09.08.20

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Handling Attacks on Free Software Volunteers and Their Families

Posted in Free/Libre Software at 9:30 am by Guest Editorial Team

Reprinted with permission from Daniel Pocock

Over the years, volunteers have done a lot to promote and contribute to free and open source software and the organizations/communities in this space. The leaders are not the only ones doing this work. Many people are quietly doing far more work than the leaders of some free software organizations.

In 2017, the now defunct FSFE Fellowship, which consisted of approximately 1,500 Fellows, voted for me to be their community representative. Not only did I have to represent those who voted for me, but also those who voted for other candidates. I also discovered that I was representing a Fellow who died leaving a EUR 150,000 bequest. Although I was only a volunteer, I took all those responsibilities seriously.

I didn’t realize this at the beginning but representing the interests of donors and volunteers put me in opposition to some people who had not previously had to deal with the same level of committment from a community representative. The type of people who paid themselves salaries and took long periods of paternity leave after receiving that gargantuan EUR 150k bequest.

Around that time, I was also dealing with some incredibly tragic circumstances in my family life. I resigned from some of my roles, for example, resigning as a Google Summer of Code admin in Debian in August 2018. Thanks to the never-ending creativity of open source politics, people immediately started rather offensive lies trying to connect me to trolling or even suggesting that I was expelled. It isn’t coincidence when people say things like that about somebody elected by the volunteers. My only mistake was joining the FSFE in the first place.

In September 2018, Debian’s leader (DPL) Chris Lamb had the Debian Account Managers move my key from the DD keyring to the inferior DM keyring.

They wanted me to feel humiliated.

They wanted me to continue contributing to Debian, but under their coercive control. You can see the entry on 20 September 2018 when I was moved from the DD to the DM keyring, not expelled.

The thing is, my responsibility is to my employer and clients. By exercising this control over me, those co-conspirators aspired to have the power of an employer without actually paying me.

In other words, they wanted me to be their slave and their puppet.

shackles

People tried to give me orders about what I can and can’t tell the community who elected me to represent them.

I couldn’t perform my role as a community representative under such coercive influence so I resigned. I resigned from the representative role and also completely resigned from FSFE on the same day that Debian started blackmailing me, 20 September 2018.

That date wasn’t coincidence: that is the impact of blackmail.

Now we get to the bizarre part: 12 October 2018, the Debian Project Leader, Chris Lamb, wrote that he had me “demoted” but the current leader, Sam Hartman, is telling people I was expelled. These words mean very different things. That is an incredibly vindictive way to re-write history. Hartman has made far-fetched claims about trolling but since doing so, not one piece of evidence has appeared. Any evidence produced retrospectively is no more trustworthy than anything else that has been said in the meantime. Debian has a history of making up evidence retrospectively to justify political assassinations.

If you have any doubts about this, you can check the DM keyring log, why would they move me to the DM keyring if I had done anything that would remotely justify an expulsion? Anybody on the DM keyring can still upload all of their packages.

In what kind of organization do you expel or fire somebody and still keep asking them to do stuff for you like that?

They behave like the men who extort women with revenge porn: the relationship is over but they want to maintain control over the woman, having her on call. They threaten to humiliate the woman by releasing some videos if she doesn’t volunteer for things.

In the case of Debian Developers, they humiliate one of us every couple of years to keep everybody else under their thumb.

The demotion was a veiled threat, a form of blackmail: follow orders and do work for us or we tell people we expelled you. Sam Hartman’s outburst is nothing more than a bunch of gangsters following through on a threat.

In my case, they wanted to benefit from my technical work making packages but they didn’t want me to have a voice representing the 1,500 Fellows. Why can’t the people who do the work have a voice?

Given the challenges my family faced over that last couple of years, this was a particularly nasty case of harassment and abuse from Debian’s leadership.

Other Debian Developers continued to work with me on various things. None were aware that I had been moved to a different keyring. It quickly became obvious that this was a conspiracy operated by a very small group of people, including the leader and the three Debian Account Managers, a silent act of abuse hidden from the community at large.

Nonetheless, I didn’t say a lot about what was going on. Then something changed: I saw them starting to subject another volunteer to the same coercion. I realized that, like serial rapists, these people were going to keep doing this. The vast majority are unaware that some leadership figures in Debian behave like this: if people knew, they wouldn’t join Debian.

On a number of occasions now, I’ve been a witness to other volunteers in a range of organizations being subject to harassment, abuse and coercion in various ways.

When I’ve tried to defend other volunteers, there is a nasty overreaction. In a brazen case of victim-offender reversal, when bullies like that are challenged, they will claim the entire community that is being defended is under attack. In my mind, there is no community without the grass roots developers. There is nobody else to defend the Fellow who died and left a EUR 150k bequest. Women and other groups that are at a disadvantage. Defending those people or defending the privacy and dignity of my own family is not an attack, it is just the right thing to do.

Could that be the difference between Lamb’s demotion and Hartman’s expulsion/ban/revenge attack, my effort to stand up for a fellow volunteer? I owe so much to the people who did the real work creating free software that its an honour for me to risk my own reputation to defend them against the menace of these blackmailers.

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