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Former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke speaks to reporters during a campaign stop on March 15, 2019 in Washington, Iowa. Photo: AFP

US Democrat Beto O’Rourke was a teenage hacker called ‘Psychedelic Warlord’ in the Cult of the Dead Cow group

  • Group US presidential hopeful belonged to was famous for releasing tools allowing users to hijack Windows computers, forcing Microsoft to improve security
Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke belonged to one of the best-known groups of computer hackers as a teenager.

The former US congressman from Texas confirmed to Reuters that as a youth in El Paso, he belonged to the hacking group known as the Cult of the Dead Cow. He also acknowledged that, during those teenage years, he stole long-distance phone service to join electronic discussions. Others in the group committed the same offence and got off with warnings; the statute of limitations ran out long ago.

In the group, O’Rourke wrote online essays under the pseudonym “Psychedelic Warlord” that could provide fodder for political supporters and foes alike. One mocked a neo-Nazi, while another was a short piece of fiction from a killer’s point of view.

‘Cult of the Dead Cow’ founder Kevin Wheeler announces the release of ‘Back Orifice 2000’, software that let people take control of Microsoft Windows computers, at the Las Vegas hacker convention ‘Def Con’ in 1999. Photo: Reuters

The ex-congressman is the most prominent former hacker in American politics, according to the news agency.

There is no indication that O’Rourke himself engaged in the edgiest sorts of hacking activity – breaking into computers or writing code that enabled others to. After his active period in the late 1980s, the group became famous for releasing tools that allowed ordinary computer users to hijack other people’s machines. Though it was controversial, the resulting chaos forced Windows maker Microsoft to dramatically improve security.

For O’Rourke, the long-suppressed tale fills out an unusual portrait for a presidential aspirant. Born to a prominent El Paso family and sent to a boarding school and an Ivy League college, O’Rourke felt a misfit as a youth and played in a punk band before starting a small technology business and an alternative press outlet, launching him into local politics.

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He gained national attention last year after he came within 3 per cent of beating Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz, energising new voters and taking in record donations for a Senate campaign while eschewing special-interest money.

Beto O’Rourke talks with voters during his second day of campaigning for the 2020 nomination at Central Park Coffee Company in Mount Pleasant, Iowa on March 15, 2019. Photo: AFP

The few technology professionals let in on O’Rourke’s secret said it showed a deep understanding of technology and a healthy willingness to challenge traditions, attributes that O’Rourke stressed in a Reuters interview.


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