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Diversity Conference at National Archives not so ‘Open’

By Gregory Kohs

The National Archives will be the site of a controversial “Diversity Conference” hosted jointly by the Wikimedia DC organization and the federally-funded Archives. The June 17-18 conference is billed as “open to everyone”, but that’s a small falsehood being presented to the public. Specifically, your trusty reporter who covers the Wikimedia movement (the mostly volunteer initiative to build the openly-edited Wikipedia encyclopedia and related reference projects) was banned from the event, and his ticket purchase rejected in less than four minutes. Neither Wikimedia DC nor the National Archives staff will disclose exactly why your convivial documentarian was banned.

The National Archives

The National Archives
Image Credit: National Archives

Over the years, I’ve written dozens of news articles focusing on Wikimedia Foundation projects, events, and activities. I am publicly considered by other reputable journalists as a “watchdog” of the organization. My work for Examiner has been viewed by readers over 80,000 times. I helped launch and operate this website, Wikipediocracy.com, which is so recognized for its Wikipedia criticism that even Wikipedia feels obligated to have an article about it. I have also appeared twice on national television broadcasts, discussing the ins and outs of Wikipedia, most recently an in-depth interview with multi-Emmy winning investigative journalist, Sharyl Attkisson. For these reasons, one supposes, the Diversity Conference doesn’t want me covering the event, which only days ago swapped out its keynote speaker — replacing the controversial Zoe Quinn with a more conventional pro-Wikipedia editor, Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight.

My first tango with a Safe Space Committee

As background, last summer, I received an e-mail from the staff of the Wikimedia DC organization that I was banned from ever attending any of their events, even though I had never been to one of their events before. I asked what cause was given for my event ban, and they would only say that their “Safe Space Committee” made the decision. They would not say what prompted the decision, nor would they divulge who sits on the Committee.

Then, in October 2015, the Wikimedia DC group and the Wiki Education Foundation cooperated with the National Archives to host a “WikiConference USA 2015” event. The National Archives described this event as follows:

WikiConference USA is open to anyone, regardless of their involvement with Wikipedia or the Wikimedia projects. We welcome the curious, the skeptical, and anyone wishing to engage in meaningful conversation about the Wikimedia movement in the United States, free culture and digital rights advocacy and outreach, community building, and technology.

National Archives Emails

Image from FOIA Request by Gregory Kohs

According to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request (a difficult inquiry completed by a very talented and persistent Archives employee, Wanda Williams), we learn that Archives events manager Quinn Bruster had advised another Archives employee, Dominic Byrd-McDevitt (who is a Wikipedia enthusiast), and the Wikimedia DC and Wiki Education organizations that the National Archives is passionate about being open to all people, and that if any attendees were going to be barred entry, the list of these individuals had to be shared with the National Archives. However, the organizations never shared any such list with the staff of the Archives, even though they were certainly event-banning multiple people. So, against procedures, they effectively held a “semi-closed” event that the Archives had been led to believe would be “open to anyone.”

At Wikiconference USA 2015, despite all of the hard work done in advance by the nameless, faceless Safe Space Committee, the event still had a sexual harassment incident reported. Special Event Coordinator Liz Pickford issued an official report that the event’s privately-hired security firm responded to a woman’s complaint that she had received ongoing “verbal sexual harassment” from a bearded male attendee wearing a red shirt. The accused male was asked to leave the premises, and he did. To date, neither he nor the complainant have been identified by name to the public.

In March 2016, the Wikimedia Foundation seemed to be following in the vanguard of the Wikimedia DC organization, by adopting its own version of an “Event Ban Policy”. One of the policy authors, Wikimedia Foundation employee James Alexander was asked about the authority of Wikimedia chapters to ban without explanation people from federal property, while advertising events as “open to anyone.” Even though Alexander said in March that he intended to respond, and then again (by e-mail) said on May 24th that he was “certainly hoping to get it off my plate ASAP,” the question remains entirely unanswered.

Safe Space: 2016

And now there will be a Diversity Conference held at the National Archives, and the event coordinators are pulling the same scheme all over again. Neither Byrd-McDevitt nor Bruster will respond to postal mail, e-mail, or voicemail, asking why this conference is blocking access to some attendees, while advertising it as “open to all.” The National Archives public relations specialist would only give a prepared answer:

The National Archives building in Washington, DC, is open to the public, in accordance with NARA’s regulations at 36 C.F.R. Part 1280, which set forth our rules of conduct. Individuals who abide by these rules are welcome in our public spaces. However, when events, such as the Wikimedia Diversity Conference, are organized by a private party, that organization sets its own admission policy and agenda for its program, and it is responsible for determining whether someone may or may not attend the event.

