Thursday, June 15, 2017

FBI Unabomber Investigation Report on Gary Gygax: "[Redacted] considers GYGAX to be eccentric and frightening. He is known to carry a weapon..."

Gary Gygax in 1999

What follows is a funny and fascinating piece of history.

A year ago, C.J. Ciaramella, a criminal justice reporter at Reason, filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for any FBI files on TSR. Among other things, Ciaramella appears to have been looking for information pertaining to the FBI search of TSR offices in 1980, an incident based on a misunderstanding that a note written on TSR stationary involving the game Top Secret, alluded to a real-life assassination plot.

Ciaramella received back five documents. None of them were connected to the infamous 1980 search. Rather, there were two documents concerning a 1983 investigation into cocaine trafficking in Lake Geneva, which appeared to name Gary Gygax as a possible source, witness or even suspect (the crucial passages that would explain this are redacted).

In addition, and more interestingly, there were three 1995 documents concerning the Unabomber investigation. The FBI seems to have been following a lead that the bomber might have had some connection to a legal dispute between TSR and the Fresno Gaming Association. So they apparently interviewed someone at TSR.

The primary document spends a number of pages explaining the history of TSR and wargaming/roleplaying, I assume making use of information largely or entirely picked up from the source. It humorously gets a few things wrong, and (in my view) exaggerates an alleged feud between wargamers and roleplayers. As part of that, it records the snooty attitude of its TSR source towards wargamers:
[Redacted] advised that war gamers are generally extremely intelligent individuals. Often they will live frugally to support the cost of the war gaming hobby. [Redacted] further advised that the typical war gaming enthusiast is overweight and not neat in appearance.
Then the topic moves on to Gary Gygax, who was not at that time part of the company (having essentially been kicked out a number of years, before), but was still living in Lake Geneva. There was still a lot of bad blood between TSR and Gygax, and one can only imagine the barely suppressed glee that the unnamed source had in describing Gygax to the FBI in the most unflattering possible light. He was a drug abuser, gun nut and tax evader who had a weird obsession with prisoners and prisons. Perhaps he had some connection to the Unabomber?
In 1986 TSR bought out GYGAX's stock and guaranteed him a royalty on his gameware from 1986 through 1989. That agreement involved approximately $3 million. GYGAX later infringed TSR copyrights and was sued by TSR. [Redacted] determined that a settlement was more financially sound and GYGAX was guaranteed $50,000 per year for ten years. In the early 1980’s, GYGAX had been generating about $1 million per year in income. [Redacted] advised that GYGAX spent his money frivolously. GYGAX was involved in an unpleasant divorce and [Redacted] further advised that GYGAX was a drug abuser. GYGAX is approximately 55 years of age and is currently [redacted]. He lives on Madison Street in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin and may be contacted at (414) xxx-xxxx. GYGAX maintains a mailing address as follows: P. O. Box 388, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. [Redacted] considers GYGAX to be eccentric and frightening. He is known to carry a weapon and was proud of his record of personally answering any letter coming from a prison. GYGAX set up a holding company in Liberia to avoid paying taxes. He is known to be a member of the Libertarian Party.
The actual Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski, was arrested less than a year later. As far as I know, it was never determined that he had any connection to the wargaming or roleplaying hobbies.

During his bombing campaign, Kaczynski used the initials "FC," to describe his "group." He would later explain that it stood for "Freedom Club." But at the time, the FBI was desperately asking sources whether they had any ideas as to its meaning. This is what they came up with at TSR:
In the historical war context, F.C. stood for "Forward Center" which was a troop movement designation. It was also inscribed on cannons in the Franco-Prussian War, probably as an insignia.
Before presenting the document, let me say that in his short blog post, Reason reporter Ciaramella frames the situation misleadingly. He oddly does not reference the Unabomber case at all, and sort of implies that the FBI "kept a file on" Gygax. This isn't really true (as far as we know). And whatever one thinks of the FBI in general or the FBI in 1995 or whatever, I don't think it unreasonable for the agency to have followed all possible leads in this notorious pre-9/11 terrorism investigation - including even, I suppose, checking out wargamers and roleplayers. After all, the Unabomber turned out to be highly intelligent (especially in mathematics), eccentric, individualistic, socially awkward and very dedicated to his particular "hobby." That describes a few of us, I think. Or at least a few of us, back in the day.

And finally, who is "Redacted"? I assume it is Lorraine Williams, who headed TSR from 1986 until 1997, and had a dislike for both Gary Gygax and (according to many reports) gamers in general. Presumably, FBI agents are trained to take down the statements of sources and witnesses accurately, whatever they might think of their motivation or bias. And I imagine that veteran agents would have seen everything, including gossipy people dishing the dirt on former colleagues.

So, I think this is not so much an FBI thing, but a Lorraine Williams thing. It's not the government, say, tracking the activities of a potential subversive, but, rather, Lorraine Williams dissing Gygax - her former boss and the man who hired her - to the FBI.      

