We’ve observed different types and degrees of #CostumeClub drama over a period of more than 10 years, but never have we seen something as “grand mal” as this: in a secret hearing held by the world’s largest costume club, the 501st Legion, the club’s president (called the Legion Commanding Officer, or LCO) was found “guilty” of a minor offense and sentencing her to a six-month suspension from the club. This effectively removed her from the position of LCO that she had been elected to in February, 2020.
How did this happen? Well, this is an incredibly long story if you try to sit down and read the entirety of the reams of copied forum posts that have been made public. But, we’ll try to summarize it here as best as we can:
- The LCO, under her authority to oversee the club, questioned the leadership of the UKG (the 501st local chapter, or garrison, in the United Kingdom) about their charitable donation practices, which include the possible misuse of collected funds, as well as the possible intimidation of UKG members to donate in order to be permitted to participate at club events. In other words, “pay for play”, which is a violation of the 501st’s charter, as is the possible misuse of the collected funds.
- Members of the UKG leadership accused the LCO of “humiliating” them on their forum and brought charges against her.
- Using the club’s bylaws, the Legion leadership then held a hearing (a secretive hearing that the overall membership had no knowledge of until it was too late) in which the LCO was found guilty and sentenced to a six month suspension, effectively removing her from the position of LCO.
Here are the problems with what unfolded:
- It is highly questionable as to whether the LCO actually humiliated anyone. This has the appearance of accusing her of something to prevent her from finding out what the UKG was doing with the collected charitable donations and how they were being collected.
- While the UKG leadership claims that their charitable donation practices are completely legal, no independent review has been conducted to verify this.
- The UKG’s vindictive reaction to the LCO questioning their charitable donation practices gives the impression that they are indeed hiding something.
Ultimately, the secretive hearing and removal of the LCO under questionable circumstances has created a massive backlash and argument among the 14,000+ member strong costume club.
A reddit post on this subject states the following, though we cannot fully verify the claims made therein:
Over the weekend the Star Wars costuming group the 501st Legion suspended membership of Dawn “Kylo Ren” Bright, after she attempted to investigate charity money mishandling by the UK Garrison. This was done in a closed door hearing, with membership unaware of the event until it’s conclusion. This hearing was pushed by a sub-group of the 501st known as Project Mayhem.
The unofficial group of 501st members being referred to as “Project Mayhem” is not something that we are familiar with, but its existence is entirely plausible, but unverified.
The reddit post goes on as follows, but that claims are not fully verified:
For the past year and a half, there has been a movement inside the 501st Legion to attack and harass the Mid West Garrison (the Chicago group) over issues over the Star Wars Celebration Chicago event. This group has attacked the chicago folks, accusing them of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars, while the chicago folks have responded that because of one of the previous heads of the 501st and the actions of him removing their non-profit tax id from some of the celebration events, the chicago group owed thousands for some of the 501st events at celebration chicago.
During one of the latest hunts by this group (“Project Mayhem”) started to make demands that the head of the 501st, Dawn Bright (who is known for doing a lot of the work on the Kylo Ren costume), go after the chicago folks. During this fight, Dawn brought up that the UK Garrison (PM has multiple UKG members) appeared to have some very funny financial stuff going on, using a data-scraping app that reported that the UKG had over $4,000,000 in their bank account. She also leaked a video of UKG members talking about this “charity slush fund” account. A huge argument ensued over her bringing this stuff to light.
Flash forward to May, and into early June. The UKG pushes for a harassment charge against Dawn, claiming that her questioning the financial stuff involving the $4,000,000 was her attacking individual members. There is a private hearing (many of the images are screen grabs from these private threads) and she is found guilty of a minor offense per the 501st charter. They then decided to suspend her, and remove her from office. All of this was done without the general memberships knowledge. Membership woke up on Sunday to find that their elected leader was now banned from the site, and stripped of her title.
Keep in mind, Project Mayhem has gone against multiple members over the past year, often with ties to the chicago group, or individuals that have spoken out against their abuse of power, bullying, harassment, and fear tactics.
