An Indiegogo campaign has raised more than $20,700 as of 11 p.m. Monday night for a programming conference that faces criticism from attendees and proponents of diversity in tech over organizers' decision to retain an avowed racist programmer as a speaker at the Boulder, Colorado event taking place over Memorial Day weekend.
Political blog Status:451 launched the campaign late last week after at least three sponsors dropped out of the LambdaConf conference following news that Curtis Yarvin, who has blogged under the pseudonym Mencius Moldbug, was slated to speak about his experimental computing platform Urbit. The conference is for a style of coding called functional programming.
In his online writings, Yarvin expresses the belief that white people are genetically endowed with higher IQs than black people. He suggests race may determine whether some individuals are better suited than others for slavery, and his writing has been interpreted as supportive of the institution of slavery.
Heidi Beirich, who leads the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project for tracking extremism, describes the language Yarvin uses in a recent Medium post as quintessentially white nationalist. The center uses "white nationalist" as an umbrella term to describe a multitude of racist extremist groups that "espouse white supremacist or white separatist ideologies, often focusing on the alleged inferiority of non-whites," according to the organization's latest Intelligence Report.
Beirich, who was not familiar with Yarvin before speaking with Inc., suggested Indiegogo look at the campaign and determine whether it violates the crowdfunding platform's terms of service. While the campaign is a fundraiser for the whole conference, she says the money raised essentially supports providing a platform for a white nationalist.
"I mean, why don't you just invite David Duke down there -- I mean get a real accomplished racist in the house, you know?" says Beirich, referring to the former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
The page for the crowdfunding campaign frames the fundraiser as a means of taking a stand for "an open society" after "social media activists" demanded LambdaConf remove Yarvin from the program.
"No conference can be all things for all people. Some spaces are political, and people should be free to choose to enter those spaces, or not. But other spaces, especially professional spaces where we earn our livings or advance the state of our arts, should be allowed to check politics at the door. We oppose the ideological crusade of these activists to force all conferences to cater to their agenda or be de-funded," reads the Indiegogo page.
Status:451 also stepped in as a sponsor, with bloggers for the site saying they gave a total of $3,000 to the conference. The announcement of the new sponsorship spurred controversy on Twitter. Beirich, who read the blog for the first time Monday, says that it appears juvenile but does not seem to reflect a white supremacist organization.
However, some programmers following the LambdaConf issues on Twitter question the political leanings and affiliations of the blog based on content of posts and the blog's writers.
The blog contains a post that describes neoreactionism in positive terms. Neoreactionism is an ultra-conservative authoritarian anti-democratic movement associated with white supremacy. Media reports describe Yarvin as a central figure among neoreactionaries.
The profile for the writer of the Status:451 post identifies them as "clarkhat," and links to Twitter handle @ClarkHat. Below is a tweet from the account.
Blacks have lower average IQs.-- Grim Dark Future Hat (@ClarkHat) December 30, 2015
Your move. https://t.co/evJCsucrGx
ClarkHat responded to a request for confirmation they had written the Status:451 post and a question about their real name with a series of tweets insulting the reporter.
Clarifying that he was speaking for himself because he sits on a board related to a functional programming language, programmer Adam Foltzer said over Twitter direct message he thinks the sponsorship "shows that the decision to invite Yarvin is not a neutral, hands-off decision to separate politics from tech, but is instead an affirmative statement that racists and reactionaries will rally around."
Responding to an inquiry from Inc. asking for clarification of whether the blog aligned with views held by Yarvin or with neoreactionism, Status:451 blogger Meredith L. Patterson wrote via direct message, "No, we are not racists, and we are not neoreactionaries. We just think this stupid no-platform strongarming activism is toxic and bullshit. That is all. No further comment."
Controversy over Yarvin and LambdaConf has extended beyond the confines of the relatively small functional programming community. (The conference, in its third year, was expected as of last week to draw up to 350 people.) The organizers may not have considered Yarvin's writings, which include a 9,000-word screed in which he considers the relative merits of blacks and Native Americans as slaves, in extending his speaking invitation, but the oversight nevertheless speaks to the lack of diversity among programmers.
Says Slack programmer Erica Baker, a prominent voice for greater diversity in tech, "I think if there were more diversity in the staff for LambdaConf, it wouldn't even be up for discussion." Baker and other activists argue that hosting a speaker with Yarvin's views sends a message minorities are not welcome and reflects a broader trend of pushback against diversity in tech, which could accelerate the departure of people of color from the field.
While some supporters of allowing Yarvin to deliver his talk at the conference say it's a free speech issue, Beirich points out that the First Amendment prohibits the government from abridging speech. Private conferences can do what they want, she says--and in fact chief event organizers John A. De Goes told Inc. last week the conference's debate about including Yarvin did not pertain to free speech.
"There are many people with a vested interest in ensuring there is space in our culture (not just tech, but beyond) to continuing debating white supremacy and to continue coddling white supremacists," Baker wrote over direct message on Twitter. "I fully expect LambdaConf to continue getting money, not because they need it, but because white supremacists want to reward them for their decision to include a white supremacist in their space."
De Goes did not respond to a text message requesting clarification on the sponsorship situation. He tweeted thanks for the Indiegogo campaign a few days ago. "Wow, thanks to the folks who put this together! It's gonna *help* a lot of people. :)"