GamerGate in D.C. — The Full Story: Camaraderie and Bomb Threats
The Road to GGinDC
It can sometimes be an uncomfortable thing when online events jump into the real world; trying to get a number of people who mostly interact online into one location can be difficult. But that’s exactly what Milo Yiannopoulos and Christina Hoff Sommers decided to do in Washington D.C., to resounding — if interrupted — success.
This isn’t going to be a dry recounting of the facts. If you want that, my editor, Josh Bray, has already given a pretty excellent timeline of events in our initial coverage. This is a story told partly through the eyes of those who were there and collected via tweets, blog posts, streams, and recounted to me personally, at length, by people who were there. Contributors include GwenLilyKnight and her partner, who I consider friends, work with the site, and who I have been working with in online activism for the past few months. I feel writers should have a degree of critical distance from their work, but here I do not. Only by being immersed in these events do I feel I can really do them justice in a recounting. So here is the story of GGinDC as I see them, and as the people who I’ve collected these accounts from see them.
There have been successful GamerGate meetups before, two in London and several small-scale gatherings where people participating in the online consumer revolt met with others for the first time (in what some of us would call “meatspace“), but this was the first big United States meetup, and it was always going to be much more controversial than it deserved to be. Yiannopoulos and Sommers spearheading the event personally gave it a greater amount of weight, as did being in the nation’s capital. All in all, about 150 people RSVP’d to the event. People came from all over the U.S. — even other parts of the world — all gathering for an evening at the Local 16 Bar on U Street, where a room had been booked for those attending. The stage was set for a nice little party where people would do nothing more than meet for the first time and converse over some drinks.
“The right of the people peaceably to assemble”
Enter the bumbling antics of one Arthur Chu. Oh Arthur. Do you just not like other people having fun? The one-time Jeopardy winner and seemingly full-time busy-body made it his mission the night of the meetup to contact Local 16 repeatedly on social media, via e-mail and even having his followers send phone calls with odd and hysterical messages at the manager. He referred to those gathering as a “right wing hate group” and tried to imply that the event being allowed to take place in their venue was somehow an endorsement of the “harassment and intimidation of women.” I think the irony of trying to impinge on the rights of a group while ostensibly dedicated to free speech and free expression was lost on poor Arthur, but it wasn’t lost on some of his followers or other GamerGate critics, who backed away from his attempts to intimidate and harass the venue. This was an attack on the right to peacefully gather, and done by a faction of people trying everything they can to stop it, including — as we will see — someone eventually breaking the law. This speaks volumes about how poor the state of free expression has become in the gaming and tech world, and neatly demonstrates why GamerGate still exists.
Whilst Scrooge McChu was desperately trying to ruin a party out of spite, simply because he didn’t like those attending, people were already arriving in D.C. SuperNerdLand contributor Gwen Lily Knight, an independent game developer, and her partner (to whom I am indebted to for helping me put this story together) took a bus ride across seven states consisting of twelve hours to be at the meetup. There was a spirit of cooperation in getting people to the event; homes were opened up by D.C. locals, and people gathered for pre-meetup meals and sightseeing. People helped each other out in whatever way they could to make the trip worthwhile and smooth. If all of this seems out of character for a “hate mob,” you’d be right.
As people started to arrive at the venue, it became clear that Washington D.C. was a city on alert. Protests related to the Baltimore riots were still ongoing, and there was a police presence already in the vicinity of Local 16 — around 30 protesters and as many police officers blocking the intersection. The bar is located a block away from a police department and across the street from a fire house. There had been some expectations that there might be some kind of disruption already, after the social media push by Chu and friends earlier in the day to get GGinDC ejected, but it seemed like utter insanity that someone would actually call in a threat to a location on such high alert already.
Ain’t No Party Like a GamerGate Party
The meetup was in a room upstairs at Local 16, with early arrivals standing around wondering how many more would arrive as people started to trickle in. Many of those attending only knew each other via Twitter handles or other online screen names, so introductions were often made with both name and nickname. Some even wore name-tags with their online handles to signify who they were. The room rented started to fill more and more until it was starting to overflow, packed full of folks wanting to be part of this event. The thrill of seeing people you have only met online, and seeing the faces of others you appreciate for the first time, is a hell of a thing. Camaraderie and a real party atmosphere was present in the bar, with people just enjoying being around other people. It was an atmosphere of positivity and excitement.
Milo and Sommers arrived, and the packed room erupted with applause. Christina Hoff Sommers is someone who is used to having her talks protested, being shouted over and having her books burned, so I imagine arriving to such a warm welcome had to be refreshing. After they settle in, a speech is given; first by Milo, then by Sommers, then by Factual Feminist Deputy host Caroline Kitchens, with the room being quieted with parody display of “Feminist Jazz Hands.” “Milo being Milo” I think was the best description that was given to me about his part, as anyone who knows the Breitbart journalist will attest that he is one of the most flamboyantly British men on the planet.
