Open Letter to Heather Cox Richardson

a dark pool by laura knight

Dear Professor Richardson,

In late 2019, a Facebook group was created called The UNOFFICIAL Heather Cox Richardson Resource and Discussion Room.  Three folks came up with the concept and one of them, Bec Kemp, opened the group from her FB profile.  The other two, Rana Suzan and Mark Hackler became Admins for the group and curated its content closely to be sure that it would always be a positive reflection of the person it was named for.  For reasons we don’t know, Bec Kemp faded off the page. Rana and Mark brought in moderators and maintained a very strict and well defined code of posting and commenting including some extensive and well written guidelines and rules.  It is a private FB group and while visible in searches, the content can only be seen by its members.

It was very well received…..sort of a reprieve from the regular type of FB group and content.  Members and contributors are generally well-educated and from various relevant professions –lawyers, civil servants, social workers, teachers, nurses, business folks, artists, workers, activists, people retired from the ranks of military and government service, and so many more interests, backgrounds and professions. Mostly from all over the US, but many from other countries as well. A full three quarters identify as women, and the average age of the group is over 60. It is very focused on your work, Letters and podcasts.  Members and content are held to a high standard, defined as follows:

  1. Thoughtful extensions of or parallels to Dr. Richardson’s work.
  2. Thoughtful posts that relate contemporary events and politics to historical events. One of the themes of Dr. Richardson’s work is “we’ve been here before and survived.”
  3. Well-researched, thoughtful posts reflective of Dr. Richardson’s ideas of the American Paradox.
  4. Linked-to resources, readings, articles essays, news items and commentaries that offer additional info and further depth. In other words, something new and fresh related to current affairs, common and collective concerns, and topics.
  5. The emphasis was on discussion, exploration and discovery, critical analysis, and new ways and possibilities for local, regional, national and global community, engagements and understandings.

It was always a learning experience for every member in the group because it was so diverse.  Members were safe because personal attacks were not tolerated.  There was no name calling in the group, even if the person was someone membership might have held in contempt.  It was so very civil.

About 13 months ago, Mark’s health was deteriorating rapidly and Rana had a number of health and personal issues arrive.  They both needed to step away from the time consuming task of overseeing the group.  Some of us were moderators for the group, so we were aware of the coming change. 

The group quickly grew to 31K during its first weeks and months, but growth had pretty much stopped and membership had been staying at that level for many months at this point.  Even so, the group was and continues to be by far the largest community of your readers and supporters on FB…. outside of your own of course.

Mark and Rana let the group know and asked who might be interested in becoming an Admin.  They were on the verge of having to shut the group down because no one that they felt was qualified came forward.  They were extremely concerned about the group continuing to reflect positively on you.  Then suddenly, Rana told us excitedly that she had found the perfect candidate…..John Fridinger.  Shortly after John assumed the role of Administrator, Mark Hackler died.  He was an incredible source of information and knowledge.  It was a loss some of us weren’t sure the group would recover from. 

But our fears were not well-founded.  John worked tirelessly in his role as Administrator.  He broadened the scope of the discussions.  The group because more inclusive because John worked to bring out the diversity of the membership by encouraging more members to comment and post.  He brought more Moderators on board and gave a goodly number of members the ability to post without Moderator or Admin scrutiny.  While the group was exceptional from the beginning, John encouraged it to become an actual community, in addition to being a resource and place for discussion.

During his first 12 months, the membership grew to 38,000 under John’s leadership.   He was contributing 60-80 hours per week to the group’s administration.  It continued to be a well-curated and strictly moderated group.  And with the world literally and figuratively on fire, it was a touchstone of sanity for its members, much like your Letters From An American are for your readers.

Before John came on as Admin, Rana had warned some of us moderators about the page’s owner, Bec Kemp, that she was a concern, and just to be on watch for strange comments from her. 

After doing absolutely nothing in a group that so many of us had all together created, not since its inception well over two years prior, on June 28th Bec posted a QR code linking to the group on her personal page, saying: “I invite you to join my group to be informed and find out how to get actively engaged.  I started this page two years ago.  It was inspired by Heather Cox Richardson and it now has nearly 38k members.  I hope it helps us to organize and make a difference!  #ResistWithMe”  She then concurrently came crashing into the group, seemingly out of the blue.  She began randomly deleting members, posts and comments at will. 

