The Difficult-to-Believe Case of Zak Smith's Innocence

I honestly did not imagine myself to be writing a piece like this on this blog. But I feel morally obligated to do so, given that I previously wrote a piece based on the firm assumption of his guilt.

Yesterday, Jeff Rients shared a link to an article based on an upcoming research paper by Dr. Clio Weisman. I'd encourage anyone who has, or has had, some interest in the OSR community and/or held some sort of opinion on the case of Zak Smith, to read it after reading this one.

tl;dr - The article is about the utterly bizarre lying, harassing and slandering behaviour that has somehow become prevalent in certain sectors of the Rennaisance-Formerly-Known-as-OSR. And Zak Smith sat at the heart of it, as its principal recipient. Dr. Weisman thus chose him as her case study. 

Long story short, Dr. Weisman lays out a meticulous and researched case that shows Smith to be targeted by OSR trolls for many years with a series of slanderous harassment campaigns, and also to be the victim of wholly false accusations of grave serial abusive behaviour towards his then-girlfriend Amanda Nagy. 

I will dwell a moment on formalia and the overall quality of the article before unpacking that bombshell there - The evidence is irrefutable. Recorded conversations obtained with permission where the perpetrators of the slander freely admit their wrongdoings. The research is thorough and though the author strikes me as clearly sympathetic to Zak Smith in all this, it is a sympathy that strikes me as derived from the many incredible facts she uncovered about his story.

On a critical note, I think the article is poorly structured and poorly phrased in places. It continually frontloads extraordinary claims, opinions and interpretive statements throughout in a manner that made my bias&agenda-detector go off and dwells too long on telling the story, before corroborating it with what turns out to be very strong evidence indeed. The piece ends up weaker in its presentation than it need to be, given how compelling the evidence actually is. A less narrative-driven approach would have served the author well, in my opinion.

Likewise, I would have wished that Dr Weisman also dwelled a bit on the question of "why Zak?" What made him the target of all this? It is a pity she doesn't, because I feel it is an important point with regard to the cognitive leaps and distortions such a case creates for people observing and involved, though I acknowledge this was not in scope for her article. 

But that is really what I want to write about - How difficult it is to believe that Smith is actually innocent, when it seemed so evident at one point that he was very likely guilty. 

I don't mean difficult in the sense of "hard to believe based on the facts" but in the sense of "cognitively hard for my mind to perform such a huge shift, even though the facts of the case clearly compel any honest observer to do so."

Let me first just say, in bullet points for clarity

  • I think Dr Weisman presents the case for his innocence clearly, saliently and in a way that is very hard to refute. 
  • I used to believe he was very likely guilty of Mandy's accusations. This was based on a number of what I call "cognitive persuasions" (more on this below).
  • I now believe it is highly unlikely he is guilty, based on 
    • the comprehensive amount of evidence to the contrary that was shown in the court cases and 
    • the circumstantial evidence that explains why Mandy would present such false accusations (long story short - this is definitely in scope for someone with borderline personality disorder).
I would invite anyone who has not read the article yet, and believe Zak to be guilty, to read it. But perhaps wait till you've finished reading this one. Because I still want to lay out why it is so difficult to believe.

This is where I go into deeper waters than I can righteously manage perhaps. Should Zak show up in the comments section and demand a retraction, I am likely to grant it, since I haven't the necessary zeal to thoroughly back up this claim. But I will posit it anyway, since I think it is likely to hold up (with apologies to Mr Smith, should he happen to disagree):

Zak Smith was, by most accounts, frequently a bit of a dick online.

He has, at various times, demonstrated himself to be abrasive, vindictive, aggressive and condescending.

From what I can tell, Zak's main online crimes were his dogged belligerence and his uncharitable browbeating of those who lacked his rhetorical skills, social confidence and persistence to engage with him on his terms.

Being unpleasant on the internet is not a crime of course, even if he was too unlikeable for someone like Patrick Stuart, who gets referenced in the article, to be able to maintain a friendship with, in the face of his own mental struggles.

This is of personal relevance to my own observation of the case, as I recall reading his denunciation of Zak well before Mandy's accusations came out and basically thinking 'huh, well that fits my diffuse impression and settles it enough for me to steer clear of all that." 

A critical side note on the quality of the article: Weisman summarises Stuart's main problem with Zak as "what amounts to tone on the internet." Which I find uncharitable. Say rather, perhaps, that a person with mental struggles struggled to maintain a friendship with someone who was repeatedly being unfriendly and making demands of him he struggled to meet.

Let me break out my own psychoterapy credentials (I am a certified therapist myself) and quote one of my mentors on the thorny issue of projection: "... All the same, it is also true that people very rarely project on to a blank canvas."

