Some Forum History

"Forum History (repost)"

 Posted by Chris on 05:55:57 3/25/2000

      Back in 1998, one of our posters gave a very good "introductory" lesson on

      JonBenet forum history. It pretty much still applies and might help some of

      the newer posters understand the "culture" of the JonBenet discussion

      boards so I went and dug it out of the archives.


      "22 months of forum history for frankg!"

      Posted by V on 18:55:29 10/13/98

      (Warning -- this is long).

      To frankg --

      You said the other day, "I wasn't looking for someone to replay 22 months

      of forum history for me." Too late, I'm already here. Bear with me on this --

      it may help put in perspective some of what you've seen and heard lately.

      During the first year of forum discussion on this case, the principal forums

      were regularly subjected to attacks -- and I don't mean criticism, I mean

      relentless, concerted efforts to physically shut the forums down. The worst

      was a siege lasting several months in which a hacker group used all the

      means at its disposal to render the Boulder News Forum unusable, even

      inventing a "spam-bot" that posted garbage threads 24 hours a day. We'd

      log on each day never knowing if we'd find case discussion or loads of raw

      sewage from the hackers; sometimes we'd jump from forum to forum to stay

      ahead of the disruptors and keep the case discussion going. Eventually the

      BNF had to shut down entirely for months.

      The point is that right from the start, we had to *work* at discussing this

      case on the web, and we were vividly aware that there were people out

      there who, for whatever reasons, would like to see such discussion grind to

      a complete halt.

      In addition to the hackers, other kinds of troublemakers tried to perch on

      the JBR forums -- such as the guy who posted megabytes of rude

      anatomical observations about his gerbil. (Gerbil-boy actually managed to

      crash the BNF once through sheer volume of material). There were also

      religious cultists, political crazies, and garden variety loons, who thought

      nothing of jumping right into serious discussions about the case to push

      their own agendas.

      And finally, there were people who acted like they wanted to discuss the

      case but in the long run just wanted to disrupt whatever discussion was

      going on, by any means necessary. We began calling these people "trolls." It

      wasn't necessarily a partisan thing: there were trolls who fell under the

      "pro-Ram" umbrella and trolls under the "anti-Ram" one. Some common

      denominators: trolls never really listened to anyone else; they seemed to be

      totally immune to reason; their views remained completely static over time,

      unaffected by new information in the case; and they either dodged tough

      questions or answered with non-sequiturs. They did nothing to advance our

      collective knowledge about this crime, and plenty to impede promising


      In any event, after experiencing the hackers, the loonies, and the trolls, we

      may be a bit hypersensitive and/or paranoid about whether newcomers have

      come to this forum to help or hinder. Kind of like those guys who came back

      from Vietnam and found themselves hitting the dirt whenever a truck

      backfired. Overreaction, yes, but an overreaction that was learned over a

      substantial period of time and for a real reason.

      A new arrival on the forum will be welcomed, but there's sometimes a bit of

      lingering wariness: will the new person turn out to be another troll? And God

      help that person if he or she innocently or inadvertently displays any of the

      behaviors that we're likely to interpret as the warning signs of trolldom.

      Altogether, between troll attacks on one hand, and, on the other, serious

      (and sometimes loud) differences of opinion among the "real" posters, these

      forums have been feistier than most from square one. It takes some getting

      used to.

      Now, I'm assuming that you're not a troll -- you genuinely want to discuss

      the case, and have recognized from the start that most of your information

      comes from a source which we consider suspect: the A&E documentary.

      So, what went wrong the other day? You introduced yourself on the

      "Theory" thread (response 10), and by (42) found yourself being roasted on

      a spit. Hey, JusticeWatchers, what're we trying to do, set a new land speed

      record for running people off? We've barely heard from frankg since then,

      except for a comment in "I Stand By My Beliefs 2" about how hostile we are

      here. "I still don't understand where the flame came from but it was nasty

      and downright abusive."

      So what happened? Play by play --

      You began by stating that you only recently got back to following the case,

      thanks to the A&E documentary, and say you sent an e-mail "that in

      hindsight probably came across as a flaming emotional outburst" to Mrs.

