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My Life as a Member of the Cult of the Dead Cow

A peek into one of the oldest hactivist groups

Darren Mckeeman
Mar 15 · 4 min read
Credit: The Cult of the Dead Cow

As a kid in Atlanta, I was busted for hacking. A friend of mine showed me how to get into VAX machines, and we happily owned everything we could in 1986-era Atlanta until one day, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Secret Service knocked on my dad’s door. We had violated a server installed to manage the Democratic National Convention of 1988 in Atlanta—and they don’t like things like that.

We were made an example of, and I decided I wanted to write instead of do computer work. I forget if this made the Cult of the Dead Cow (cDc) notice me or not, but somehow I was invited to write for them. The year was 1990 or so.

On March 15 this year, news broke that presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke operated as “Psychedelic Warlord” with the cDc. I don’t doubt that he did; there were so many members of the cDc that I am not sure a comprehensive membership list actually exists unless you go by the handles on the text files they published. That’s what we did—we published funny stories and poems, and sometimes we published hacking instructions or announcements about tools that some member had written.

At any rate, shortly after I got involved with them, I attended a hacker “convention” in Austin. (I use “convention” loosely because it was mostly “convening” to commit public indecencies and misdemeanors.) I was in attendance with author Poppy Z. Brite, who was researching a hacker character for his novel Drawing Blood.

A cDc poem by a major presidential candidate for the 2020 election.

We didn’t stay at the convention hotel on advice of other cDc members. We stayed at a small hotel directly next door and mostly hung out with other cDc members. There were close to 10 other people hanging around, and my memory of the entire weekend is very hazy because a cDc member came by and offered us all hits of acid, which I promptly accepted. It kicked in just about the time someone in the convention hotel pulled the fire alarm and set all the lights in the 15-story building strobing up and down the floors.

The cDc is not your average hacker group. The emphasis was not on hacking but on writing ability. Because of this, most of the text files they published were of the entertainment variety. When I joined, there was a new push toward doing at least some hacks; that was the year they released Back Orifice, a Windows exploit that later was built into Windows and called “screen sharing” by Microsoft. It was surprising nobody thought of that before then, but it was the freaking Stone Age of computers.

The one thing cDc did better than anyone was drawing attention to itself. Typical hacker groups want to keep a low profile; if you are aware of them before they strike, then they’re likely to be unsuccessful. However, the cDc was only in it for the fame, the money, and the t-files. Publishing stories and stories about hacks (real and imagined) was what we were about. In the midst of all this, the cDc (Omega specifically) coined one of the most significant words of the last century: hacktivism, the use of technology to promote a political agenda or a social change.

We all argued about it from the beginning. In the end, I decided to leave when the cDc gave a platform to a person I didn’t like very much connected to Wikileaks. In the meantime, though, I wrote several files for cDc. I documented getting stoned with Robert Anton Wilson and Timothy Leary for them, among other stories. I never wrote anything about hacking. Most of the writing was dadaism, nonsense, and no sense; the poem included above is a good example.

Throughout this whole time, I had no idea I was in an organization with Beto O’Rourke. Everyone knew each other by handles—mine was Weaselboy. I still don’t know the real names of most of the other members. That’s probably for the best. I am sure we have some celebrities in there too.

It’s a bit hard to deny that I get a lot of my political views from reading this anarchistic riot from my BBS (bulletin board system) days. They took credit for Reagan’s Alzheimer’s disease, which gives you an idea about the political bent of the crew. I’d have to say that mischief and ridicule were more the intent than any actual culture jamming, but I believe in that just as much or more than any other instrument of change.

As I get older, I grudgingly admit that maybe the cDc wasn’t such a bunch of bullshit after all. I’m still collecting data on the matter. But one thing is for sure: I probably know who I will vote for (if he comes out in favor of decriminalization of sex work). In the meantime, I’m going to engage in some hacktivism here and encourage you all to vote in the next election while I have your attention. Beto O’Rourke is hardly the worst candidate you could vote for. I’m sure we all know who that crown belongs to.

Written by

Founder at KinkBNB. Writer of fiction and nonfiction. https://www.patreon.com/tjcrowley

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