As political scandals go, this one was odd, even by Second Life standards. Gaming blogs were buzzing last week with reports of a bizarre incident involving the staff member of a US Senator who (allegedly in a drunken rage) used a plot of Second Life land to stage a protest against a fluffy pink video game character.
Early accounts of the incident raised more questions than they answered. An SLNN story failed to reveal the identity of the Senator and offered only the slightest of reasons why someone would hate Kirby enough to portray him as a Sieg-Heiling Nazi who “hates our troops.” That story also raised the possibility that US national security might be at stake due to the Senate staffer leaving passwords posted on his computer monitor.
When mainstream political pundits grouse about the risks of swimming too far into the deep end of the new media pool, I’m pretty sure this is precisely the scenario they have in mind.
After re-reading the SLNN story a half dozen times, the mystery surrounding the identity of the Senator and his staffer became too much for me to bear. I’m sorry to report that I’ve spent most of the past week tracking down the participants in this absurd tale; and untangling a web of accusations, lies, and deceptions.
Now the whole story can be told.
A Lesson On Honorifics
My first task was to figure out the identity of the United States Senator. Also, how the hell does a US politician slip into Second Life without creating a storm of media coverage? I’ve been hearing rumblings that the media has finally finished with the hype phase of its Second Life coverage and is now moving onto the backlash phase. Still, it seems like a real live Senator in Second Life should generate some news coverage.
To my surprise, several sources revealed the Senator to be none other than Mike Gravel. While Gravel is an active presidential candidate, he hasn’t held a seat in the US Senate for over 20 years. It’s doubtful that his campaign volunteers have access to any sensitive information that would compromise national security. I would hope that everyone writing about the 2008 presidential campaign understands that, in Mr. Gravel’s case, the word Senator is used as an honorific.
The Gravel revelation was also surprising because the protest was alleged to have taken place on land where the candidate’s staff member was building a virtual campaign headquarters. But the Gravel campaign already has a well-established virtual campaign HQ. As I eventually discovered, the Kirby incident had nothing to do with Mike Gravel’s campaign.
A Lego And A Dream
Legoean Ferraris (aka Lego) volunteers for Gravel’s presidential campaign — both in real life and in Second Life. I’m still unclear on what Lego’s real-life responsibilities are, but in Second Life, he’s not exactly what you’d call a high-ranking campaign official. He doesn’t seem to have any duties in the day-to-day operations of the in-world campaign.
Lego has only been in Second Life a little over a month. In that short time, he’s already developed a concept for a consulting business designed to help Congressional candidates build and maintain virtual campaign headquarters. In some ways, Lego is like nearly everyone you meet in Second Life. He’s convinced that virtual worlds are the future, and he dreams of running a successful virtual business.
The first step in Lego’s business plan was to buy a plot of land to build an office for his new venture. Lego purchased a small parcel in a business district named Bastiat. Shortly after that, things began to go horribly wrong.
A Spinning Pink Puff Ball
Not long after arriving in Bastiat, a Kirby Emporium store opened across the street from Lego’s new office. Kirby is possibly the most innocent video game character ever created. He was initially developed by Nintendo as a learning tool for novice gamers and was designed to be as inoffensive as possible. Kirby’s superpower is the ability to inhale his opponents and spit them out as stars.
Lego began having problems with the Kirby Emporium when the store erected a giant spinning Kirby sign. Somehow Lego felt that Kirby’s goofy presence would damage his business prospects. Lego isn’t aware of just how bad the bad neighbors can be in Second Life.
Lego’s reaction to the Kirby Emporium seems to be part of an ongoing trend I’ve noticed among politically active residents in-world. Despite (or maybe because of) the naturally anarchistic nature of Second Life, political groups in SL are obsessed with being taken seriously. I can only imagine that Lego had nightmares about meetings with potential clients who wanted to know why there was an enormous spinning pink puffball across the street from his consulting office. Still, any consultant who attempts to portray Second Life as a mainstream experience isn’t doing his clients any favors.
