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Explaining the Events that Led to Richard Stallman's Resignation Part I - Background

Updated April 06, 2021.

...if there's a reasonable doubt in your minds as to the guilt of the accused, uh a reasonable doubt, then you must bring me a verdict of “Not Guilty.” If, however, there's no reasonable doubt, then you must, in good conscience, find the accused “Guilty.”
—Rudy Bond in his role as the Judge addressing the jury in the movie 12 Angry Men (1957).[1]

Jeffrey Epstein: Convicted and Exempted

Billionaire sex-trafficking criminal Jeffrey Epstein was arrested in New Jersey on July 7, 2019. In 2008 he had faced similar charges in Florida that could have put him in prison for life, but thanks to a shameful non-prosecution agreement (NPA) facilitated by US attorney Alexander Acosta (subsequently US secretary of labor under Trump), Epstein managed to avoid full prosecution and ended up serving just 13 months in prison under extraordinary privileged conditions [2] #NPA

Excerpts of emails and letters disclosed in 2015 revealed a covert negotiation between Epstein's lawyers and the Government to keep the non-prosecution agreement secret from the victims and the general public. This secrecy was a violation of the Crime Victims’ Rights Act that prevented the victims from discussing the terms of the agreement or taking action to prevent it. The agreement was declared unconstitutional by a federal judge in February 2019, but was not invalidated by the Department of Justice.[3]

Victims were abused not only by Jeffrey Epstein, but also by the Government.

Epstein's Connections

Epstein's high-profile social circle included American and foreign politicians, business magnates, scientists, academics, celebrities, and even a member of the royalty. Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Bill Gates, Professor Lawrence Krauss, Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, Woody Allen, Britain’s Prince Andrew, to name a few.[4]

It would not be an exaggeration to say that among the elite, scores of people either knew Epstein or were connected to him to some extent.

He built ties with academic circles by hosting science conferences—typically in his property in the US Virgin Islands—that were attended by some of the most prominent scientists in the country, and by donating large amounts of money for scientific research to elite schools like Harvard University and MIT. Both MIT and Harvard accepted gifts even after Epstein's 2008 conviction.[5]

MIT Media Lab, Marvin Minsky, Virginia Giuffre

Two events in August 2019 exploded into a scandal at MIT:

  • The acknowledgement by MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito that the laboratory had surreptitiously accepted Epstein's post-conviction donations.[6] #mit-scandal

    MIT commissioned an investigation, the results of which were published on January 10, 2020. The report shows that Epstein had sponsored, through his charitable foundations, the projects of several professors at the Media Lab, starting with a donation to Marvin Minsky's artificial intelligence project in September 12, 2002—four years before Epstein was first charged with sex crimes. Earlier that same year, on April 14-16, Minsky and some of his colleagues had held an AI symposium in the US Virgin Islands, and a second one took place in December 2011, both sponsored by Epstein.[7]

    The investigation found no evidence of further donations from Epstein to support Minsky's work.[8] Professor Minsky died in 2016.

  • The unsealing of a deposition by one of Epstein's victims, Virginia Giuffre née Roberts (born August 9th, 1983), in which she testified, among many other things, that Epstein's partner Ghislaine Maxwell had “directed” her to have sex with MIT Media Lab professor Marvin Minsky and other men.

    The other men (including Prince Andrew and Alan Dershowitz) are mentioned in all of the suits in the case and by multiple testimonies, with clear statements that they committed sexual abuse, complete with specific details of the circumstances.[9] Marvin Minsky's name, on the other hand, appears only once in the claims, in terms that raise doubts about whether Minsky actually had any sexual contact with the victim. The only certain statement is that the victim was “directed” to have sex with Minsky. #giuffre-deposition

    Screenshot of Virginia Giuffre's deposition.

    From Virginia Giuffre's deposition on May 3rd, 2016. Unsealed on August 9, 2019.

    According to the flight logs and a deposition by pilot David Rodgers, Marvin Minsky appears to have flown for the first time on one of Epstein's planes on March 29, 2001, from Teterboro (NJ) to Santa Fe (N. Mex.), flight 1479. Virginia Roberts—aged 17 years, 7 months and 20 days old—was on that flight.

    Screenshot of flight logs.

    Flight logs in the case Epstein vs Edwards, et al. Unsealed on August 9, 2019.

    Screenshot of David Rodgers' deposition.

    From David Rogers' deposition on June 3rd, 2016. Unsealed on August 9, 2019.

According to the documents and the various affidavits, it is clear that Virginia Roberts and other victims were being forced into a scheme of sexual exploitation. However, it's unclear whether any sexual encounters actually took place with Minsky.

  • Physicist and science fiction author Greg Benford reported that he was present when Virginia Roberts approached Minsky: If Marvin had done it, she would say so. I know. I was there. Minsky turned her down. Told me about it. She saw us talking and didn’t approach me.[10] #benford

    Benford is probably referring to the conference held in the US Virgin Islands in April 2002, when Virginia was 18. #eighteen

  • Minsky's widow, Gloria Rudisch, has said: We were always together. We didn’t stay at his house or anything.[11]

A Reasonable Doubt #doubt

Did Marvin Minksy have sex with Virginia Roberts? As of the date of publication of this article, there is no confirmation of whether Minsky actually had sex with Virginia or any of Epstein's victims. There are no further affidavits to shed light on the matter, and the fact that the various suits were privately settled out of court does not enable the general public to definitively know what happened.

