A Mini-Memoir, or…The preponderance of what you never wanted nor asked to know about Kevin M. Gallagher, who turned 34 on June 5th, 2020.
As humanity lapses deeper into the year 2020, some of us proceed in a leisurely manner, while others among us are engaged in an epic daily struggle for continued existence, one which is no doubt presently exacerbated by the combined global economic and public health crisis. Having intimately known both modalities of living even contemporaneously, I have recently elected, through the lengthy piece that follows, to reveal more detail about myself and my life thus far than I ever have before. The reason for this is that I want my friends to know who I am, where I come from and what my story is — in an authentic sense. Frequently others don’t see us the way that we see ourselves, and there are things that remain hidden about people. Writing can serve to bridge that gap.
As it turns out, I’ve actually been involved in some things that could be considered notable, and have been a witness to history in a sense; yet today the public has very little knowledge of who I am. I suppose I wouldn’t mind if that changed (who doesn’t want fame and recognition to some degree?), but more importantly, after I’m gone and these digital traces of my existence plus others’ memories of me are all that’s left, there should be a source for biographical facts that is somewhat reliable and comprehensive.
Early Online Adventures
I was born 1986 to parents, a registered nurse and a dentist, both Irish Catholics. Learned to read by age 3, via a version of Bible stories oriented towards children. I did have a first communion, yet was not confirmed, as I already questioned and recognized for myself that God was likely not real and that the death of consciousness was final, and opted out of continuing to attend the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD), by age 9. While what are reputed to be Jesus’s teachings seemed harmless if even noble and reasonable, especially in contrast to the inexplicable horrendousness throughout the Old Testament, the many stories and prayers we were taught and urged to read seemed to me irrelevant… Some of the miraculous occurrences documented within (burning bushes, walking on water, virgin birth, resurrection) exposed and underlied their clear fraudulence. Before attending my first science class I already intuited that the natural laws of physics would not permit a violation or temporary suspension.
Within my family I am the youngest of three. My brother is a university administrator and my sister is a financial investment analyst.
I was a Cub Scout and also played in Little League. I received a guitar for Christmas at the age of 8; the first songs I learned to play by ear were by Nirvana and the Smashing Pumpkins. During that early stage of my life, I binge-watched several hours of television per day. It was valuable in that through this household appliance I learned much of the English language and about American culture. Though I knew that the amount of TV consumed was excessive.
In my time I have lived mostly without guidelines, rules or limits, and often vicariously. It’s occurred to me that my experience was novel and no one else was having quite the same life…
As a little kid set loose in the school library, I gravitated directly to the books about odd subjects like UFOs and Atlantis. Later I would take an explicit interest in banned books such as Naked Lunch and Tropic of Cancer. Structures such as time and topical limitations (e.g., parental control/advisory) that other kids were subjected to, or which have been prescribed by experts, were always disregarded by me. Curfews and other such rules were entirely frivolous; I could never relate to peers who needed to be home by a certain time… When I compared myself to them I always questioned and disdained their obedience and wondered why they were not more free.
I joined AOL in March 1994. By 1996 I had learned HTML; I had accounts on members.aol.com, geocities, Angelfire, Tripod, and so on. My first e-mail address was with Juno, a dial-up e-mail service, and later hotmail.com. Many captive users of America Online did not really understand that there was a vast online world beyond it, however I avoided this perception as my household secondarily obtained internet access through the dial-up provider TIAC.net (The Internet Access Company). My elder brother had been a member of a local BBS (bulletin board system), however I was born slightly too late to partake in that scene.
During the 1998–2001 time-frame, I did lots of programming in Visual Basic, and then Perl, learning how to administer domains and mail servers. I fooled around with subversive programs and viruses — playing with tools like AOHell, Fate X, Back Orifice, and Subseven, and became known among my classmates for my supposed hacking abilities, which included Telnet shenanigans, bypassing the school district’s content filters, or punting people offline using a flood of instant messages. By leveraging a backdoor I could remotely cause my classmate’s screen to flip upside-down. One day I was sent to the principal’s office for having shared with another student a floppy disk which had the Anarchist Cookbook on it. . . I never entertained activities that entailed actual personal harm or theft/loss of data, though.
I joined IRC circa 1997, where I was mainly active on Undernet and DALnet, a pre-teen masquerading as an adolescent or young adult. My ICQ account number is 3856040. Back then I could often be found frequenting the Visual Basic channel and excessively using l33tspeak. For awhile I possessed a subscription to Nintendo Power, which was also my favorite AOL keyword to visit; that magazine was the envy of other children. Yet I ultimately ceased to be interested in any gaming consoles released after the N64 as far as my interest in owning one was concerned. With a couple exceptions, I despised cartoons or animated TV series and refused to watch them — even those which were ostensibly geared toward adults. I generally viewed the content as puerile and immature. By way of further inexact self-comparison to others my age, I was conscious of being an exceedingly precocious young man.
During the third grade, one day me and my friends met after class to disclose who each of us had a crush on. While this group of popular girls and boys mostly picked each other, I claimed that I liked a girl who lived in another state who I’d been instant messaging with via the internet. Well, that particular crowd always treated and looked at me kind of funny after that moment. I was different — radically and extremely online. You could say that I grew up here.
With no disrespect intended toward my parents (who I love), both of whom did the very best they could, I genuinely feel that my early experiences through the internet almost wholly equated or substituted for my parenting, education and upbringing. And while dysfunctional in some ways, and acknowledging my inherent biases, it was not a bad one!
