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Seven anonymous authors made allegations against Appelbaum on a website created earlier this month. Macrina claimed authorship of the story attributed to “Sam,” while Lovecruft claimed ownership of allegations made under the name “Forest.” Four of the authors still remain anonymous.
Appelbaum and his friends and supporters have characterized the allegations as part of a false smear campaign.
On the site, Lovecruft, a core developer at the Tor Project, described an incident during which they platonically shared a bed with Appelbaum. In the middle of the night, Lovecruft claimed under the pseudonym “Forest,” they woke up to Appelbaum with his hands in their underwear. On Wednesday, Lovecruft published this story about the incident publicly, along with further accusations about Appelbaum’s behavior. Lovecruft also suggested solutions for eliminating abusers from the community and said people should critique and assess the institutions where this behavior is accepted.
Macrina, a core member at the Tor Project and founder of the Library Freedom Project, was one of the first to vouch for the identities of the individuals who have anonymously posted online stories of abuse involving Appelbaum. “I am fortunate that my privilege shields me from some of the risks of public exposure,” Macrina writes in a statement claiming authorship for the “Sam” story.
Macrina alleges an encounter with Appelbaum, which she claims is part of a larger pattern of “violative and often violent behavior.” She describes a once-budding romantic interest between Appelbaum and herself that culminated in an evening visit to his apartment, when the incident allegedly occurred.
“He told me he wanted to take a bath, and invited me into his bathroom to hang out with him,” she wrote. Macrina said she agreed under the condition that she wouldn’t get inside the bathtub with him. She said she went into the bathroom and sat down on the toilet where the two began chatting. “He immediately began coercing me to get into his bathtub,” she writes.
“I kept saying ‘no’, and he kept asking,” she writes. Eventually, Macrina claims, she agreed to stick her legs in the water, but without removing her underwear or T-shirt. Although she repeated that she wasn’t interested in getting in any further, Macrina claims, Appelbaum abruptly pulled her inside the bathtub and began “washing” her.
“I was thinking, what the fuck, get out of this situation,” Macrina writes, “why are you in this fucking bathtub with this man when you repeatedly told him no.” After a minute or two of “nonconsensual washing,” Macrina says she jumped out of the tub and started crying in the corner of the bathroom. Appelbaum continued talking as if nothing had happened, Macrina writes.
Macrina says she began to quietly inquire about other incidents involving Appelbaum among her circle of friends and colleagues. She says she discovered a “pattern of violative and often violent behavior using manipulation, humiliation, ignoring boundaries, and outright coercion.”
Shari Steele, executive director of the Tor Project, was approached by Macrina and other employees with the allegations against Appelbaum. On May 25, Steele dismissed him from his role as a core developer at the project. About a week later, the anonymous website appeared online, detailing numerous accounts of alleged sexual assault, harassment, and rape.
“Jake was my friend, and it took months to be honest with myself about what happened,” Macrina said. “As I recount in my previously anonymous story, when I approached him about it he would redirect the conversation to tell me why he was the real victim.” Macrina says Appelbaum tried to convince her that the allegations against him were part of a “political smear campaign” and that, as his friend, she was obligated to defend him. As for her personal experiences, those were merely “aberrations,” Macrina says he told her.
“I kept saying ‘no’, and he kept asking.”
The effect of the website was two-fold: As more accounts became public, organizations affiliated with Appelbaum began cutting ties. The Freedom of the Press foundation removed him from its technical advisory board; the Cult of the Dead Cow hacker collective threw Appelbaum out, a first for the organization; and San Francisco-based hackerspace Noisebridge said he is no longer welcome.
Organizations also allegedly prevented Appelbaum’s participation before recent public accusations against him. The recent Internet Freedom Festival in Valencia, Spain, decided in advance that Appelbaum would not be allowed at the conference or inside the venue and had a contingency plan in place in case he tried to participate, according to Tom Lowenthal, a former Tor Project employee.