      Brady. You go on to say that after seeing the documentary you were

      sympathetic to the Ramseys, and did not understand why this forum

      seemed to be so sure they were guilty. You asked us to explain why, and

      what was wrong with the A&E documentary.

      Eight of us posted responses -- some of which welcomed you to the forum

      and supported aspects of your position. Most of us attempted to answer

      your questions, and made at least 16 distinct points. You speak again at

      length in (22), in which you answer one of these points, then state "So far

      I've seen lots of emotional perspectives but little hard fact."

      The next post (23) supports your position. At (27) and (29), CensusGrrl and

      I respond to your posts, both for the second time; she adds several more

      points, and I add a whole laundry lists of reasons why the Ramseys'

      behavior after the crime was suspicious. At (28), fly supports your intruder

      scenario, with a reservation. You add another element to your scenario at

      (30) and agree with fly at (31).

      At (33) you respond to two points of mine, dismissing them and stating

      "your position seems to be one of 'this guy's guilty and I'm going to find

      fault in anything he did'." Then you dismiss the *entire* laundry list,

      suggesting that no one should be convicted "solely on the basis of...

      behavior after the crime." You repeat your questions, what evidence do we

      have that the Ramseys are guilty?... what was incorrect in the A&E

      documentary?... and say, "Please leave emotions and lack of expected

      behavior out."

      At (34) CensusGrrl returns with a point-by-point deconstruction of the

      intruder theory which you have sketched thus far. At (36) Shamrockpati

      welcomes you to the forum and suggests that you read the A&E threads.

      At (37), the flaming begins. mandarin implies that you know more about the

      case than you claim, suggests that you may be a lawyer, and says,

      "jumping in on page 330 of GONE WITH THE WIND and expecting the rest of

      us to bring you up to speed and revisit every argument we've had for two

      years is somewhat arrogant." You deny his charges at (40), and say that so

      far neither of your questions has been answered. "Surely with everyone so

      sure of their guilt there had to be some evidence I hadn't heard of... Either

      the A&E piece was not factual or there were numerous fallacies brought

      forward by the media that unfairly portrayed the Ramseys. I was looking for

      someone to tell me what was not factual. So far, no one has been able to

      do either of these things. Doesn't that bother anyone?" At (42) mandarin

      repeats the charges, compares you to Dan Quayle and suggests that you

      go elsewhere.

      Okay, let's freeze-frame this thing right here.

      Again, frankg, I'm operating under the assumption that you are no troll --

      but in that exchange, you were being treated like one. Why?

      Well, my personal troll-detector went into "warning" mode about the time of

      your post (33). By this time, you had asked repeatedly for any factual

      inaccuracies in the A&E program. I had stated that I was told that the

      program says that suspicion of the Ramseys "began" with the story about

      there being no footprints in the snow. I had tried to point out that the

      suspicion actually began in the first week after the crime, with the Ramseys'

      refusal to talk to police; that the "no footprints" story didn't break until

      three months later; and that in stating that suspicion "began" with the

      footprint story, the documentary was misrepresenting both the timing and

      the cause of suspicion in the media -- and was substituting a late, weak

      cause for an early, strong one.

      Your response: "No 'timing' of the footprints was implied in the program."

      Non sequitur. This does not address what I said, and sounds as though you

      read through my post so quickly that you didn't even get the point. Then

      you go on to repeat your claim that no one has identified anything factually

      incorrect in the documentary. In the same post, you characterize me as

      having a position of "[Ramsey]'s guilty and I'm going to find fault in anything

      he did."

      At about the same time, you go back and forth with CensusGrrl about your

      theory of how a kidnapper could have killed JonBenet accidentally and

      hidden the body intending to try to collect the ransom anyway. By (34)

      CensusGrrl seems to be icily polite (read: furious), perhaps because she,

      too, is having to re-answer questions which were already dealt with. She

      gives a long, detailed, well-thought-out account of why this scenario won't

      work, and you don't respond to it.

      So by now I'm irked, CensusGrrl is irked, Mrs. Brady -- who has contributed

      more towards keeping this case in front of the public than almost anyone --

      may well irked, because of the "flaming" e-mail. You asked for evidence

      against the Ramseys and were given at least two dozen separate points.

      And still, you continued to say that "no one has been able to do (this)."

