A protester who promoted cyberattacks against a St. Louis police union website after the fatal officer-involved shooting of a teenager in nearby Ferguson has been handed a 30-month prison sentence.
Justin Payne, 33, was sentenced by a federal judge in the Eastern District of Missouri on Monday this week after previously pleading to one count of possessing an unregistered firearm and one count of damage to a protected computer.
Payne operated a Twitter account, @BlackRebels_Stl, from which he urged followers to participate in a distributed denial-of-service attack against the St. Louis County Police Association late last year that had briefly knocked the police union’s website offline, authorities alleged.
The FBI managed to trace the account back to Payne, a former Veterans Affairs worker, and a search of his car in the midst of their investigation allowed authorities to confiscate a homemade explosive device more commonly known as a Molotov cocktail.
He pleaded guilty to both counts in September, and on Monday U.S. District Judge Henry Autrey sentenced Payne to 18 months’ for having the unregistered destructive device and an additional year for destroying the SLCPA website through the DDoS attack.
In court documents filed earlier this year, investigators said Payne had teamed up with Anonymous, the hacktivist movement, to take on local law enforcement in response to the August 2014 officer-involved shooting that caused the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson, Missouri.
“We have built and delivered to the RbH Black Rebels their very first Cyber Weapon,” individuals controlling the Anonymous-affiliated @OpFerguson account tweeted on Nov. 22 that year. Less than two weeks later, OpFerguson said it was teaming up with the Black Rebels group for its “first ever Joint Cyber Attack in support of protesters,” and both accounts soon after began providing followers with the means of participating in the DDoS — a rudimentary type of attack in which a website’s server is overloaded with traffic and is brought to a standstill.
After charges against Payne were announced earlier this year, the administrators of the OpFerguson account said they had cut ties with the individual who allegedly had spearheaded the DDoS campaign, a hacktivist known as Commander X who has led similar efforts to disrupt websites under the name of Anonymous, an amorphous politically driven hacker movement that has now existed online for the better part of a decade.