This strong attachment to the internet has molded me into a voracious reader and purveyor of culture, media and information — I would describe myself as someone who likes to have a handle on what’s happening, what the political discourse or issues of the day are, what critics are considering the latest excellent contemporary works of art, what are the newest discoveries of science, ad infinitum. And I try, without always succeeding, at passing important bits that I find along to my friends. I consider these habits exemplary of the particular way I might be attempting to put into practice Enlightenment-era ideals, but these days it’s all emanating from a manufactured flat-panel display rather than a sheet borne of papyrus.
I maintain no illusion that my self is measurably improved or made better, or that I am elevated opposite my fellow man by each bit of information I survey and ingest. Rather, I’ve followed an insatiable impulse driven by pure curiosity and passion, something I regard as fundamental to human nature.
At age 11, my activity got my family’s broadband internet access suspended for a few days over copyright infringement issues. I had been running an FTP server which served a small MP3 collection. The representative of MediaOne/RoadRunner who my parents spoke over the phone was in disbelief that an 11-year-old knew how to use FTP. Indeed, I was an early user of programs like Napster and Audiogalaxy and SoulSeek, a community with which I would release some of my own music. I enthusiastically adopted technologies like BitTorrent.
I suppose I had everything that a kid could ask for growing up. I played with friends and other kids regularly, riding my bike and exploring the woods. With one of my friends who lived down the street, we would steal beers from his father and cigarettes from his mother, and peer at images of naked women in magazines. I was frequently written up and teachers would send notes home over my hyperactive or attention-seeking behavior, which was at turns pro-social or anti-social. By the time I became a teenager I consciously rejected the authority of my parents; I set my own hours and priorities and completely disregarded their rules and expectations. I scorned the concept of homework, and avoided doing it, from the time it was introduced. As far as I was concerned, the school day was over when the bell rang and the buses departed!
Regardless, although I was occasionally a bit of a class clown, I was viewed as an exceptionally bright student, routinely scoring around the 99th percentile in standardized testing. My grades could be terrible, but for a reason: I was usually years ahead of the curriculum and thus disinterested on account of the internet, which I had already used to educate myself and found far more interesting than anything taught at school.
Growing up amidst an upper middle class white suburb, in a cape house that had a pool and a basketball court in the backyard and was built across from cranberry bogs, my family vacationed in Florida, Aruba and Bahamas, and we took skiing trips in Vermont and New Hampshire. I attended a summer camp on Cape Cod associated with 4-H. My parents were normative — my father had played football in his younger days and had a predilection for Budweiser, and my mom could be described as highly caring worrier, one who doles out common-sensical advice and is full of preemptive concern. They were each born at the beginning of the 1950s, have Boston accent(s), and listened to artists like Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac and Elton John. The first time I remember getting really excited about a song and dancing to it, at age 3 or 4, was Crocodile Rock. 😳
In elementary school we were given English spelling tests every week. After awhile of never getting a single answer wrong it became clear to me that I am basically a perfect speller, which developed into my becoming somewhat of a “grammar nazi”. If you ever see me screw up a word —that fundamental unit of language — then it was more likely to be deliberate than a mistake. My studies of Latin have never failed me insofaras they’ve given me a solid understanding of etymology, which I find mysterious and fascinating. It bestowed upon me the ability to accurately guess the meaning of a new word when it’s presented to you for the first time, across any of the so-called Romance languages, without knowing the context or anything else.
My first kiss, at age 5, would’ve been arranged with the girl next door. At some point I transitioned from being a normal and conformist kid who played soccer and little league baseball and wore khakis, to more of a skater or outcast, listening to groups like Nine Inch Nails and The Cure, eventually becoming very into black metal and industrial music, which comprises my “goth” phase, in which I adorned makeup and wore all black, owned vinyl pants and accessories like fishnet gloves. I frequently hung out at the mall and local punk/metal shows; my friends were ordinarily a year or two older than myself.
This early streak of rebelliousness and anti-authoritarianism was manifested by the 8th grade; which teachers threatened I might have to repeat. Not because I didn’t understand the material but since I simply didn’t do the work. I was almost held back, yet I got by on the generosity and compassion of an English teacher and principal who allowed me to enter high school after completing a poetry project over the summer. Similarly, I had to attend summer school to make up for failing grades and obtain my high school diploma. I had my reasons and am not ashamed of this.
I scored remarkably well on the SAT. I really don’t know what my classmates made of me; I would guess that I was either viewed as an influence of some sort, a bold troublemaker, a weirdo, or exceptionally smart.
There were programming classes offered at school, Java being one that I’d been enrolled in, but these left much to be desired. The foreign language I studied was Latin. I never much liked math and became disinterested in it after learning algebra; subjects like trigonometry and calculus are too complicated for me, and I foresaw that I would not end up using or needing them. Of course, I eventually came to regret this a little bit after I became interested in cryptography. My college admission essay was roughly about post-modernism, the widespread availability of information and culture via the internet, and the accelerating pace of consumption and convenience-driven lifestyles. I recall that the teacher who read and graded the piece for me was dismissive and didn’t really get it.
My older brother was frontman of a nü-metal band which experienced some modest success and popularity in the Boston area; and was among the first musical groups to have a website and publish MP3s. My older siblings got me into rock music (stole my sister’s copies of Weezer, Sublime, Green Day) and showed me how to use the computer. There was a game on 5 ½ floppy disk called Where is Carmen Sandiego? I was never very adept at peeling the edges off the pages produced by our noisy dot matrix printer; they would tear imperfectly. The earliest PC that I can remember is an IBM XT which my father owned; then we had an Apple IIGS, and then a 486 DX2 which shipped with Windows 3.1 and which was upgraded to Windows 95.
