GamerGate in D.C. — The Full Story: Camaraderie and Bomb Threats

Supporters of an online consumer revolt meet-up in Washington, D.C. to much fun, beer.. and eventually a bomb scare. Scrump recounts details from attendees.
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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

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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.

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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.

side sommers and GwenGwen 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

SIDE GWEN BOUNCENow 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.

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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”

side dc walkerThe 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.

CEAtS8rW8AES-KCSo 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.

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[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]

The fol­low­ing two tabs change con­tent below.
John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in en­gi­neer­ing. He writes long-form ed­i­to­r­i­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games me­dia and in­ter­net cul­ture. He also does the oc­ca­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly col­umn about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our in­ter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven me­dia and sus­pi­cious of un­ac­cou­table au­thor­i­ty but al­ways hope­ful for change.
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