Revealing MESconduct (pt2 of 3): Broken Staircases Pool
TLDRUPFront: In our ongoing series Revealing MESconduct we review the Broken Staircases Pool. This pool describes the warning signs, challenges, and lessons learned from investigations on reported Weaponizing misconduct that volunteer organizations may face. In the Broken Staircases Pool are 83 investigated offenses across two alleged perpetrators.
FullContextintheBack: This article is a subsection of Revealing MESconduct Part2: Investigations & Lessons Learned. The series is based on two years of volunteer work investigating accusations of misconduct in a volunteer gaming organization, the MES. Part 1 dealt with balancing the tensions between survivor privacy, community education, and community safety. Part 1 also covers frequently asked questions about where the information came from, whether it is publicly available in other forms, and my motivations in doing this. Part 2 provides an overview of the 180 investigated offenses across 11 alleged perpetrators. The investigated offenses are segmented into six pools examined in sub-sections like this: Weaponizers, Creaky Stairs, Broken Stairs, Violent Actors, Broken Staircases, Serial Predators. Each pool summarizes the kinds of accusations, warning signs, challenges, outcomes, and lessons learned of those accusations and investigations. The lessons learned in each pool aren’t always limited to that pool and alleged perpetrators may have investigated offenses in more than one pool. Many of them apply across pools. In this article I’m focusing on a single type of reported misconduct: Broken Staircases.
The main article of Pat 2 also covers important information regarding the MES organizational structure, volunteer benefits structure, types of administrative punishment and the blinded names of the 11 alleged perpetrators. This may be helpful for providing more context in understanding this sub-section.
Allegations, Accusations & Investigations
I use terms like the alleged perpetrator and accused for two reasons. First, this was the MES’s requested internal policy during the time I volunteered with the organization. Second, volunteer organizations do not have the resources to make definitive findings to a criminal or civil legal standard. Investigations on received accusations can only identify information that is consistent or inconsistent with the allegation. Often in the process, new allegations surface, and corroborating information from additional sources arises. From this information, the organization must decide on an administrative action: to do nothing, to issue a punishment or expel the member. For the MES punishments range across administrative options such as the loss of accrued membership benefits, prohibition on holding official positions, and suspensions. Motions to expel are handled separately from punishments. And the decision by the MES Board to expel a member can be made in conjunction, or separately, from punishments the MES takes. An organization’s choice to take action doesn’t establish the truth of the incident alleged – only that the organization found the information obtained in an investigation consistent with an allegation. The information presented below is based on this author’s role in the investigation process of the reported, alleged incidents. Ultimately, the question of whether the information obtained through the investigation was sufficient to substantiate the allegations, as well as the ultimate determination of what punishment, if any, was to be applied to the accused, was made by MES itself and not this author.
Broken Staircases Pool
Broken Staircases are a level of risk to community safety above Broken Stairs. Broken Staircases hold positions at the top leadership levels of an organization or have strong relationships with those who do. They operate with bold impunity that even Broken Stairs do not. Unlike a Broken Stair, whisper networks don’t help avoid a Broken Staircase because they do not hide their behavior. To engage with a volunteer organization is to accept its Broken Staircases. Prolific misconduct is done in plain sight and can consist of sustained misconduct over the years or periodic burst events of highly public misconduct.
Pooled Broken Staircase Investigated Offenses
There are 83 investigated offenses in this pool, including three Letters of Counseling, two Formal Warnings, 37 Minor Offenses, 32 Moderate Offenses, 8 Major Offenses, and one Severe Offense.
Investigations & Consequences
Accusations against Broken Staircases in this pool demonstrated prolific behavior in two ways—first, allegations by multiple targets of Broken Stair behaviors occurring over many years. Or in burst events, consisting of a continuous string of accusations of misconduct against multiple targets over a multi-hour period without any significant break in actions. Accusations were for in-person and online misconduct. The investigations uncovered information consistent with the allegations.
One investigation uncovered four warnings from four different national officers over six years on the same alleged misconduct patterns for the accused. There was no evidence that national officers were aware of prior warnings when they wrote theirs or a coordinated effort to enforce the warnings.
Warning signs for Broken Staircases consist of organization-wide whisper networks but these are of limited use in enabling members to avoid the Broken Staircase. A byproduct of this – and another clear warning sign – is the loss of entire chapters or domains (local jurisdictions) citing the unaccountable behavior of the Broken Staircase. Additional warning signs are an unusually high degree of personal, social, or official power in an organization and demonstrated patterns of using that power to act inappropriately.
One challenge of Broken Staircase investigations is time. One investigation took over six months and produced thousands of pages of documented allegations covering six years of misconduct with a summary report of over 100 pages. This report was only a partial record limited only to the evidence we could obtain at the national level and a limited number of Regional or Domain archives. During the time it took to conduct the investigation and the Board to act, accusations against the Broken Staircase continued to accumulate from different accusers adding to the investigation. Another investigation took seven months despite the misconduct occurring very publicly witnessed by over 15 individuals. The accused even apologized for their actions the next day.
Why so long? Because the accused was a high-ranking member of the organization.
The position and influence of Broken Staircases create more challenges than their length. Investigations uncovered evidence consistent with an accusation that a Broken Staircase received ongoing and active MES officers’ improper support. This support sought to mitigate, undermine, or make investigations go away. In another investigation, the accused used their position to request access to confidential information on a Serial Predator investigation while working on defending their misconduct (see Weaponizer Pool.)
Based on our investigation, the MES began expulsion proceedings against one member who was allowed to resign before expulsion. Few of the accused’s current or former targets even knew they had left. The MES applied significant punishments in another investigation after an appeal by the alleged perpetrator affirmed the findings of our investigation. That alleged perpetrator subsequently resigned.