This is the computer on which I learned to program in QBASIC. It ran at 33MHz, with a “turbo button” that could double its speed to 66MHz. I experienced all of the subsequent major developments in computing first-hand, going through the processors Pentium, Pentium II, Celeron, Pentium 3 and 4, and operating systems Windows 98SE, 2000, XP, and so on. I avidly played games in MS-DOS mode, including Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Duke Nukem 3D, Command & Conquer. My favorites were multi-player Quake (I, II and II) and Nexus: The Kingdom of the Winds, an early two-dimensional MMORPG out of Korea.
I learned HTML circa 1996. Even following the introduction of WYSIWYG solutions like Microsoft FrontPage, I’ve preferred dealing with the tags of markup language directly in a text editor. In 1997 I was determined to have the coolest website of anyone my age so I decorated it with animated GIFs and used an image map, which was then new, for the navigation menu.
Ah, the era of the dial-up modem. My brother and I would frequently play Quake or Duke Nukem 3D over our LAN, and friends would dial our home’s phone line in order to join us.
I think one of my AOL hacking programs, and a VB *.mod library with many useful functions I’d written, were enthusiastically downloaded by others, as well as mIRC scripts and themes which I’d developed, being influenced by a popular one called “7th Sphere”. During the year 2000 I liked to use an alternative, customizable Windows shell (alternative to explorer.exe) called LiteStep. The movie The Matrix and terminals of lime green text on a black background strongly influenced my worldview.
For awhile that world I’d constructed was post-everything — I listened to post-rock while reading my post-post-modern novels. The prospect of contributing or giving back with my talents filled my young self with anxiety and hesitancy — the struggle for novelty and innovation had appeared to be a futile exercise since supposedly everything possible which could be done had already been done. How mistaken I was!
The statute of limitations has probably elapsed, so I will admit that I’ve reverse engineered programs and cracked their licenses before so that I could gain the advantage of registered software. Often it was just to disable 30 seconds of a nagging splash screen upon launch. For this purpose I liked to play with hex editors and disassemblers, and OllyDbg. For many kids of my generation, I suspect that software piracy was the norm. The trade in warez and serial numbers was never something I facilitated myself, yet you can be sure that I took advantage of its effortless availability.
Within Nexus, one’s character had the option to get married to another, so the game involved role-playing and long-distance cyber quasi-relationships. I wonder how many of those early contacts from AOL, Nexus, IRC and Mirabilis ICQ are still out there, and if we’ll ever meet again. Some of us attempted to recapture the magic of the game experience we loved by creating our own. We never fully succeeded, but plenty of code was written leveraging stuff like OpenGL and Direct3D. We had a little software company or game development studio, and I used its website as a platform to test my unsophisticated Perl and CGI scripts. For a while we actually obtained hosting and were sponsored by real businesses during the first internet boom.
In the late 90s I first downloaded and tried Linux. It was distributions like Slackware, Mandrake, Red Hat, and other ones that I can’t even remember the name of which were designed to run on Windows or FAT filesystems, which got me started. By now I have long preferred Debian.
The Developing Brain
Up until 2002 I cycled through several screen names which changed every few months; finally landing upon ageisp0lis or ageis for short, inspired by an Aphex Twin song that appears on Selected Ambient Works 85–92. My LiveJournal page in 2002, when I would’ve been 16 years old, listed the following interests:
Agreeing with my growing collection of diverse music, I took on the stylings of an indie rock hipster and became fascinated with all things experimental. As an adolescent my interests evolved constantly as did the focus of my attention; I shifted readily between religion and politics to science and astrophysics, literature and independent film. For a long time my favorite book was La Nausée, my favorite film Dancer in the Dark, my favorite album Loveless. By the age of fifteen, having made a study of phenomenology and existentialism and read books by the likes of Aldous Huxley and Carl Sagan, I considered myself adequately well-read — and as an undesirable component of that, I would be remiss not to confess that I possessed an inordinate amount of arrogance and its accompanying sense of personal superiority. In reality I of course knew only as much as a fifteen-year-old — and so there would still be much to learn. The recognition of my own fallibility and incompleteness of knowledge has periodically been a humbling lesson reminding me to get over that initial sense of thinking that I already knew everything.
Human civilization and its history, which is essentially the magic we all partake in, is an inestimably massive thing, and most of my self-directed studies have focused upon famous names — particular auteurs, artists, writers, scientists/inventors, directors, musicians and so on. People whose very name carries a weight of authority and accomplishment within their field. With regret I have to relate that my idols growing up have inordinately been male creative types, yet among the fairer sex I have been inspired by many lovely singers, as well as intellectual figures such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Simone de Beauvoir, or Sylvia Plath. During different phases, men whose work I’ve devoured and appreciated the entirety oeuvre of include Henry Miller, Conor Oberst, Jack Kerouac, Stephen Malkmus, Hunter S. Thompson, William Burroughs, Jim Morrison, Bob Dylan, Josh Tillman, Jim O’Rourke, Spike Jonze, Paul Thomas Anderson, Charlie Kaufman, et cetera. Mostly modern people, although I’ve also acquired a reverence for William Blake.
The Beat Generation was definitely a cool milieu for one to discover as a teenager, but has become markedly less influential to me as time goes on.