But those closest to Appelbaum had the opposite reaction. A letter of “solidarity” was published and initially circulated by 12 women who described themselves as friends, colleagues, co-workers, and partners of the 33-year-old hacker. Allegations of misconduct raised against Appelbaum were described as a “coordinated and one-sided attack on his character and work,” which mirrored Appelbaum’s own assertion that he was being targeted by character assassins spreading “vicious and spurious allegations.”
In a statement on June 6, Appelbaum compared the accusations against him to those tactics used in the past “against fellow members of the LGBT community.”
The statement by Appelbaum supporters was similar to his own in another way: It painted his behavior as eccentric, and while occasionally insulting, never dangerous in their eyes. “We do understand Jake can be outspoken and provocative regarding a number of issues,” it said, “however, we have never found Jake to be as is being alleged.” Appelbaum himself stated that he had “inadvertently hurt or offended others’ feelings.” For that, he said he was sorry. He would continue to “learn how to be a better person.”
The solidarity letter—signed by WikiLeaks editor Sarah Harrison and Courage Foundation board member and lawyer Renata Avila—was uploaded to a website where others could attach their names. At time of writing, 27 people had come to Appelbaum’s defense.
The Daily Dot reached out to solidarity group using the email provided on their website, ourresponse.org. We received no response.
Late last week, Micah Lee, a journalist at the Intercept, and Bill Budington, a software engineer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, came forward as witnesses to another allegation of sexual harassment, which was posted under the pseudonym “Phoenix.” The story details allegations against Appelbaum that include propositioning the woman for sex at a dinner table surrounded by six of her colleagues. She described the alleged incident as horrifying and “the most uncomfortable meal of [her] professional life.”
“It is really difficult when someone you respect and look up to turns out to have been abusive towards others.”
The testimonies of Lee and Budington followed public accusations against Appelbaum by security engineer Leigh Honeywell, who in an online post described a “profoundly upsetting” incident of alleged physical violence that left her feeling “afraid and violated.” Technologist Nick Farr, who published his story on the anonymous site after identifying himself by name on Medium, claimed Appelbaum aggressively harassed and intimidated him to the point that he withdrew from the hacker community and stopped attending events.
More than a dozen people have reached out to the Daily Dot regarding Appelbaum’s alleged behavior. Women who say they’ve personally witnessed or experienced assault or harassment on the part of Appelbaum describe living in a state of fear. “We’re all afraid,” said one of the women, who asked not to be identified by name. She and others have described an underground network of victims that “easily” includes a dozen people.
Many of the people who say they are victims believe going public would cost them their jobs, because the organizations they work for have business and legal ties to Appelbaum resulting in countless conflicts of interest.
On abuse verification: I personally witnessed the testimony of Phoenix, and heard first-hand accounts of numerous other reports from victims
— Bill Budington (@legind) June 10, 2016
In other cases, women said they were frightened by the prospect of becoming targets of online harassment by the individuals who have publicly casted doubt on the allegations of those who have already come forward. In an encrypted message last week, one woman, a well-known privacy advocate who asked not to be identified, explained to the Daily Dot her fear of making public accusations against Appelbaum: “He knows where I live.”
Not every organization with an affiliation with Appelbaum has moved to dismiss him or otherwise distance themselves from the allegations. According to its website, Appelbaum remains an advisor to the Centre for Investigative Journalism (CIJ), a nonprofit founded in 2003, which was later registered as a charity. The Daily Dot reached out to CIJ Director Gavin MacFadyen and other board members on multiple occasions over the past four days. Although our emails were acknowledged on Tuesday, the group did not address the allegations against Appelbaum.
Disbelieving the capacity for someone to exhibit inappropriate or violent behavior is a common feeling when a beloved person in a community, a friend, or a family member is accused of something like sexual assault or rape. Even when a jury finds a person guilty, there are still people who don’t believe it—for instance, earlier this month, a childhood friend penned a widely-shared and criticized letter of support for Brock Turner, the high-profile Stanford swimmer convicted of sexual assault. She later apologized after the backlash. Thirty-nine people in total wrote letters of support for Turner.
