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The high plains of Lubbock, Texas—a conservative, church-going area of the country to be sure—are not where you would expect a group of “hacktivists” to have gotten its start, let alone the group that coined the term “hacktivism.” But the Cult of the Dead Cow was indeed founded in Lubbock in 1984, taking its name from an abandoned slaughterhouse.

Founded by Kevin Wheeler, the group, known as “cDc” for short, shares similarities with the German Chaos Computer Club, using unconventional means to expose security vulnerabilities. The cDc’s exploits include creating an early electronic publication, holding underground computer conventions, becoming the first computer underground group with its own Usenet newsgroup, developing a “Back Orifice” to expose Microsoft vulnerabilities, distributing mP3s pre-Napster, and using the term “hacktivism” in enough interviews that it entered popular parlance.

Its members have gone on to advise the CIA on various episodes involving foreign governments. One of the most famous members of cDc is 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, now running for Texas governor. O’Rourke, who went by “Psychedelic Warlord” on cDc, stumbled upon the group as a teenager in El Paso while on the hunt for “cracked” video games free from digital rights protections. Like many cDc members, O’Rourke ran his own bulletin board system, TacoLand, which primarily covered his beloved punk music. cDc members often used illegal means to skirt the long-distance charges that piled up from hours of modem use.

The now-defunct Sassy Magazine called the Cult of the Dead Cow “the sexiest group of computer hackers there ever was.”

Photo: 2p2play / Shutterstock

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Kate Johanns

Posted by Kate Johanns

Kate Johanns is a communications professional and freelance writer with more than 13 years of experience in publishing and marketing.

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