Within lengthy text documents which are today backed up in the “cloud”, I made copious notes of my research and the subjects that I was interested in, noted down neat turns of phrase and ideas for novels or short stories, but mostly refined recommendation lists of books that I would eventually have to read, and albums I still needed to listen to, which usually some other source that I respected or paid attention to had imparted to me were somehow important. I must’ve collected nearly a thousand albums in MP3 format, and I was quite proud of this collection and the tastes it conveyed, that of an aficionado or connoisseur. As a teenage kid I was way too overly ambitious about the rest of my life, planning to write several books before 30, to become a philosophy professor and all of this unrealistic shit.
However my obsession with being an aesthete has led me to the realization that when I finally do set down to write my first novel, it will likely resemble a contemporary take on À rebours, by Huysmans. The concept of that novel and its main protagonist agrees roughly with the apparent arc of my life.
During summer 2002 I spent a couple weeks at the Berklee College of Music in a performance program for jazz guitarists. Though quite brief, this was my first experience of living apart from my parents in an urban environment, and the newfound freedom I experienced was exhilarating. I loved those adventures traveling up and down Mass. Ave. and frequenting places like Newbury Comics. It was the sense that responsibility was being imparted to me and legal adulthood lied not so far away.
In my junior year of high school, I acted the lead role in a theatrical run of The Hitch-Hiker with the drama department, and also performed both as a solo singer-songwriter and with my band at open mic nights and Battle of the Bands events. Either solo or accompanied by a band, I can recall singing covers of songs by Radiohead, Weezer, Bright Eyes, and Neil Young to an audience of classmates and teachers/administrators. Cover renditions have always remained an enjoyable pastime of mine.
On the subject of experimentation with drugs, I was probably somewhat more adventurous than the majority of American teenagers. I had tried marijuana by age 13 and experienced the drunkenness imparted by hard liquor around the same time, my first acid trip at age 14, had taken Ketamine as a fifteen year old, MDMA sometime later, and 5-MeO-DMT, which was then a legal research chemical, before the DEA cracked down and banned analogues, at age 19. I was very keen on sites like erowid.org, initiatives like MAPS (research demonstrating the psycho-therapeutic potential of hallucinogens), and the critical notions of harm reduction and safe/responsible use. I have no comments beyond that, except advising everyone to stay away from what are referred to as “hard” or addictive drugs.
Amazingly I was never diagnosed with ADD or anything of the sort. For a few weeks at the height of my 14-year-old goth rebel phase I was encouraged to talk to a psychologist, who concluded that my issues were the result of a familial dynamic wherein I was the youngest child and thus expected to live up to or surpass the standard set by my older siblings, which I predictably rebelled against. It was also noted that I may be prone to depression. I didn’t dispute these assessments. However, one other “expert” with whom I met, who I can remember disliking as she had seemed especially prudish, strict and uncool — put forth to my mother the idea that my behavior (which by this time included wearing all black, applying nail polish, and generally behaving in an anti-social manner) presented extremely worrisome so-called “red flags” in terms of my future. I deemed her utterly ridiculous, and I generally operated on the assumption that none of these adults truly understood me or even cared to. Her whole attitude seemed predicated upon an upholding of conformity and conservative rules combined with a total lack of sympathy for the vagaries of youth.
Another psychologist whom I saw irregularly in my early twenties diagnosed me with cyclothymia.
To the extent that I might’ve been aware of my own pathology, I can remember episodes wherein I attempted to elicit pity from people or acted in a very outlandish and crazy manner. In my defense, I was fourteen and hyperactive; just entering puberty and my bloodstream was being flooded with new hormones. Which incidentally reminds me of my first insecurities — I was a late bloomer and for a while remained one of the shortest and smallest kids in my class. This situation bothered me a great deal at the time. In addition I had long eyelashes, so I sometimes worried that I appeared too effeminate.
In retrospect, I probably wasn’t growing in accordance with my expectations since I wasn’t eating well. Routinely running late to school due to oversleeping (up late at the computer), I normally wouldn’t eat breakfast, and lunch would either constitute a small snack or be nonexistent — lunch money was something that I felt might be better saved and used for after-school recreational activities. I remained skinny and self-conscious about it for a long time and didn’t start having a diet or “eating right” until after I graduated, at which point I even took things too far in the direction of over-eating for a spell. As an adult I am 5'8" and between 150 and 160lbs, which is about right. But in full and honest disclosure, besides a few times I’ve gotten into the routine of working out regularly, I have been extremely sedentary for most of my life so far.
As a teen I wrote poetry and kept adding to that constantly-growing text file of notes. With programming, I can remember creating my own password manager. It was simply a text editor that required a password to unscramble a file using unsophisticated ROT13-style encryption. The most complex thing I’d programmed in C++ was a 3D game where you could fly around in an endless, automatically-generated world; admittedly over half of the code was borrowed from an open source OpenGL demo I’d found on the web and modified to my tastes. With the Winsock API and Visual Basic 5 or 6, I also experimented with my own telnet client and encrypted chat program. My “secure chat” program supported rich text and again relied upon a substitution cipher instead of any legitimate encryption algorithm. You could run it in server or client mode; and needed your correspondent’s IP address in order to talk to them. It frequently crashed, and I was never able to get it working with more than two people.
That I was casually trying to make an encrypted version of AIM in 1999 would later be somewhat prescient and fortuitous.