Lego eventually took his complaints to IntLibber Brautigan, the owner of the region. Lego demanded that IntLibber repurchase the land. Not only did IntLibber refuse to buy the land, but he also took offense at Lego’s complaints, calling Lego “a racist.” IntLibber believed that Lego’s distaste for Kirby was racially motivated.
Does Kirby Hate Our Troops?
After IntLibber rejected Lego’s demands, Lego attempted to unload his virtual land at a substantial discount. A week later, the land hadn’t sold, and Lego saw spinning Kirbys in his sleep.
Then Lego got the bright idea to use his land to build a weird monument protesting Kirby. He constructed a house-like building with signs depicting Kirby as a little pink nazi, raising an arm saluting to Adolph Hitler. The pictures I’ve seen are a bit fuzzy, but Kirby appears to have a little red swastika on his chest. Over Kirby’s head, the signs read, “Kirby Hates our Troops.”
Some have suggested that Lego’s protest was merely absurd and was an attempt to make light of the ridiculous situation he found himself in. Maybe so, but I find it unfathomable how anyone involved in real-world politics could ever think that portraying a beloved video game character as a nazi is a good idea.
Lego briefly tried to cover up his involvement in the protest, claiming that a house guest had accessed his computer and created the signs using his account. As excuses go, it was one step removed from “the dog ate my homework.”
It was only a matter of time before Lego’s protest was discovered by IntLibber, who promptly contacted Linden Lab to report the display of “broadly offensive material.” As the owner of the region, IntLibber also confiscated Lego’s land in the process. If nothing else, Lego succeeded in ridding himself of his problem land — at a 100% loss.
When I talked with IntLibber this past week, he did not back down from playing the race card. During our interview, he told me, “I have to say that while some people in RL may think this is an oddball comedic story, replace “Kirby” with “African American,” and the story becomes far more clear.”
I’m not sure what to make of IntLibber’s comments. It’s uncommon to hear a self-described Libertarian and former Reagan Youth speak so passionately about the plight of an oppressed group. If I were the skeptical sort, I might think he was exploiting the situation for maximum media exposure. Also, he used the protest as an opportunity to repossess the land without paying a cent.
So, What Race Is Kirby?
If Lego’s hatred of Kirby was racially motivated, we might better understand his crime if we knew Kirby’s race. But unfortunately, according to Wikipedia, Kirby has no race:
Kirby’s species has been a common topic of debate in his fandom. Unlike many other video game mascots, such as Link being Hylian, Kirby’s kind has never been given an official name.
Still, IntLibber insists that Lego’s protest constituted a “hate crime.” During an interview, IntLibber told me:
I would call it a hate crime, as much as burning a cross on someone’s lawn … he didn’t regard the Kirbys as people of any equal importance. That’s the root of any bigotry.
I’m still not sold on the bigotry angle. While the use of Nazi imagery is certainly “broadly offensive,” I’m not convinced that anyone would equate Lego’s hatred of Kirby with hating humans. It’s more like hating a ball of lint.
Hating Copyright Violations
If Lego wanted to take down the Kirby Emporium, he might have had better luck by contacting the Nintendo legal department. There’s no indication that any of the Kirby merchandise in Second Life is authorized or licensed by Nintendo.
I raised this issue with IntLibber and suggested that, as a “silent partner,” he might want to take a closer look at copyright issues. In response, IntLibber asked if I was threatening him, then informed me that Disney is the only company that really cares about enforcing its copyrights.
While IntLibber might be a Second Life business mogul, he’s got a lot to learn about how real-life entertainment corporations protect their intellectual property rights.
This aspect of the story raises an interesting hypothetical question: Is it possible to commit a hate crime against a copyright violation? Only the RIAA knows for sure.
The Rest of the Story
One aspect of this story that’s been overlooked is IntLibber’s silent partnership with the Kirby Emporium. I’m not suggesting that this justifies what occurred, but it might explain his reaction to Lego’s complaints, and it certainly could explain IntLibber’s over-the-top claims in the media. Lego’s protest has turned into a huge promotional event for the Kirby Emporium.