And here we come to the crux of this blog entry. Cognitive persuasions and how hard they are to move. I am not making the case for "well, Zak was a dick and thus had it coming." No, although it perhaps in part explains what made him such magnet for trolls in the years prior to Mandy's accusations (the majority parts of the explanation, and the entirety of responsibility for such actions, must be found in the complicated psyches of the perpetrators). But it does explain why I, personally, found it easier to believe that he could be guilty. And whilst that is very cognitively persuasive, it isn't right.

Over on Jeff's Gameblog, a comment references other commenters reactions to the article who "never liked Z and the SA allegations didn't matter, or that Z's unlikableness was "just as bad" as the SA." This to me is a complete failure of moral conscientiousness. 

It is chilling for me to observe that my image of the case was based on a seed perception of Zak being unpleasant online, passively amplified by persistent directed campaigns of pure slander and falsehood which I was only partially exposed to, further amplified by a variety of causal and vindictive lies amongst other creators I was also only partially exposed to, so that when Mandy's accusations came around, a critical mass of cognitive persuasions, for me and throughout the entire community, all came together to form a near-unassailable position that he was guilty.

The evidence that Zak should be not guilty are not new to Dr Weisman's article. They've been posted in many places and been presented multiple times in a court of law who found the accusations wholly unfounded, based not just on a lack of evidence for the accusations themselves, but on a comprehensive amount of evidence to the contrary.

I didn't read them, though I think I was perhaps invested enough as an observer of the ordeal, that I could have. As I recall, my instinctive reaction was along the lines of "why should I subject myself to the insidious arguments of an abuser?" The power of my cognitive persuasions at work. I simply blanked it. As did many others I reckon, and continue to do so. 

Considering my support of the MeToo movement, there is perhaps also a part of me that would find it very unfortunate in that light, if it should turn out that Mandy did in fact lie about it.

What most struck me most in the moments just after finishing Dr Weisman's article, was how effortful my mind found it to reach the conclusion that the evidence at hand clearly demanded I should reach.

Cognitively it's a long stretch of road for the mind to walk, from

"Zak seemed to be a charismatic a-hole who turned out to be a hard abuser"


"Zak was lied about online by a LOT of people for years and years and then his girlfriend lied about him abusing her and all the liars piled on, as did all the people who didn't like him, to create critical mass and get even many people who did like him to believe it".

I found it a hard position to settle into. Surely if I could be that wrong formerly, I could be just as wrong now? Perhaps there's evidence to the contrary just around the corner?
But there's a big difference of course. My belief then was based on a critical mass of impressions that I found persuasive and has now been informed by evidence, critical thinking (critical, I should note, of my own thought processes in particular) and a more structured analysis of the situation. It could still be wrong of course. Perhaps there is evidence of his guilt lying in a cabinet waiting to be uncovered. No knowledge is ever certain. But I think the case is settled beyond reasonable doubt. The courts have agreed multiple times.

Even so, though I have good reasons, moral reasons even, to change my mind, I found it effortful to do so. I had to swim upstream against my instinctive inclinations to get there, so to speak.
I recall even as I read the article, the moment she mentions Zak, thinking "oh, this is going to be a shit apologetic read, isn't it?"
And I don't think I would have even gotten there without the fortuitous circumstance of someone I find to have integrity, Jeff Rients, writing a blog about Weisman's article, and the article itself going through the case so conscientiously.

So I am writing this article for two reasons:

1. As my own apology for writing blog entries wherein I blankly assume Zak Smith's guilt, and thus for my own participation in his unjust de-platforming. It was a failure of scrutiny that lead to a failure of morality, for which I am regretful and sorry. 
I wish Zak the best of luck in clearing his name and any future endeavours.

2. To help others understand why they might find it difficult to change their minds about this matter themselves.

Here's the link to Dr Weisman's article. You should read it.


  1. Anyone can make mistakes. It's important that people who made the mistake do something to fix the damage that they caused. Thanks for writing this.

  2. I'm closely familiar with a similar case in the academic world. Someone who at times showed a careless or insensitive character, did not keep up with evolving norms, then got hit by some very heavy allegations that, while disproven in court, basically torpedoed their career.

  3. To believe Zak is guilty is to believe that all the folks he played D&D with were ignorant of, or allowed, the abuse to happen again and again. Then most (maybe all I don't know) of those players sided with him on the record. The claims against him don't pass the most basic smell test and they never really did.

    1. Folks he played D&D with and folks who lived with him and Mandy and folks who were Mandy's close friends - a lot of people who willingly went to court to defend him.

  4. well, sharing this entry on yielded a permanent ban. that's incredible.

    1. Well, Zak IS a banned topic on the forum. That said, the abruptness of the ban and the whole "we won't be saying any more about this" does raise some concerns.

    2. I checked before posting, and mentioned in the post that I hoped it was OK to post since Zak was actually not a banned topic.

      I got banned for "posting on behalf of a banned user" whatever that means (also no rule I can find referring to it).

      life goes on, but certainly strange. oh well.

