This column is available free to the public. If you like my writings on genre issues, consider backing my Patreon. And thanks to all the people who gave me feedback on this report prior to publication. Warning: This report includes discussions of possible political violence along with quoted comments containing racism, white supremacy, and more.
Update: In response to this report, Baen Books publisher Toni Weisskopf announced their online forum will be “on hiatus” as the company investigates these issues.
This is an investigative report about how Baen’s Bar, the private forum run by the science fiction and fantasy publishing company Baen Books, is being used to advocate for extremist political violence. Evidence will be presented. Comments by a number of the forum’s users will be shared.[See Note 1 below]
I believe it’s vitally important for the SF/F genre to know what is going on in Baen’s Bar. As the world has discovered in recent years, disinformation and online threats of violence do not remain in one place and this applies equally to the SF/F genre. When online threats of violence are ignored and encouraged, there can be unintended and possibly deadly consequences to everyone.
Baen Books is a historically important genre publisher. I don’t believe the company supports the advocacy of political violence on their forum, but they are also doing little to stop their forum from being used for this purpose. They have the ability to deal with this issue but simply choose not to.
As I will show, this attitude toward their forum desperately needs to change.
History of Baen’s Bar
If you’re not familiar with Baen’s Bar, it is a large private forum run by Baen Books. From the company’s start in 1983, Baen Books pushed the technological boundaries for what a publisher could do to reach their audience, an attitude instilled in them by founding publisher and editor Jim Baen. For example, Baen was one of the first publishers to set up a website to reach the public.
Jerry Pournelle was once one of Baen Books’ most well-known authors. After the company set up its website in the 1990s, Pournelle urged Jim Baen to add a chat feature to the site so book readers could speak directly to the publisher. This was the beginning of the company’s forum, which started as a bulletin board system and eventually grew into Baen’s Bar.
As of February 9, 2021, the Bar had 64,280 registered users, although there appear to be only a few thousand active members.[See Note 2] In addition to discussions and debates the forum also publishes “snippets” of yet-to-be published Baen books along with handling submissions for both the publishing company along with Eric Flint’s 1632 anthologies and the associated Grantville Gazette.[See Note 3]
Baen and the company's current publisher, Toni Weisskopf, market many of their books toward a specific subset of readers, what John Scalzi has called the “Orthodox Church of Heinlein.”[See Note 4] As a result of this editorial bent, the press frequently publishes books by outspokenly conservative SF authors such as Tom Kratman, Larry Correia, John Ringo, and Sarah A. Hoyt.
However, it’d be a mistake to think Baen only publishes socially conservative writers. Bestselling Baen author Eric Flint, for example, was a long-time progressive political activist and member of the Socialist Workers Party. Other authors published by Baen include Joanna Russ, Lois McMaster Bujold, and Harry Turtledove, none of whom fit into the conservative author narrative.
However, while the publishing company may publish authors with a range of political views, the Baen’s Bar forum definitely has a conservative tilt. This can be easily seen in many of the Bar’s most contentious subforums, such as those dealing with politics and other controversial issues.
For all of the forum’s existence Baen Books has essentially adopted and encouraged an “anything goes” rule for posts. And the forum is also known for an attitude of “if you can’t handle the heat, stay out of the kitchen,” a saying frequently quoted on the forum. Remember that saying, because it’ll be used by a forum participant later in this report as a way of implying that advocating violence against others is no big deal.
Baen’s Bar has also become well-known in the genre community as a place where racism, sexism, homophobia and general fascism continually pop up. For example, a Baen’s Bar user from India was nicknamed “The Swarthy Menace” on the forum by author Tom Kratman. People on the forum thought that was the height of clever humor.
Racist comments and innuendos frequently appear in many forum discussions. In a thread last year titled “Soft Civil War & Trump’s Army,” user Captrandy wrote that political conflicts in the USA could be solved if “all the angry and non angry white males should stop going to work for a month or so.” In another political thread, user Pugmak wrote “Simple competence has been declared white supremacy. Knowing how to do your job and expecting others to do likewise is now white supremacy and workplace oppression.”
