How Political Enemies Targeted and Repeatedly Destroyed My Small Website
You know what can happen when you start a conservative website and take on powerful liberals? You can get hacked. Not just once. Over and over. If you don’t have the money to fix it, you either lose the site or let it limp along as you do what you can. Here’s my story.
The Story of Intellectual Conservative
I started a website in 2002 called IntellectualConservative.com. That was back in the day when there weren’t so many conservative sites, so it was easy to build up a following. My brother served as co-editor and posted the articles from contributors.
The site’s heyday occurred in 2004, when it averaged 4,000 unique visitors a day. But things soon went downhill. I lost my traffic from Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter.
Limbaugh used to read parts of IC articles on his radio show, which sent IC a lot of visitors. One day a writer for my site confused Bob Kerry with John Kerry when discussing the Vietnam War. Limbaugh read that column on air and the mistake made him look bad. He never mentioned my site again.
Ann Coulter used to link to my website from hers. Her site sent me about 1,000 unique visitors a day. Then another writer of mine decided to criticize Coulter in a couple of columns. The link to my site was removed from her site and I lost all that traffic.
IC ambled along in the years after that. I added advertising and made a little money from it. A kind friend paid to have it rebuilt around 2009 using WordPress, the popular content management system for websites. My brother quit helping out since he had little children. A friend stepped in as associate editor. Not having wealth, connections or a lot of free time, I was never able to take the site to the next level.
I Become a Target
In 2010, I was targeted by some enemies of my then-boss, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas. Thomas had tried to prosecute a couple of Maricopa County Supervisors for corruption. One of them, Don Stapley, spent $70,000 in campaign contributions on personal and luxury items raised for a campaign to be president of the National Association of County Supervisors, where he had no opponent so he didn’t even need to raise money. The supervisors hated my local blog, ICArizona.com, because I would post Thomas’s press releases about them and about illegal immigration. Illegal immigration was one of the hottest topics in the state at that time.
The supervisors control the budget for the superior court judges, and no judge would rule against them. In 2009, the supervisors filed complaints with the State Bar of Arizona — the union-like organization that lawyers are required to join despite the fact Arizona is a right-to-work state — against Thomas, me and a few others who had roles in the litigation. The Arizona State Bar couldn’t stand Thomas because he had teamed up to combat illegal immigration with Sheriff Joe Arpaio. They reversed much of the work the Bar was doing in this area. I have been embroiled in litigation due to the bar complaint for almost nine years now, forced to represent myself much of the way.
Hacked to Oblivion
Someone started hacking IC in 2012. The site began having problems staying online. An IP address from France was on the site 24/7. I figured it was a spoofed address; no one hacking a site would risk using their own IP address. I googled the IP address and sure enough, it came up as one that was used for hacking. I decided to block that IP address.
At that time, the IP address was visiting an old, obscure article, one out of couple thousand articles on the site. The odds of someone visiting that article are slim to none. Right after I blocked the IP address, an IP address from the Maricopa County Supervisor’s Office showed up on that same article! It appeared that someone working there found that they were blocked with the fake IP address, so they went to that article with a regular IP address. They had likely been visiting as many pages on my site as possible in a DDOS attack, where too much traffic will shut a site down. They got sloppy by using a work IP address to visit that page, probably thinking there was no way I was poring over my website stats looking at visitors’ paths.
I contacted three law enforcement agencies about the hacking; the FBI, the Maricopa County Sheriff and Phoenix Police. The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office told me it was a matter for Phoenix Police. Phoenix Police told me since it was a French IP address it wasn’t in their jurisdiction.
The FBI said they don’t like to make waves with other governmental agencies in town since they need to get along with them. They also said the hacking was too minor, they only had resources for big incidents like the recent hacking of the Arizona Department of Public Safety.
Rebuild, Rebuild, Rebuild
I was forced to rebuild my site and change hosting providers, to find one with better security. For awhile, I used an obscure content management system to foil the hackers, known as B2Evolution. But it wasn’t very robust and wasn’t being updated, so that didn’t last long and I went back to WordPress.
A couple of years later, I transferred my site to a friend’s hosting server. She thenhad to kick me off because the site was getting hacked so much it was harming the performance of other sites on the server.
Hacking took it down again in early 2017. A kind friend rebuilt the site, with excellent security. I didn’t bother adding all of my advertising back onto the site; it takes hours and why bother if I’m just going to get hacked again and have to rebuild the site? That seems to have settled the problem.
It did — for a year and a half. On July 30, I published an unflattering article about Martha McSally, a member of Congress from Arizona who is now running for the U.S. Senate. She has a poor record as a Republican. The article went viral and Arizonans circulated it throughout the state. That night, someone started relentlessly attacking my site, taking it down. It hadn’t been hacked for so long the timing was very suspicious.
My hosting company canceled my account, saying I had violated their terms of service. All they would do is offer me an expensive security program. They admitted that hackers target political sites more than other types of sites.
I had no choice again but to change hosting companies and rebuild the site. Another kind friend transferred my site to his hosting server, and cleaned up the hacking. He said the hackers had destroyed the database so badly he had to transfer it in pieces. I still have a lot left to fix on the site. Rebuilding the site means setting up the sidebars all over again, for example, and that’s a huge amount of work.
I have been fortunate to have friends who helped me without charging me. But I have learned that running a political website as an activist means a lot of headaches. People think they’re being helpful by offering suggestions on how to improve it, but without money or a lot of extra free time (my weekly column takes up my weekends) I’m barely treading water keeping up with fixing everything that goes wrong.
Despite the fact the hacking is a headache, I refuse to give up my little site. It has brought me so much joy over the years, and I’ve met many interesting people through it. I could not bear to walk away from all that. The hackers will never stop me.
Follow Rachel on Twitter at Rach_IC