Battle and Brew, Gamergate, Zen Men, and why mob rule is killing fun as we know it

My organization Zen Men LLC tried to organize a GamerGate meetup at Battle & Brew (B&B), a video game themed bar. Politically-motivated bullies then attacked B&B, and the general manager Nate Sanders pulled the plug and said this was all my fault.

I did not want any B&B staff to deal with any unwarranted stress, but it was only right to warn them about a PR risk. When Nate and I first spoke, I told him about the bomb threat made against Local 16 in DC and warned him that there might be an unprovoked social media backlash just because GamerGate meetups happen. He was well aware of the circumstances, and I assured him that Zen Men LLC was not coming to the event for political reasons. The whole point of the event was to play video games and network.

This article shares correspondence with the general manager, including two phone calls and an email exchange. I did not include correspondence that only involved event business such as catering or space reservation. Normally I would consider this kind of information private, but I need authentic sources to back up what I say about people involved.

Please listen to the preliminary phone conversation before reading on, particularly from 6:28 on. I cannot stress this enough: Please listen to this recording.

I announced on both Reddit and ZenMen.org that the B&B general manager assured me that threats against patrons would not be tolerated, which is a realistic assumption given the content of the recording above. Given the ambiguity of text, one could interpret my announcement in a way to think that B&B was endorsing or supporting the politics of Zen Men or GamerGate. Nate therefore accused me of “misquoting” him, and for associating his business with politics that he did not want to deal with. My intention was not to suggest that B&B supported me or what I believe, but to suggest that I thought highly of Battle & Brew for Nate’s claim to keep things non-political.

Even so, I did apologize several times to Nate simply because I felt badly about a business facing unwarranted heat. I assured Nate—again, several times—that there was no effort on my part to put words in his mouth—even if people choose to see it that way. Although my speaking highly of his business did not necessarily constitute affiliation, Nate insisted I make this explicit what became this follow-up announcement.

When I was interacting with the public, I claimed that Nate would not tolerate threats to patrons made for political reasons, namely by “SJWs” (Social Justice Warriors), a term which only ever referred to politically-motivated agents. This does not necessarily mean that Nate is anti-SJW, it means that B&B is advertised as a non-political bar, and the behavior carried out by social justice activists is not compatible with their service. It is safe for me to assume that a business owner would not welcome needless political conflict, and me staying in line with that thinking does not mean that I tried to act as a representative.

As always with conflicts of this nature, I could have worded things differently to try and avoid some misunderstandings. But in my defense, those who understand the context surrounding GamerGate meetups know that the outrage Nate faced would have been the same no matter what, and I cannot be held responsible for the questionable tactics of others. I warned Nate that political nuts might target his bar, even though we weren’t going to be there for political reasons. He acknowledged both points, so if he wishes to say that my calling him a responsible, neutral business owner was misquoting him, then he’s free to explain an alternative position.

You can listen to the dramatic phone conversation here.

I will no longer apologize for decisions made by other people regarding my speaking highly of a venue. I did that before, but I really should not have.

The impression that Battle and Brew was not a political venue made it attractive for a GamerGate meetup in the first place. GamerGate meetups are popping up all over the nation specifically because gamers who put freedom and fun first want to meet and play, putting them directly in B&B’s target market.

Nate threatened to ban Zen Men LLC and all associated parties if I posted just one more thing about Battle and Brew. He also told me that the only way to make things right with him was to take down everything I posted about B&B, but nothing would change his mind about denying us service. I took down a Reddit thread with 300+ upvotes (which was automatically archived somewhere, I think), the Zen Men announcement, and the Eventbrite page ready to start earning B&B some money. But with this post, Zen Men LLC is now banned instead, and B&B’s reactionary decision ironically threw them into the realm of politics.

I had to walk an awkward line between repairing a relationship with a fascinating business and asserting myself against ill-informed accusations and decisions pushed by a man who saw himself and his business as the only victims. I quickly made concessions—including ones I probably should not have—in good faith, but started pushing back when Nate started retaliating with claims about my personal intentions. Although he apologized for some personal remarks, he did not change his mind about the event or about his opinion of my intentions, which brings professionalism into the discussion.

In many ways, Nate really does come off as a talented, compassionate human being with thoughts and feelings, especially in our final email conversation, which I suggest you read. He and I both apologized to each other for any misunderstandings, and tried to close the conversation as respectfully and professionally as possible despite detectable frustration.

For that reason, I do not feel comfortable outright bashing B&B or Nate, but I do have to assert myself where reasonable. /u/oldmanbees from Reddit actually articulated the issue better than I could in a reply to me on this Reddit discussion about the aftermath:

Reddit convo about Battle and Brew
Note for clarification that B&B had no signed contract with Zen Men LLC. We only had a verbal agreement that a reservation was in the works.

I regret that Nate and his crew had to deal with so much drama, but they seriously cannot expect me to walk off without a word. I do not endorse any retaliation of any kind against B&B or its staff, but as a customer I can comment on an establishment for the purposes of helping others make an informed decision about the quality of their service. This is the nature of accountability, and part of being a business owner is allowing the community to voice their own opinions about businesses. Please observe the timestamps for the reviews in the thread linked in the previous sentence to learn which opinions voiced at the time of this writing have nothing to due with this controversy.

Nate, you have to own up to the fact that you made a decision that affects the way you do business, and the way people view you as a member of their community. You did what you thought was best for you, your trade, your clients, and your passions. I respect that and wish you success, and I suspect that the controversy will get you more customers. But will you please stop kidding yourself about being non-political? Pay attention to the vibes in your bar as it responds to this article, and ask yourself if they appear to have a slant. I’ll bet you are now on a path towards exclusivity, not neutrality.

I wish Nate would admit that it was unprofessional to blame those trying to give him business of being among those threatening his business.

I can say more about the finer details of the drama, so those of you reading this article are free to ask me anything in this Reddit thread. I encourage B&B staff to join that conversation as well because they should speak for themselves to correct any misunderstandings. A good place to start would be in response to this reply by /u/StrixTechnica.

I will no longer apologize for decisions made by other people regarding my speaking highly of a venue. I did that before, but I really should not have. Still, I’ve tried to do the right thing and admit my mistakes whenever I’ve made them, but I wish Nate would admit that it was unprofessional to blame those trying to give him business of being among those threatening his business.

Zen Men is still hosting a GamerGate meetup. I’m disappointed that it can’t be at Battle and Brew, but we’ll still have our chance to enjoy each other’s company away from all of this nonsense.

For those of you floating around the Internet who abused Nate into acting as proxy for your reckless rage, I hope you one day realize just how twisted and dysfunctional it is to take none of the blame for this.

Nate, did I really ever come off as anyone other than a customer concerned about your venue? Are you absolutely sure there is no difference between me and the people who harassed you into pulling the plug? Are you prepared to argue that businesses cutting off service to market demographics in response to political pressure that you were warned about is an apolitical act?

There is nothing neutral, courteous or decent about denying service to a group of people just because some strangers called you names on the Internet.

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