Bulletins

One Week in September: A Look Back at Yablokogate

In September 2011, the MicroWiki community was gripped with accusations of an attempted power grab. Ten years on, the Times looks back and tries to make sense of a scandal that nearly broke the community.

In early September 2011, the MicroWiki community was settled.

The MicroWiki community had just held its first-ever micronational summit in London, the Organisation of Active Micronations (OAM) was slowly losing the prestige it had once held, and the Tasman-Pacific organisation (TASPAC) was thriving as the main community hub for Australasian micronations.

However, just a week later, the community was engulfed in a ferocious scandal that almost caused a permanent rift. TASPAC, which had previously been an obscure regional organisation, became popularly regarded as a secretive organisation that could not be trusted. Yabloko, one of the community’s more influential nations, began to lose its powerful standing, and within six months would be gone. Questions were raised as to the direction of the community and what future it would have.

Few members of the community today will be aware of Yablokogate, much less have taken an active part. What was a major scandal that split the community has faded into the distant history of the community, and with the benefit of hindsight it resembles more a storm in a teacup than the major controversy it was at the time.

The story of Yablokogate is confusing and unclear, riven with accusations and speculation. While the scandal took only a few days to run its course, it was remembered for years afterwards as an uncertain period for the community. A decade later, Yablokogate seems as murky as ever, and there are parts of the scandal that we may never fully understand.

It has been ten years since the events of Yablokogate gripped the community. In this recollection, the Times will attempt to re-tell the story of the scandal and examine the impact it left on the community in the years afterward.

Prelude

Yablokogate is generally accepted to have begun on September 6, 2011 with the publication of a dossier on the MicroWiki Forums authored by Robert Lethler. It is worth going back a bit further, however, to provide context.

Robert Lethler had been leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Erusia between 2008 and 2010, and had exercised considerable influence over the community. In July 2010 it was revealed that Erusia did not actually exist and was simply a means to serve Lethler’s own mysterious ends, after which he left the community and remained something of a bogeyman. His return to the community in August 2011 was met with suspicion, with some members of the community arguing that he should not be welcomed back lest he attempt to take control of the community again.

During his return, Lethler learned of concerns that the Students’ Isocratic Oligarchy of Yabloko, a Sydney-based micronation, was plotting to take control of the MicroWiki community. In May 2011, Nicholas Woode-Smith, who had served as the Yablokon Minister of Defence, leaked a series of screenshots from Yabloko’s forum that appeared to back these concerns, with mention made of a “metagame” by that nation’s Lord Speaker, Reborn. While the screenshots were known of at the time, they had been mostly ignored by the community, and it was these screenshots that formed the basis of Lethler’s investigation.

This forum post from Reborn, dated May 23, 2011, was one of the most damning pieces of evidence used to support Lethler’s claim that Yabloko was attempting to seize control of the community.

At the same time, a proposal to revive the dormant Grand Unified Micronational (GUM) was underway by former members. A constitutional quorum was held on August 14 which re-established the organisation, although news of the GUM’s revival was kept secret both due to negative attitudes towards the GUM in the wider community, and in order to protect OAM Vice Secretary-General Joe Foxon, who was planning to step down at the next OAM elections.

The Scandal Erupts

The secrecy of the GUM’s revival was broken by Joseph Puglisi of Tiana, who after being invited to join the reformed GUM, informed TASPAC of that organisation’s developments. Puglisi was at the time an observer in TASPAC, able to partake in discussions but having no voting power.

At some point in early September, Puglisi was made aware of the drafting of a dossier chiefly written by Jacob Tierney, William Sörgel, Anton Larsson, Bradley of Dullahan, and Marka Mejakhansk (the latter of whom later withdrew his authorship). According to Bradley, former St.Charlian Prime Minister Alexander Reinhardt was also involved in the drafting of the dossier, but said that it lacked the “cherry on top”, at which point Lethler became involved.

The dossier, titled Yabloko-Lucas Dossier: A Report on Allegations of a Grand Micronational Conspiracy, whose compilation was attributed to Lethler “at the behest of community members”, outlined accusations that Yabloko was planning to use its growing influence to seize control of the community, and accused members of the site administration of trying to silence Lucas’s critics.

The title page and preamble of the “Yabloko-Lucas Dossier”, the contents of which would prove to be explosive for a community already on edge.

In response to the draft dossier, TASPAC began formulating a response. What was not expected was Anton Larsson, a fellow observer, relaying logs of the discussion back to the GUM, who prepared a joint response in preparation.

