A Factual Timeline of Attempts to Pressure the FSF Into Submission (Not to Promote Real Community and Freedom)

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An objective (based on underlying facts) assessment of what has happened over the past 5 days; a lot of energy was spent getting angry over the wrong thing, usually based on misunderstandings.

Original story by Dr. Roy Schestowitz. Published 2021-03-27, Originally published 2021-03-27.
This work is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.

Richard Stallman in Singapore March 2001.jpg
Richard Stallman in Singapore, March 2001.
Photo by Richard Stallman. License: Creative Commons Noderivatives.

THIS is one of those in-depth and detailed analyses that attempt to be almost exhaustive. It’s an important subject, so we’ve devoted a lot of research time to getting it right (on the facts). We’ve included everything we’ve stumbled upon online (we exclude social control media as that just doesn’t count). The goal is to get the facts right. The tone will be mostly neutral. It’s not impulsive and it took nearly a week to prepare. The goal is to give exposure to all views, even those we do not agree with (people rarely share the same views), and then fact-check them. Thankfully, there’s much overlap in the fact-checking because the falsehoods tend to repeat themselves (like the echo chamber social control media tends to be). This generally makes rebuttal a lot more concise (less repeatable argumentation). Off we go, in chronological order for the most part. But first, a few introductory words…

Introduction and Some Background

"We can see who coordinated this, but we’ll come to that later… as we present the hard evidence."

As far as we’re aware, we were first to report in textual form about the return of Richard Stallman to the FSF’s Board. People who watched the live stream tipped us about it in IRC, whereupon we mentioned this in social control media and then wrote a post, which would be updated 3 times thereafter, attracting nearly 100,000 visitors and well over 1,000 comments. Artem then ripped the relevant part of the video, re-encoding it in open formats and sharing the link in IRC for us to use. Then, people could see what Stallman (referred to as RMS from here onwards) had said. What’s interesting is what soon followed; it even took RMS by surprise, based on what he told me, but this was foreseeable and pre-planned. We can see who coordinated this, but we’ll come to that later… as we present the hard evidence. Corrections in case of misunderstandings or misinterpretations can be reported to us. We’re always correcting posts if proven incorrect.

Before we proceed to dealing with the chronology, we’d like to share some input from readers. It is always our readers who motivate us to invest a lot of time properly analyzing issues; without them, there would be no incentive to do so (it’s pro bono, gratis; I don’t get paid to do this!)

A Word From Readers

“First,” one reader told us, “I want to thank you for Techrights. What I appreciate is the research and the thoughtful manner in which you post and report. I realize you have been hit by corporate threats many times in the past. Microsoft, IBM etc. There are a lot of underhanded things going on in our community, and we don’t want to lose Techrights!”

This reader has been involved in the Free software community for 3 decades. She knows many of the original members of the GNU/Linux community. “Your publication is only one I know of giving equal time to the voices of free software,” she said. “When Stallman was accused, I received several messages and emails (collab) warning as to not speak of the matter and distance ourselves – the initiator was someone who was at the OSI for over 15 years. I ignored the warnings. My future career was threatened and I know, this person was not the threat but… relaying the potential consequence of speaking out for RMS.”

We’ve repeatedly noted over the past week that you may not stumble upon many statements in support of RMS not because people do not support him but because they’re reluctant/afraid to speak out. To put it crudely, they’re censored or compelled to self-censor. Hours ago we were told that in Matrix people can get banned for speaking out in support of RMS — same thing that happened in 2019! We now hear stories about employers banning employees from expressing support for RMS/FSF, not because they hate him/them (respectively) but because the ‘online mob’ scares the businesses. They target businesses too, in a collateral damage/collective punishment fashion. It’s not pretty.

“Upon my decision to speak up,” (in support of RMS) the reader noted. “I lost a friend, and he sent me a very critical email where he criticized a post I made, to the capitalization of my name.”

“So, second. I realize the courage it takes… with so much to lose… to continue doing what you do, and I cannot express how important your work is/has been for a word lost in most other publications: community… I don’t have much to report on, I don’t have much to give. Now people know the Linux Foundation and OSI (among others) are not on the up and up as they once thought. Thank you for that!”

We’ve long noted that mainstream media, literally funded by those same corporations, never touches these subjects. At all. One can guess why. The same is true for EPO scandals because the EPO pays publishers to be complicit.