Around 2007 much of this previously alluded-to material along with other historical files, images and documents were lost when my main backup hard-drive died. This was a relative catastrophe or calamity for me, as I had kept everything I had created, written or gathered going back to the 1990s — every time I got a new computer, that is, through the iterations of the Intel 486, Pentium II, Celeron, and Pentium IV, which corresponded to Windows 95, 98SE, 2000, and XP, I simply copied the contents of the old disk to the new one. The physical damage to the spinning discs caused that filesystem to be deemed unrecoverable by two distinct data recovery firms. I was devastated and felt as though I’d been set back several years in terms of my own accounting of my personal progress and evolution — I mean, this was my life itself but documented in digital form. I would have to start over.
What to do with this life?
In 2004, I graduated from Norwell High School, which has been ranked the 12th best secondary school in Massachusetts, and the top 6% for best public education high schools in the country. My weekends, and increasingly weekday nights as well, were occupied with driving around town and attending parties, always on the lookout for a place where the adults or parents weren’t present, so we could “chill” and cause trouble as teenagers tend to do. Which isn’t to suggest I wasn’t a serious person; as an adolescent I had absurdly lofty ambitions and took pleasure in introducing someone to a complicated movie or book. I definitely felt apart from my peers, the overwhelming majority of whom I judged to be ignorant or oblivious of issues that mattered, or what I considered quality art, that is, until later when I sensed that they had caught up to me. This solidified part of my character as that of a hipster asshole.
Between 2004 and 2008, I worked as an operator of computerized embroidery machines and in shipping/receiving to support myself while aspiring towards a career as a musician or writer. There was a series of what I would describe as dead-end jobs — I collected student loan debts over the telephone (in full compliance with the FDCPA of course) and even pumped gas at a service station over a summer. I sometimes battled body image issues and the aforementioned depression, soon losing three very close friends to overdoses or suicide. Over time I acquired a decent collection of instruments and recording gear and dabbled in multimedia; making short videos, experimenting with software like Max/MSP and Jitter. Prior to 2010 I recorded and produced two studio-quality full-length albums; besides a music video which was made by students at Emerson College I have never achieved much notice as a musician. That is to say, my “audience” or the number of fans that I have is exceptionally small.
With Dugan Hayes, a buddy from summer camp, I formed a noise band that performed only two live sets ever. We played on WMBR 88.1 radio on November 2005, and recorded in his MIT dorm room in March 2006. I am a multi-instrumentalist; I’m adequate behind a drum set as well as proficient at keyboards/piano in addition to guitar/bass, and my voice is decent enough. Besides electronica and my own singer-songwriter take on Bright Eyes and Pavement-influenced indie rock, my musical passion at times was digital sonic manipulation; the laptop as an instrument, basically the copious usage of effects plugins and signal processing. So far I’ve recorded and released two full-length studio-quality albums, with a third currently in progress.
In 2008, I voted for Ron Paul and supported efforts to audit the Federal Reserve. Initially identifying as a democratic socialist in junior high, eventually my politics were mostly libertarian. Around the time of my inevitable maturation, the “New Atheism” dominated American intellectual life and discussion, and I read avidly the works of its foremost authors like Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins. I mostly agreed with their views, although it’s sometimes been hard to reconcile my complete disdain for religion against the popular association of such sentiments with anti-Muslim prejudice, which I would posit is at least partly a false trope that certain elements of the political left came up with in order to vilify their opposition. As a civil liberties enthusiast, I absolutely relished reading and researching about jihadists and what the U.S. had been doing to kill them extra-judicially, as well as the history of U.S. policy in the Middle East. I would guess that on account of this, a record of my Google searches would’ve made me seem pretty suspicious. Coming of age after the September 11th attacks, in which a girl at my school’s father was killed in one of the planes, I spent a lot of time researching what had happened that day, the wars which my peers might be shipping off to fight, plus the stories of those who were being detained at Guantanamo. At the same time I also strongly supported drug decriminalization. Today I suppose you could term me a crypto-anarchist. I’m sporadically made aware of my conspicuous amount of privilege, however, so I’m strongly obliged to rely upon new friends and acquaintances in order to teach me about a greater diversity of perspectives.
In applying to colleges, I was rejected two years in a row from Eugene Lang, the undergraduate division of New School, which I had visited and badly wanted to attend. So I wasn’t accepted into higher education right away and I took a few years off after high school. I considered going to MassArt or New England School of Art and Design, for film or media production, yet ultimately was accepted into the University of Boston, where I studied communications and English, initially focusing upon teacher certification — an aspiration I’ve since abandoned. After two years I transferred to University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in order to get out of my parent’s house (UMass Boston is a commuter school) from where I graduated in 2012, and won a department award with an essay about Henry Miller. During those years while I was attending classes, I created several low-budget music videos and posted them on my YouTube channel.
After one semester in the dorms I decided that I disliked having a roommate and opted for single-person housing. Eventually I moved into my own apartment where I wound up staying for almost 5 years, supporting myself post-graduation by working for a local IT/web services company.
In September 2010, one of those articles I occasionally wrote for my university paper mentioned Wikileaks, which I had already been following for some time, and had donated a small amount of money to. Indeed, I wrote articles for the college newspaper at both UMass Boston and UMass Amherst, although it was rare for me to find topics I was enthusiastic about which had not already been adequately covered and written up by someone else.
During this time period, I often spent over 8 hours a day reading Wikipedia, a habit about which I made a silly — and in retrospect, somewhat embarassing — short film. As I’ve been saying in so many different ways, the acquisition of knowledge has been a major prerogative in my life. I anticipated that college would be somewhat more to my liking than K-12 primary education on account of my ability to choose what I studied, and I was mostly correct. The liberal arts classes were interesting enough even if they weren’t as engaging as autodidacticism. In addition to surveying all of modernist literature, I studied screenwriting and acting and wrote a full-length script, took a higher level course in satire and the absolute bare minimum of math and science.
