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Finding th3j35t3r

By Brett Bernsten

The Jester marks every attack with a calling card tweet: TANGO DOWN. It announced his takedown of the Taliban’s website. It leered after he laid siege on WikiLeaks.

The catchphrase torments the Twitterverse as a trademark of one of the wild, wild web’s most infamous outlaws. It was once linked to a Helena computer security expert and Baptist church pastor named Robin Jackson.

Under the pseudonym The Jester, or in hacker lingo th3j35t3r, a cyber-vigilante has roamed the electronic frontier for the past three years, launching patriotic offensives against groups he considers a threat to U.S. national security. On December 10, 2010, after a strike against WikiLeaks in response to the website’s release of sensitive government documents, the hacktivist group Anonymous vowed to expose the mysterious online warrior, once and for all.

“Set your lasers,” the group wrote on its website. “Target: th3j35t3r.”

Scopes centered on Jackson, a 52-year-old tech consultant who at the time ran the Montana Department of Labor and Industry’s IT division. Conspirators based their allegations on a few commonalities. Jackson was a Russian linguist formerly in military intelligence, as well as an accomplished hacker in his own right. The Jester communicated with a Russian Hotmail account and had admitted in multiple interviews he was a military veteran. Moreover, both figures had explicitly stated online that WikiLeaks was detrimental to U.S. national security and put American soldiers at risk.

Netizens jumped to conclusions. Through the online tech-culture messageboard 4chan, hackers targeted Jackson in a process called doxing, publishing his name, address and phone number for the world to see.

“Fire!” Anonymous’ website read. “Fire!”

Ultimately, the onslaught resulted in little more than awkward phone
calls. Both Jackson and The Jester denied being one and the same, taunting their accusers for a failed outing.

“We know each other in the cyber realm,” Jackson said. “But I’m not him and never have been him.”

Jackson said he respects The Jester’s actions but can only laugh at the thought of maintaining a secret life as a cyber-vigilante.

“I’m too busy to do that,” Jackson said. “I do my own thing and Jester does his.”

Since the 2010 incident, allegations associating Jackson with The Jester have faded into cyberspace.

“I don’t think they are the same person,” says Jonathan Santy, founder and president of the Helena-based Montana Ethical Hackers computer club. “But they do share some similarities.”

Jackson continues to be a presence in the worldwide hacker community, and still speaks out against groups like WikiLeaks and Anonymous. But rather than operating under a cryptic codename, he uses the more candid handle, rjacksix.

“It’s not very sexy,” he said. “But that’s me.”

To this day, the trail leading to The Jester’s identity remains cold, a fitting situation considering the renegade’s signature tagline, “Stay Frosty.”