Presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke was once a member of the oldest hacking group in the US

The revelation comes one day after O'Rourke announced he is running for president in 2020

Published March 15, 2019 7:31PM (EDT)

Beto O'Rourke (Getty/Chip Somodevilla)
Beto O'Rourke (Getty/Chip Somodevilla)

Beto O'Rourke disclosed that when he was a teenger, he used to be a member of the oldest hacking group in the nation. The revelation, which the former Democratic congressman from Texas admitted in an interview with Reuters, comes one day after O'Rourke announced he was running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

O'Rourke's affiliation with the influential "Cult of the Dead Cow" (CDC) has been kept secret until now to "protect his political viability," Reuters reported. It's unknown what kind of hacking activities O'Rourke carried out with the "hacktivist" group, which was jokingly named after an abandoned slaughterhouse in Texas. CDC made a name for itself in the early 1990s for breaking into Microsoft Windows computers and releasing tools that allowed ordinary people to do as well. It is also known for coining the term "hacktivism" to describe human-rights-driven security work.

O'Rourke attributes the CDC for expanding his thinking, especially in regards to successfully pushing a political message. As a congressman in 2016, O'Rourke live-streamed a sit-in at the House floor over Facebook to force a debate on gun control — a stunt that pointed to the Republican Party's refusal to discuss the issue and forced former Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to change the rules on phone use in the chamber. O'Rourke also made restoring Obama-era net-neutrality rules that were gutted by President Donald Trump's administration. Net-neutrality requires Internet service providers (ISPs) to treat all digital content equally, without favoring specific apps.

"I understand the democratizing power of the internet, and how transformative it was for me personally, and how it leveraged the extraordinary intelligence of these people all over the country who were sharing ideas and techniques," O'Rourke told Reuters.

As a "misfit teen" in El Paso, Texas, in the 1980s, Reuters reported, O'Rourke started engaging with bulletin board systems, or online discussion forums, and created his own, which he titled "TacoLand" where he mostly discussed punk music. O'Rourke later connected with like-minded teens through a bulletin called "Demon Roach Underground," which eventually led to the birth of the CDC.

The Texas Democrat told Reuters that he stole long-distance phone service to access the online discussion forums, which at the time required people to dial in through a modem. Heavy use of long-range calls could result in a huge phone bill, and O'Rourke told Reuters that he hacked long-distance service so that he "wouldn't run up the phone bill." Pilfering long-distance service worth less than $1,500 is considered a misdemeanor in Texas and can grow into a felony and result in jail time, Reuters noted. O'Rourke also spent time using pirated software and searching for "cracked" video games along with other members of the hacktivist organization.

During his failed campaign last year to unseat Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in Texas, O'Rourke relied on technology to connect with voters throughout the state. He regularly shared photos and videos on his social media channels of him interacting with constituents and doing everyday activities, like making slime with his young daughter and going to the dentist. Following a debate with Cruz during the midterm election cycle, the former congressman celebrated his strong performance by heading to Whataburger, where he live-streamed himself from his official Facebook page waiting in the drive-thru line and air-drumming to The Who's "Baba O'Riley." The 45-minute video of the politician singing in his car went viral.

Although O'Rourke fell just 200,000 votes short in his losing bid against Cruz, he emerged as something of a national phenomenon along the way. With his national profile, broad name recognition and a history of smashing fundraising records, O'Rourke jumped into the 2020 race immediately as a top-tier candidate. The former Texas congressman has drawn comparisons to former President Barack Obama for his speaking style and bipartisan message of hope and unity — and his closer-than-expected performance to Cruz in November has fueled interest from Democratic donors and the highest levels of the Democratic Party — including from Obama himself — that the right candidate could turn the reddest states blue in the next election cycle.

"This is going to be a positive campaign that seeks to bring out the very best from every single one of us – that seeks to unite a very divided country," O'Rourke while announcing his presidential bid in a video shared Thursday to social media.

By Shira Tarlo

MORE FROM Shira Tarlo

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2020 Election All Salon Beto O'rourke Donald Trump News & Politics Ted Cruz