Electronic Disturbance Theater

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Electronic Disturbance Theater 2.0, Photo by Kinsee Morlan

Ricardo Dominguez, Brett Stalbaum, Stefan Wray, and Carmin Karasic are collectively known as The Electronic Disturbance Theater or EDT for short. Taking the idea of the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, the EDT members always used their real names. As a collective group they organize and program computer software to show their views against anti-propagandist and military actions, and begin mobilizing micro-networks to act in solidarity by staging virtual sit-ins on-line and allowing the emergence of a collective presence in direct digital actions.

Background[edit]

The Electronic Disturbance Theater (EDT), established in 1997 by performance artist and published writer Ricardo Dominguez, is an electronic company of cyber activists, critical theorists, and performance artists who engage in the development of both the theory and practice of non-violent acts of defiance across and between digital and non-digital spaces. The EDT created a program to allow Electronic Civil Disobedience (ECD), called FloodNet a form of hacktivism which would help create the simulation of a sit-in protest over the Internet simply known as a virtual sit-in demonstration to disrupt Zapatista oppressors' websites, by overloading their computer networks and servers. The Electronic Disturbance Theater group have the belief that the Internet should not be used purely as a means for communication and data exchange. Instead it is also a forum for direct action.

Electronic Disturbance Theater 2.0[edit]

Current active members of the Electronic Disturbance Theater, who refer to themselves at Electronic Disturbance Theater 2.0[1] include Brett Stalbaum, Amy Sara Carroll, Elle Mehrmand, Micha Cárdenas, and Ricardo Dominguez. The group has received a storm of media attention for their new project, the Transborder Immigrant Tool, which they have described as the next step of Electronic Civil Disobedience, or ECD 2.0.[2] The group is currently under investigation for their Virtual Sit-In in support of the 2010 March 4 strikes and occupations in support of public education.[3] The Transborder Immigrant Tool was shown in numerous museums and galleries in 2010, including the California Biennial at the Orange County Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego, and at the Galeria de la Raza in San Francisco.[4][5][6]

FloodNet[edit]

Their objective was with the use of digital media and internet based technology, to demonstrate nonviolent resistance in support of the Zapatista rebels residing in the state of Chiapas in Mexico. EDT uses both e-mail and the internet to promote their work around the world, encouraging fellow supporters to download and run a HTML (Hyper Text Makeup Language) and Java applet, (an internet program used to help support interactive web based features or programs that a HTML cannot provide alone), based tool called FloodNet. FloodNet is a computer based program, created by members of the Electronic Disturbance theater company Carmin Karasic and Brett Stalbaum.

The FloodNet program would simply reload a Uniform Resource Locator or URL for short several times; effectively slowing the website and network server down (DDOS Atack),[7] if a high number of protesters were to join in the sit-in at one time. The EDT would first execute the FloodNet software in what would be for them a dress rehearsal before attacking their main targets on April 10, 1998 and a month later, on both Mexican and American government websites, representing both the Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo and American President Bill Clinton.

The Flood Net would work on this basic idea taken from street theatre practices and political rallies and protest but instead present it on a much larger and international stage, with the facilitation of macro-networks and non-digital forms of action.

The EDT's mission was to allow the voices of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation to be heard, after the attack of the small remote village of Acteal in Chiapas, Mexico. The Paramilitary a government funded military squad would surround a Catholic church during a Tsotsil Mayan, (a spoken Mexican language from around the Chiapas area of Mexico), for the next several hours the Paramilitary would shot everyone to death. Those inside the church and any which tried to escape resulting in the death of fifteen children, nine men, and twenty one women, four of which were pregnant at the time on December 22, 1997. This event would become known as the Acteal Massacre. Those who were convicted of this crime were later released in the Supreme Court to the outrage of many, after ignoring eye witness reports and allowing those that confessed to this crime on humanity. Instead the Supreme Court focused on the mismanagement of the investigation and the fabrication of evidence.

The Electronic Disturbance Theater took notice of these actions, when others did not and arranged their first act of Electronic Civil Disobedience against the Mexican Government. In a subsequent version of FloodNet, those that had downloaded the FloodNet program in support of the Zapatistas were asked to input the names repetitively of those that had lost their lives at the hands of the Mexican Army in military attacks. This would then target the servers to return an error message each time these URLs would be requested. This data request would then be stored on a server's error log and in the eyes of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation and the Electronic Disturbance Theater group, a symbolic list of those forty five Acteal civilians that had died straight to their murderers. If enough people were to use the FloodNet applet, this would cause the computer server running the website to overload, so that when a regular visitor or somebody working within the site was to try and access the website or send company based emails and files, the pages would ether load extremely slowly or not at all. Working off the same basis of a real sit-in demonstration, where the protestors block the entrance to a public building of their oppressors and preventing access to the building.

With around twenty five percent of the world's population, in one way or another connected to the World Wide Web, with the use of dial-up internet connection, wired or wireless internet broadband connection and even mobile internet technology, everyone of these means of communication can allow the internet to be used as a means of non-violent action within our Human Rights, and is viewable around the world, and can be translated into different languages but most importantly not controlled by the government. The EDT networked performances have already opened access and communication between three unlikely micro-networks: net.art, net.activism, and net.hackers, with technology always evolving there is no telling how these areas will grow.

However June 10, 1998, the EDT would strike the Mexican Secretaria de Gobernacion (Secretary of Government), which is involved in immigration policies as well as Mexico's federal public security forces working in conjunction with the military Zapatista communities in Chiapas unsuccessfully. The Mexican government would have a programmed countermeasure in place. This is what the EDT believe took place. A countermeasure built into the operating JavaScript was placed in the Secretaria de Gobernacion's website that was designed to activate whenever FloodNet was directed toward its servers. Upon activation, the website would open window after window on the FloodNet user's internet browser. If the FloodNet user remained connected long enough, their browser whether it is Netscape or Internet Explorer, could crash the activist's computer, forcing the activist to reboot their system stopping the FloodNet program at the source. The EDT has now since dealt with both the Mexican government both online and offline, and the United States Department of Defense, who has now inserted a counter attack system into their internet browser based coding to prevent any more FloodNet based attacks to the system and server.

The FloodNet system would be used again against the World Trade Organization in 1999, where the group would release their online civil disobedience software to the public under the name Disturbance Development's Kit.

Cyber terrorism?[edit]

The Electronic Disturbance Theater has and will remain a heated topic of debate, within its area of political up rise, civil disobedience, hacktivism, and to a much larger scale extremes acts of cyber terrorism. Many people do have the right and believe in free speech. The FloodNet programs does allow this in a safer way to the protestors, (as their real identities can be hidden under their user names), allowing people around the world to express their views on the subject without travelling to the protest rallies and provide a non-violent way to be heard in the form of these sit-in demonstrations. However this causes incorrect actions that block bandwidth, and the internet should be open for everybody no matter what their political views. The Virtual Republic representatives view this blocking of communications and data as an act of cyber terrorism. They believe the system should be open for all internet users, and be accessible with a simple point then click and to those individuals or groups should be banned. Protestors are asked to protest outside of their oppressors location, with signs and don't interact with the business inside which with the blocking of communication and data the EDT are doing. Against such self-evident truths, the digital agit-prop actions of EDT call for the right to block data in the struggle for the development of democracy and human rights.

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