All of which may lead you to believe Baen’s Bar isn’t moderated. Which is false. The forum has a number of active moderators and in the past has even banned a handful of topics from discussion, as will be covered later. But these days it appears few if any comments are removed. It also appears only one user has ever been banned from the forum, in this case for ironically pushing liberal political views in an argument with author John Ringo.[See Note 5]
Forum Comments Advocating Violence
Since the November 3rd elections, Baen’s Bar has seen a surge of new registrants.[See Note 6] While most of these new members have not yet posted anything, some of these users appeared to join the forum because other platforms they used, such as Parler and now-banned Reddits, had been shut down.
For example, a user named Turk joined on January 11, 2021, writing “I heard about this site on a few other forums. Conservative but not rabidly or idiotically.”
So what did Turk believe qualified as “not” being rabidly or idiotically conservative? When someone on the forum praised the police officer who led the rioters away from the Senate floor during the Capitol siege, Turk said, “He should have let them invade the senate floor. Time those POS’s faced a little reality.” The rest of that thread then discussed how the riot wasn’t that bad because not many cops were really hurt (fact check: over 100 were injured, a number of them seriously) and “only” 5 people were killed, which to forum users meant the siege wasn’t that serious.
This view was shared by others on the Bar, with user Arun.tblp describing the Capitol siege as a “peaceful protest.”
However, what’s most worrying about Baen’s Bar is that since the 2020 Presidential election, the forum has seen a large number of posts urging violence against political opponents.
For example, as reported earlier by File770, author Tom Kratman has used the forum to urge Trump to “start his own well-armed militia.” Kratman added that Trump should say “I can start the civil war with a stamp of my foot. I’ve refrained, so far, but you cannot count on that restraint under all circumstances.”
Kratman also explained what he thought the militia is for:
“The militia – again, a _well_armed_ militia – is necessary to present a threat in being to the powers that be such that, should they use extra-, pseudo-, and quasi-legal means to try to suppress the party, the price presented will be far too high.”
Kratman finished the post by saying the militia should “recruit working class blacks, Hispanics, and Asians” because “they can engage in violence at need” while the media won’t “condemn people of color for anything they do.”
It’s worth noting a number of Baen’s Bar users posted comments agreeing with Kratman’s words in that thread.
There are tons of discussions on the forum about the pending second American Civil War (frequently shortened to ACW2). For example, user Winterset wrote a thread titled “It may start sooner than I thought” on January 9, 2021, only a few days after the Capitol siege. This user wrote: “With the idiocy of Pelosi and company on this truly obscene impeachment fiasco, and what the social media types are doing now, ACW2 is marginally closer. At this rate by summer the gunpowder will be burning everywhere.”
Winterset also wrote a thread titled “Musings on the future” on November 8, 2020, saying:
“Trump losing is a good thing. IF he had won things would be better for a while but the Dims would keep up the garbage. Now they will do the stupid power mad grab that will set off what NEEDS to happen. Which is ACW2. Those that claim its already happening as usual cannot understand reality. A real civil war is killing in job lots and all that goes with it.”
No one in this thread disputed what Winterset said, with some of the people responding by pointing out possible targets for the ACW2. A moderator with the username Theoryman wrote, “As I’ve already pointed out, rendering ANY large city is uninhabitable is quite easy... And the Left lives in cities. The question is just how many of its inhabitants will survive...” Theoryman later in the thread suggested shooting transformers in cities with high-power rifles to make the cities “uninhabitable until restored,” adding in another post that “The point is to kill enough of them that they can not arise for another 50 years... or more.”
User Br’er Tiger also wrote in that thread, saying “The problem isn’t that you killed too many, but that you killed too few.”
Other users in the thread pointed out that it may be harder to destroy American cities than people think, saying that, for example, the water aqueduct for New York City is buried too deep to easily target.
Note these users weren’t saying the entire discussion was wrong – they were quibbling over what to target. And also remember the user named Theoryman quoted above is a moderator for Baen’s Bar (note that in the linked image I deleted info possibly identifying Theoryman because I refuse to dox people). Yet instead of moderating this thread, Theoryman said to kill enough people so they don’t rise again.
In a thread titled “Who killed Ashli Babbitt?” users discussed the Capitol police officer who shot Babbitt as she broke into the Capitol. User James/G wrote in that thread on February 5, 2021, that:
“Since the week of the event, There has been very little said, compared to the sort of coverage you see for someone like George Floyd or Jacob Blake. Look at some ugly facts; She was White. She was not a large woman. She was unarmed. The only thing that would have got this swept under the rug faster, was if the shooter had been black.”