A final challenge common to Broken Staircases – when they leave, they are joined by their supporters who resign in protest. This departure can range from one to several dozen members, including regional, national, or Board level officers. Sometimes the departures are quiet. Other times mass-resignations are accompanied by sustained social media campaigns. These social media campaigns seek to call into question investigation results, harass volunteers and officers, or put pressure on survivors who made accusations.
Alleged Perpetrators in this Pool
Beta and Tau are in this pool.
Lessons Learned on Broken Staircases
Broken Staircases hide many Broken Stairs. Because Broken Staircases operate in plain sight, they are the most well-known cases of misconduct an organization may have. If an organization isn’t able to address these highly visible cases – belief that they can properly address the less-obvious problems of Broken Stairs will grow. After the MES moved to expel one Broken Staircase, a backlog of accusations on other actors began coming to light. These included Broken Stairs, Creaky Stairs, Weaponizers, and Violent Actors.
Broken Staircases often begin as “warlords” in broken systems. Warlords rise in dysfunctional organizations where safety rules are lacking and inconsistently applied. Members seek protection and safety with those perceived as strong enough to protect them from other members. However, a warlord’s protection is contingent on participating in a cult of personality. Failure to show unquestioning loyalty to the warlord can lead to retaliation (see Part 3: Origins & Organizational Risk Factors for more on warlord behavior.)
Warlords in an organization wield tremendous formal and informal power – and it is a perceived power imbalance between them and other members that can lead to misconduct. Often the members who supported a warlord in the past are the same ones resigning protest when a Broken Staircases’ prolific misconduct catches up with them.
Broken Staircase “warlords” inspire “wannawarlords” among Creaky and Broken Stairs.
When members see warlords gain respect and influence some may seek to emulate the warlord behavior to gain social cachet and power for themselves. When Broken Staircases leave quietly, there is no communicated deterrence that their actions were wrong. The accusations made in investigations of Creaky Stairs and Broken Stairs, and the information obtained in those investigations, sometimes bore close similarity to prior behavior patterns of Broken Staircases.
Bypassing grooming, Broken Staircases proceed straight to misconduct. Because of their power or influence with those in power, Broken Staircases have a shorter pathway to misconduct than Broken Stairs. They bypass grooming and isolating targets proceeding straight to misconduct, often in open and public, because they don’t feel the need to hide. For one Broken Staircase, the time it took from an initial encounter to first misconduct often measured in hours if not minutes, rather than months for a Broken Stair.
The power needed to investigate Broken Staircase is the same power that put them there. Investigations on Broken Staircases are more difficult than Broken Stairs. They may be the organization’s leader or within the top ranks and have friends among key staff. Internal conflicts of interest, informal pressure to ‘let this one slide’ and unreasonable requirements of perfect procedural handling complicate investigations. When confronting Broken Staircases, organizations should consider bringing in outside teams, independent investigators, or ‘swap’ with other adjacent organizations in the community to reduce these influences or pressures.
Fix your Broken Staircases or risk losing entire floors. Broken Staircases cut off the organization from its membership, who cannot trust the leadership that allows them to exist. Broken Staircases can cause dozens or hundreds of people to leave the org – including entire local chapters. When finally removed, another round of membership loss occurs as supporters resign in protest. It’s a Catch-22: let Broken Staircases leave quietly and allow current and former members to believe the organization does not take prolific harassing and toxic behaviors seriously. The choice however is ultimately not in the organizations hands. Organizations should prepare for the worst case of a negative social-media campaign and make the ouster visible. This may will be hard for a period of time. But it allows the organization to rebuild relationship with current members who have reduced participation, or former members who quit over the Broken Staircase. And these recovered members can exceed the departing ones.
Audacity is not a defense. Hopefully, in 2020, versus 2016, when I started, the possibility that prolific misconduct occurs in plain view without being held accountable isn’t as hard a pill for some to swallow. When accusations arise that sound incredible, be careful of falling into the trap of thinking, “this can’t be so bad – otherwise wouldn’t people complain or leave?” With Broken Staircases, they are leaving. But only a few are telling you.
Request to the MES to Confirm these Accusations & Investigations
In keeping with the final general lesson learned in the main article, I am calling upon the MES to do the right thing. Follow its procedures to release limited information found in “Notifications Regarding Officers” of their handbook (see MH2018Q4 p70-74 and 2020 MES HB, p95) and apply it for the alleged perpetrators of the Broken Staircases Pool. This information consists of:
- The name of the alleged perpetrator.
- The rule(s) or policies that were found to have been violated (e.g., Offense Levels).
- What Disciplinary Action the MES issued.
- What penalties were levied (e.g., loss of prestige or MC, suspension, etc.).
- The current status of the alleged perpetrator in regard to the MES (e.g., Member, Non-Member, Non-Member with Do Not Renew.)
If the MES declines to produce this information within a reasonable time period following the publication of this article or offer a suitable compromise confirming these are real investigations with real consequences, the InfoMullet reserves the right to take further action at a later time, though we will not disclose survivor information without prior consent.
I can assist the MES with information to validate these allegations and their investigation records for each alleged perpetrator. I will provide this information to an appropriate officer on request to facilitate proper identification.
Navigate between Six Pools of Accused Misconduct & Main Article
You can follow the links below to navigate to other misconduct pools or the main article. Each pool describes the warning signs, challenges, and lessons learned from the investigation of the type of reported misconduct volunteer organizations face.
Revealing MESconduct Part2: Investigations & Lessons Learned
MH2018Q4: MES Membership Handbook 2018 Quarter 4 Update
MH2020: MES Membership Handbook 2020