Free software advocate Richard Stallman is rejoining the board of the Free Software Foundation. Stallman founded the FSF in 1985 and acted as its president until 2019, when he resigned after making widely criticized statements about convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
Stallman announced the news during a live stream for the FSF project LibrePlanet. “Some of you will be happy at this, and some might be disappointed, but who knows?” he said. “In any case, that’s how it is, and I’m not planning to resign a second time.” He also mentioned that the announcement was meant to be made with a more formal video, but that “it didn’t get finished.”
Stallman resigned from the FSF, as well as a position at MIT, after participating in an email conversation about MIT’s leadership and its ties with Jeffrey Epstein. Stallman defended MIT professor Marvin Minsky, who allegedly had sex with one of Epstein’s trafficking victims — saying “the most plausible scenario” was that Minsky had been unaware the woman was being coerced and she would have “presented herself to him as entirely willing.” The exchange was posted online, sparking calls for him to step down.
Stallman denied defending Epstein, saying he wished he “could’ve prevented the misunderstanding.” But for some critics the problems went beyond that exchange, covering other statements and actions he’d made over his years in the free and open-source software community, where critics said he’d created a hostile environment for women. MIT graduate Selam Jie Gano, who posted the original emails on Medium, called the Epstein statements “almost irrelevant” to the larger issue. “This was about real life actions, not only online words,” wrote Gano in an update today.
Even after his resignations, Stallman remained in charge of the GNU Project, which develops and advocates for free and open-source software and operating systems. As referenced in the famous “I’d just like to interject” copypasta (which is based on a blog post by Stallman), the GNU utilities have been instrumental in the history of Linux, and the FSF has a similar function, acting as a nonprofit to advocate for free and open software. It publishes the GNU General Public License, under which many open-source projects are published. After being away from its leadership team for over a year, Stallman has returned to help run the FSF. The FSF wasn’t immediately available to provide comment on Stallman’s return or what role he will play on the board of directors.