(A backup of the medium post I wrote some time ago.)
Jacob Appelbaum, a serial abuser, has not been welcome in vast swaths of the digital liberties and techno-activism communities. The accusations against him are serious. The accusers include some of the most respected people in these fields.
Jacob is currently formally banned from many key organizations in these communities, including the Chaos Communications Club, Noisebridge, the Tor Project, the Cult of the Dead Cow, and the Freedom of the Press Foundation.
Jacob’s only response to these allegations is that they are a smear campaign.
Stammtisch is a German term for a regular gathering of people, usually at a bar or café. For many who know Jacob, the term “Stammtisch” generally refers to a particular Tuesday night gathering of activists, artists, free software developers, and hackers in Berlin. Stammtisch was originally started by the Telekommunisten 15 years ago, and has become an institution.
Jacob Appelbaum was a regular visitor at Stammtisch until the allegations were made public in June of 2016.
After an absence of over a year, Jacob reappeared at the Telekommunisten Stammtisch in Berlin on May 9th, 2017, at about 22:20.
None of the founding members of the Telekommunisten — people who have been assembling at this Stammtisch for over 15 years — were told in advance. Each of them openly expressed utter shock when he arrived.
I, along with other long-time Stammtisch attendees, personally asked Jacob to leave. Here is an approximate play-by-play of what happened.
- Baruch and a few other long-time attendees ask Jacob to step outside and talk.
- Jacob, who had bought a drink, says he will come outside later. After about 5 minutes, he comes outside and sits down at a table. Baruch, Fransisca, and I join him. Two or three others were also there.
- I say that I am personally uncomfortable with his presence, and I ask him to leave.
- I ask Jacob if he understands why this conversation is happening and why I might be uncomfortable with his presence.
- He does not answer my question, instead asking, “how could you ask me to leave when you bumped in to my girlfriend without apologizing?”
- I say that I don’t think this is relevant or equivalent.
- He replies that it is just as important, and that as someone who bumped into someone without apologizing, I’m not allowed to ask him to leave.
- I reiterate that he makes me and others uncomfortable, and ask him to leave.
- He refuses, loudly repeating that my concerns are invalid due to the bumping.
I recognized I could not make any progress, and ended the conversation.
Jacob remained at Stammtisch for several hours, both inside and outside the bar. I finally left, before he did, at around midnight.
Jacob’s behavior indicates to me that he does not feel remorse for his actions. His attempt to deflect discussion about his behavior is a classic “DARVO” technique — an attempt to distract and take control of a conversation. Psychologists characterize DARVO as a technique often employed by abusers.
This to me is a glaring red flag, a sign that he has no interest in publicly acknowledging any of his behavior.
Jacob was welcomed by some, and those of us who expressed concern were not able to convince him to leave.
As a result, I will not be able to attend Stammtisch any more. His admittance is such a fundamental offense to my ethical standards that I no longer feel a part of the community.
You should not attend Stammtisch unless Jacob is made explicitly unwelcome. You should tell your friends who have attended Stammtisch in the past, and warn those who may attend in the future.
These are some questions I was asked during the discussion about Jacob’s presence.
Can’t we all just get along? I am sad that this is tearing our community apart.
I’m sad too.
It is sad that Jacob’s actions have hurt so many. If you are sad, you should be sad that Jacob is an abuser, and that the community failed to protect those who needed it most. You should be sad that he displays no remorse and expresses no interest in repairing the damage he’s caused.
You should not be sad that the people he has hurt do not want to see him again. You should be very happy that 33c3 was safer for some very wonderful people. You should not be sad that we confront abusers.
Jacob has every right to be at a public bar!
Of course he does. Only the employees of Café Buchhandlung have the legal right to call the police and eject him from the premises. But we all have the right to ask him to leave. We have the right to leave when he does not.
But shouldn’t a hacker / activist community should be inclusive? Exclusion is bad!
It is important to understand that when you choose to include absolutely everyone, you are also choosing to exclude others. For example, if Jacob is welcome at, say, SHA, many people will not feel physically safe, and will not be able to attend. The organizers of every space, every community, every event must decide one way or another.
Reading this might make you feel sad. That’s an OK feeling, and you’re not alone. But you can’t just make this go away.
At Noisebridge, we struggled for a half a decade about how to make the choice to eject people. Banning the first person — someone who was clearly and obviously sexually assaulting members — took months.
Most of the discussion was not about the person in question, but about whether or not Noisebridge could ever ban anyone. Ultimately, this person was formally banned. As time has passed, the Noisebridge community has become more comfortable in its power to exclude those who would harm it. As a result, it’s become a more vibrant, diverse, and inclusive place.
I don’t like Jacob’s presence, but why should I ask him to leave?
Choosing to do nothing may feel like taking a position of neutrality, but it is just as concrete and active an action as, say, speaking out. If you don’t say anything against abusers, you are actively sending a message that you tolerate abuse.
What if Jacob stayed outside the bar, and those who were uncomfortable stayed inside?
This is no different than welcoming Jacob, because you’re still saying that he can be a part of your community.
Jacob talked to me, and he said he’s sorry!
That’s fine. However, as a manipulative person, Jacob will say whatever helps him in the moment. He personally thrives on fame and adoration. He will not publicly acknowledge that he has hurt people.
If Jacob talks to you, you must realize that he will act very differently around different people to get what he wants.
Do you have to be so confrontational?
Yes. I believe strongly that abuse cannot be tolerated. I am willing to confront and call out those who do not share that view.
How will we know when Jacob can be welcomed back?
Jacob can probably never be welcomed back. If he had accepted from the beginning that he had hurt some people, then this conversation might be different. Given the year-long silence, I believe the chance for healing has passed.
These are just rumors and allegations! This is mob justice!
They are statements. You can believe them, or you can not. Just because something is not written in a court doesn’t make it false. I believe the accusers, because I know and trust some of them, and it matches up with what I’ve personally experienced. I think you should too, if only because many of the accusers have nothing to gain personally, and most have come forward at great personal cost.
It’s a good thing that the standard of proof required to remove someone’s legal rights is very high. Mob justice, when coupled with the power to deprive someone of their liberties, is a dangerous thing. But this is not mob justice. No legal rights are being revoked. Tomorrow Jacob can still walk into any public establishment, vote, open a bank account, speak freely, and run for political office.
This does not mean that you, as a private person or as part of an organization, must act the same as a government. You are not capable of taking away any of Jacob’s legal rights. There is no principle that says you must tolerate him. You can freely choose not to associate with him, and not to join communities that don’t match your values.
I have no power in this situation!
Just because many hacker and activist organizations are non-hierarchical doesn’t mean their members have no power. It just means that their power is not rooted in formal structures. This lack of hierarchy means that all of us have to have a say in the practices of the organization.
Unfortunately, earning power through perceived influence means that abusers and sociopaths can easily amass a lot of control. This further enables their abuse and silences their victims. To put it another way, abusers exploit vulnerabilities in the system for their benefit.
If, like all activists, you believe it is your duty to stop the abuse of power by those who wield it, then it is your duty to recognize and reject those who subvert non-hierarchical organizations for their own gain.