It is therefore sensible to presume there is reasonable doubt, to refrain from passing judgement based on passion rather than reason.

For those interested in more details, the Internet Archive keeps a complete set of documents, including Epstein's audio recordings.

Age of Consent - The Law Does Not Dictate Morality #age-morality

Virginia Roberts' 18th birthday was in August 2001. Any sexual activity she might have had with older people before that date would be called “rape” according to law. There are suggestions that age of consent in the US Virgin Islands was 16 at that time, to be later raised to 18, but we have found no evidence. However, whether or not that's true is hardly relevant. We agree with Stallman that it's not the law to determine what is moral and what is not. She and the other victims were being trafficked and coerced, that is what makes it immoral, whatever the age and whatever the jurisdiction.

We cannot trust the law to tell us what is moral or immoral. Slavery, for example, has been perfectly legal for centuries in the United States and other parts of the world. And the United States of America has made racial segregation legal for decades.

For more information, see Age of Consent in the United States; Marriage Age in the United States (we strongly disagree with laws allowing the marriage of children); age of consent in the US is 16 in 34 States at the time of writing, April 6, 2021.

Richard Stallman Calls Epstein a “Serial Rapist” #serial-rapist

Stallman never met Epstein and never received any gifts from him.

Richard Stallman was never part of the MIT Media Lab involved in the scandal, but was instead part of CSAIL, a different entity. How, then, did Stallman know Minsky? When Stallman began working at the Artificial Intelligence Lab in 1971, Minsky was there as its co-founder and head. Stallman quit his job in 1984. When Stallman was assigned an office at the AI Lab as a visiting scientist around 1991, Minsky was no longer there, he had joined the Media Lab in 1989. There was little if any interaction between Stallman and Minsky. In 2003, the AI Lab was merged with the Laboratory of Computer Science, giving birth to the current Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL). #not-medialab

In April 2019, when Stallman learned in the news about Epstein, his crimes, and the Non-Prosecution Agreement, he stated that the plea deal was illegal and saw it as grounds for a longer prison term.

True to his fixation on the correct choice of words, Stallman observes that post-pubertal people aren't children, and he points out that the expression “sex offender” minimizes Epstein's crimes, suggesting the term “serial rapist” instead.

Richard Stallman on Epstein (Archived) (emphasis added): #serial-rapist-article

25 April 2019 (Plea deal for Epstein)

(Now) Labor Secretary Acosta's plea deal for Jeffrey Epstein was not only extremely lenient, it was so lenient that it was illegal. [Archived]

I wonder whether this makes it possible to resentence him to a longer prison term.

I disagree with some of what the article says about Epstein. Epstein is not, apparently, a pedophile, since the people he raped seem to have all been postpuberal.

By contrast, calling him a “sex offender” tends to minimize his crimes, since it groups him with people who committed a spectrum of acts of varying levels of gravity. Some of them were not crimes. Some of these people didn't actually do anything to anyone.

I think the right term for a person such as Epstein is “serial rapist”.

Words Are Important #offender

Indeed, Stallman's objection to framing Epstein as a mere “sex offender” is correct, so much so that Epstein himself used the flawed terminology to downplay the seriousness of his crimes:

I’m not a sexual predator, I’m an “offender.” It’s the difference between a murderer and a person who steals a bagel.

—Jeffrey Epstein.[12]

Reaction to the Injustices #reaction

A powerful man subjecting minors to sexual exploitation, government officials aiding the perpetrator to escape prosecution while hiding this outcome from the victims, prestigious institutions accepting money from the criminal, are all injustices that added up to utter frustration, anger and pain among survivors, advocates of the #MeToo campaign, and every community that fights for women's rights and against sexism.

A protest was organized at MIT against the institution's involvement with Epstein. On September 10, 2019, an email announcing the protest was sent to the CSAIL mailing list.

It was in this atmosphere of shock and anger that Richard Stallman responded to that email. For more details, continue to PART II.


References and Notes

  1. 12 Angry Men (1957) - Quotes (Archived)
  2. Billionaire Jeffrey Epstein arrested on sex trafficking charges (Archived)
  3. Prosecutors Broke Law in Agreement Not to Prosecute Jeffrey Epstein, Judge Rules (Archived)
  4. Trump called Epstein a ‘terrific guy’ who enjoyed ‘younger’ women (Archived)
        Bill Clinton and Jeffrey Epstein: How Are They Connected? (Archived)
        Prince Andrew's links to Jeffrey Epstein (Archived)
        Bill Gates Met With Jeffrey Epstein Many Times, Despite His Past (Archived)
  5. Epstein’s donations to universities reveal a painful truth about philanthropy (Archived)
  6. Director of M.I.T.’s Media Lab Resigns After Taking Money From Jeffrey Epstein. (Archived)
  7. The St. Thomas Common Sense Symposium: Designing Architectures for Human-Level Intelligence. (Archived)
        Coping with Future Catastrophes. (Archived)
  8. MIT review of Epstein donations. ( Archived)
  9. Sex with Prince Andrew was quick and ‘disgusting’. (Archived)
  10. Minsky Turned Her Down. (Archived)
  11. Minsky's widow denies her husband had sex with Roberts. (Archived)
  12. Billionaire Jeffrey Epstein: I'm a sex offender, not a predator. (Archived)