IntLibber’s grandstanding could also be politically motivated. While he denies involvement with any of the Second Life campaign groups, he recently named one of his islands Ron Paul, and he will apparently be donating a portion of that island for use by the Ron Paul campaign group. It’s entirely possible there might be some Paul vs. Gravel rivalry fueling the battle between Lego and IntLibber.
There’s also the issue of Lego’s land that IntLibber confiscated. IntLibber got the land back at no cost, and he gets to sell it all over again at a 100% profit. Despite IntLibber’s outrage, this whole incident has worked out pretty well for him.
Meanwhile, Lego still has plans to launch his consulting business, only this time from a private island. It’s doubtful that this incident will impact his business if for no other reason because his target market is blissfully ignorant of events that occur in Second Life.
While Lego lost a few hundred dollars on his virtual land, he might have fared much worse if the story had reached a broader audience in the mainstream media. All things considered, Lego got off easy on this one.
A truism of American politics is that the cover-up is often worse than the crime. In the case of the Kirby scandal, it’s hard to tell which was worse, but one thing is sure, both were equally absurd.
Thank you so much for clearing this up. Very nice report.
Prokofy Neva says
Oh, you should have called me. There’s more to the story, twisted as it is, and as much excellent investigation and writing you did on this.
Intlibber Brautigan, the ex-Libertarian party chair from New Hampshire, has taken his political aspirations into Second Life, where he’s played a decidedly ambiguous role in trying out some of his wackier Snowcrash-like “anarcho-capitalist” ideals in virtuality. One of his concepts has been to essentially buy out and employ members of a racist group called the Patriotic Nigras (!) which is a spin-off of the b/tards or 4-channers, also related to the W-hats of somethingawful.com — various infighting factions of pre-existing Internet groups that now grief (harass, bully) Second Life regularly by crashing sims and spreading racist, anti-gay and other images and speech. They were the ones behind the trashing of the John Edwards campaign, which they tried to misrepresent as “Republicans” doing the job (in fact, the PNs tend more to be like Leninists).
Mike Gravel’s Campaign Manager in SL, who appears to be someone paid in RL, is an avatar named Astrophysicist McCallister who at first seemed to dally with cooperation with Intlibber, even befriending Jim Schack’s Intlibber’s security goon (who has presided at the trashing of my rental sims in a separate story), but his current relations with these sectarians isn’t clear. I think he probably holds them somewhat at a distance now. What is clear is that he knew about the attack on the Kirby build, which he described to me as “an attack by my colleague” and chuckled about it. When I confronted him about what it means to become involved in griefing and counter-griefing, he pulled away, saying he didn’t condone griefing. He didn’t say anything about any “drunk houseguest getting at the computer,” he said “my colleague,” i.e. that intern in the congressional office. And he got a hoot out of it, and knew about it — but had deniability about direct involvement.
Well, what is this all about? it’s about people getting press attention. There’s no *bad* press when it comes to Second Life, it keeps causing more of a stampede of new memberships and look-sees than ever. And it might be about internal campaign skirmishing, or it might just be about kids getting giddy suddenly having all the tools of havoc-making in a virtual world. We’ll likely see a lot more of this.
This post is not a claim of the truth of the matter, nor a claim of accuracy, but merely what I have been told, and am reporting.
Debi Demina says
When has Prokofy Neva ever been truthfu? Much like many reporters in SL, particularly those working for SLNN and SLH, they like to generate publicity as much as possible, mostly for themselves. Prokofy, you’re part of the problem.
Your rampant speculations are not serious, only amusing. So please, continue on with them. Just don’t go on this moral crusade against generating press, when you in fact, are responsible.
