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Mozilla and Tor join calls to oust Richard Stallman from Free Software Foundation

More than 1,500 people have signed a petition calling for Richard Stallman to be removed from positions of leadership in free software.

Mozilla and Tor join calls to oust Richard Stallman from Free Software Foundation
Richard Stallman [Photo: Massimiliano Ferraro/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images]
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More than 1,500 people, along with prominent software projects including Mozilla and the Tor Project, have signed a petition calling for the board of the Free Software Foundation to resign and Richard Stallman to be “removed from all leadership positions.” The group recently reappointed the controversial developer and activist to its board; he had previously departed in the wake of sexual-harassment allegations and comments he made about the Jeffrey Epstein case that many found repellent.

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Stallman, whose GNU Project built free software tools that have become standard accompaniments to Linux and other operating systems, founded the Free Software Foundation in the 1980s to promote computer programs that would be free for users to redistribute and alter as they saw fit. For years, the bearded Boston-area resident was widely known to be argumentative, but as the #MeToo movement brought sexual harassment and sexist abuse into the spotlight, many women came forward to describe years of unpleasant and abusive behavior by Stallman that reportedly even caused women to avoid walking near his office at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Stallman resigned from a position at MIT and from the Free Software Foundation, where he had served as president, in 2019 after being widely criticized for comments about the Epstein case.

In calling for the FSF board resignation, the petition organizers point to those comments, to the harassment complaints, to comments Stallman made about people with Down syndrome, and to his repeated comments about the singular pronoun “they,” which the petitioners refer to as “poorly disguised transphobia.”

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The Free Software Foundation didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry from Fast Company.

“There has been enough tolerance of RMS’s repugnant ideas and behavior,” the petition organizers write. “We cannot continue to let one person ruin the meaning of our work. Our communities have no space for people like Richard M. Stallman, and we will not continue suffering his behavior, giving him a leadership role, or otherwise holding him and his hurtful and dangerous ideology as acceptable.”

Stallman is one of several onetime tech counterculture luminaries whose behavior, once seen as merely eccentric, has since widely been classified as abusive. Linux creator Linus Torvalds took time off from the open-source operating system project in 2018 after The New Yorker reported on years of what were called “abusive emails” to others on the project. And John Draper, a celebrated hacker known as Cap’n Crunch for his discovery that toy whistles in that cereal could at one time be used to make free phone calls, was barred from a number of security conferences after allegations of sexual misconduct toward young men and teenage boys. He’s denied having sexual motivations for leading the men and boys in high-touch “energy workouts.”

About the author

Steven Melendez is an independent journalist living in New Orleans.

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