sprung into action.

Lostutter made his first Anonymous video, calling on “the hive” to strike against Moore and give him a taste of his own medicine. Within days, any private information that existed on Moore was available at the click of a mouse.

After Internet trolls began to mock the do-gooder KYAnonymous as the “White Knight of the Internet,” Lostutter decided to embrace the title, creating his own sect of Anonymous called “KnightSec” and declaring that it would stand up to and target bullies.

Perhaps the most hated bully in America would be KnightSec’s next target: the infamous Westboro Baptist Church, which pickets prominent funerals with a message that God has enacted judgment on the deceased due to homosexuality.

After Westboro announced they would picket the funeral of those killed at Sandy Hook Elementary — celebrating the massacre as God’s divine judgment — Lostutter made another video and called on those in Newtown, Conn., to track Westboro’s every move and form a human chain to prevent mourners from seeing them. People in Anonymous masks stood arm in arm with Hell’s Angels to successfully complete the task.

After making news with Moore and Westboro, Lostutter shifted his focus to Steubenville upon reading about it in The New York Times.

Lostutter says he was inspired to act because he was bullied growing up, and because he witnessed his mother face domestic violence. He was horrified by the video and comments of Steubenville students joking about the rapes and hopes the publicity the story garnered is a lesson to young men and women.

“It’s appalling to me, because if you do that stuff at a party I go to, I’m going to take you outside and kick your ass,” he says in a serious tone.

Lostutter insists he only recorded the masked-man video posted on RollRedRoll.com, claiming another Anonymous activist named Batcat was the one who hacked the site and the webmaster’s email. Though Batcat has publicly admitted to hacking into the site in 15 minutes, a recent profile of Lostutter on Gawker tells a different story.

Reporter Adrian Chen writes that Lostutter told him Batcat discovered the website’s password, but later gave it to Lostutter to gain access to the site and post the video. But Lostutter tells LEO that is untrue, saying he was misquoted by Chen.

That story might very well have piqued the interest of federal investigators hoping to pin felony charges on Lostutter for violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Such miscues are why most individuals under target from a grand jury avoid interviews. But Lostutter says his attorney — Jason Flores-Williams of the Whistlebower Defense League, which often helps hacktivists and leakers within Anonymous — has encouraged him to tell his story, despite Lostutter saying an FBI agent told him during the raid that if he spoke about it he could face obstruction charges.

“My lawyer was like, ‘Yeah, that’s First Amendment, dude. Tell everybody. The more light that’s on the case, the less likely they are to abuse their power. Tell the world,’” he says.

Much of the criticism of Lostutter and Anonymous in relation to Steubenville stems from blatantly false information they spread — with even the somewhat sympathetic Chen of Gawker calling much of the information “total bullshit.” In particular, Lostutter and others claimed emails obtained from the Steubenville athletics webmaster suggested he had hired athletes to send him nude pictures of intoxicated students. The Anonymous group also claimed the webmaster and various local officials were involved in other criminal conspiracies.

Lostutter has since publicly apologized to the webmaster for disseminating false rumors, a common occurrence when a conspiracy-minded amateur mob is able to cast aspersions anonymously, without the risk of repercussions.

Despite these missteps, Lostutter is a genuine hero — or at least anti-hero — to many who say he made it so the crimes committed in Steubenville could not be ignored.

Alexandria Goddard — the blogger who doggedly followed the case in the early days before she was sued — says that without Lostutter’s involvement, there would not be a grand jury looking at filing additional charges against others for their actions last summer, nor the important national discussion that ensued about rape.

“Nobody really did anything until Anonymous got involved,” Goddard tells LEO. “Once Anonymous came in and released that video, that’s when the feces hit the oscillator. It picked up steam and the world became aware of Steubenville. And they really forced people to admit and talk about the dirty little secret that no one shall talk about: rape culture — that it exists — and football culture.”

Amanda Marcotte, a feminist writer for Slate, says Lostutter’s self-outing as the ring-leader behind KYAnonymous was uplifting, as he appeared to be “part good ol’ boy and part bro,” an unlikely ally in the fight against a culture that too often makes excuses for rapists and blames their victims.

“Lostutter’s self-outing confirms that it was young men taking the lead in agitating for justice in Steubenville, when most anti-rape activism tends to be run by women,” Marcotte writes. “Hopefully, Lostutter’s legal troubles won’t discourage more men in the future from sticking their necks out to defend women against sexual violence.”

While Lostutter admits mistakes, he says his actions made a positive impact, and he would do it again, adding that family and friends of the victim have told him she appreciates what he did.

“We shined a lot of light on the case,” Lostutter says. “So if there was any cover up — and I always hoped I was wrong — it couldn’t happen now. It’s not going to happen because we got the FBI and Department of Justice involved, and that’s what we wanted to begin with.”