Amid controversy over All American Muslim, Florida Family Association says hacker forced takedown of its web site
When the conservative Florida Family Association helped convince home improvement chain Lowe's to drop ads in the TLC show All-American Muslim, the Tampa-based advocacy group saw pushback from a Muslim-centered civil rights group, a California state senator and actor Kal Penn.
But now Association officials say the action against them has moved into more serious territory, maintaining a computer hacker who claims association with the group Anonymous has forced them to shut down their website amid concerns sensitive data could be stolen.
David Caton, executive director of the Florida Family Association, said his group shut down its website around 7 p.m. tonight, leaving just a text message for anyone visiting FloridaFamily.org protesting that the attack is "destroying our free speech." Caton said the hackers worked through 15 levels of security to achieve a small breach into their online systems, promoting their webmaster to shut down the site to avoid further incursion.
Since news broke nationally that Lowe's pulled its advertising from the program, Caton has been inundated with media attention, providing interviews for NPR, CNN, ABC News and Fox stations throughout Monday. But the executive director said he has also gotten a death threat, and the group received an anonymous email at about 12:30 p.m. alerting them their site would be attacked.
"In a country that supposedly embraces free speech, those that oppose our position have no qualms about destroying our free speech," said Caton, noting that their site only attracts an average of up to 700 hits a day. "This is the worst I've seen any group respond."
A Twitter user with the handle @ihazcAnNONz posted messages Monday taunting the Association, claiming to have downloaded information from their servers. Caton expected to spend Monday night working on restoring the website.
For weeks, the Florida Family Association has asked people to send emails to sponsors of the TLC show, asking companies to drop their commercials from the show. The Association's email alerts denounce the program as "propaganda" that "hides the Islamic agenda's clear and present danger to American liberties"; the show focuses on five Muslim families in Dearborn, Mich.
I wrote about the series and talked about it on NPR when it debuted in mid-November, noting how it encapsulated the modern sturggle of minorities in America to hold onto the stuff from their heritage which makes them unique, while also fitting into the American melting pot.
I also told Caton, criticizing the show for not discussing radical Islam in detail seemed a little like blaming Jersey Shore for not discussing the financial crisis in Italy. But, of course, he disagreed.
Still, the decision by Lowe's drew criticism from rap impresario Russell Simmons -- who tweeted that he bought up the commercial time Lowe's abandoned -- along with Harold and Kumar film star Kal Penn and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, among others.
The Los Angeles Times quoted Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the first Muslim American elected to Congress, who issued a statement condemning Lowe's for deciding to "uphold the beliefs of a fringe hate group and not the creed of the 1st Amendment."
Liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org created a petition asking advertisers to stay with the show and California state senator Ted Lieu called for a boycott of Lowe's, even after the company apologized for the controversy on its Facebook page.
At the Florida Family Association, soon after posting its message about the website shutdown, the group added a snail mail address for supporters to send donations.