      Further, you suggested that you did not want to hear any evidence

      regarding the behavior of suspects after the crime. That was an amazingly

      sweeping stipulation, ruling out a huge portion of what actually constitutes

      criminal investigative methodology in real life.

      And all of this BEFORE mandarin flamed you.

      I'm not going to defend what mandarin said 'cause mandarin can defend

      hirself just fine; in fact, I'd suggest to mandarin that the use of the word

      "arrogant" on (37) and the sarcasm on (42) were needlessly insulting. Also

      premature -- do we really need to decide that someone is an irredeemable

      troll on their first day here? And comparing anyone to Dan Quayle is a

      terrible thing.

      I will also, however, suggest that mandarin's response did not come out of a

      clear blue sky (though it appeared that way to you). I'm not saying that

      you deliberately intended to do this, but you *did* dis several of us,

      displayed a classic troll symptom (asking questions and not paying much

      attention to the answers), and repeatedly make generalizations: about how

      no one here could answer your questions, about how our arguments were

      "emotional" and "bogus," and about how warmfuzzy the Ramseys' A&E

      documentary was.

      Think about this for a second: if a Ramsey defense attorney were to find

      himself on JusticeWatch, incognito, what would he do? He'd ignore any

      evidence or reasoning that would pose a problem for his clients, fixate on

      alternative suspects, attempt to frustrate and annoy the people who were

      trying to demonstrate his clients' guilt, and repeat, mantra-like, phrases

      which called into question the motives and methods of JusticeWatch

      posters and which affirmed his impressions of the Ramseys as good people.

      (Making sure that there were plenty of posts in which the Ramseys were

      praised and the other posters' comments were dissed might be helpful for

      when media people drop by the forum to take a look). Plus occasionally

      throwing in false logical/rhetorical moves, such as ruling out behavioral

      evidence, if he thought he could get away with it.

      Now, I'm taking your word for who you are. You are not a troll -- you aren't

      stoopid, and trolls usually are. You are not a Ramsey lawyer, and it was out

      of line for mandarin to suggest as much -- but you can see where mandarin

      got that impression.

      Summary: on arriving in this forum, you conducted yourself in a manner

      remarkably similar to what we could reasonably expect from a member of

      the Ramsey camp. You're not a member of that camp. So why the

      resemblance? The answer to that, I think, may tie in with the reason why

      you, and other newcomers, are *needed* on this forum.

      You stated that most of what you know about the case came from the A&E

      documentary. Same goes for millions of other people, a good many of whom,

      we may presume, will be in the jury pool. I would suggest that one reason

      for the debacle on the "Theory" thread the other day might be: the

      documentary worked. It did exactly what it was supposed to -- it was

      effective propaganda. It was intended to cultivate empathy and

      warmfuzzies for the Ramseys and skepticism about those who criticize them.

      It was intended to encourage people, after two hours in the video hot tub,

      to come out with the same kind of attitudes and assumptions about the

      Ramseys and about the case that the Team Ramsey members themselves


      This is the new "environment" of the case, and something which we who

      have been following the case must not ignore. We on JusticeWatch must

      not simply dismiss the comments and reactions of people like frankg who are

      only guilty of going by the only substantial source of information they've

      seen about the case. It behooves us to know what types of responses the

      documentary is promoting, what kind of questions will be asked of us in its

      wake, and what kind of responses to give.

      frankg, a deprogrammer I'm not, but I'd like you to consider something about

      the motivations of some of the people involved in the documentary -- as

      compared with your cranky colleagues at JusticeWatch.

      I'll assume that Michael Tracey, the Boulder filmmaker, is sincere in his belief

      that the Ramseys are innocent. Beyond that, let's also consider the

      serendipity: making this documentary has boosted his bank account by

      about six figures, brought his work to a national / international audience,

      and left him in a position where one of the principal power-brokers in

      Colorado politics -- John Ramsey's attorney, Hal Haddon -- now owes him a

      couple of big favors. In turn, Hal Haddon -- who we will also assume is

      sincere in his belief that the Ramseys are innocent -- has so far run up a bill

      which will result in a seven-figure transfer of funds from John Ramsey's bank

      account to the account of Haddon Morgan & Foreman.