Marvel Ousley says
Legoean Ferraris does indeed work at the SL Gravel campaign headquarters in Second Life, and recently hosted a Mike Gravel campaign rally there. The reason SLNN.com did not print his SL name, or real name, which we knew, was because there were two different sides to the story and we couldn’t prove which one was accurate when we broke the story. Astrophysicist McAllister told SLNN.com he would reveal all the details under the condition that we didn’t make the connection to Mike Gravel. What we reported was the “official” story from the senator’s SL campaign office. The senator’s real life press secretary Alex Colvin also knew the real story, but obviously he didn’t want to connect Mike Gravel with any negative press either since it would reflect on Gravel’s presidential aspirations.
IntLibber Brautigan says
Heres a few corrections:
a) I was not a silent partner, I was an advisor/mentor to the Kirby guys. They’re young fellows with little business experience, and this level of hate/frustration/bigotry/aggressive opposition was shocking for them.
b) In SL, Linden Lab considers any offensive acts against non-human avatars to be “broadly offensive” and even “racism”. It is most certainly against the terms of service. While Kirby’s dont at first glance fall into the category “furry”, they are non-human avatars.
c) this is as much about the fact that there are real people behind those Kirbys with feelings too. Too often people do offensive things without a thought in SL cause they treat it like there are not real people on the other end, its “just a game” or those other players are just cartoons, not real people behind the avatars.
d) When Lego complained about the Kirby’s, I first offered to move him to another sim. He insisted that I pass zoning laws in my sims against Kirbys. I informed him that he was very lucky to have such PG characters as neighbors, if he moved elsewhere it was far more likely he’d wind up with a skin shop, or an escort club, or BDSM club next door to himself, or some goon might set up shop parodying his own business, like one did setting up the “John Edward” campaign (the tv psychic) HQ next to John Edwards’ campaign. He didn’t seem to appreciate the advice.
e) Linden Lab agreed that Lego’s display was broadly offensive. Now, we can debate about the validity of such offensively broad a term as “broadly offensive”, but those are the rules we live under in SL. The only person who seems to get away with being broadly offensive all the time is Prokofy Neva.
Prokofy Neva says
Interesting that Intlibber, who blubbers that I am a “libelous inciter” at every public meeting, doesn’t do anything to “dispel the rumour” here about his hiring griefings, when he is taking the opportunity to refute his critics.
Perhaps it’s because he knows that he is on the record extolling his concept of hiring griefers and is on the record carrying water and currying favour with these griefers time and again — it’s appalling.
He can’t deny these people he put on the payroll are b/tards, because their groups — and their many public statements — have always shown them to be b/tards or “v-5s” who have all come out from under the somethingawful.com and w-hat cultures and continue to intermingle with these sites and groups constantly, as is easily established.
So what is left for Intlibber to say? That he doesn’t hire PNs? That his little b/tard buddies are NOT PNs? But they are. We can see their pictures, groups, statements, behaviour, transparently stupid alts, etc. etc.
Intlibber cannot say, with a straight face, hand on heart, “I did not hire griefing PNs.” That’s because he did. I earnestly believe that he did and have documented this in numerous attacks. He can go on denying this, hey, the word-salad bar is always open, but he can’t claim this is “libel”.
His own words about hiring griefings in his weird “economic theory of the solution to terrorism” can’t be undone, and stand forever as an indictment. Why, one of his former employees, along with another new build-buddy “former griefer” *cough* and even stood on my head griefing me over and over, stalking me and harassing me right in front of the Lindens at the Concierge Ball. The Lindens did nothing. They’re in on it. Intlibber knows this.
Debi Demina, rather than running off your mouth, I challenge you to refute this, and to find any other writing of mine that you can demonstrate to be false. Please, have at it.
BTW, Intlibber also needs to come up with proof for his statement that I’m “broadly offensive”. That’s pretty hilarious. Broad — but not offensive.
I’m not sure if this is the reason I love Second Life or the reason I hate Second Life. At any rate, it certainly is entertaining — although I realize it isn’t supposed to be.
Thanks for the laughs folks. I’m closing this thread as it’s veered wildly off topic and you have plenty of other forums where you can carry on your petty bickering.
It’s like you’re living out a Philip K. Dick novel. Be careful, you know what happened to him.