Yet, the conference web page indicates that the National Archives itself is a co-host of the event, along with the privately-operated Wikimedia DC. Federal tax dollars are funding space for a clandestinely discriminatory organization to take up residence for the weekend in one of America’s most hallowed locations.

Fake Name Registration

Fake Name Registration

As a test, using a pre-paid Visa gift card, another registration for the Diversity Conference was attempted, paying the $10 registration fee, but using a fictitious name and a falsified mailing address. That registration has not been detected by the “Safe Space Committee”, and so it begs the question — how safe will conference attendees be, if the safety committee is spending its time keeping a harmless journalist out of the meeting, while allowing passage to someone with a fake name and fake contact information, who could actually be a dangerous person?

25 comments to Diversity Conference at National Archives not so ‘Open’

  • Tim Davenport /// Carrite (WP) /// Randy from Boise (WPO)

    This event is a social gathering for Wikipedia’s drone bees and self-important bureaucrats on the make. That their paranoid and politically correct “Friendly Space” dogma is being used as a cudgel to isolate dissidents and hide their networking activities from scrutiny is neither a surprise nor a revelation. These people have nothing better to do at the encyclopedia that prattle amongst themselves and pat one another on the back (all the while racking up grant money and hefty injections of self-righteousness).

    Real Wikipedians can’t be bothered.


  • Tim Davenport /// Carrite (WP) /// Randy from Boise (WPO)

    Granting you the existence of systemic content bias based upon the demographic makeup of the WP editorial base, which tends on English WP to be first world, upper middle class, white, and male — where is the SLIGHTEST evidence that any of these self-congratulatory gab-fests has ever made the most minute impact on the content of the encyclopedia?

    These are church revival meetings for secular religionists, uttering holy incantations and group condemnations of spooks and demons. Places for well-placed underachieving editors to get together with other like-minded members of the social club to commiserate and meddle.

    You want better content? Write better content. Find the content deficiencies and work together to fix them. Instead, these jokers are playing a big political game with largely misappropriated donor dollars.


  • Anthony Cole

    Face to face meetings appear, on paper, to be a waste of air fares and hotel tarrifs, and I don’t think I can put into words their actual value in building collaborative communities. It’s something you experience. Who should be getting together and talking about this – that’s a discussion worth having. One thing I’m certain of, though: neither you nor Greg would be on my list.

    • Tim Davenport /// Carrite (WP) /// Randy from Boise (WPO)

      And there would be a “list” of those “unwelcome to contribute,” let there be no mistake. Because, ultimately, the Gender Gap Warriors are cowardly and don’t seek a free exchange of ideas or a debate of contending theses — they seek orthodoxy, discipline, and imposition of their world view upon others.

      Look, you and I and even the lunatic fringe of the Gender Police State will agree on one thing: there is a legitimate issue at the bottom of this, an inevitable systemic bias in Wikipedia’s content owing to the tendency of its editors to be first world, white, upper middle class, and male. Rather than working to identify and rectify these content deficiencies by organizing and collectively WRITING CONTENT, there are many who are playing an identity politics game. “If only we had more women editors, female-related content at Wikipedia would improve.”

      And so tens of thousands and ultimately millions of dollars are going to be thrown down the rathole (since this is the WMF Party Line™ on how to fix things) trying to remake and remodel the core editing community. Bear in mind, even if successful, this approach doesn’t even touch the two FAR BIGGER causes of systemic bias of content, the core editing community’s first world orientation and whiteness.

      There’s no debate to be had because the PC Krew are all so sure of their self-reinforcing “debates” amongst themselves that the solution is another conference or two, another set of rules or two, and another edit-a-thon or two… None of that does the slightest thing to move the needle towards solving whatever content problems do exist. But they don’t care, because this is ultimately all about grant money and the warriors being able to “build a collaborative community” amongst themselves (aka attend seminars and socialize). It fills them with a sense of self-righteousness that’s as good as primly attending the neighborhood Baptist Church every Sunday.

      Cue Dana Carvey Church Lady video…

  • Well, this is a pickle. I’m going to disapprove some comments as a vicious attack on another member. I also have to bury the responses. Thus most of the comments are going to disappear.