Here is a cleaned up version of the full document. The actual scan can be found here.
May 25 1995
FBI – San Francisco
[Redacted] TSR, INCORPORATED 201 Sheridan Springs Road, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, telephone number [redacted] was advised of the identity of the interviewing Agents. The interview was conducted in an attempt to determine the relationship between TSR. INCORPORATED [redacted] as FRESNO GAMING ASSOCIATION AND COMPANY. TSR was present during the interview. [Redacted] provided the following information.
TSR, INC. (TSR) is an entertainment industry which produces publications and holds licenses related to fantasy role-playing games. The games are researched, written and illustrated by TSR employees or by freelance artists. The material is finalized and forwarded to a print agency and returned to TSR for packaging. TSR derives a majority of their profits from publications and the licensing of its copyrighted gaming materials. TSR licenses computer games as well and participates in numerous industry conventions nationwide.
TSR founded and operates the largest gaming convention in the world called GEN-CON. GEN-CON was originally named with reference to the GENEVA CONVENTION. The convention attracts approximately 25,000 attendees and focuses primarily on role-playing rather than war gaming. It is routinely held in August of each year and is marking its 27th year in 1995.
TSR employs approximately 120 persons and is considered to be the largest national role playing gaming corporation. [Redacted] noted that TSR has an extremely high concentration of very intelligent persons in employment. She added that many of the employees have parents in academia, often outstanding in' their respective fields. TSR formerly operated two offices in California, one in Beverly Hills and one in Westwood. Both California offices have been closed and TSR only maintains offices in Lake Geneva and England. TSR originated in the 1970s as a direct result of the gaming activities of persons affiliated with the GENEVA WAR GAMING ASSOCIATION. TSR originally was an acronym for TACTICAL STUDIES RULES, however only the initials have been retained as the name of the corporation.
War gaming and fantasy role playing differ in that war gaming involves a reenactment of historical wars and fantasy role playing involves adventures of fictional scenarios and characters. War gaming traditionally involved the staging of one day of battle in one war for strategic review by the war gamers. Miniature figures, often hand painted in the appropriate colors for the battle, would be arranged in a manner identical to the troop placement at the actual battle. The subsequent day of battle may not be reenacted for a month while the strategic possibilities are examined. The miniature figures originally were 25mm lead figures, but were-later formed of aluminum and pewter alloys. [Redacted] advised that war gamers are generally extremely intelligent individuals. Often they will live frugally to support the cost of the war gaming hobby. [Redacted] further advised that the typical war gaming enthusiast is overweight and not neat in appearance.
DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS (D & D) was a fantasy role playing game originally named CHAINMAIL, produced by GARY GYGAX and DAVE ARNESON in 1972 and sold from GYGAX’S basement. In 1973, GYGAX, DONALD KAYE and [Redacted] formed a partnership in the gaming industry that evolved in 1975 into TSR. GYGAX operated the TSR branch office in Beverly Hills, California, doing business as DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS ENTERTAINMENT CORPORATION (DDEC).
In approximately 1976, the war gaming industry experienced a realignment that resulted in the traditional war gamers becoming very angry and resentful toward TSR. A major war gaming company named SIMULATION PUBLICATION, INC. (SPI) encountered significant financial trouble and was purchased by TSR. At the time of the buyout, SPI was a war gaming company and TSR was a fantasy role playing company. Many of the war gamers believe that SPI was sabotaged by TSR so that they could be acquired and quashed. [Redacted] believed that the purchase of SPI, which occurred [redacted] involved a forgiveness of debt and no funds actually changed hands. [redacted] has not been able to locate an itemization of game titles which were included in the deal and advised that there is still some confusion about the details of the purchase. [Redacted] noted that some war gamers continue to hold the anger from this purchase. She recalled a message on the Internet approximately three weeks ago which recalled TSR's acquisition of SPI in a derogatory connotation.
War gamers from the era of the 1970s are now aged in their late 40s to early 50s. Following the sale of SPI, they became further enraged at TSR when TSR began to scale back the war gaming portion of their company until it was almost non-existent. [Redacted] advised that war gaming appealed to a small but fiercely loyal population and war game production was not even profitable enough to be maintained at SPI's levels. A major portion of production costs were devoted to “counters" which were cardboard punch-out pieces designed to represent war vehicles. The "counters" reduced the profits of war gaming sets to a level that TSR found unacceptable. [Redacted] noted that fantasy role playing sets seldom required counters, could be produced for a fraction of the cost and appealed to a much larger audience.
In the [redacted] FRESNO had promised the reissue of the SPI titles to their constituents and had allegedly engaged in copyright infringement of certain games which had not come under their legal control. TSR dealt with litigation against FRESNO for years and then forwarded the management of the copyright infringement matter to JENNER BLOCK, 1 IBM PLAZA, CHICAGO, ILLINOIS. Through JENNER threatened to sue FRESNO. Attorneys for TSR forwarded a “Cease and Desist" order and [Redacted] learned that FRESNO blamed TSR for their impending bankruptcy. The attorneys at JENNER & BLOCK who handled this matter included [Redacted]. All records related to this litigation are maintained at the offices of JENNER & BLOCK. With the sale of the SPI titles to DECISION GAMES, the litigation against FRESNO became the concern of DECISION GAMES. TSR retains only 7 or 8 war gaming titles of the original 200 obtained with the purchase of SPI.
