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Former punk rocker Beto O’Rourke also used to be a hacker

on March 15, 2019, 12:48pm

Beto O’Rourke is a Generation Xer running for president of the United States. A new report from Reuters reveals that in addition to being a skateboarding punk rocker, O’Rourke also used to be a hacker.

Despite what Fox News will surely tell you in the coming days, to be a teenage hacker in the 1980s was much different than the modern-day definition. Rather than infiltrating voting rolls in order to influence a presidential election, O’Rourke’s exploits mostly involved pirating computer software and games for his own personal enjoyment, according to Reuters.

As an early member of the hacking group The Cult of the Dead Cow, he started his own bulletin board called TacoLand, which was dedicated to punk music. “This was the counterculture: Maximum Rock & Roll [magazine], buying records by catalog you couldn’t find at record stores,” he told Reuters.

The bulletin board, which had no more than 20 active members at any give time, also contained links to pirated software and self-published fantasy fiction. If anything, O’Rourke’s most egregious actions were stealing long-distance phone service for his dial up modem and, at the age of 15, publishing a murder fantasy story under the handle “Psychedelic Warlord.”

“There’s just this profound value in being able to be apart from the system and look at it critically and have fun while you’re doing it,” O’Rourke said of his time in the group. “I think of the Cult of the Dead Cow as a great example of that.”

“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,” he added.

“When you compromise the ability to treat all that equally, it runs counter to the ethics of the groups we were part of. And factually, you can just see that it will harm small-business development and growth. It hampers the ability to share what you are creating, whether it is an essay, a song, a piece of art.”

O’Rourke left The Cult of the Dead Cow when he enrolled at Columbia University at the age of 18, though his interests later manifested in jobs as a software entrepreneur and alternative press publisher. Later, he ran for city council and then US congress. Now, he’s aiming for country’s top job.

You can read more about O’Rourke’s teenage years as a hacker, including interviews with some of his fellow computer nerds, over at Reuters.