A "spoofer" took the offensive in the "fag wars" Wednesday, transferring ownership of Pastor Fred Phelps' infamous godhatesfags Web site to the godlovesfags rebuttal site. Visitors expecting to view godhatesfags' virulently anti-homosexual rants and a picture of a flame-engulfed Matthew Shepard "burning in hell" are, for the moment, being confronted with a pink-and-lavender page listing pro-gay events, resources and Bible quotes advocating that "ye love each other, just as I have loved you."
The hack itself is deliciously ironic in its political agenda, and it's also quite unusual: The attack wasn't your garden-variety direct hack or Web site redirect. Instead, an anonymous party transferred ownership of the "hates" domain name over to Kris Haight, owner of the "loves" domain, apparently forging instructions to the InterNIC domain registry. It was then a simple -- and Haight says legal -- move to redirect the traffic to his own domain, a move he initiated around 5 p.m. EDT Wednesday.
Haight believes the legal machinations required to force traffic back to the original godhatesfags site will take weeks or months without his consent. And he doesn't plan on providing that consent any time soon. "It's all under my control," he said gleefully. "I got an InterNIC request [to return the site to Phelps' ownership] this morning. I said no." He's received three more requests since then, and refused them all. In the meantime, he plans to "just bask in the limelight."
Haight acquired the "godlovesfags" domain in June 1998, after seeing the godhatesfags site. His intent was to "prove what Phelps is preaching is wrong; to prove that there are other opinions about what the Bible really says about gays." The site went live in March 1999.
Haight said the hacking incident began when he received an anonymous e-mail Tuesday evening, advising him to "pay close attention to the godhatesfags.com InterNIC information over the next few days." Wednesday, around 3 p.m., he received a follow-up reading only: "Giggle. It worked."
He then checked the InterNIC database and discovered that his own name was now listed as owner of godhatesfags.com. "I thought, 'What do I want to do?'" he said. "I said, Let's give my godlovesfags some publicity. I'm pretty sure that's what they were hoping I'd do. And they were right."
Haight says he broke no law, since he had no involvement in or knowledge of the ownership transfer. Having found himself owner of the domain name, he merely exercised his rights, he says.
But Brian O'Shaughnessy, communications manager for InterNIC domain registrar Network Solutions, points out that Haight is "clearly not the owner." Network Solutions' service contract with Phelps is still in force, says O'Shaughnessy. "No one has the right to subvert the use of that service," he said. "There could be a lot of legal ramifications." He didn't elucidate just how and when the domain would be returned, however.
Network Solutions didn't know how the breach occurred. "It's unclear at this point how it would have happened the way it apparently happened," O'Shaughnessy said. This isn't, however, the first time Network Solutions has inadvertently transferred ownership of a domain name -- just last month, Excite's domain name suffered a similar fate.
As much as he enjoys having the domain, Haight says he isn't interested in litigation: "The minute Phelps says 'sue,' I might give it up," he said. Surprisingly, that's not likely to happen.
"We are a bunch of lawyers, we know how to litigate," said Phelps' daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper. She is an attorney for Westboro Baptist Church, where Phelps serves as pastor. "Why would we want to turn aside from this ministry and waste our energy and efforts on chasing after some nameless, faceless coward, who, being a typical fag, is lawless, violent or whatever characterization you want to put on this criminal conduct?"
Phelps-Roper said the church is used to its site being hacked, and is not really bothered by it. "Every time some fag gets a burr up his butt, and a little bit innovative, then we get to scramble a little and put the pieces back together." She said the site has been hacked or redirected a dozen times in its two-
She said the site has received nearly a million hits since Matthew Shepard's funeral, which the group picketed last October. "One or two days out of the big picture is nothing. They've gone to a lot of trouble; we've gone to a little trouble. Meanwhile, God hates fags."
At least one Christian right group had a muted response. "My first reaction, just because of my discomfort with Fred Phelps, was a little smile," said Jeff Marchant, director of legislative and cultural affairs for Focus on the Family. However, he was unsettled by the hacking, which he compares to book burning: "This act really shows the emotion that this issue stirs up and how quickly ugly words can lead to illegal and unethical actions."
By Thursday afternoon, the "loves" site had registered 6,500 fresh visitors -- nearing the entire total traffic of the site's previous six-month history. So far, Haight says responses have been overwhelmingly positive: 70 "supportive," three "hateful." He's not expecting any retaliation beyond a lawsuit. "They're not a violent group," he said. "I'm not expecting a pipe bomb in the mail."