It is with great sadness that I must report that, in recent weeks and days, I have been made aware of a substantial body of evidence that appears to suggest one of the most prominent nations in this community –and indeed, one of the most prominent leaders of it – has been engaged in an enterprise that entails the mass manipulation of other micronational states, with the intention of controlling the community and using it as a means to amuse itself. This is a nation whose leadership and citizens have expressed admiration for the methods employed during my experiment from 2008 to 2010, but without any of the noble goals or intentions. When I left the community in the summer of 2010, it was agreed – by myself as well – that the community should never again be the victim of such a campaign of manipulation; that the community had evolved to the point where it was both capable and deserving of standing proud and tall upon its own two feet. That nation is, of course, Yabloko, and the leader in question Aldrich Lucas.

Preamble to the “Yabloko Dossier”, published by Robert Lethler, September 6, 2011

Lethler’s dossier, as well as the pertinent logs, were posted on the MicroWiki Forum at 6:52pm UTC on September 6 (6:52am NZST, September 7), and within hours attracted Lucas’s first response, which rather than defend against the allegations, was an attack against Lethler, emphasising that Lethler did not fully understand the community and had little basis on which to argue given his own nation had been found to be fraudulent. Lucas also insisted that he had never undertaken any plans to manipulate the community, and that Reborn had a habit of “pulling stuff out of his arse.”

If I were even remotely interested in manipulating you lot, I would… you know… manipulate you lot. Which I haven’t done. At all. Ever. [I know someone who has though.]

Aldrich Lucas’ response to the Yabloko Dossier, September 6, 2011.
The text in brackets was hidden.

Attention quickly focused not on the dossier itself, but the contents of TASPAC’s chat logs. Jonathan of Austenasia said that “those TASPAC logs are something which I never thought that I would read”, and urged the community to take action against Lucas.

It soon came to pass that the contents of the TASPAC logs became more controversial than the Dossier, particularly by some members of the GUM.

Examination of the logs quickly focused on Puglisi, who at the time was a site administrator alongside Lucas and Phillip Fish (also known as Gordon Freeman) of A1 (the TASPAC room at the time counted two-thirds of the MicroWiki administration team among its members). The logs revealed that Puglisi had said he would not be opposed to Fish and Lucas “ban[ning] members they didn’t like” in order for Lucas to “assert” his authority over the wiki. Fish had responded affirmatively, saying that it was “a good idea”, however it transpired later that he was actually responding to an earlier message. The unfortunate juxtaposition, coupled with rapidly-rising tensions, further fuelled the scandal.

Confusion quickly took hold in the community, with many members who weren’t involved, and indeed some who were, struggling to comprehend what was happening; the matter was hardly helped by the sharing of incomplete or inaccurate information. In an attempt to try and consolidate known information and clear the air, Fish set up a Skype chatroom in order to “answer questions” about the affair.

It was in the midst of this confusion that within hours of the dossier’s publication, the scandal had already earned its name courtesy of Matthew of Burkland, although he later rejected this term.

Notable members of the community quickly became involved in the situation, with the aim of trying to maintain decorum and establish solid facts.

Taeglan I Nihilus, Emperor of the Reylan Imperial Triumvirate, said that the Dossier “emphasises the points I made […] that not only is this community obsessed with influence, but also is far too insular.”

Senyan President Barnaby Hands published two videos during the scandal, in which he condemned both TASPAC and the GUM, and urged calm between members of the community. However, the best overview is generally credited to St.Charlie’s Alexander Reinhardt, who on September 7 put together a five-minute video humorously going over the main points and likewise urging calm; the video ended with Reinhardt singing part of Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds.

No one is going to die […] the community is not going to collapse […] and we’re going to find a solution to everything. […] We need a big community to act together and solve this issue.

Alexander Reinhardt in his “Keep Calm and Carry On” video, September 7, 2011.
A screenshot from Alexander Reinhardt’s “Keep Calm and Carry On” video, published on September 7, 2011.

Joseph Puglisi

The TASPAC logs ultimately saw the end of Puglisi’s tenure as a MicroWiki administrator. Alongside his calling for the banning of certain members of the community, he had also remarked that he “wished Sörgel would just die.” He was immediately criticised by those TASPAC members present, and later by the wider community, for comments considered “inappropriate and uncalled for”, and especially inappropriate for an administrator.

As the criticisms piled on, Reinhardt called for Puglisi’s dismissal as an administrator on September 7. At the same time, Puglisi removed himself as an administrator, unaware of Reinhardt’s motion, and announced he would be moving to the Micras community, however this ultimately did not happen.

Puglisi publicly apologised in the MicroGroup Facebook group (and later the MicroWiki Forum) the following day for his involvement in Yablokogate, and claimed that his words had been taken “waaay [sic] out of proportion” and were “a result of anger if anything, and the illogical and overtly aggressive way I’ve been acting recently, especially with the way things have been going as of recent in terms of stress.”

Tiana, which had been a member of the St.Charlian Commonwealth, left shortly thereafter. The withdrawal drew criticism for the lack of prior notice given to the St.Charlian government.

