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FSF defends Stallman reappointment following Red Hat snub

The organisation says it brought him back because it “missed his wisdom”

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) has published a statement in defence of its decision to reappoint Richard Stallman (RMS) to its board.

“We decided to bring RMS back because we missed his wisdom," the FSF said. "His historical, legal and technical acumen on free software is unrivaled. He has a deep sensitivity to the ways that technologies can contribute to both the enhancement and the diminution of basic human rights.

“His global network of connections is invaluable. He remains the most articulate philosopher and an unquestionably dedicated advocate of freedom in computing.”

FSF said that RMS has sincere regrets and that while his “personal style” remains troubling for some, a majority of the board felt his behaviour had moderated and that his “thinking” strengthens the work of the organisation.

Last March, the world learned RMS was back on the board of the FSF when he announced his return at FSF’s LibrePlanet conference.

The statement underlines the announcement was a “complete surprise” to the event’s staff, speakers and exhibitors and the board had hoped for a more “inclusive and thoughtful process”.

The board also believes RMS’s views will be “critical” to the FSF as it advances the mission and confronts the challenges that software freedom faces.

“We recognize the need to attract a new generation of activists for software freedom and to grow the movement,” said the statement.

In his own statement on the FSF website, RMS said that he has been described as “tone-deaf” which he recognises as fair. 

“With my difficulty in understanding social cues, that tends to happen. For instance, I defended Professor Minsky on an MIT mailing list after someone leaped to the conclusion that he was just guilty as Jeffrey Epstein,” he wrote.

“To my surprise, some thought my message defended Epstein. As I had stated previously, Epstein is a serial rapist, and rapists should be punished. I wish for his victims and those harmed by him to receive justice.”

His statement goes on to say that he only knew Minsky distantly, “but seeing him unjustly accused made me spring to his defense”. RMS added that police brutality makes him angry, but when the police lie about their victims “that false accusation is the ultimate outrage for me”.

RMS was forced to resign from the FSF in 2019 following comments he made about Marvin Minsky, one of his colleagues from MIT, in the Jeffrey Epstein trafficking case. He had questioned the validity of the allegations against Minsky.

RMS had written in an internal MIT exchange that “it is 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".

His reinstatement sent out a shock through the software community, and caused Red Hat to drop its support for FSF. The company said it was “appalled” to learn he had rejoined and immediately suspended all its funding of the organisation. It also added many of its contributors had expressed they no longer wanted to take part in events organised or even supported by the FSF, so Red Hat decided to honour their wishes.

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