Suffice it to say that enough 501st Legion members are sufficiently angry, that they copied all of the relevant internal dialogs both on the official 501st forum and on the UKG forum to shed light on what occurred. (This is the incredibly long document that we referred to earlier.)
According to the same reddit post (and we have independently verified), Albin Johnson, the man who founded the 501st Legion over 20 years ago, posted the following statement on this very troubling subject:
I find it absurdly ironic that certain UKG members, for all their fine points, act like babies whenever any criticism is leveled at them. If material is brought forth, then just defend it. Like you expect EVERYONE else to do. Seriously, the amount of second-guessing, assumption-of-the-worst, skepticism, patronizing, and condescension leveled at any critic of UKG policies speaks to some kind of over-compensation that itself is suspicious. Don’t like an LCO? Badger away at them for a few months. Don’t like a ruling? Hit the bully pulpit about it when you get back. Not happy with running a completely unconventional operation that no other Garrison runs and being tolerated for it? Just complain you’re being persecuted somehow. I didn’t agree with the execution of Dawn’s process (note: I was conspicuously silent instead of jumping onboard). But to have her suspended for bullying? Seriously? What kind of upside down one-sided logic is running here? None of the most prominent, consistent critics of Legion Command would tolerate even the slightest degree of criticism and questioning from inside their own units – that stuff is snuffed out. But they are happy to do it here! They eat up all this free speech and make the most of it to sow dissent (not progress). But back home, forget about it – their critics remain silent or disappear outside of any Legion oversight.
The future of the club is this: unless people get passionate about bringing a positive environment and worthy goals then the forum members getting their ya-ya’s over beating people up as a sport will run this entire show. This club is the laughing stock of every Star Wars fan group, media outlet, and convention partner we have. I hear it in side-bars on almost every meeting I have with them and all the way up to the top. Lots of sighs and uncomfortable head shaking. They work with us because of the niche we’ve carved out for ourselves (many of the newer and louder voices had little to do with that, btw). Now history tells me that my above criticism will elicit a rebuttal wave of criticism against me personally (okay fine) and gasps of disbelief as if I’m disparaging the good name of the fine ol’ Legion. Someone will likely assume a fake high-ground to trumpet how awesome we are in spite of how bad Legion Command has gotten – this will serve to show they still have the best interest of the Legion at heart. But they don’t. No one can be more proud of the Legion than I am – I built this system along with all the freedom of speech that allows haters to breed (oh, the regrets sometimes). But like a proud papa (that’s right, I’m your daddy) I speak hard truths out of love. And like a bunch of surly privileged teenagers, those of you who’ve spent the last three years spewing negativity and printing up PM swag like a bunch of anarchists won’t listen. You are zealots. Zealots are intractably right, never open to change, obsessed with a feverish goal of domination. The rest of the Legion is too nice or too easily bored with arguing over this anymore and don’t come onto the forums. They’re out there actually making the club look good, all the while the grass under their feet turns brown. So there’s my ‘future of the club’ prognostication: use the forums to hammer out good policies, joke around like brothers and sisters, build one another up over costume projects, spin wild ideas for future plans for the club, work out solutions for real-world challenges like social distancing… or else this endless cycle of one-up-man-ship will drive out the last of the fun people and be left for the scavengers. Will Disney stomp on us then? No. Disney will likely not impose any restrictions on us because they want to keep their consumers happy and we’re too big now. But another club will eclipse us and the 501st will be a relic. Because it was hopes and dreams that got us here – none of this was built on what we got going on now. The choice is yours.
We’ve seen costume club drama before and we’ve posted about it before, and it’s not the first time that we’ve talked about drama in the 501st Legion: it was under 2 years ago (October, 2018) when Ray Park and Daniel Logan both publicly quit being honorary members of the 501st Legion over how they were being treated buy Legion members, and that’s only one example. But, this is truly the worst drama we’ve seen in the 501st and as far as we’re concerned, the 501st’s claim to be the “world’s premier costume club” is no longer valid.
Further information: part of what the ousted LCO tried to discuss when trying to understand UKG’s charitable donation practices is part of a 2019 documentary shared in a YouTube video featuring the UKG. UKG’s description of those practices begins at about the 15-minute mark of the video.