Claims of Sexism and Sexual Assault Plague Noisebridge Hackerspace

Since Noisebridge opened its doors in 2008, it quickly became not just a place to build robots or meddle with security systems, but a DIY community center in its own right.  Today it plays host to everything from LitQuake events to vegan cooking lessons, thanks in large part to its anarchist structure and open access policy.

But Noisebridge's one rule—“Be excellent to one another”—is the kind of toothless techno-libertarian feel-good sloganeering that does little to protect the community.  As Noisebridge member Hannah Grimm details, harassment is common and never criticized:

I've been spending time at Noisebridge for the last year, and in that time, I've been harassed by multiple people on many different occasions, almost always with members present.  Never once has a member intervened or spoken up on my behalf: not when Weev called me a cunt or made anti-semitic, anti-mormon, anti-woman, anti-gay jokes loudly in the space, not when someone loudly (and descriptively) told me about the “sluts” they double-penetrated the night before, not when an individual (upon seeing me about to leave the space on my Powerisers) declared “I love your stilts.  I'm going to make you my bride and then those will be mine” before slapping my ass as I was leaving just a few weeks ago.  The closest thing I have felt to supported in the space was when one individual decided to doocratically paint over the bathroom wall, which at the time was covered in images of maimed and broken crying women with enormous tits and waists so thin they would make Barbie jealous.  It has become abundantly clear to most women in the space that “Be Excellent” has failed us.

And it's not just Hannah.  Another member reports being “pinned down on a table” while another member “began unzipping [their] pants without any permission at all, refusing to stop even after [they] froze in fear asking what the fuck [he was] doing.”

It would seem that these black hat brogrammers are not Being Excellent, but largely in part of Noisebridge's consensus-based decision making process (which allows any one member to block a decision), women have not been empowered to remove misogynists from the community:

…attempts to remove sexual predators from the space have been stymied by the presence of lone, oblivious members of the community who simply refuse to believe that someone they consider a friend might not be a friend to women in the space.  The situation at Noisebridge has gotten so bad (alongside other issues such as dirtiness and homeless people living in the space) that long-time members went so far as to put in a proposal that Noisebridge seek to terminate its lease, presumably to then rebirth itself at a new location with tighter access control.

Instead of shutting down, Noisebridge instituted a sexual harassment policy—albeit provisionally, to protect against member's fears of censorship and (the long discredited notion) that women level false accusations of rape.

It seems at the intersection of Occupy and technology, women's safety just isn't that important.

Noisebridge refused to comment, with a member saying it's not “possible to get a response from a leaderless organization.

[Hannah Grimm | Photo by Jamillah Knowles]

Comments (58)

Noisebridge is such a creep magnet these days that it’s disingenuous to call it a hackerspace.

On one hand I’d like to see the problem addressed, on the other hand it could be benefiting the community to have all the creeps hidden away.

Just because you can’t kick someone out because they’re poor doesn’t mean it a creep magnet. ALL types of people go there to hack. Stop hating, Hater.

Your inability to distinguish between poor people and creeps makes you a bit of a creep yourself.

alright ladies, who wants to take some baseball bats to tim polt and friends’ knee caps?? beat those fucks with their own damn laptops.

Meh. Noisebridge is just a crappier knockoff of the late, lamented New Hack City.

Naw. I came up with it when I was about 13 years old. I wanted something unique, that other people wouldn’t choose, because the computer underground at the time was full of people choosing the same sort of Sci-Fi/D&D-type handles, so that they would have to differentiate to some degree by adding their area code. So you might have a Dr. Who (415) and a Dr. Who (617) or Red Knight (916), Red Knight (203), and Red Knight (408) or whatever. Ad infinitum.

So I came up with something goofy enough that nobody else would ever choose it. Or such was my theory, anyway.

When I was almost 13 I was riding a skateboard, smoking pot and getting laid.

Not me. I was living in a shitty redneck town where I was the only weird kid, and I was pretty convinced that there was nobody else like me in the whole world. Only started to get to know other smarty weirdos through BBSs and eventually the hacker scene.

are you from texas by chance?

Naw. cDc got their start in Texas (Lubbock!), but by the time I joined there were members scattered all over the country.

One of the only things I regret in life was not following up on an ‘internship’ offer at rotten.com. Keep it hyper-real.

Think of all the free bonsai kittens you missed out on!

Agreed. At least NHC had a hot tub. Or, it did before it moved to 6th. Seatec Astronomy FTW!

Darn tootin’. How’s things with you, anyway? Haven’t randomly run into you on the street in a surprisingly long time.

Oh look, yet another example of how inclusive anarchy doesn’t work.

Exactly.

Occupy had a problem with creepers and with nobody being willing to banish them. The tech sector has a problem with creepers and nobody being willing to regulate them.

Put them together, and apparently the problem squares itself.

And what DensityDuck said. Inclusive anarchy doesn’t work. At least not outside of co-ops in Santa Cruz where everybody goes in with some level of education privilege and roughly the same value system.

When you have a “no rules” policy you will attract people who desire no rules.

A no-rules rule? How would that even work?