When a user in the thread pointed out a recent news article saying the officer was unlikely to be charged, Theoryman responded by saying “Which is why the guy needs doxed... After that, the problem will take care of itself.”
Let’s be very blunt about what Theoryman is saying: He is urging people to kill a police officer who defended the U.S. Capitol once they learn the officer’s name. And yet again, this user is a moderator for Baen’s Bar, meaning the publishing company selected this user to monitor and manage discussions on their forum.
And this isn’t the only example of violence being urged on the forums. On January 29, 2021, the user Turk, who again joined the forum after the Capitol siege, responded in a thread about surviving the Biden presidency by writing that he’d recommend “Cleaning our weapons and waiting until you and yours make the final fatal mistake.”
It’s worth saying not everyone on Baen’s Bar is advocating stuff like this. In what appears to be a response to the above comment, a user started a thread titled “Time to Delete this Topic” and said that the entire Politics section of the Bar should be nuked. When someone asked why, this user wrote “I understand polite civil discourse. But advocating the murder of individuals due to political reasons should not be ignored, and absolutely not encouraged.”
In response, user Br’er Tiger wrote “So ... who was he planning to murder?” and “btw: cleaning weapons can be a very zen-like process for some people ... calms the mind.” User James/G wrote “we’re just talking about causing violence, but in the manner of ‘This is a warning, do not proceed further’ type of manner. As several have stated, if the Moderate/Conservative finally do resort to violence, it will actually be something that will have Despots in Foreign countries going pale, and saying, ‘Nope, not gonna piss those people off.’”
And elsewhere in that thread about deleting posts encouraging violence, a user wrote that “…folks who can NOT handle the heat be kept out of the kitchen.”
Returning to discussions on the pending second American Civil War, which appears to a favorite topic on the Bar, user Peke wrote on January 8, 2021, that “I can see a smallish force with good skills at explosive handling, bringing a large city to its knees just through a few well-placed booms at some of the points I mentioned.”
Fortunately, that topic caught the attention of moderators. That’s sarcasm on my part because a few posts after Peke’s comment a moderator named James S Cochrane responded to the pending civil war thread by saying “You aren’t seeing a lot of public commentary because all communications are insecure. But most of the former SpecOps people I know have gone quiet. People who trained for twenty years to lead insurgencies or put rounds on target at a mile plus. The Left has also driven off a lot of cops who couldn’t stomach their behavior, most major cities are seriously understaffed at this point.”
Good moderation there.
Update: After publishing my report I saw these screenshots of a Baen's Bar moderator named Ben-David also calling for violence, including for the streets to "flow with blood." This moderator also wrote about there being "some genetic markers that predispose a person to being liberal" and enslaving leftists after they lose the war. Again, this is a forum moderator saying this.
There are also a number of threads on the forum discussing how to equip militia members. During one of these threads, a user asked “The crux of the matter is what does a militia unit do these days? Are they static defenders? Are they light infantry? Are they recon? What exactly, is their role?”
User APPilot, who claims to be a pilot out of Missouri, started a thread on January 10, 2021, titled “Behind Enemy Lines” by saying:
“Is it real enough yet? Are we going to sit by and watch as we did during the late 30’s and let the pograms play out? Are we gonna let the Katyn Forest repeat? Wait until there is proof the bodies are stacking up? The lack of immediacy on the right is disgusting.”
I could go on, but I think you should be getting an idea of the types of comments on the Bar encouraging political violence.
Why Won't Baen Address This Issue?
As I said at the beginning of this report, Baen Books sets the boundaries of what is and is not allowed on their private forum. They obviously have control over their forums and even have assigned a number of moderators to manage the Bar.
And Baen Books has in the past banned some topics from being discussed on their forum. In July 2008, a moderator named Silverdrake wrote a post titled “Newbie FAQ 2: The LaBrea Tar Pits, aka Banned Topics.” In this post Silverdrake explained that a number of topics were banned from the forum because “Some topics have mired in muck, choked to death, and sunk out of sight several times over.”
These banned topics included discussions on the 2000 United States Presidential election, the US Civil War, gender rights, questions related to “why Mr. Ringo completely dismisses Canada and any contribution Canada could make to a defense of North America,” women in combat, abortion, and a few random topics such as Mercedes Lackey.[See Note 7]
And one of these banned topics, “Genetic engineering to select for a genetic defect in a child,” so enraged Jim Baen that “he didn't want to have any part in propounding it anywhere on his site, even something as small as the infinitesimal amount to which he would be footing the bill.”
