STEUBENVILLE - A rally scheduled to begin at noon Saturday at the Jefferson County Courthouse, organized by the Internet hacktivist group Anonymous, is still on.
The rally - the second in two weeks - has been organized to protest what Anonymous and other individuals and groups assert is a coverup surrounding individuals who they assert should be charged in connection with an alleged rape of an underage girl that reportedly occurred Aug. 11-12.
Despite inclement weather, a rally at the courthouse last Saturday drew between 300 and 400 people. The rally planned for this Saturday - dubbed OpRollRedRoll by organizers - already had more than 1,300 people committed to attend, according to a Facebook.com invite page.
Attempts to discuss the event with organizers have been unsuccessful. A Facebook page for another rally, "Stand Up for Steubenville Youth," set for 1 p.m. Saturday at Jim Woods Park, had 64 individuals committed to attend as of this morning. It's unclear whether this was a companion or a counter-rally, although the subtext reads "We will not allow our children to fear something is going to happen at our school! Make it about the truth! Innocent young children being harassed for someone else's crime just because they attend the same school district has to be stopped!"
This weekend's rallies come in the wake of a video that surfaced on YouTube.com Wednesday morning that quickly went viral on social media sites and has gained national attention from several media sources. Some are saying the video is tied to the upcoming trial of Trent Mays, 16, of Bloomingdale and Malik Richmond, 16, of Steubenville, Steubenville High School student-athletes who have been charged with the alleged crime. The trial is set to begin Feb. 13 before visiting Judge Tom Lipps.
The 12-and-one-half minute video, presumably shot during the night of the alleged incident, shows a former student-athlete and others crudely joking about what some contend is the alleged rape. No information on how the video surfaced, the time frame or where it was filmed has been presented.
Local law enforcement officials have said they were aware of the video and of other possible evidence taken from social media sources. However, all evidence in the case has been turned over to the Ohio Attorney General's office, which assigned the case to two special prosecutors. In a separate development this week, one of the special prosecutors who had been working the case has resigned from the agency to take a job in the private sector, according to a spokesman from the agency. Marianne Hemmeter continues to work the case and will be joined be Brian Deckert, who replaced Jennifer Brumby. The two are associate assistant attorneys general.
The video prompted outrage and disgust from users of social media websites, and the attendance count for Saturday's rally picked up after the video's release. Cable news network CNN reported on the case Thursday morning, and it was discussed during a 20-minute segment on "Anderson-Cooper 360" Thursday evening, while the New York Times had published two separate articles on the alleged rape and the response by members of the community. The webzine Huffington Post also picked up on the story Wednesday evening, as have numerous blog sites.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer picked the story as one of its Top 10 in Ohio for 2012. A private website dedicated to the case, www.occupysteubenville.com, includes links with messages from Anonymous, media reports on the case, blogs, interviews with local authorities and even has apparel for sale. Also, a petition on the White House's website demanding additional individuals be arrested in the case had gathered more than 3,000 signatures as of this morning.
Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla Wednesday criticized some individuals involved in organizing the protest as engaging in "character assassination" for posting what he said was inaccurate information about how local officials have handled the case. He also defended the Steubenville Police Department and the community, adding Internet organizers "crossed a line" when they began attacking him and other local officials. Abdalla also said law enforcement had previously asked those with information on the case bring evidence to officials, but none was forthcoming.
Abdalla confirmed he had seen the video, and called it "disgusting."
Steubenville Police Chief Bill McCafferty declined Wednesday to comment on the matter, although he did say he had no official information concerning Saturday's planned rally.