Free software advocates seek removal of Richard Stallman and entire FSF board

Richard Stallman speaking in front of microphones while holding a stuffed animal.
Enlarge / Richard Stallman speaks about free software in Athens, Greece at the Commons Fest in 2015.

Richard Stallman’s return to the Free Software Foundation’s board of directors has drawn condemnation from many people in the free software community. An open letter signed by hundreds of people today called for Stallman to be removed again and for the FSF’s entire board to resign.

The open letter said:

Richard M. Stallman, frequently known as RMS, has been a dangerous force in the free software community for a long time. He has shown himself to be misogynist, ableist, and transphobic, among other serious accusations of impropriety. These sorts of beliefs have no place in the free software, digital rights, and tech communities. With his recent reinstatement to the Board of Directors of the Free Software Foundation, we call for the entire Board of the FSF to step down and for RMS to be removed from all leadership positions.

Letter signers include Neil McGovern, GNOME Foundation executive director and former Debian Project Leader; Deb Nicholson, general manager of the Open Source Initiative; Matthew Garrett, a former member of the FSF board of directors; seven of the eight members of the Foundation board of directors; Elana Hashman of the Debian Technical Committee, Open Source Initiative, and Kubernetes project; Molly de Blanc of the Debian Project and GNOME Foundation; and more than 300 others. That number has been rising quickly today: the open letter contains instructions for signing it.

The letter said all members of the FSF board should be removed because they “have enabled and empowered RMS for years. They demonstrate this again by permitting him to rejoin the FSF Board. It is time for RMS to step back from the free software, tech ethics, digital rights, and tech communities, for he cannot provide the leadership we need.” The letter also called for Stallman to be removed from his position leading the GNU Project.

“We urge those in a position to do so to stop supporting the Free Software Foundation,” they wrote. “Refuse to contribute to projects related to the FSF and RMS. Do not speak at or attend FSF events, or events that welcome RMS and his brand of intolerance. We ask for contributors to free software projects to take a stand against bigotry and hate within their projects. While doing these things, tell these communities and the FSF why.”

Stallman’s resignation

For a lengthy summary of the events that led to Stallman’s resignation in September 2019, see our article published yesterday. Stallman resigned after the leak of emails about Jeffrey Epstein’s sex trafficking of a minor, in which Stallman objected to the use of the word “assaulting” and called it “morally absurd to define ‘rape’ in a way that depends on minor details such as which country it was in or whether the victim was 18 years old or 17.”

The open-letter writers also posted a page that listed various of Stallman’s other, similar statements about age-of-consent laws, and a statement in which Stallman “recommended that, should someone find out they are pregnant and the child tests positive for Down’s syndrome, ‘the right course of action for the woman is to terminate the pregnancy.'” The page also said that “RMS has spent years on a campaign against using people’s correct pronouns. This is poorly disguised transphobia.”

“RMS has a history of mistreating women and making them feel uncomfortable, unsafe, and unwelcome,” the page also said, while linking to a summary of allegations.

“Some of us have our own stories about RMS and our interactions with him, things that are not captured in email threads or on video,” the open letter said. “We hope you will read what has been shared and consider the harm that he has done to our community and others.”

Stallman founded the FSF in 1985 and served as its president until his resignation in 2019. He announced his return to the board, as a member but not president, at the FSF’s LibrePlanet conference this past weekend. “I’m now on the Free Software Foundation board of directors once again,” he said. “Some of you will be happy at this and some might be disappointed, but who knows. In any case, that’s how it is. And I’m not planning to resign a second time.”

We contacted the Free Software Foundation about the open letter calling for Stallman’s removal today and will update this article if we get a response. At least for now, Stallman’s name is once again listed on the FSF’s board of directors page.