There were handshakes and drinking (some drinking more than others); developers mixing with people used to the D.C. political scene; a D.J. was brought out as were two posters for everyone to sign honoring the two main hosts. Cathy Young, another famed feminist writer and scholar, was also in attendance, and has written her own first-hand account of events. Despite the stereotype that some would pin on gamers, the crowd had a large contingent of professional people, well dressed folks in their 30s. A huge span of ages, races, genders and sexes were present, as well as mainstream journalists and political types. Not just basement-dwelling neckbeards. The meetup was around 30% women at an estimate, for those wondering.
Just look at all the photos. You have middle-aged couples, people with greying hair, a good Asian and Hispanic contingent, independent games developers, tech pundits, black, white, straight, gay. A number of media people also turned out: Brandon Morse and Lizzy Finnegan of The Escapist; Allum Bokhari, contributor to Breitbart and GamePolitics; Ralph of The Ralph Retort. There were journalists from The Daily Dot, Reason, the Washington Examiner, The Daily Caller and possibly many other media attending incognito. Just a huge glob of different people, some you’d expect to see in a Washington bar and some you would not. Like a plush otter, which was circulated and made its way into many pictures in honor of Twitter user Andrew Gleason (known as Otter Jesus), who ran the “GamerGate Hug Patrol.”
If you think I’m harping on about the diversity thing too much, then think back to the early coverage of GamerGate. The words “white” and “male” were the prevailing descriptors, along with “angry” and every ugly outdated gamer stereotype imaginable. Look at the images. Listen to the stories. The stereotype and mislabeling has been discredited, yet is still repeated in some outlets. MSNBC and others have broadcast GamerGate as “a literal war on women.“
Gwen Lily Knight — who formed half of SuperNerdLand’s presence at GGinDC — is disabled. She suffers from various symptoms, but a couple are that leg muscles can get so easily worn out that they can no longer support her, as well as being in over all constant pain. I hope she does not mind me saying, but I think her just getting to D.C. was an achievement in and of itself. And she then attended the meetup with her partner, despite having a scare regarding collapsing the day before. An event that stuck out to me in her accounting was her conversation with Dr. Sommers. Gwen was sitting down and surveying the scene, when Twitter user VGBouceHouse took it upon himself to stand up to allow Sommers to sit down and speak with Gwen. What I didn’t initially realize was that he is a recent amputee. So here we have a man — who hasn’t even got his prosthetic yet — standing up so a 65-year-old feminist scholar and doctor of philosophy can talk to a disabled mixed-race lesbian indie developer and her fiancée. These are the kind of people that are labeled as a “hate mob” and are waging “war on women?” I have one question to ask to people that are peddling that narrative: What is wrong with you? Do you not have eyes and ears?
Someone Set Us Up the Bomb
Now we get into the uncomfortable part of our evening, sadly. It’s just past midnight EST, and the party is still in full swing. This is approximately the time that the bouncers for Local 16 announced that the building needed to be evacuated, using the initial explanation of a “fire evacuation” (which is standard procedure to prevent panic). Since the room is upstairs, though, it was difficult to evacuate the less mobile members of the group. Eventually it got to the point where Gwen and VGBounceHouse were some of the only people left in the building that the police and Local 16 security staff were desperately trying to empty out. So Gwen’s partner made the decision to carry her down the stairs, since her condition meant she was no longer mobile. VGBouncehouse had to make do with sliding along the floor to get out. Coming outside, they could now see the street was lined with police vehicles and officers, ambulances and fire engines. This is D.C we are talking about; they do not mess around. As you may have read, it came to light the FBI (GamerGate and its critics) had forwarded what they considered to be a credible threat to the D.C. police (You can read their full statement in our previous report), who then took action to evacuate the premises whilst a canine unit was sent inside to check for any explosives.
Gwen is someone I consider a friend; she is someone I deeply respect, and even more so now for just getting to D.C. When some cowardly prick creates a situation where she needs to be carried down the stairs on her future wife’s back because they want to make a bomb threat to a place in the capital of the United States, that pisses me off. She expressed to me later: “Why is there a bomb threat over ethics in games journalism? I just want gaming to succeed. Why is all of this happening?” Yes, all of this seems absurd. What does someone have to be thinking to threaten this group of people? Nothing justifies a bomb threat and I hope they find whoever did this and put them somewhere very dark and very secure for while. The D.C. police handled the situation very well, helping take Gwen and VGBouncehouse to outdoor seating and communicating with representatives from the crowd regarding the ongoing situation.