[Redacted] described the company as financially unstable and in need of reorganization [redacted]. TSR continued to produce war gaming sets and even sold several strategy modules to the Pentagon, however [Redacted] found the interaction with GYGAX at TSR to be very difficult. In 1986 TSR bought out GYGAX's stock and guaranteed him a royalty on his gameware from 1986 through 1989. That agreement involved approximately $3 million. GYGAX later infringed TSR copyrights and was sued by TSR. [Redacted] determined that a settlement was more financially sound and GYGAX was guaranteed $50,000 per year for ten years. In the early 1980’s, GYGAX had been generating about $1 million per year in income. [Redacted] advised that GYGAX spent his money frivolously. GYGAX was involved in an unpleasant divorce and [Redacted] further advised that GYGAX was a drug abuser. GYGAX is approximately 55 years of age and is currently [redacted]. He lives on Madison Street in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin and may be contacted at (414) xxx-xxxx. GYGAX maintains a mailing address as follows: P. O. Box 388, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. [Redacted] considers GYGAX to be eccentric and frightening. He is known to carry a weapon and was proud of his record of personally answering any letter coming from a prison. GYGAX set up a holding company in Liberia to avoid paying taxes. He is known to be a member of the Libertarian Party.
GYGAX is probably familiar with [redacted]. [Redacted] believes that GYGAX would be extremely uncooperative if the Federal Bureau of Investigation FBI attempted to interview him regarding his knowledge of [Redacted] FRESNO. [Redacted] added that war gamers are very loyal to one another and interviewees should be selected carefully so that the investigation is not jeopardized.
In 1988 TSR sold approximately 25 of the war gaming titles which TSR had acquired of SP1. The purchaser of these titles was WORLD WIDE WARGAMES which may have been located in Bekersfield, California. [Redacted] were affiliated with WWW at the time of the sale.
In 1994 TSR sold about 100 of the former-SPI titles to DECISION GAMES.
[Redacted]
[Redacted] FRESNO GAMING ASSOCIATION (FRESNO) prior to the acquisition of SPI by TSR. FRESNO was an informal club composed of a variety of war gamers however the organization did not appear to function as a company. Ultimately, FRESNO may have incorporated to collect dues to cover the cost of publication. [Redacted] was not aware of [Redacted] official capacity in the organization. She recalled that [Redacted] was involved with SPI prior to TSR’s purchase and had offered a small amount of money for war gaming titles which TSR had made available for sale. [Redacted] did not obtain the rights to any of the titles.
In the historical war context, F.C. stood for "Forward Center" which was a troop movement designation. It was also inscribed on cannons in the Franco-Prussian War, probably as an insignia.
[Redacted] were presented with the photographs of the wooden box utilized for the Improvised Explosive Device (IED) which was mailed aboard American Airlines flight #444 on 11/15/79. Neither could provide information regarding the origin or purpose of the box. Neither was familiar with the hinge on the box as depicted in the photographs and further described by the Agents.
[Redacted] were presented with the composite drawing of the suspect in the captioned matter. Neither had ever met [Redacted] and therefore could not comment on any possible resemblance. I advised that TSR employee [Redacted] and may be contacted regarding this.
[Redacted]
[Redacted]
TSR was the victim of two separate bomb threat incidents. No detonation occurred and the perpetrator(s) were never determined. The first incident occurred in 1986 and involved a series of phone calls which served as a countdown to the alleged day of detonation. Another threat in 1992 or 1993 was also received at TSR. TSR agreed with the conclusion of the Lake Geneva Police that most recent threat was probably just a prank. The Lake Geneva, Wisconsin police departments should have record of these incidents.
[Redacted] could not provide additional information regarding these threats. She advised that she would contact TSR’s [Redacted] for additional information.
[Redacted] that it would not be in the best interests of TSR to broadcast the receipt of the aforementioned threats. Further, [Redacted] preferred that the employees were not made aware of the presence of Agents of the FBI at TSR. [redacted] added that this kind of information could easily end up posted on the Internet system by the end of the day.
[Redacted] suggested that the dates of the placement and detonation of the captioned case devices may coincide with events of the Vietnam War. [Redacted] recalled the passion of the students at UCB during the War and suggested that the suspect may have arisen from that era. [Redacted ] also recalled a scandal in the mid to late 1980s involving several Professors at UCB and some east coast universities wherein renowned research was later determined to have been plagiarized.

3 comments:

  1. Thank you for that look into the roots of gamer history. I still remember the Secret Service raiding SJ Games.

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  2. The FBI has a long history of covering themselves in glory.

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  3. My hat off to you. This is a fantastic article! WOW!

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