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Red Hat pulls Free Software Foundation funding over Richard Stallman’s return

The chorus of disapproval over Richard M Stallman, founder and former president of the Free Software Foundation (FSF), rejoining the organisation has intensified as Linux giant Red Hat confirmed it was pulling funding.

Stallman announced he had returned to the FSF’s Board of Directors last weekend – news that has not gone down well with all in the community and Red Hat is the latest to register its dismay.

CTO Chris Wright tweeted overnight: “I am really outraged by FSF’s decision to reinstate RMS. At a moment in time where diversity and inclusion awareness is growing, this is a step backwards”.

Describing itself as “appalled” at the return of Stallman to the FSF board of directors “considering the circumstances of Richard Stallman’s original resignation in 2019”, Red Hat said it decided to act.

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“We are immediately suspending all Red Hat funding of the FSF and any FSF-hosted events. In addition, many Red Hat contributors have told us they no longer plan to participate in FSF-led or backed events, and we stand behind them,” said Red Hat.

A governance statement by the FSF earlier this week that related to transparency in the appointing of directors has done nothing to quell Red Hat’s ire, who stated bluntly that the announcement did not signify “any meaningful commitment to positive change”.

“Fundamental and lasting changes to its governance” would be needed to restore the confidence of the community.

Browser maker Mozilla also joined the clamouring, signing up to a petition calling for the removal of Stallman. “We can’t demand better of the internet if we don’t demand better of our leaders, colleagues and ourselves,” the organisation tweeted.

Melissa Di Donato, CEO of veteran Linux maker SUSE, who signed a petition calling for his removal on behalf of her organisation, tweeted: “There is a time to speak out and take a stand when abhorrent decisions are made. That time is now.”

Other groups such as Open.UK and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have also expressed disappointment.

The latter stated: “Stallman’s re-election sends a wrong and hurtful message to free software movement, as well as those who have left that movement because of Stallman’s previous behavior.”

Stallman’s original departure came in 2019, when he resigned following some deeply insensitive remarks he’d made downplaying the alleged rape and trafficking of a 17-year-old girl by convicted sex offender and paedophile Jeffrey Epstein.

After Epstein’s victim said she had been coerced as a teenager to have sex with the late MIT professor Marvin Minsky (who would have been 73 at the time of the alleged incident), Stallman suggested Minsky might not have known she’d been forced to do so. In the same thread on MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory listserv, he referred to Epstein’s victims as his “harem”. The remarks led to calls for his resignation and focused increased scrutiny on Stallman’s past behaviour, as well as on other distasteful comments documented on Stallman’s personal blog and elsewhere.

Red Hat’s step marks an escalation in the war of words over Stallman’s return. As both a long-time donor and contributor of millions of lines of code, the company’s action might well give the FSF pause for thought in a way that thousands of outraged tweets might not.

FSF president Geoffrey Knauth stated his intention yesterday “to resign as an FSF officer, director, and voting member as soon as there is a clear path for new leadership.”

The Register asked the FSF for comment on Red Hat’s statement. The organisation has yet to respond. ®




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