TASPAC’s Response

Despite being at the centre of the crisis, confusion reigned inside TASPAC. Members came to the defence of Fish and Lucas, who they saw as victims of a Lethler-led plot, and tried to plead their innocence to the community, to little avail.

One of the few diplomatic actions taken during the crisis was Sirocco’s suspension of diplomatic relations with both Austenasia and Tiana on September 7. The action was met with bemusement from Austenasian leaders, who countered that diplomatic relations between Sirocco and Austenasia had not been formally established; it is today believed that Austenasia was unaware that they were formally recognised by Sirocco under a policy that allowed for one-way recognition of micronations of particular importance. The suspension, the length of which is unknown, is today considered a confused, misguided, and knee-jerk reaction towards a nation that, although critical of TASPAC at the time, had no real role in the scandal.

As the crisis seemingly spiralled out of control, a motion was put forth in the TASPAC chatroom on September 7 for the establishment of a separate TASPAC forum, by Fish, and Siroccan Premier Daniel Anderson, who served as TASPAC’s chairman during the controversy; the proposal was supported by those present, including the Dranorian and Zealandian representatives. That evening, a new forum dubbed “Tasfora”, hosted on A1’s website, went live.

The establishment of a separate forum was considered the first step in a gradual breakaway from the community, which was considered too hostile to remain in. Ultimately the scandal died faster than expected, and the idea of leaving the community was ultimately dropped. Tasfora was abandoned after only around 48 hours and almost no activity of which to speak.

TASPAC’s plan to leave was kept secret for months afterward, with the community only becoming aware when Anderson publicly revealed them late that year.

The Aftermath

The scandal, while considered almost on the scale of Lethlergate at the time, peaked around September 7 and began to die down thereafter. St.Charlie proposed the creation of an independent and neutral commission to investigate the dossier and the logs, as well as a confidence vote on Lucas’s adminship and reforms to the site staff, ideas which were well-received by forum users. St.Charlian Prime Minister Nicolò Alvisi believed that the ideas raised could not only “stem the tide of conflict in the community, but also ameliorate the community and make it stronger”.

Other proposals for investigations were made, but were unsuccessful. A proposal from Fish to use the OAM’s newly-created Intermicronational Court of Law was rejected due to the absence of a charter and its links to TASPAC. Another proposal from Sebastian Linden of Pristinia was criticised for judging Yabloko as already guilty. Freeman criticised another proposal as being an “intolerable intrusion on Yabloko’s internal affairs.”

No investigations into the dossier, TASPAC, or Yabloko were ever held, and the idea of a commission was soon abandoned. By the middle of September, peace had more or less returned to the community, albeit with a heightened sense of mistrust for some time thereafter.

The Scandal’s Legacy

A MicroWiki page chronicling the history of the MicroWiki community says that after the scandal died down, TASPAC became “regarded as secretive and conspiring by most of the community.” Anderson recalls that it was inevitable but regarded as unfair by several members of the group.

“I remember that we were treated by many members of the community as untrustworthy for some time. It wasn’t so bad for myself or a couple of others, but Phillip Fish and Aldrich Lucas lost a lot of their standing.”

TASPAC dwindled into inactivity the following year, although it has never been officially disestablished. Of the nations that were part of TASPAC, only Sirocco and Uskor (at the time known as Zealandia) are still active; the other nations having all vanished close to a decade ago.

Following Lucas’s vandalising of the MicroWiki Forums on February 20, 2012, TASPAC issued a statement condemning Lucas’s actions, with Fish, Jeremy Oakes, and Michael Sander (the latter two of Dranoria) retracting previous support for him. Yabloko was expelled from TASPAC the same day, and vanished from the community thereafter.

Recollections of the Scandal

Collective memories of the scandal have become blurry with the passage of time. In a discussion in the Micropolitan Lounge earlier this year, both King Adam of Überstadt and Sôgmô Gaius Sörgel Publicola of Sandus recalled vague details about the scandal, but could not remember specifics.

“As I recall, it was mostly a confluence of factors that led to the publication of a dossier that showed that Yabloko, and Aldrich Lucas in particular, sought to manipulate the community in a similar way to how Lethler had,” Sörgel said.

Anderson denied that there was a conspiracy to take control of the community at the time, a position he maintains today.

“TASPAC was little more than a social club for Australasian micronationalists,” he explains. “We certainly discussed micronational goings-on, but more often than not it was off-topic and irrelevant. There was hardly anything malicious about it.”

“If there was indeed a secret plot being hatched, it didn’t take place in any of the TASPAC chatrooms or with me as party to it.”

“Much of the scandal took place while I was either asleep or busy with school, so I was left trying to patch together what was taking place at the time. Even now, I can barely recall many of the details.”