Mid-2011 I became a Bitcoin user and trader, with a reputation on #bitcoin-otc. When I first started purchashing them, Bitcoins were worth $3 each. Had a wallet which, had I held onto my coins, would’ve been worth millions of US dollars. Also had an account on Mt. Gox, the exchange which failed spectacularly. Later, my handle was mentioned in an exhibit of the Silk Road trial, in relation to my efforts to have Dread Pirate Roberts speak with VICE journalist Hamilton Morris, which never materialized.
During 2012, I reconnected with an old friend to help him create an HTML5-based game, with the server coded in PHP. Here’s a gameplay video:
January 2012: I met with Gavin Andresen, then the lead developer of Bitcoin, over lunch in Amherst, and interview him about the crypto-currency. Nothing came of it, but a year later I used him as a source for an article about Bitcoin considered in light of NSA efforts to subvert cryptographic protocols.
It’s funny, but I’d mostly forgotten that I had computer skills in excess of the average person, until all of this stuff made me interested in it again.
I had still been working in western Massachusetts as a systems administrator doing pretty mundane yet varied work maintaining websites and wireless networks and repairing computers. Enthused about the possibilities of Bitcoin and what the principles underlying the blockchain necessarily entailed, I helped out with a Bitcoin-based VPS/hosting provider in its early days. There wasn’t much upward movement in my career, and initially I never imagined that I would be able to make any sort of living as a digital activist.
During this year I joined up with the Massachusetts Pirate Party and started supporting the CryptoParty movement created by Asher Wolf, with which I organized several trainings to show others how to use common encryption tools. Although I never identified as part of #Anonymous, I keenly followed its activities and every so often I dropped into their IRC channels to check out what was going on. At first glance, what I saw was way too hectic, with too much noise and competing messages and agendas. There was a period of time where the flood of text in the main #AnonOps chat would eclipse the whole screen every second or so. Within this flailing mass of collective energy and personas, any one of whom might be an actual FBI informant, I looked around for groups and initiatives that appeared more focused and credible. What I ultimately found was Barrett Brown and Project PM. He was actually getting stuff done, having a decent media impact, and to my then-impressionable and idealistic 25-year-old self, he was a highly convincing propagandist for the narrative he espoused. He explained how a group of intelligence contractors had erred by planning illegal dirty tricks against fellow American citizens whose only transgression was engaging in the perfectly lawful and First Amendment-protected activity of supporting WikiLeaks — Team Themis. I was immediately captivated and concurred with him that this was a big story which certainly deserved the attention of anyone who holds their sacred constitutional rights as dear to them. As a longtime internet denizen who knew first-hand the precarious uncertainty of real-life identities on the web, I was also thoroughly creeped out by the prospect of Persona Management. I’d remembered how the previous year the legislature had made changes to the law which effectively served to decriminalize the deployment of these types of propaganda tools against American citizens.
By this time I was certain that the War on Terrorism had gone too far in its curtailment of civil liberties, and was exacerbating and inflaming anti-American sentiment rather than making us more safe. I could perceive that the years 2010–2012 were beginning to present a digital analogue to the revolutionary and activist spirit of the 1960s. I believe that movements like Occupy Wall Street and Anonymous, or the platforms represented by WikiLeaks, Pirate Party, or the Cypherpunks, were as crucially invigorating and inspiring to their participants as the free speech and civil rights movements had been in their day — the Snowden revelations as an anologue to the Church Committee. When these events came about, I’d been a nobody for the majority of my life, and had thus far achieved nothing of note or renown to the wider public. I was content to be a passive observer receptive to the culture for many years, feeling too uncertain of my own identity to have anything meaningful to say or contribute with any sense of primacy. But when I saw that the personalities behind these global activism trends were largely members of my own generation — Chelsea Manning was born six months after me — Jeremy Hammond six months before — at last I finally felt the yearning and urgency, along with the possibility and opportunity, to get involved and somehow do something that mattered. So, in time I became part of the social fabric of these same movements, and I had the good fortune to meet several noted privacy activists and to likewise become acquainted with many talented journalists and chroniclers of our time. I have not kept in regular contact with as many people as I would like.
After age 25 I started to develop a clearer picture of what I desired to do with my life. I was definitely a Linux sysadmin by training and as my professional occupation, but my ultimate dream and the goal of adulthood was to work as a general technologist or activist with a civil liberties oriented non-profit organization much like the EFF, ACLU or FPF. As it turned out, I was incredibly lucky to actually receive the opportunity to do just that, even if my stint was cut short after 2 1/2 years.
In July 2012, I attended HOPE X, finding myself on the rooftop of the Hotel Manhattan with several key Manning supporters; I meet and have a photo taken with Barrett Brown.
Increasingly inspired by the words and sentiments of Julian Assange, in August I created the @QuotesOfAssange Twitter account in order to document some of his more profound pronouncements.
September 2012: When the aforementioned Brown was arrested, I created the Free Barrett Brown support network, which I would steward until June 2015 when it was taken over by Courage Foundation, yet remained involved with informally after a falling out transpired between Assange and Brown.