John messaged her to stop and reversed what damage he could.  For the first time ever Bec actually responded to one of John’s messages, and belligerently indicated she would just “shut the group down.” She claimed that ‘it belongs to her’ and she “could do whatever she wanted with it.”  John asked her not to do that – to think of the legacy that had been built, the 38K members the group really belonged to, and all the many people that had contributed to that history.  Bec then claimed to live near you, Heather, in Maine, had friends in common with you, and said she just might take the group to you to see what you thought about it. 

John told Bec he thought that was a really great idea, and encouraged her to do so.   

On July 3rd, without warning, John was removed from the group and blocked from accessing it.  Bec additionally blocked him from messaging her on FB. She also removed and similarly blocked all of the Moderators and Admins who were actively working on the group, and over the next few days also removed and blocked most of the members who were pre-approved for their posts, people who contributed frequently, or who, it seems, she believed might be associated with John.  Prior to her invitation on her own page to her friends to join “her” group, Bec had never responded to any of John’s efforts to message with her. And since the coup she has blocked all of us.  Because there has been another coup so close in our collective memory, on 1/6/21, we refer to all this as a coup.

John, being moderately skilled in technology and sleuthing, still has an alias FB profile that is a member of our original group.  The posting level has dropped off the chart.  Other members still in the original group tell a similar story. Bec reused files and documents created by John and, prior Admins and is presenting them as her own work.  Bec posts lots of memes now, and on one of them 30 of the 31 comments were from her.  We rarely allowed a meme to be posted in the group, since even if they make a point, they almost invariably lack depth and do not encourage discussion.

In response, John contacted everybody he had ever PMed in the group, and set up a website he’d previously built to support the group to now be a gathering place for the possibilities of a new group.   That website can be found here: https://www.unofficialhcr.com/.  We began to contact more members, explain what had happened, and let them know we were working toward a new private FB group.  On July 16th, John opened The REAL UNOFFICIAL Heather Cox Richardson Resource & Discussion Room. 

We are at risk in the new group of being reported as a ‘copy’ of the original group, and are working to reduce the chance of that happening.  In a painful twist of irony, John is limited in the use his own group related documents he, as well as Rana and Mark wrote.  They are “stolen” from us as part of our original group.  Because now they could be seen by FB algorithms as copies from the original group.  So we have a few technical issues with FB but we have also accrued 300+ members since we opened the group.

No decent person would take over a group of 38,000 on a whim and essentially, destroy it.  No reasonable person would assume, after two and a half years of total inactivity with something they have never ever contributed to, that they could just step in and claim multiple other people’s work as their own without repercussions.  No one else in our group would ever even think to attempt to narrow its focus to only their own agenda.  The group was a unique, informed, caring and intelligent touchstone for many, many people.  John, and Rana and Mark before him, worked hard to develop it in such ways.  John fought to prevent a hostile takeover.  In the end, he lost.  And we and 38K other members lost as well.

None of us know why she decided to take over the group, but 38,000 member/followers might be enough, especially if one has no real concern for the page content nor any actual understanding of the very genuine and deeply interactive community(s) that were continuing to center around it more and more. If one was in a sense ‘resume building’ it would appear to be a rather substantial accomplishment?  Those of us who might contradict Bec Kemp’s claim to fame have been ousted.

What we do know is that this is the absolute worst time for 38,000 members to lose their access to well moderated and supported, intelligent, informed and continually evolving discussions, engagement and encouragement regarding everything that is happening in our world today.  The very worst time. 

We have no recourse through Facebook, since technically the group was opened from Bec’s profile.  In that sense, FB would consider her the ‘owner.’  Mark & Rana did consider migrating the group long ago, but for whatever reason, did not, even though they expressed concerns that Bec might one day do just this.

We are hoping you will be inclined to allocate some of your scarce, precious and already constrained time, and help us recover our original group.   It would take a little bit of action.  More specifically, we are asking that you contact Bec Kemp and prevail upon her to relinquish ownership of the group and leave it free-floating on FB.  She would need to unblock John, accept his rejoining the group, invite him to become Admin, and then remove herself as Administrator. It would then, according to FB, become a free group, no longer hooked into or attached any one person’s profile or account.

And let the group continue as it has for well over 2 years.  We hold the hope that, as a great fan of yours, Bec would listen to you and hear what you think about the group and its importance to others, and most especially to its members.   

As a last resort, you could tell Bec that if she will not comply, you want her to remove your name from the group.  A very last resort.  Thank you so much for your consideration and for any assistance you can provide.

If you have questions or would like additional information, we can be contacted at contact@unofficialhcr.com

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