In retrospect, Anderson says he doesn’t know whether there was indeed any scheming on the part of Fish, Lucas, or anyone else, but concedes that it was possible, albeit unlikely.

“What bothered me at the time was that the entire organisation, and by extension all its members, were being accused of some grand conspiracy, when in fact it was the actions of only two or three people that were causing the crisis.”

To Reinhardt, the scandal marked a turning point in the very nature of the community and its members.

“In retrospect, we can say that the Yablokogate was *the* moment in which many of us eventually realized that our community was not only an exercise in international politics, but also an online dimension where you could find people and friends to spend time with.”

“Lucas’ way of judging people (and generally being an arrogant asshole to many of us) was common and I think it’s why many nations took Lethler’s report for granted in the first place and eventually pushed forward for Yabloko’s removal.”

For Bradley of Dullahan, Yablokogate presented itself as a serious danger to the community and its leadership, to the point where Wyvern and Sandus, long-time ideological opponents, joined to combat a common enemy.

“I think another thing worth mentioning is that after the first draft was created and Marka didn’t want to go through with it, it was Lethler who came back, went to Sörgel and then to me. It’s the ONLY time in the history of our two nations that Sandus and Wyvern, in the persons of Sörgel and I, put aside out differences to combat a danger to the community.”

“Aldrich Lucas’s hold over [then-site owner and administrator Pierre d’Égtavie] was so great, that it scared Quentin and I, which became one of the reasons we joined in to remove him.”

Jonathan I of Austenasia, who assisted the preparation of this article by providing relevant documents, said that “It was certainly the last of the great ‘classic’ community conflicts.”

“I think a lot of it was down to miscommunication, but at the time it was an important issue. Yabloko and Aldrich had achieved a position of prominence over the community similar to what Luxor has today, but unlike him, they were perfectly happy to pick on others and even to publicly ridicule micronationalism as a whole. It just wasn’t a sustainable position for them to be in.”

Jonathan added that the membership of several site administrators in TASPAC added to popular opinion that the organisation was not to be trusted.

“The impression given was that TASPAC had already taken over the community, and were now backing Yablokan supremacy. […] I think another thing to consider, community wise, is that TASPAC was quite unpopular due to [Sebastian Linden’s] ban. You’ve got to admit, that was really kept in place just because Fish had a grudge against him.”

“TASPAC was interpreted as using diplomatic pressure to back up an unfair administrative decision, simply because of the huge overlap. At the time we genuinely saw [TASPAC] as holding this unfair position of influence. Whether [they] were intentionally abusing that position, we couldn’t have known either way, but [they] certainly held it.”

“It was very easy for Lethler to persuade us that Yabloko and TASPAC were in on this plot, and I think he probably believed it himself. The idea that there was a group of micronationalists effectively running the community not taking things seriously just wouldn’t have occurred to him.”

Jonathan I said that he believes the very nature of Yabloko itself fuelled the scandal.

“Another part of why Yablokogate was so scandalous was because it turned out they weren’t even a “proper” micronation by most people’s standards back then. Even now, they’d be considered extreme simulationist. […] People like Reborn, who considered micronationalism a joke, suddenly had massive influence over the wiki.

“I don’t think we’ve really had anyone like Aldrich since.”

Today, there is scant information remaining about Yabloko or the mysterious Aldrich Lucas. A discussion held on the MicroWiki Forum in February 2012 led to Lucas being stripped of his administrator powers; in retaliation, Lucas vandalised the forum and was promptly banned. All wiki pages relating to them were deleted shortly thereafter, and the relevant forum posts from the time have since vanished as a result of several site domain moves over the years. While it is possible that they are archived somewhere, it is equally possible that the information has been lost to history, with what little remains forming the basis of our collective understanding of that week in September 2011.

It is entirely possible that Yabloko never really existed in the first place. While it was known at the time that Yabloko leaned heavily upon its forum, Lethler’s dossier accused Yabloko of being little more than a forum-based game, but to what extent this is true is unclear.

Ultimately, the scandal has passed into something of a community legend, something that happened when some newer members of the community were children. We will likely never know the full and complete story of Yablokogate. Was Yabloko really attempting to take over the community, or was it all just a big misunderstanding? Perhaps only Aldrich Lucas and Reborn themselves know for certain, but who they were and what has become of them remains a mystery.

Update: Information and quotations from Alexander Reinhardt and Bradley of Dullahan, as well as a copy of the Yabloko Dossier, were added after publication.

1 Comment on One Week in September: A Look Back at Yablokogate

  1. I’m a few weeks late but thanks for this insightful article. I can definitely say that when Adammia was founded in 2013, it was in the shadow of the Lethler Experiment and Yablokogate, and our awareness of those events influenced us to be transparent and to avoid fictional micronations. I’d go so far as to say that these events were the starting point that led to the Wrythe Convention in 2018.

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