Noisebridge and Occupy both have/had ways to create rules, but there is/was no interest in actually enforcing them.

Eric, you’re wrong! If you harrass someone at Noisebridge, you are routinely kicked out and asked to come to the next meeting where the allegations against you are brought up in front of everyone who attend and the minutes are logged on the website. Like I said before, stop hating…you will live happier.

Noisebridge is not “the tech sector”.

Does it make me hip or lame that none of this post makes much sense to me?

The one time I dropped by Noisebridge there was a skeevy looking dude asleep on a sofa. So, hrm.
Still I hear people like it.

just curious, do you like the band diiv?

Noisebridge isn’t a hackerspace so much as an anarchist commune, and it’s been that way for a couple years now at least. The consensus process ensures that a small minority of people will always be able to block any attempts to fix its problems (the anti-harassment policy was able to only pass temporarily). They’re “radical inclusiveness” (of abusers) and shoot-the-messenger attitude has driven away almost all of the original members. There’s a long list of people who got tired of Noisebridge’s BS.

Between the homeless people sleeping there and using Noisebridge as a crash pad, people using the kitchen to cook their personal meals, thefts, the rodent problem (hint: don’t buy produce from the market next door), and that half the fire exits are blocked, Noisebridge isn’t a place I recommend to any of my tech & DIY friends.

So many reasons not to recommend it, but sexual harassment’s not one of them.

Come on! Harrassing people is about the only way to get kicked out of Noisebridge. By declaration, Noisebridge is an anarchist hackerspace and people who don’t like the idea of anarchy, probably, will find something negative to say about it, but harrassing people IS something that can and does get one b& from the space.

No. but you are a teacher of Frontend Web Development (awesome, btw) @Noisebridge and your classes are always full. How long have you been going to Noisebridge (a long time) and how many times have you witnessed someone harrass someone (likely never)?

The time I spend at Noisebridge NOT teaching is close to nil. I don’t hang out there; I really can’t know firsthand. But I trust more in the accusers than the accused. Not sure what point you’re trying to make.

Wtf, I just got an email from some journalist who read this post and wants to interview me about the sexual assault incident and my experiences at the hackerspace. I had no idea this story was even run… I don’t even live in SF anymore.

(And she/her are my prefered pronouns by the way)

Occasionally, I’ve walked in, used some of their power tools and walked out. Handy.

What’s wrong with the produce next door?

This article is bullshit. Whenver there is a sexual harassment problem at noisebridge, it is addressed, sometimes by immediately ejecting the person until the problem is settled, or banning the person outright after a series of meetings.

Yes, the consensus process is slow, but complete consensus is not required, nor is it hard to acquire, in any of these harassment situations.

This article is tantamount to slander.

Corey, seriously? Your comment is bullshit, here’s why:

A. you are not aware of all the harassment incidents that happen there. Often the person harassed is the one who leaves, and doesn’t come back. It’s a lot easier to go somewhere else, where the people are less likely to harass you.

B. it doesn’t help as much as you seem to think that harassment is (sometimes) addressed after the fact. There should be an atmosphere of respect, such that people don’t harass others… but there isn’t.

C. Consensus on banning people who’ve harassed others isn’t always easy. There are always people who will step up to defend the harasser, usually by quoting “innocent until proven guilty”. As if being banned from Noisebridge is tantamount to jail time and a sex offender label on your permanent record! Remember dru? We couldn’t ban him. One guy blocked it.

Rachel1.0

“Consensus on banning people who’ve harassed others isn’t always easy. There are always people who will step up to defend the harasser”

There seems to be some disagreement in the comments here and on Twitter about if Dru is the only creepy dude to have ever survived a banning proposal at Noisebridge. Do you know of any other case where that happened?

This article is sad to read because it paints a very inaccurate picture of Noisebridge.

From my perspective (a regular there, not a member) sexual harassers tend to get kicked out of noisebridge extremely quickly. I’ve seen it happen several times and heard about a number of others.

I think Dru was the first creep to not be officially banned when the community considered it; ironically he is a supporter of the new anti-harassment policy and has not been banned by it either :(

Weev was a special case in that he is a legendary internet harasser who some people may have been afraid to try to kick out. Hannah and her friends played DnD with him for months while being aware that other people weren’t comfortable with him being there based on his reputation. I consider the DnD players mostly responsible for his presence there, especially if they witnessed him living up to his reputation while there. (Now, he’s in prison, the government having tragically martyred him for sending HTTP requests rather than prosecuting him for relentlessly harassing people.)

The notion that Noisebridge’s consensus process or lack of policies prevents it from banning people from the space is absurd. Just look at https://www.noisebridge.net/86 to see the people that have been kicked out via consensus and or do-ocracy (and that isn’t even a complete list!).

This article is outrageous. I have spent alot of time at Noisebridge, albeit, before Weev got V&. The only case of harrassment that I ever knew of was one that was taking place outside of Noisebridge and some of us did some research at the space and discovered that he had a warrant out for his arrest for stalking someone and we kicked him out of the space and brought a proposal up at the meeting, which passed, to ban him permanetly from the space.