    I apologize to the commenters for this administrative action.

    Any questions, email me at support @ wikipediocracy.com

    Oh yes. I’m going to leave the comments open. Please do not repost the attacks, or you will be banned.

    • I think that was a thoughtful solution. Thank you, Zoloft.

      • Anthony Cole

        Thank you Zoloft. Yesterday, based on my poor reading and memory of some past events on the Wikipediocracy forum, I accused Greg of being a homophobe. After further reading and re-reading and an email exchange with Greg, I’m now convinced this was a lie and a defamation, and I unreservedly withdraw the claim and apologise to Greg and the reader.

  • It’s important that the National Archives, as a taxpayer funded entity be available to everyone including Greg. Whether the archives knows it or not they are doing nothing but furthering the WMF’s own biased agenda against Greg. They want to block Greg due to his frequent criticisms of the site and they’re using false accusations and reasoning to do it.

    Greg has never done anything that would constitute a safety issue to any member of the WMF community. In fact he has informed them of multiple people who were safety issues, only to have the WMF ignore him or take weeks, months or years to act on the evidence.

    What the National archives needs to do is tell the WMF that they cannot simply ban critics from public spaces simply because it’s inconvenient for the WMF. If the WMF wants to hold a Diversity conference at the national archives then they need to welcome a diverse audience not limit participation just to their friends.

    Banning people for no reason, or to be able to protect their own point of view from diverse ideas and stifling criticism has been a long term problem at the WMF projects.

    It’s very disappointing to see the archives enabling and facilitating that same behavior on their own, taxpayer funded, facilities. I hope the public takes notice on this issue and brings it to the attention of David Ferraro and the WMF director to be more open to diverse ideas at their diversity conferences.

  • I hope that readers of this post will stay focused on some key points and questions, without getting all bogged down in debates about hidden agendas and politics. In my mind, the things that truly deserve immediate attention are the following questions:

    1. There was an incident of alleged sexual harassment reported at the Wikiconference USA 2015. Why was there no public discussion anywhere of this potentially dangerous incident? Is anyone concerned about the identity of the bearded, red-shirt man, such that he might be put on a watchlist of some kind? Or, was the alleged harassment determined to be unfounded?

    2. Why, before the Wikiconference USA 2015, didn’t Wikimedia DC and/or Wiki Education Foundation properly report their list of banned individuals to the National Archives staff as they were instructed multiple times to do? Are these organizations simply allowed to ignore federal policy, and then not be held accountable when the evidence is brought to light? Should there be a demand of the organizations to issue a statement about this matter?

    3. If the Safe Space Committee’s intention is to keep safe the patrons of their events, why isn’t more being done to pre-screen registration forms, to at least weed out any registrations that use a fake name and a falsified address? How did a fake registration go undetected for so many days before the conference? Does an attendee, once on the Archives premises, have to show a valid form of ID that matches the registration name, in order to enter the private event?

    These are important, yet relatively simple questions that really ought to be answered.

    • And I forgot one more question:

      4. Why are we still waiting (since March 29) for Wikimedia Foundation employee James Alexander to respond to questions about the authority of private organizations like Wikimedia DC and the Wiki Education Foundation to restrict attendees at functions held on federal property that are advertised as “open to everyone”?

  • Kingsindian

    From the FOIA request about the 2015 conference, it looks like all Wikimedia DC had to do to ban someone is to put their name on a list and inform the National Archives about it. They did not need to give a reason.

    That they failed to carry out this step is probably an error (perhaps a bureaucratic SNAFU, perhaps there is more to it). They should follow the policy. However, I do not think it fundamentally changes anything about the nature of the banning process.

    • I look forward to a men’s club renting space at the Archives and inviting only men. Or maybe a Libertarian meeting that only Libertarians can attend. Hey, why not go all the way and have the Klan rent space for a private conference that will exclude anyone they put on a list and inform the Archives about it. They don’t need to give a reason.

      • Kingsindian

        I have no idea of whether semi-closed conferences are allowed at the Archives. I am simply going off the FOIA request which is cited in the article: it does not say anything about reasons. The last line in the first email says that only those with registered name tags are allowed access to the conference.

        What is to stop Wikimedia DC from simply saying: “we know this person and we don’t want them attending the conference, so we have put them on the banned list and canceled their registration”?

        Perhaps there are more rules involved, I do not know enough about them.

