Authorities in Alabama are investigating how white supremacist messages appeared on a digital road sign along a highway busy with Memorial Day traffic.
Motorists on Interstate 65 near Clanton called state troopers at lunchtime on Monday to report the words “Patriot Front” and “reclaim America” were flashing on an electronic sign, interspersed with messages warning of an upcoming roadwork zone, AL.com reported.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the Patriot Front is a violent white nationalist hate group that propounds the racist great replacement theory of white Americans and Europeans being supplanted by immigrants.
John McWilliams, the regional public information officer for the Alabama department of transport (ALDOT), said the issue was limited to a single contractor’s mobile sign in Chilton county that appeared to have been hacked.
“A citizen alerted a nearby state trooper about the message, who then contacted [us],” McWilliams said. “ALDOT personnel immediately responded and turned the message board off. No other message boards on I-65 were affected.”
He said an investigation was under way into how the incident happened.
The Patriot Front was formed in the aftermath of the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. According to the SPLC, it is one of the “most active extremist groups operating in the US”.
The Anti-Defamation League says that the Texas-based group “has been responsible for the vast majority of white supremacist propaganda distributed in the US” over the last four years.
A year ago, graffiti promoting the Patriot Front was painted beneath a bridge in Birmingham, Alabama, which was the scene of race riots during the height of the civil rights era in the 1960s.
Cybersecurity experts say mobile road information signs use basic computer software and can be easily hacked, especially when, as in the case of a 2021 case in Florida in which racial slurs appeared on an electronic board, contractors leave the computer used to program it, and its password, accessible on site.
The technology website Tom’s Guide said one particular brand of electronic display boards, known as dynamic message signs, use a default password which allows them to be hacked remotely.
“That’s the digital equivalent of locking your front door but leaving the key in the lock,” the website said.
The Department of Homeland Security issued an alert about road sign hacking in 2014 after a series of pranks, including California drivers being warned: “Godzilla attack! Turn back!”
In 2016, the Guardian reported on two road signs in Texas that were hacked to display the message: “Donald Trump is a shape shifting lizard!!” and extolling Democratic then candidate Bernie Sanders for president.
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