Democratic 2020 contender Beto O’Rourke has an unconventional background for a political candidate.
Prior to joining the El Paso city council in 2005 and becoming a House representative in 2012, O’Rourke was a skateboarding, punk band member once arrested for drunk driving, Reuters reports. Moreover, he was once a member of one of the oldest computer hacking groups: the Cult of the Dead Cow.
The CDC, named in jest after an abandoned Texas slaughterhouse, is known for releasing tools to allow everyday people to hack Microsoft Windows. The group also reportedly coined the term “hacktivism” to refer to Internet-based activism.
One of its founders, Kevin Wheeler, said the group was less about hacking and more about “personality and writing,” Reuters reports. A yet unpublished book about the CDC—titled “Cult of the Dead Cow: How the Original Hacking Supergroup Might Just Save the World”—profiles the alleged work done by Wheeler, O’Rourke, and other members (both known and anonymous) since the group’s founding in the 1980s.
According to Reuters, which published an adapted excerpt from the book on Friday, O’Rourke joined the CDC as a teenager with the screen name “Psychedelic Warlord.” He stole long-distance modem calls to avoid running up the phone bill with his internet use and published sometimes disturbing essays and creative pieces online, the excerpt says.
At 15 years old, O’Rourke is said to have advocated for a money-free society that would “slowly bring the upper and middle classes of people in America together.” At 16, he and a friend interviewed a Neo-Nazi in an attempt to “see what made him think the horrible things that he did,” Reuters reports, and O’Rourke later published a short story where the protagonist runs children over with his car.
At 18, O’Rourke enrolled at Columbia University and stopped participating in the CDC.
Now, roughly 30 years later, O’Rourke is a politician most well-known for nearly unseating Republican Ted Cruz in the 2018 Senate elections. His optimistic message raised nearly $80 million in mostly small donations. In March, he announced his candidacy for the 2020 presidential election, launching a campaign promising unity, immigration reform, and climate initiatives.
In his interview for the book about the CDC, which Reuters says was conducted early in his run for Senate, O’Rourke said his participation in the group developed his opinion on net neutrality and other political and social issues.
“Part of my success was being exposed to people who thought differently and explored how things work,” O’Rourke said, Reuters reports. “There are alternate paths to service and success, and it’s important to be mindful of that.”