I feel like the above criticism comes from people who just hate poor people and can’t stand sharing space with them, even when they share interests. San Francisco is one of the most expensive places to live and people who live there seem to believe that they deserve to not associate with people who are less fortunate than them.

Noisebridge is a great resource for everyone, who doesn’t hate poor people. There is an awesome techno-hacking library, a full wood shop, regular programming and hacking classes, access to rare and expensive equipment, and so much more, however, you can’t kick people out because they are poor, like the rest of San Francisco.

people might hate you because you’re stupid, not poor.

Yeah, ok.

“Well, I haven’t seen those problems.” and accusing the people making complaints of being classist are classic Noisebridge shoot-the-messenger tactics. It’s really predictable.

Next you’ll be telling people they don’t understand anarchy, insincerely ask “but how does that affect you?”, and then start accusing people of power trips and witch hunts and attacking your free speech.

This is not about class or income level. It’s about behavior in shared space. Attempting to deflect this to a discussion of “poor people” is neither accurate nor honest.

If anything this article understates the amount of fear, anger, and turmoil within the Noisebridge community around these issues.

If you’re at all familiar with the Noisebridge community, you’d know that many of the members love to derail threads about sexual assault and turn it into a discussion on people sleeping in the space.

For the record, the aforementioned big breasted Barbie graffiti was created by a person who identifies herself as a woman.

Wow! Noisebridge finally called out on its shit. Totally agree: women get the shaft while doods get to come to meeting and argue for why they shouldn’t be expelled because people just don’t “get” them. Anyone remember Patrick Keys? Holy living fuck, it took 3 months to get rid of him, and he was basically a rapist in training. Everyone wanted to empathize with him, fix his deep mental problems, make an exception to help him. Meanwhile, women vacated the place like rats leaving a sinking ship while he was around, but no one did anything to help them out. Instead, everyone sat around and said “hey, man, we can’t ostracize anyone! That’s not cool, man! These rapists have as much right to be here as anyone, man.”

It was the kitchen that ruined Noisebridge.

3 months? Wasn’t Patrick Keys actually banned at the very first meeting where his harassment was discussed?

I think it was made an official consensus decision one week later, because considering something for at least one week is the way official consensus decisions are made at Noisebridge, but there was a very unambiguous statement from the people at the first meeting that he was totally unwelcome at Noisebridge starting immediately.

That’s when you first heard of it. Dood was hanging around like a virus for months, creeping on women. Check the mailing list. Guy was on that list missing the clue train for months before anyone even made an issue of his creeping. And when someone finally did say something, women came crawling out of the woodwork. We had to use Mike Kan as the example of someone who “gets it.”

Check the mailing list? I have. If there was *any* mention of his creepy behavior prior to the last week of February 2011 when he was swiftly banned, would you please point it out?

I do remember him being a prolific irritatingly clueless mailing list participant, ostensibly trying to be helpful, for a few months before that, basically from the day he arrived. If you want to blame Noisebridge for not banning people for merely perpetually missing the clue train, please don’t conflate that with not banning creeps. Creeps get banned, and generally very quickly.

Noisebridge is a Do-ocracy. All one needs to do is ask any offender to leave and come back at the next meeting when the issue can be discussed more thoroughly. It’s a rather simple and effective process when employed.

Allow me to explain why the policy at Noisebridge is bad.

The actual policy for harassment at Noisebridge begins with this:

1: Confront your harasser.
2: Find someone to mediate between you and the harasser.
3: Bring the problem to meeting.

So, step one at the do-ocracy was to confront your rapist. That’s a great idea. Then, the plan is to sit down and have someone mediate a discussion with your rapist. Then, finally, the last step is to openly discuss the rape at a meeting, with a bunch of people who weren’t involved.

Keys was bothering women for a long time. He had a dog that snapped at people. He said awful things to trans people in the space, which are alluded to on the list. He didn’t listen to anything anyone ever said to him. That last one is a HUGE indicator of a potential problem, especially where sexual harassment is concerned.

When things were finally escalated to step 3, the mailing list had gotten involved, and people were already calling the accuser a liar. The point here is that public, transparent processes without any controls or rules are a TERRIBLE way to deal with sexual harassment.

Hear, Hear.

Fist bump with the Deth Vegetable. What is the world coming to when you have to fucking explain who you are on the Internet? Motherfuckers, the Deth Vegetable was here hacking shit up before SSL was even a standard! CDC is not a government org.

> Noisebridge refused to comment, with a member saying it’s not “possible” to get a response from a leaderless organization.

This is an willful, outright fabrication. Noisebridge has a 5-member board of directors that is elected by the membership, and the board appoints a president, treasurer, and secretary. But the pro-anarchy crowd loves to chime in with “you’re not the boss of me, there are no bosses” rhetoric to avoid accountability, as they are doing here.

I’m not part of the pro-anarchy crowd, and it wasn’t a willful fabrication.

Ack. I spoke out of turn about “willful” and such. Sorry about that. I made an assumption because it’s the sort of thing I often hear from the anarchist folks. But Noisebridge does have leaders and does have figureheads who would be able to speak to the media.

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