The party didn’t stop there for many in GamerGate, though. Some moved to other bars and restaurants while Local 16 was cleared; others just took pictures with each other out on the street. When Local 16 was eventually reopened (around 1:45am), there were free shots and shared stories to be had at the bar. But the incident did cut the night short for some; for example, Gwen, her partner, and their gracious host, D.C local @orthonormalist, decided to call it a night after the slightly hectic evacuation.
“Some bomb threat recipients are more equal than others”
The press critical of GamerGate seemed at a loss of what to do. To their credit, some of them did report on the story — with mixed levels of success. Polygon did a very matter-of-fact and restrained write-up, including a level of balance previously unseen in their GamerGate reporting. Jason Scheier of Kotaku did a mixed write up that desperately tried to undermine the people at the event. Destructoid took a similar approach, using its article as merely another excuse to attack Milo Yiannopoulos and C.H. Sommers. The IGDA offered up a baffling response to the events on Facebook, seemingly more worried about maintaining their own PR, before being taken to task by Derek Smart, one of their own members. The ever-so-professional head of RockPaperShotgun, John Walker, referred to the attendees as being “delighted” with the threats and said GamerGate is “fapping itself into an ecstatic frenzy because of some supposed ‘bomb threat.’“ John Walker is entirely out of line and out of touch with reality, in my view. This is a man, who is supposed to be head of a major gaming website, going out of his way to belittle bomb threats, whilst saying they have not covered anything like this on their site. A point Twitter users dutifully pointed out. Behavior like this from RPS, Kotaku, Destructiod and the IGDA once again shows a basic lack of professionalism whilst Polygon, surprisingly, demonstrated how the story should be covered. GamePoltics also handled the story admirably well.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you Arthur Chu or some collective group of “Social Justice Warriors” were responsible for the threats; that would be a betrayal of my principles and the truth. The truth is that at this juncture, we have no clue who sent those threats or why. Arthur Chu was being mean-spirited and possibly strayed into harassment that night, but it is incredibly unlikely he carried out a threat of this nature. It’s the same thing with all threats like this. We just don’t know what it was about until an arrest has been made.
Since no arrests have been made, it’s been highly irresponsible and willfully untruthful for media outlets to blame the faceless boogieman of “GamerGate.“ Look at the faces of the hundreds of people at GGinDC. Take a good long look at that crowd of normal and pretty stunningly diverse people having a good time and tell me that is a “hate mob” responsible for criminal acts, and not a group of gamers just wanting to meet up and have a good time. The media narrative is so patently ridiculous and simply fails to uphold its own internal logic.
So who is responsible for the threats against GGinDC? Well it’s the same type of person responsible for the threats against Zoe Quinn, it’s the same type person who sent a needle in the post to Milo Yiannopoulos: a person. Not a group, not a hash-tag, not a belief system, not a gender and not a race. An individual who deserves to be treated as such. Isolated, deranged, and on the wrong side of the law. But it’s hard to demonize groups when you recognize the responsibility of the individual.
I was going to say here “this won’t be covered on Kotaku or Polygon on anywhere else that usually hungers for ‘female gamers in peril’ stories” when starting this piece, but that has since proven to be untrue. This event has had the effect of humanizing the very people they have spent eight plus months demonizing, in a way that can’t be ignored. To cause them to make the embarrassing, withering admission that threats and harassment are everyone’s problem, not just a select few who wish use them to push an agenda. The narrative has become too big to keep up. Where it has been maintained, it looks even more out of touch with reality at this point. They could ignore a few threats online sent GamerGate supporters‘ way, but flesh and blood people with tangible police reports and mountains of live-tweeted evidence has exposed their view for the farce it is, despite the digs and naked inaccuracies that Jason Schreier and the writers at Destructoid attempted to get in.
Unbowed and Unbroken
GGinDC was made up of real people, with real lives, real disabilities and real strengths who had a really good time despite the best efforts of people who ranged from petty, to spiteful, to federally criminal. I want to impress on you how unbowed the people who attended are. This isn’t the story of how a group of people who cowered in fear and had their meetup ruined. This is the story of people who evacuated a building, and so decided to party in the street and continue to take pictures with each other. To dance and be ridiculous like people, real people, are.
The biggest effects of this event has actually be spur more GamerGate meetups all over the U.S. and beyond, with meetups planned in Boston, New York, Toronto, San Francisco and more. Gwen told me that, despite being exhausted and having to be carried out of that building, she was still so very glad she went and her and her partner were still audibly excited and impassioned when they recounted these events. “It’s time for less fear,” she told me. I couldn’t agree more.
[Disclosure: GwenLilyKnight and her partner Indigo Altaria contribute to SuperNerdLand and are friends with the author and editor. Contributors to SuperNerdLand speak with Allum Bokhari online.]
[Update 5/7/2015: Editor Indigo came through and cleaned up Josh’s grammar derps]
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