In October 2012, I traveled to the MIT campus in Cambridge where I met up with David House, who was at one point previously was an official WikiLeaks volunteer and part of Pfc. Manning’s support network (before being removed from the visitor’s list at the Marine Corps Brig, Quantico), along with long-time Anonymous associate Gregg Housh plus our mutual friend Lauren Pespisa. The occasion for the meeting was to draw up plans for Brown’s support campaign, which I subsequently executed as faithfully as possible over the following months and years. In December, on a sort of hunch or intuition, I randomly inquired with House as to whether he knew about anything being done to help Aaron Swartz, who would be found dead within weeks. I had felt motivated to do something about Swartz’s legal case as well, which I’d considered a glaringly unjust travesty, and I regret that I didn’t have the chance to speak out or take any action before he ended his life.
I suppose that at first House seemed slightly suspicious of me, how much I knew and what my interest or angle was, yet I was nothing more than a politically-astute person who had avidly read and followed all of the reports concerning WikiLeaks and Manning’s case from the very beginning, especially those published outside of the mainstream — from people like Glenn Greenwald, Kevin Poulsen and Kevin Gosztola.
Years later, I learned that during the time I met with him Mr. House was under surveillance, his name on one or more watch list(s) in relation to the leak of classified information. If the reader is not familiar; he was represented by the ACLU in his own case against the Department of Homeland Security, as the agency had seized his laptop at the border. During this same time frame Jacob Appelbaum, who I’ve actually never met and only chatted with a handful of times, reported being detained, followed, surveilled, harassed, etc. after standing in on behalf of Julian Assange at the HOPE conference in NYC during summer 2010.
Word about the obscenely excessive prosecution faced by Brown was somewhat slow to spread and catch on. As the government piled on three separate indictments exposing him to 105 years of prison time, it seemed more like lawyers and media people were scared away by the severity of the case instead of attracted to it as a worthy cause. However, we knew who we needed to get on our side, and we had a strategy to make it happen. After a few e-mails and a flurry of tweets, Glenn Greenwald agreed to cover the case in one of his upcoming columns. But first he wanted to meet and check out the people behind the campaign to make sure it was legitimate; foremost that the money would end up going to the right place. Conveniently, he was engaged in a university lecture tour and I learned that he would be embodied in the flesh in what was then my hometown, in only a matter of weeks.
Thus it was that one night in March 2013 myself and Lauren, who traveled just for the occasion, met Glenn in person over dinner following his talk in Amherst, Massachusetts; which if I recall correctly was mostly about how the Obama administration’s anti-terrorism policies threatened the rights of Muslim communities. I had somehow missed a phone call from him and so I still have the voice message he left me. Beyond agreeing to support Brown’s defense and write an article, he regaled us with the incredible story of his friend, the filmmaker Laura Poitras, who had been repeatedly detained at airports for years without explanation, and how, as soon as he wrote and published something about what was happening to her, the abuses ceased, with her ability to travel freely and unmolested restored.
Greenwald’s article was just the boost that our campaign needed. Donations suddenly poured in like never before, and soon enough we were starting to feel like we had a shot at hiring counsel rather than letting Brown get stuck with his public defender. A couple weeks later the government requested an order from the court to seize the money, which was outrageous but fortunately shot down by the judge. I didn’t know a great deal about Greenwald when I met him, and I suppose I still don’t. I recognized him as a blogger and civil liberties advocate, and I had heard something about him defending white supremacists when he practiced law back in the 90s, and I knew he was engaged in various fights and debates with other bloggers. That’s it… But less than three months after my encounter with him, he would be in Hong Kong publishing initial stories based on documents from Edward Snowden, doing the work that would win him the Pulitzer Prize. Far out! I think he’d come away impressed by our interactions, and so Glenn was kind enough to be a recommendation for me when I applied to work at the EFF at the end of 2013. That someone who was at that stage arguably the most famous journalist in the world was recommending me for a job… It was a supremely cool and awesome feeling which I’ll never forget. And I cannot help but wonder to what extent Glenn’s coverage of Barrett, whose final tweets had alluded to nefarious secret projects of Booz Allen Hamilton, might’ve been influential to Ed.
In June 2013, on my birthday no less, Ed Snowden’s reveal of his identity, a video created by Laura Poitras titled “PRISM whistleblower” which had originally been embedded in a Guardian article, was cross-posted to my YouTube account, where it now has over 3.5 million views. At the same time, no doubt feeling a tad emboldened in my individual opposition to the unconstitutional surveillance apparatus, I fired off an e-mail to Snowden’s Lavabit account, an address which was already floating around after random people crowd-sourced its find from Twitter, simply thanking him for his extraordinarily brave action. As we know, Lavabit was subsequently targeted and its owner Ladar Levison chose to shut down the service rather than comply by handing over their private encryption keys.
Mid-month, at an event in D.C. — a panel discussing the Manning case, I met and spoke with Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who was then officially representing WikiLeaks as their lawyer. Mr. Ratner generously facilitated and had me on his radio show, and spoke at a benefit event we later organized, before he passed away in 2016. As he was participating in a street march/protest the same day, I was also able to meet and engage in a short conversation with the Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, who in time donated several signed copies of his memoir Secrets.
Just as Snowden came forward, support for Brown was also exploding and going mainstream, which kept me extremely busy. I took a phone call from Michael Hastings, the journalist who had written the 2010 story for Rolling Stone which resulted in General Stanley McChrystal handing in his resignation to President Obama. Sounding on edge and a bit rushed in his voice, he hoped to add his name and a statement of support to our website, and he also inquired with me about what he needed to do in order to obtain approval to visit Brown in jail.