What Actually Happened

Not much happened last week. RMS returned to the Board of the FSF after a quick vote on the question/matter (that’s the actual news). Those who have followed us long enough probably weren’t surprised. RMS planned to come back at “the right time” and he was still involved in decisions up until now… albeit not at a public (or public-facing) capacity. One board member has since then left (Walsh), but given that another one was added (RMS) it’s probably OK. Large corporations have put massive pressure on the FSF and Walsh had voted against RMS returning. So in a sense this only strengthens the position of RMS inside the Board. Hours ago Mako-Hill (who left the Board in late 2019) shared his thoughts. A day or two after the announcement from RMS himself (“I have an announcement to make…”) the FSF updated the Web site with his name added to members of the Board. It then made a couple of statements to appease concerns politely expressed by some circles (such as KDE’s Board).

Now we move on. But before we do, let’s examine what actually happened and whether it was justified, based on the known (verifiable) facts. We should stress upfront that all those who said RMS was sexist because of a sign on his door basically relied on a prank (conned by a fake; circulated widely in social control media, never to be corrected or retracted) and media calling RMS “Epstein supporter” or anything similar was intentionally lying; that’s Bill Gates who supported Epstein. It was not RMS! In fact, RMS had called Epstein “rapist” for months prior to the ousting.

Finally, the Detailed Timeline

As noted above, we sort of ‘broke’ the news (in text, assuming IRC or a video stream do/does not count) and soon enough It’s FOSS wrote about it, unfortunately relaying the lie about the sign on the door at MIT (it was a prank). Some readers alerted us about this falsehood. Some time then passed and familiar (old) enemies of RMS re-emerged from the bushes, offering some more libel that they openly dished (we did a quick video rebuttal, hoping it was the end of that). The first ones to emerge were from a decade-long Microsoft booster, Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, the person who shamelessly spread libel 18 months ago in ZDNet, and a publication formerly edited by Bill Gates himself (after he had spiked negative articles about him and caused the sacking of his exposers). We covered all this in the video, assuming this was the end of it all. But then rose an angry mob, emboldened by a bunch of mischaracterisations and outright lies about what RMS had actually said. We were unhappy to see this and started taking notes, recording every article or blog post about the matter. What follows is a complete list of our notes.

One speaker from LibrePlanet was not happy about the news. He’s entitled to that view. Whether it was based on facts or the above distortion in the media, who knows? Then, Microsoft-funded publishers amplified the news and OSI threw its hat, still reeling from its complete failure to even run an election (they could really use a distraction at that point). The community-led sites (not corporate front groups like OSI) were mostly positive about the news and prominent vloggers were happy. It was then that the Microsoft boosters (same as above) came back again with provocative distortions, shamelessly trying to remove RMS from the FSF and destroy the FSF in the process (collective punishment). They showed their cards. The same people who tried to cancel Linus Torvalds then ‘rallied the troops’ against RMS, basically getting a number of Debian Developers to get all upset (already several days after the actual news!).

By that stage, the anti-RMS mob was already organising and inciting people, causing people to express views like this one and also upsetting people who had suffered abuse from that very same mob (same people, same methods). Sam Varghese wrote the first of about half a dozen posts inciting people against RMS (citing people from Microsoft!) and some conflated RMS interrupting a speaker to correct him/her with a threat to “safety” (we wrote many rebuttals to this false equivalence). We could still find more calm and objective coverage (Phoronix did not cover it at all; good way to stay focused, so well done, Michael Larabel), whereas Varghese egged on an angry mob.

That FSFE joining in was hardly surprising given its role in 2019 and some of its funding sources. There’s an ongoing (albeit silent) feud between the FSF and FSFE, mostly about the name (we’ve exposed leaks to show this). Several developers spoke out against RMS [[1], 2, 3, but those were mostly the same people from 2019 (Andy Wingo joined them a day later). They just re-emerged for another round. So their names were predictable. It’s a re-run in a sense. The corporate media soon rejoined with Varghese doing his one-sided coverage and Microsoft-funded media misrepresenting petitioners (calling people who oppose Free software the “free software community”). Those who actually do support Free software were often described as just “pro-RMS” as if it’s a cult of personalities and nothing more. We then saw the GNU Chinese Translators Team firmly behind RMS. Not many GNU developers dissented, except those who did so the last time. Some people even trolled mailing lists of GNU projects (links omitted for obvious reasons).

