Barrett Brown Sentencing
Journalist and activist Barrett Brown is facing up to eight-and-a-half years in jail for his part in a cyber-attack and threatening an FBI agent and his childrenYouTube

Barrett Brown, 33, a freelance journalist and activist who has been behind bars for over two years, will find out in a court in Dallas on 16 December if he will face further prison time for his part in a cyber-attack on intelligence company Stratfor, and for threatening an FBI agent and his family.

In April 2014, Brown pleaded guilty to a reduced set of three charges which carry a maximum sentence of eight-and-a-half years in prison. Previously Brown had been facing a much longer maximum prison sentence of up to 105 years for posting a link to a file containing stolen credit card details - even though he had never opened the file in question.

While Brown's defence team will be seeking a sentence of time-served, his supporters claim the prosecuting team have asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence in sealed court documents filed last week.

"I am going to ruin his life"

Brown is facing one charge of being an "accessory after the fact in the unauthorised access to a protected computer" which relates to his part in the cyber-attack on Stratfor, which was carried out by Jeremy Hammond who is currently serving a 10-year sentence for the attack.

Brown worked with Hammond through his Project PM website which took leaked information from hackers and groups like Anonymous, analysing it with a specific focus on private security companies and their relationships with the US government.

In this case, Brown offered to communicate with Stratfor's chief executive on behalf of Hammond to see if the executive had any "reasonable requests" to redact any of the information that was stolen.

The most serious charge Brown is facing however relates to a YouTube video he posted in which he threatens FBI agent Robert Smith and his children on 12 September, 2012:

That's why Robert Smith's life is over. When I say his life is over I don't say I am going to kill him, but I am going to ruin his life and look into his f**king kids....how d'you like them apples?

Mother's arrest

Brown was angered not only by the FBI's investigation into his work, but also the arrest of his mother on charges of obstructing the execution of a search warrant by hiding Brown's laptops from police - a charge which led to a sentence of six-months probation and a $1,000 (£640) fine.

"My better judgment was clouded by my maternal instinct," she stated in court.

Brown has been in jail since the day the video was posted online when his home was raided. He was denied bail and has remained in jail ever since, although he has continued to work as a journalist, including a weekly column for D Magazine and work in the Guardian, Huffington Post, and Vanity Fair.

Polarising figure

Brown is a polarising figure, even among his supporters, and has angered and alienated a lot of people over the years.

Brown was a member of the hacktivist collective Anonymous and from the winter of 2011 through to May 2012 he was the group's de facto spokesperson. He was unique among his peers in the group in that he used his real name at all times, refusing to hide behind the mask.

Like a lot of the earlier members of Anonymous, Brown was a troll, regularly making offensive comments and "rape jokes" on live videochat websites while sitting in a bath and drinking wine.

He was however eventually kicked out of Anonymous. As Gabriella Coleman says in her book Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous, Brown broke the cardinal rule of Anonymous:

Arriving with name in tow, he was informally booted with name in tow for violating an originary rule of Anonymous (hinted at by the name itself): drawing attention and fame to one's name is the ultimate taboo. Brown attempted to iconoclastically occupy a liminal zone/status. He acted like an insider but never concealed himself. He was tolerated for so long only because he poured significant work into both the network and the larger cause.