A renowned MIT computer scientist resigned from two jobs Monday amid outrage over his remarks describing a victim of financier and sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein as seeming “entirely willing” and posts to his personal blog advocating for the legalization of pedophilia and child pornography.
In a post on his personal site, Richard Stallman, a visiting scientist at MIT and well-known open source software developer, was unapologetic: “To the MIT community, I am resigning effective immediately from my position in CSAIL at MIT. I am doing this due to pressure on MIT and me over a series of misunderstandings and mischaracterizations.”
He also resigned as president of the Free Software Foundation, an organization that advocates for the development of open source software, according to a statement from the foundation’s executive director. Stallman started the organization in 1985 and had served as its president ever since.
Stallman has long been hailed as a pioneering computer scientist, honored with a slew of honorary doctorates and a 1990 MacArthur “Genius Grant.”
In emails to MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab made public late last week, Stallman defended his fellow well-regarded MIT computer scientist Marvin Minsky, accused of sexually assaulting a woman allegedly trafficked by Epstein, writing that it was likely the victim, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, seemed “entirely willing” to Minsky. People within the free software community had whispered to one another for years, but the emails reignited debate about his position within the community.
Selam Jie Gano, the MIT alumna who first published excerpts from Stallman’s emails, told The Daily Beast of Stallman’s resignation: “It was going to happen eventually. It was obvious that he wasn’t following our community values and guidelines. I hope this motivates a larger conversation.”
The Daily Beast reported Friday that Stallman had also advocated for the legalization of child pornography and the abolishment of age of consent laws for more than 15 years on his personal site, stallman.org, the same blog he used to announce his resignation.
Stallman argued against age-of-consent laws for more than 15 years on his site. In 2003, he wrote, “I think that everyone age 14 or above ought to take part in sex, though not indiscriminately. (Some people are ready earlier.)”
In 2006, he wrote that pedophilia might not be so bad: “I am skeptical of the claim that voluntarily [sic] pedophilia harms children. The arguments that it causes harm seem to be based on cases which aren’t voluntary, which are then stretched by parents who are horrified by the idea that their little baby is maturing.”
The day after The Daily Beast’s story published, he wrote that he had not defended Epstein and that his views on pedophilia had changed: “Through personal conversations in recent years, I’ve learned to understand how sex with a child can harm per psychologically [sic]. This changed my mind about the matter.”
Stallman, the Free Software Foundation, and MIT did not respond to a request for comment.
A cascade of Epstein-related scandals have rocked MIT since it was revealed last month that the MIT Media Lab, a research institute within the university whose work often influences the wider tech industry, announced it had accepted a number of donations from Epstein after his 2008 conviction for soliciting prostitution from a minor. The lab’s director, Joi Ito, resigned after The New Yorker reported he had concealed Epstein’s donations from the university and the public and taken more than $1 million for his own personal investments. The president of MIT said he, too, had hidden Epstein’s money and had even signed a thank-you note to the financier.