About two weeks later, Michael perished in a fiery, high-speed car crash in Los Angeles. While all educated observers agree that the optics of his demise were highly suspicious, I have never explicitly endorsed the conspiracy theory that he was assassinated. I did attend his memorial services in Vermont, since it was only a short drive away from me. Vermont was stunningly beautiful in the middle of summer and it was a great occasion to reflect on the legacy and impact of his work which inspired me to think about what else I myself might be able to accomplish as a writer. And we simply dispensed the facts as respectfully as we could — that Michael and Barrett were friends, he was actually a member of Project PM, and that he had made future plans to visit with Brown and write about the case when he died. In fact, the case was referred to within his very last article for BuzzFeed.
In September of 2013 I was thrilled to learn that a literary essay I had written would be published in Volume Ten of Nexus: The International Henry Miller Journal. This represents the first time, to my knowledge, that my writing has been committed to hardcover print. As it happens by this time my primary focus had already been fixed somewhere way beyond the irrelevant ivory towers of academia and English departments, and was now rooted firmly in the more consequential phenomena of the real world — although I remain open to resuming studies for a more advanced degree someday. Between ’13 and ’14 at times I possessed the ability to tweet from @YourAnonNews and @AnonyOps, two shared high-follower Twitter accounts which gave me the ability to exercise some limited influence within Anonymous. During this time period I was also frequently a source for Cryptome, e-mailing them court documents that I had retrieved from PACER.
October 2013: I tweeted to @FreedomofPress concerning my interest in volunteering with them.
December 2013: I applied to work with the Electronic Frontier Foundation as a staff activist or technologist. I did not get the job, although I was one of three finalist candidates.
January 2014: I attended a SecureDrop hackathon at MIT, becoming an early, though non-prolific contributor to that project, which in time would explode in popularity and become favored by most major news organizations in the world.
March 2014: Having previously connected with Trevor Timm, who I’d long recognized as a Twitter personality named @WLLegal, and learned that he was leaving EFF to go full-time with Freedom of the Press Foundation; I begin part-time work with FPF, originally with the limited purview of taking over the responsibilities of Micah Lee, who was beginning a full-time job at First Look Media.
In summary my organization took in $100,000 for Barrett’s legal defense, and almost all of it was paid out to his lawyers, hopefully to their satisfaction. I was not compensated, though people pointed out perhaps I should’ve been, foremost among them Brown’s mother. I only spent a couple hundred dollars on supplies and operating expenses and accepted a fraction of Bitcoin. I’m tempted to declare that I ran one of the most successful legal defense campaigns of the past decade, and I stand by that claim unless there’s a challenger out there. So if I benefited at all from my own opportunism and fandom of Barrett as an iconoclastic writer, it wasn’t financially but instead through the building and enhancement of my reputation — which is appropriate. I would hope that I am considered as highly trustworthy by those who met me through that campaign and related endeavors. I consciously tried to be diplomatic, professional and polished about every detail; and prided myself on that, whereas I imagine that a typical jail support campaign formulated by a run-of-the-mill group of Anons would inevitably appear quite scrappy and sketchy, basically amateurish. Not to insult Anons; after all it was partly necessary to detach the public image of Brown from the possible criminality and illegality denoted by Anonymous, and to instead emphasize his overriding status as a journalist. But in any case, my efforts didn’t go unnoticed.
April 2014: Attended party in NYC to greet Greenwald and Poitras upon their return to the USA since disclosing mass-surveillance programs while abroad.
August 2014: Was profiled by masslive.com, which noted “Kevin Gallagher is now right at the center of one of the major criminal cases involving U.S. internet freedom issues.”
September 2014: Attended memorial service for ISIS-executed journalist James Foley.
January 2015: I moved to San Francisco to begin full-time work with Freedom of the Press Foundation. Thus began the most exciting, fulfilling and happiest period of my life. Our group won the 2016 Society of Professional Journalists James Madison Freedom of Information award.
April 2015: Helped artist Trevor Paglen install his “Autonomy Cube” exhibition at a gallery in SF. That summer I got to meet and have a picture taken with Conor Oberst, a musician and lyricist whom I had earlier idolized and identified with, having been invited backstage at one of his shows.
2015, WikiLeaks takes over ICWATCH website I am involved with publishing due to death threats we received. Its subsidiary Courage Foundation also works with me on taking over freebarrettbrown.org and donations for Barrett.
Was filmed by Brian Knappenberger and Alex Winter at different points.
Late 2016, member of original team which launched Zcash. Worked for Cloudflare and Pandora, but since 2018 I’ve mainly been engaged with private service contracts and projects, plus the intensive, self-directed and continuous study of computer science. Perhaps I’ll eventually spring for a Master’s degree in something.
Contributed to Spy Files releases, with unclassified (yet meant for LEO/IC) publicly-available documents and brochures that were obtained at conferences and trade shows.
February 2017: I filed a class action lawsuit against the DOJ and FBI over their illegal and improper subpoena of WePay, a payment processor which we had used to accept donations for Barrett Brown’s legal defense.
I may potentially have a lot more to say about some of these things, but I have not reached the age or hit upon the circumstances that would behoove me to write memoirs. In the meantime, keep following me and amplifying my content with a retweet or crediting if you ever see fit to do so.
Naturally, there are also a handful of wonderful women who I have dated. Yet here they shall remain nameless. I’ve been in love three times by the time of this writing.
I firmly believe that life is a gift which must not be wasted, and think it’s good to have ambitions and achievements. We should not sit on the sidelines as our lives pass us by.
I currently have several software and security-related projects in varying states of completion, and am working on a third album of music. I can report that the songs and progressions have been with me for years and I’m simply missing the lyrics/vocals and need to finish the recording and production process. I hope you will listen when it comes out.