So obviously Baen Books has banned certain topics from their forum in the past. Despite this, comments advocating political violence are currently not only allowed, they are encouraged by many forum users including moderators.
Brianna Wu wrote an excellent thread last year about how many people, including journalists, didn’t initially take Gamergate seriously. However, Gamergate quickly turned into a vector for online radicalization which infected other aspects of society, including global politics.
This isn’t to say Gamergate started all the troubles in our world, or to imply that Baen’s Bar is the next Gamergate. But as I said at the start of this report, when online radicalization and threats of violence are ignored there are frequently unintended and even deadly consequences. For example, a recent survey from the American Enterprise Institute found that nearly three in 10 Americans now believe political violence is acceptable.
Let me say this loudly and strongly: It is not free speech to threaten violence against someone you politically disagree with. Someone saying “I will kill you!” is not engaging in a debate or discussion. They are making a threat.
And Baen Books is allowing users to make threats on their forum.
Baen publisher Toni Weisskopf is the editor Guest of Honor at DisCon III, the 2021 Worldcon. Each year Worldcon hosts in-depth interviews with each Guest of Honor. During this year’s interview I’d really like Weisskopf to be asked about her company’s private forum being used to advocate for political violence. Does she find this acceptable? Does she condone these types of statements? Why did Baen Books previously ban some topics from their forum but doesn’t currently ban advocacy of political violence?
I doubt Weisskopf supports violent comments like those found on her forum, and I also doubt Baen Books as a company does.
But if that’s true, why are they providing a platform for such comments?
Again, Baen Books has ultimate power over their forum. They could easily ban any user advocating political violence and delete posts calling for the same. They have chosen not to do this.
They need to immediately stop allowing their forums to be used for this purpose.
* * *
[Note 1] While I don’t link to the specific posts on Baen’s Bar cited in this report, which can only be accessed after logging into the private forum, I did take screenshots of everything referenced. Update: I went back in and added links to many of the screenshots.
[Note 2] According to member info for Baen’s Bar, which is publicly available on the forum, just under 1,100 users have made more than 100 comments on the Bar since December 2011 (which is as far back as the publicly available member info goes for the forum’s current version). And only 8,000 users have made a single comment since December 2011, with 2,000 of this number making a single comment then not posting a second time.
[Note 3] Baen Books is one of the few large book publishers to accept novel submissions from unagented writers. And when Jim Baen was publisher he connected through the forum with science fiction writers whose books he later published. For example, John Ringo has mentioned how his first book with Baen was initially rejected, but given a second chance by Jim Baen because Ringo argued with him on Baen’s Bar about the Aquatic Ape Theory.
[Note 4] As John Scalzi has written, “Anecdotally speaking, Baen’s folk really do appear to have a high level of identification with the house, and much (but to be clear, not all) of Baen’s stock-in-trade is a specific type of science fiction, which structurally resembles ‘golden age’ science fiction and whose readership/authorship correlates with social/political conservatism.” In addition, the quote in the main report at this note had an attribution mistake, which has now been corrected.
[Note 5] Bob Nelson has described being banned from the forum “for not agreeing with Mr Ringo’s vision of the universe.“ Nelson later wrote a more detailed post on what happened, describing how he argued against the sad puppies and other issues on the forum prior to being banned.
[Note 6] In the 10 months prior to the November 3, 2020 election, just over 400 new users joined Baen’s Bar. In the three months after the election, nearly 360 new users joined.
[Note 7] According to the explanation in the list of banned Baen’s Bar topics, Mercedes Lackey posted a long rant on the forum about her distaste for Baen Books and Jim Baen personally, along with mentioning how she had been persecuted for being of a particular political bent. While it appears Lackey left the forum after that, Jim Baen “asked that the incident be stricken from discussion.”
Update: Mercedes Lackey reached out to me to say that the information shared on Baen's Bar about why she left was simply not true. She says she left the forum after 9/11 when forum users were posting freely about murdering all Muslims. Lackey strongly attacked these posts in a long post on Baen's Bar, but her post was heavily criticized by Tom Kratman and specifically John Ringo and Ringo's followers. However, Lackey's post and reasons for leaving said nothing about Jim Baen nor about Baen Books. She also says the note posted on the forum banning discussions around her leaving was written after Jim Baen passed, so he would have been unable to contradict it.