Valerie Aurora, co-founder of inclusion and diversity consultancy Frame Shift Consulting and author of the example code of conduct now used by hundreds of conferences globally, said she views the letter of “solidarity” for Appelbaum as tone-policing, and she was surprised that a community that values anonymity would criticize those who choose to stay anonymous when telling stories about alleged sexual assault, rape, and bullying behavior.
“To ignore first-hand corroborated accounts of abuse like my own is the very definition of apologism.”
“I have a lot of compassion for the signatories of this letter,” Aurora told the Daily Dot in a phone interview. “It is really difficult when someone you respect and look up to turns out to have been abusive towards others. It’s even harder when your personal experience with someone has felt so positive. In this situation, many of us would prefer to focus on the people reporting abuse and find some reason to disbelieve or discount them. We often don’t react in ways that we are proud of later on, and in ways that really harm victims, who deserve our solidarity far more.”
Victims don’t report harassment, sexual assault, or other harmful behaviors because there is a culture of fear that surrounds coming forward, a feeling of powerlessness to report abusers because people don’t want to be ostracized within their own communities. And as a group, privacy and security communities are inherently distrustful of law enforcement.
Just 2 to 8 percent of rape accusations are false, according to the National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women, and yet police frequently don’t believe victims when they report rape. In Germany, where Appelbaum lives, prosecutions of sexual assault and rape focus on the force of the perpetrator; individuals must show bruises and injury as evidence that they fought back in order for the actions to be considered a crime.
Yan Zhu, a senior software engineer at Brave, said she knew about stories of Appelbaum’s alleged sexual harassment for years, and that it was something of an “open secret” in the community.
“I suspect because Jake is powerful and well-respected, so anyone who spoke out against him would be faced with a lot of skepticism and intimidation from him and his friends,” Zhu said in a message.
Honeywell, the software engineer who wrote about Appelbaum’s alleged sexual misconduct towards her, responded to the letter in a message to the Daily Dot:
Abusive people are rarely abusive to everyone in their lives. The ‘solidarity’ statement authors’ positive experiences with Jacob do not negate my negative ones, nor those of the anonymous accusers. To ignore first-hand corroborated accounts of abuse like my own is the very definition of apologism.
As Aurora explains, women develop something of a “victim’s’ network,” a whisper system that shares information about particular people within a community who are known for bad behavior. This type of network exists beyond just the tech and security world; women in industries from journalism to sports to law to academia to high school and college campuses have something similar.
Aurora describes learning to speak in coded ways to say what you really mean to say. Words of warning could be: “Don’t be around him when he’s drinking,” or “Only go there with a friend.”
The letter, she said, seems to assume that all women have the same experiences, and yet, for a variety of reasons, some women don’t experience harassment as much as others. Factors like being high-profile or powerful within a community, having a powerful sponsor, being a certain age, height, or presenting in different ways could impact the amount of harassment people receive.
“I will freely admit and believe these women when they say they’ve had positive experiences with Jake,” Aurora said. “And what they need to do is return that favor and say ‘I believe your experience is different.’”
Appelbaum has not responded to multiple requests for comment.
Correction: Nick Farr posted his story publicly to Medium before adding his allegations to the anonymous site. Alison Macrina is a core member of the Tor Project. We regret the errors.
Dell Cameron was a reporter at the Daily Dot who covered security and politics. In 2015, he revealed the existence of an American hacker on the U.S. government's terrorist watchlist. He is a co-author of the Sabu Files, an award-nominated investigation into the FBI's use of cyber-informants. He became a staff writer at Gizmodo in 2017.
Selena Larson is a technology reporter based in San Francisco who writes about the intersection of technology and culture. Her work explores new technologies and the way they impact industries, human behavior, and security and privacy. Since leaving the Daily Dot, she's reported for CNN Money and done technical writing for cybersecurity firm Dragos.