      So Haddon and Tracey, both of whom benefit substantially and materially

      from the proposition that the Ramseys are innocent, want everyone to see

      and believe the documentary. Two words: vested interest.

      Let's return to your question of what was wrong with the documentary.

      [And again, I'm at a disadvantage here, going by written descriptions of it

      -- those of you who have seen it, please call me on it if I misstate.]

      I'm not saying that the "crockumentary" is a *total* crock. There is useful

      information in it, accurately presented. There were and are many admirable

      things about the Ramsey family, and it is certainly within their rights to

      point those things out. (The anti-Ram species of troll refuses to believe the

      Ramseys are anything but totally evil -- as unrealistic a view as considering

      them saintly). Some of the documentary's criticisms are well-taken. The

      tabloids have tended to take molehills of fact and speculation and whip

      them into lurid screaming headlines -- which, often as not, contradict last

      week's and next week's lurid screaming headlines. The Ramseys are also

      within their rights to point out, as many of us have noticed, that some of

      the tabloid stories are, well, crocks, and mean-spirited ones at that.

      Where the documentary falls short *as* a documentary -- and starts to

      become an infomercial -- is in its treatment of the case. Now, it comes with

      a disclaimer stating that it does not try to solve the case, so it leaves itself

      a loophole regarding all the issues which aren't addressed. However, it also

      deals, very selectively, with certain aspects of the case, thereby creating

      the impression that serious matters germaine to the solving of the case are,

      in fact, being dealt with. The documentary seldom lies outright, but does a

      substantial amount of misdirecting by omission. The "evidence" against the

      Ramseys which is shown to be bogus -- "no footprints in the snow," for

      instance -- tends to be minor. The major elements, the principal reasons for

      the suspicion in the first place and for the steadily increasing suspicion

      thereafter, are not even mentioned.

      Ultimately, one of the documentary's lessons needs to be applied to the

      documentary itself: you can't always believe everything you see in the


      (Show only the good things about the family, get us to know them and like

      them. Show all the terrible things that the least reputable media have said

      about them, and imply that ALL media coverage of the case was at the

      same level. Triumphantly knock over a few straw men while tacitly giving

      the impression that major evidence against them is being demolished. Leave

      us with the impression that those poor people have been persecuted

      terribly, and with the motivation to defend them. Very professionally done.

      Leni Riefenstahl would be proud.)

      (Okay, strike the Leni Riefenstahl remark. That was tacky.)

      About your other major question -- where is the smoking gun?

      Sorry. Can't help you there. Most people who commit capital crimes try to

      make a point of not leaving the smoking gun in plain sight. If we were to

      require such a thing, there wouldn't be many prosecutions for such crimes

      -- except maybe for the street hood who guns down the convenience store

      clerk while the camera's running.

      Asking for the smoking gun, especially in a case as complicated as this one,

      is like approaching someone who's working a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle

      and saying, "show me *the* piece." Sorry -- it's the *relationship* of the

      pieces. All of the aspects of the case which may not mean anything in

      isolation, but which show a pattern when they're all viewed together.

      (When a suspect tells one untruth, it might just be a mistake; when a

      suspect tells many, it can't be).

      *The* piece of the puzzle is exactly what we can't give you in one simple

      package -- especially in the wake of the documentary/infomercial. You've

      recently spent two multimedia hours experiencing a carefully-crafted view of

      what certain people with certain vested interests in the case wanted you to

      see, being given exactly the emotional cues they wanted to give you, and

      being left with certain blind spots in places where they'd rather you not

      look. We can't counter this with half an hour's worth of strangers' words

      scrolling by on your computer screen. If you want to know what's going on

      in this case, the real story and not the prefab sound-bite version, it will

      require an investment of time, energy, and critical thought. It's worth it.

      Yeah, we can be pretty cranky here. And our patience wears thin -- after

      all, it's been almost two years. But unlike Hal Haddon and Michael Tracey,

      we have no vested financial interest in promoting a particular point of view

      about this case. In fact, some of us have invested hundreds of hours and

      thousands of dollars on it, with no realistic prospect of getting back one red

      cent. We only seek one kind of return for all that we have put into this, the

      most important return of all: justice for JonBenet Patricia Ramsey.