The crisis engulfing Drupal, one of the leading software projects on the web, deepened last week after the project’s leadership radically altered their justification for expelling developer Larry Garfield, who had been the target of a left-wing witch-hunt.
Drupal is a widely-used content management system (CMS) that is estimated to provide a framework for 2.2 percent of all websites worldwide. It is maintained and updated by a community of open-source coders who contribute code voluntarily. An estimated 1.2 million websites use Drupal.
The White House’s website is powered by Drupal, as is the official website of the French government and the city of London. It is also used by the BBC, NBC, MTV UK, Amnesty International, and the University of Oxford.
For months, Drupal’s leadership has been consumed by a crisis involving Larry Garfield, previously a leading developer for the project. Garfield has been the target of left-wingers within Drupal, who have staged a takeover of the project via a “diversity and inclusion group” which has the backing of the project leadership. After identifying Garfield as an individual with “problematic” beliefs, including an apparent belief in two genders, leftists within Drupal staged a vicious smear campaign against him, which extended to allegations of misogyny and sexual abuse, none of which have been substantiated.
The Drupal Association initially expelled Garfield for his involvement in the “Gorean” BDSM subculture, which Drupal lead developer Dries Buytaert said has “views that are in opposition with the values of the Drupal project.” This decision was reached after Klaus Purer, a Drupal community member, trawled through Garfield’s postings on a private BDSM forum before tying the posts to his real identity.
Buytaert’s decision was met with outrage from the wider Drupal and open-source community, many of whom accused Drupal’s leadership of punishing Garfield for his private sexual behaviour, as well as caving in to Garfield’s numerous political opponents within the Drupal project.
It was later revealed that the decision to attack Garfield’s sex life came after left-wing members of the Drupal project, including self-proclaimed communist Nathaniel Catchpole, compiled a dossier of Garfield’s political statements, which were judged to be out of line with left-wing orthodoxies. Having marked out Garfield as an enemy of the left, his private sexual kinks were then seized upon to undermine his role at Drupal.
The story has now taken another turn. In a blog post, Dries Buytaert and Drupal Association executive director Megan Sanicki have revealed that their initial reasons for first demanding Garfield’s resignation, and then expelling him, were very different to the ones initially announced.
In their post, Sanicki and Buytaert claim that they suspected that Garfield was in a relationship (they do not specify what kind of relationship) with an “acutely autistic” and mute person. In an apparently self-contradictory statement, Sanicki and Buytaert claim that they had ” legal concerns about her ability to give informed consent” while simultaneously claiming that “most vulnerable people have the ability to consent.” They then claim that Garfield was suspended because “it was possible that she could not consent,” without providing any evidence to back up their assertion.
Garfield responded to this with a post that contains considerably more supporting evidence, including the screenshot of a police report from 2014. Garfield admitted to previously having lived with an autistic woman and furthermore revealed that in 2014 they had been the subject of an anonymous complaint, resulting in both police and a social worker arriving at Garfield’s residence to perform a “wellness check” on the individual in question. According to Garfield, the police concluded that they were being “targeted for harassment by an unknown party.”
Garfield concluded the story by noting that “two autism specialists, a social worker, and three police officers all agreed that nothing illicit, immoral, or illegal was happening, and everything was entirely fine and consensual.”
Buytaert and Sanicki have yet to respond to the post, which accuses the Drupal Association of “deception and discrimination.”
However, in their blog post, Buytaert and Sanicki announced that their decision to punish Garfield is no longer about any suspicion of wrongdoing but because he spoke out against them. In their words:
Larry’s subsequent blog posts harmed the community and had a material impact on the Drupal Association, including membership cancellations from those who believed we doxed, bullied, and discriminated against Larry as well as significant staff disruption. Due to the harm caused, the Drupal Association is removing Larry Garfield from leadership roles that we are responsible for, effective today.
These roles include being a DrupalCon track chair, DrupalCon speaker, member of the Drupal Association Advisory Board, and a member of the Licensing Working Group. Larry will maintain his individual contributor roles that the Drupal Association governs, which includes attending DrupalCon and contributing on Drupal.org using his Drupal.org user profile.
In other words, Garfield is no longer being punished for the wrongdoing he was initially believed to have engaged in — he is, instead, being punished for publicly defending himself.
The controversy has yielded a significant backlash against the Drupal Association from ordinary members, many of whom have announced their decision to resign from the project.
One Drupal Association member declared: “This is ridiculous. I’m cancelling my DA membership because you are continuing to handle this situation poorly.”
“I am cancelling my association with this organization and platform. Grow up children,” says another.
Buytaert and Sanicki confirmed that the controversy had led to other membership cancellations prior to their blog post.
Meanwhile, the controversy shows no signs of endings, with opponents of Buytaert and Sanicki now threatening to release damaging information against Garfield’s persecutors within the Drupal Association. Citing “more than 100 hours of footage of Drupal parties and events,” the group of critics is now promising a “day of reckoning” and “career-ending truth.”