Dear friends and members of our community,
We are standing up for freedom of expression.
This is a long letter – apologies for the length. It is necessary to fully explain a situation where we have been forced to defend our mission, our stakeholders, and ourselves.
We were accused by an organization (which we will refer to as Organization A) of supporting racist policies and promoting concentration camps, and this was immediately parroted by another organization (referred to as Organization B).
- We vehemently reject these claims, and consider them libelous, dangerous, irresponsible, and reckless.
- This statement serves to give more details about what happened, and we hope to set your mind at ease about these allegations.
- We initially did not respond publicly, with the intent to avoid provoking further reactions and premature judgment. It’s hard to reason with people who weren’t listening in the first place.
- It is now clear we must respond publicly, and in exact terms, since rumors and allegations are still being made.
- We are still trying to avoid “naming names”, even as we’ve become aware of more information. That said, we cannot continue to stand by – this is now a clear call to action for our accusers. Copies of this open letter will be directly delivered to a selection of our accusers. Still, we stress this letter also extends an olive branch.
- We still hope to come to an understanding with our accusers, and believe this would be much more productive than enmity.
So, what happened?
Starting on July 28, 2019, one of our board members, who goes by Svaros, was accused of supporting “concentration camps” and letting “people escaping being killed”, with connection to US border policies. We immediately investigated these very serious claims, and we found that there was no factual basis to them.
Despite the claims not being supported by fact, we were publicly accused by two different (partially overlapping) groups – Organizations A and B. Organization A made the initial accusation, and Organization B repeated it shortly thereafter. Most of our staff were banned immediately from both groups’ Discord online communication servers without any discussion, blocked by moderators we might have been able to correspond with, and defamed by people working in official capacities in server-wide bulletins.
The claims were connected principally with the following Reddit post by Svaros, our board member, in a topic about US border and immigration policy:
“So let me get this straight. It’s OK for people to immigrate illegally because it’s hard for people to immigrate legally and because they’re starving.
We can’t let everyone in that crosses the border (not that we want to) it sucks but we have our own logistics and our own systems which, while you can argue are flawed, are NOT an excuse to flagrantly violate them.”
We might say that Svaros was taken out of context, given it was part of a Reddit thread, but the comments stand reasonably on their own. There is no intolerance, racism, fascism, or anything of the sort indicated in his message. Further, he does not give a resounding affirmation of the United States’ immigration process – he acknowledges shortcomings, and gives opinions about priorities.
We have sympathy and respect for the homeless, refugees from all sorts of troubled places, and immigrants seeking a better life or to be with loved ones. We see Freedom of Form as a concept which is complementary to a society which treats everyone fairly and justly, including those who came in from elsewhere and those with nowhere to stay.
The act of judging our board member’s opinions about legal-versus-illegal immigration isn’t simply unfair – it misses the forest for the trees. Desperation should absolutely be met with aid. Aid is also not the issue being discussed in the context of legal or illegal immigration pathways.
We reject on this basis, without hesitation, a statement by a member of Organization A’s leadership, that “im more concerned really about how this supports trumps facist ideology overall”. Furthermore, this accuser stated that our board member’s comment “seems to approve of letting people die at the border because money is worth more than lives”. This is filled with logical leaps and creative twisting of words, to say the least.
Still based on the above Reddit post, a different accuser – a representative of Organization B, had said “one of the board members is explicitly a supporter of the US’s racist border policy and concentration camps.” This, likewise, is simply unfathomable and jaw-dropping.
There is no connection between opinions about the complexities in a nation’s border policy and sympathizing with fascism, racism, or inhumane detention facilities. We are appalled by the fact that such a connection was even imagined from what was written.
Why react now?
The decision to write this letter does not come lightly, and comes after protracted consideration of the pros and cons of a response of this kind.
At first, we were confident that, given the absurdity of the accusations, most people would give them no consideration. This has largely turned out to be true in our experience. At the same time, we did not have the appetite to “fight fire with fire” – we did not want to fan the flames given how rapidly the events had unfolded initially.
We were disappointed to learn new information that indicates some individuals are still actively spreading accusations – accusations that are at total odds with our values and goals. These accusations are damaging and have no factual basis. It’s now necessary to defend ourselves in no uncertain terms.
We can still reach an understanding.
We ask the individuals making these accusations to cease their factually wrong and baseless accusations against us and our board member. Furthermore, we kindly and humbly request that individuals or organizations who have made such accusations apologize to us and our board member, both privately, and in the same public spaces they initially made their accusations. However, we would stress that such apologies, if made, should be genuine and be accompanied by promises to ensure similar accusations are not made in the future towards any innocent parties. If such steps can be taken, we would be more than willing to mend ties for our common goal.
In order to ensure that we can move past this situation, we are specifically responding to a representative sample of the secondary accusations we’ve become aware of as well – these responses, along with further words of clarification, are linked at the bottom.
We imagine this letter will come as a surprise and we are sorry that this may not be something you expected. We would have rather not had to get into a combative situation at all – or, at least to have handled the misunderstanding privately, because these situations reflect poorly on all parties. Unfortunately, we have arrived here.
We also apologize for the delay in response (around 1 year since the initial accusations), for being silent on the issue, and for not being clear on expectations about confidentiality in our communications before, during, and after the accusations were made.
We are sincerely sorry to the accusers for communications which were unintentionally offensive, such as the note about asking if they would be interested in being an Employer of Record for us. We genuinely meant no offense, and were simply enthusiastic about mutually-beneficial business opportunities.
We hope that you, our reader, can at least understand our perspective, even if you don’t agree with some or even most of the decisions we’ve made. At the most basic level, we firmly assert that freedom of expression is a critical value to uphold, and we are willing to protect it at any cost.
Our board member wishes to close by saying:
“I believe in a future world where everyone can become what they desire so that their internal desires become outward manifestations. For this I am thankful to the board to let me continue to serve as we move forward into a wonderful new age of productive science and engineering. It has been an opportunity that I have cherished and relished, and I look forward to continuing into the future.”
We are thankful to all members of our community, all volunteers and personnel in the FFF, and to all our business partners who have stuck with us and been willing to trust us. Thank you.
The Board of Directors of the Freedom of Form Foundation
August 3, 2020
For further details, please see this document (PDF).