KDE’s Board issued a polite statement (which the FSF could amicably reply to with reassurances), whereas ZDNet kept boosting the angry mob, complete with the usual falsehoods (noted above already). As one might expect, the SFC took the same position as the last time, albeit it might be expected from a Google- and Microsoft-sponsored body (like SFC and FSFE). The actual users of GNU/Linux, including popular vloggers, were infuriated by what they called “Mob Mentality” although one prominent vlogger dissented (fair enough; we cannot always agree on everything). Some mainstream media falsely described some organizations as backing a petition just because some staff signed it (we’ve seen cases where institutions declined to sign it, but few members of staff did). By Thursday we’ve begun to see utter lies news sites, connecting RMS to Epstein. He blasted Epstein, unlike Bill Gates, who defended him. Later in the same day more of the same emerged [1, 2, 3] in media that is close to Gates and Microsoft. Sometimes with direct funding. Nice misdirection, we suppose… some readers described it as such. One site said (in the headline) that RMS is a “Scientist Who Defended Epstein,” but nothing could be further from the truth, based on the public record.

The EFF followed some staff that had ‘beef’ with RMS by publishing a blog post. Some people were enlisted by the GNOME Foundation (historically headed by people who later join Microsoft) to add their voices, possibly violating GNOME’s own Code of Conduct in the process (apparently leadership figures in GNOME are exempted from accountability/enforcement). Varghese said SUSE had joined, but there was no evidence like an official statement to back what he claimed. Anything to give an illusion of magnitude, we suppose (to make a loud minority seem a lot bigger than it actually was). Red Hat, which had not funded FSF for quite some time, pretended it was using financial sanctions while talking about the diversity of the FSF (Red Hat/IBM are even worse when it comes to that!). And guess which side Slashdot took, as opposed to Lunduke.

Drupal’s founder showed the effect of the misinformation. His description of what RMS said is borrowed from libellous reports, so the anger is basically based on a misunderstanding or media inciting him. A WordPress site did the same, misportraying (not by intention) what was going on. Many of these petitioners are not the “Free Software Community”; many people who attack RMS are typically those working for openwashing, including the OSI. Italo Vignoli (OSI) wrote something for TDF (Michael Meeks of LibreOffice appears to have changed his mind) and Varghese devotes all his time to amplifying what they said [1], [2], but we were starting to see statements in favour of RMS and the FSF outnumbering the rest, e.g. [1], [2], [3], 4], not to mention this reactionary petition in GitHub (it can be signed from Codeberg as well and will inevitably outnumber the mobs’ petition in terms of number of signatures).

At the moment we’re seeing more blog posts in support of RMS than against him. The balance has changed and it seems like this whole thing is more or less over. RMS is still in the FSF’s Board. “And that’s how it is…” (to quote or paraphrase him). He won’t be resigning a second time…

Conclusions and Ways Forward

A later analysis of the petition commandeering the angry mob reveals:

"Git shortlog (Top 10):

rms_cancel.git:

1170 Neil McGovern
204 Joan Touzet
46 Elana Hashman
41 Molly de Blanc"

That says it all really, but affiliations matter as well. So let’s help readers understand this better.

"Imagine if all that energy was directed at opposing European software patents instead of the founder of GNU."

Hashman is OSI and Azure (Microsoft), McGovern and de Blanc are GNOME Foundation and OSI. Starting to get the picture? Those are the people managing and rallying the ‘troops’. Today’s OSI dedicates most of its budget to GitHub (Microsoft) and the GNOME Foundation’s former heads (before McGovern) are Microsoft employees. It’s important to remember that…

Bill-and-jeff-not-rms.jpg

Some now accuse of the GNOME Foundation of cyberbullying or call for the resignation of the ‘coup leaders’ (“GNOME Board Members Must Resign In Disgrace”). They merely divided the community for personal gain. Nobody benefits from it, except maybe their ego.

The rest of this weekend will be devoted to exposing EPO corruption and other patent-related affairs. Imagine if all that energy was directed at opposing European software patents instead of the founder of GNU.

"“The European Patent Office is a Corrupt, Malicious Organization Which Should Not Exist”"

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