  • Tim Davenport /// Carrite (WP) /// Randy from Boise (WPO)

    I think, Greg, you are directing your attention at the wrong party. The problem is not with the Archives, who are more or less a landlord leasing out their space for free or minimal cost to an erstwhile public charity, but rather with the DC WMF Junior Bureaucrat Fankid Ranger Club, which is banning you from their proceedings without cause because they don’t like you and because they are assholes and because they can.

    Follow the money! How are these jokers being funded and what lies are being told to donors about how their money is actually spent?


  • metasonix

    Sue the WMF, Greg. Stop talking about it, gather your evidence, and SUE THEM.

    • The Wikimedia Foundation was not involved with this conference at the National Archives, nor the one before it in October 2015. These calls for suing the WMF are not very well-thought-out, if the correct defendant cannot even be identified.

  • Johnston McNeil

    To be honest, given Greg’s behaviour over so many years, I’m not surprised he is banned from these events. Perhaps he needs to look nearer to home and review his own behaviour.

    • Name a valid reason to exclude Greg from any public event. Pique at his activism is not a valid reason. False rumors of behavior is not a reason. Snark is not a reason. He’s a professional, he’s not going to anything except perhaps bore you. …and if that were a reason to ban participants, you wouldn’t be able to have these conferences for lack of presenters.

      Want to make Greg less effective? Invite him to Wikimania, slot him a block of time and a projector for his presentation, and if you don’t like what you think you’re going to hear, don’t go to that presentation.

      Honestly, if Jimbo Wales and Wikipedians didn’t treat Greg Kohs like a Golden Age comic super-villain, he’d be invisible by now.

      (I stole that line from someone else.)

  • […] Wikimedia ment, ils ne sont pas accueillants … Notre confrère en dissidence Gregory Kohs de Wikipediocracy, voulant assister à la « Diversity Conference » conjointement organisée par […]

  • Tuxlie

    I note it says quote “We welcome the curious, the skeptical,..”

    Obviously not too skeptical though
    Its kinda ironical that Greg should be banned from a Diversity Conference, of all things

  • Klortho

    This is fascinating to me. I’ve been a WP enthusiast for a while, and am feeling like scales are falling from my eyes — every day is bringing new revelations.

    My take on this particular banning issue differs from Greg’s above. The points that I think are fundamentally wrong and hypocritical (and symptomatic of the much larger set of problems) are:

    1. This “Safe Space Committee” is anonymous, acts in secret, is not accountable to anyone, and, with their ability to ban anyone they don’t like, has enormous power. Putting it mildly, this is contrary to my what I think of as “open”, which is what drew me to WP in the first place.

    2. The National Archives is remiss in allowing organizers of events held in their facilities to set their own admission policy; especially when the event is advertised as being “open to all”. It’s irrelevant that Wikimedia DC never provided the list of banned individuals. That wouldn’t have changed the fact that you were banned for unknown reasons. Rather, the Archives should require justification for any banning, with evidence to show that there’s a likelihood that the individual would be disruptive or otherwise “unsafe” (a term that really, really needs to be defined.) I looked through their rules on use of their facilities, but couldn’t find anything specific to requirements for events run by others.

    There was a comment above similar to this hypothetical, but suppose the “safe space committee” had an unwritten policy of banning all black people? If the NAR hosts an event, isn’t it be incumbent on them to ensure that the banning policy isn’t discriminatory? By delegating, they are abdicating their responsibility.

  • Mike Cleven

    as for the ‘club’ being white and male, no less than three of those who irrationally and somewhat vindictively blocked me were female, of what colour I don’t know, and the persecutor who against-rules polled to enlist my permanent block within a closed group was ethnic Chinese.

    I’d imagine if a Wikipedia conference were held in Vancouver I’d be blocked even though I am, or was, the most active editor from British Columbia. Not that I could stomach the company I’d have to put up with; more likely to do a guest editorial in a local alternative paper to call out the spades and turn over a few ghouls…..

    Johnston MacNeil above sounds just like Brown-Haired Girl and Moonridden girl about me – “To be honest, given [Skookum1]’s behaviour over so many years, I’m not surprised he is banned from these events. Perhaps he needs to look nearer to home and review his own behaviour.”

    Of course, they are incapable of examining THEIR OWN.

  • Hi Gregory,

    Diversity is a business model that every business “follows.” It’s unfortunate that certain businesses give the appearance of promoting diversity, meanwhile there’s minimal efforts for diversity within the organization. Thanks for your insight.


  • Dave

    You guys are going to love this site…