    3. Honestly not surprised in the least. bans people a lot, sometimes for legit reasons, but often not. Their moderation is extremely biased, and far too immature to admit when they've made amistake.

    4. Yeah, nothing at all strange about it, several of the mods were part of the anti-Zak squad when that was all happening, or pals with the people who were. Of course they don't want anyone reading that they're complicit in a massive libel.

    5. I stand corrected, then. I scanned the rules myself and, indeed, couldn't find anything mentioned there to justify the ban. I guess I should not be too surprised.

  5. Thank you for writing this. It takes a lot of maturity to admit you've been wrong. Also, for those who are interested, here's a link to the audio clips that are missing from the internetarchive version of the article:

  6. What happened is thus: you moved from "believing what you read on the internet" to "believing what you read on the internet".

    And because one occurred after the other, you thinh the second one is 'right', so you now have the high moral ground.

    There's no maturity here, just a mind starved of drama feeding on the high of having the 'right opinion'.

    Get out of this while you can

    1. There's plenty of ground to go back and forth in, with regards to the epistemic character of all this. I covered my own ground on this during my philosophy studies to be satisfied with my position that there is a substantial difference between the two positions.

      I don't consider it a maturation, merely examining a situation I'll no doubt find myself in again. This time I felt compelled to speak due to my prior actions on it.

      Honestly, your "starved of drama, etc" hot take is just so much guff. It has nothing to do with me and who knows what it may be for you, since you are posting anonymously.

      I've said my piece to correct my previous actions. That's about all the engagement I care to have with all this

    2. "believing what you read on the internet" to "believing what you read on the internet".

      Except in the second case the folks admitted their lies on audio and in at least two cases on their blogs (although they claim deception, they never claim the comments attributed them were not theirs.)

  7. It is refreshing to finally see a normal reaction to Dr Weisman's article. Commendable of you to write this. Sad, yet unsurprising, that you got a ban from RPGnet... though not a huge loss, I dare say.

    1. became unfit for purpose long ago. It is no longer a place where one can have a discussion without tripping over a dozen constantly shifting and unwritten rules.

  8. guilty of what and then, accordingly innocent of what?

  9. The guilt of the persons mentioned in the article is hard to dispute. They should not be allowed to get away with their crimes.

    But...Zak was a pioneer of cancel culture. He was more then 'just a bit of a dick,' he vowed to purge the hobby of undesirables. Under the guise of 'fighting misinformation' he has sworn to deplatform all those who disagreed with him and that is still his current position.

    In particular, it is currently alleged by his former employer, Alexander Macris, also a victim of cancel culture and a recent target for Zaks ire, that Zak broke contract during his employment because Macris refused to fire a colleague Zak deemed 'transphobic', refused to return the money (which is theft in many places) and has been smearing him ever since, as late as 2023. This is ironic because Macris refused a similar request to stop association with Zak when he still employed him.

    This is the relevant thread where Zak inadvertently blunders and has to delete his own documents.

    For a full overview of his lawsuits, and the things that he will and will not tell, you can refer to this page. Based on the evidence, it is likely he is innocent of the crime of rape. But you should also refer to the outcome of the defamation case against Vivka Grey, in particular the 6 out of 8 of her statements that were found to be true by the judge and draw conclusions on Zaks personal morals. We can also consider the fine he was given for intimidating a witness. Or the dismissal with prejudice of his case against gencon for attempting to abuse the process of discovery.

    Yes Zak should get restitution from people that called him a rapist. But Zak is not an innocent. It is no coincidence that many of the same people that are accused now were friends and associates of Zak. He is perfectly comfortable with cancelling people and motivating this type of insane behavior.

    While people keep spreading this fake dichotomy and lying and downplaying there never be justice.

    1. The case is fairly straightforward. I slandered him when I wrote posts blankly assuming his guilt of a serious crime and supporting his deplatforming due to it, and that should be retracted and apologised for in light of the current evidence.

      I am not trying to establish that Zak was a good guy after all (I should think that's pretty clear from my assessment that he was always a bit of a dick), nor the depths to which he may be quite the unpleasant guy after all. I steered clear of all that before and don't intend to engage it now.

  10. I think you should read the article again. It's written in language that comes directly from Zak's own writing with that obsession with terms like lying and proof that aren't the language of any social scientist. The laugh line is when the alleged researcher mentions Zak as the only one she found that didn't harass anyone which is patently false. All we gather from this was that he was a target of a bunch of other jerks because he himself was a thin skinned jerk who could dish out but very much could not take it. Who knows the truth of his and Mandy's relationship but it doesn't take much imagination to thing that he was the sort of thin skinned, control freak in their relationship as he appears online. Even before her denunciation I suspected her home life was probably pretty miserable. Zak has never shown one ounce of contrition for anything or given any benefit of the doubt to anyone else. I do not know why anyone would do the same for him.

    1. Oh, we DO know the truth of it, at least from a court of law: several affidavits were signed that he didn't SA Mandy. Which you would know/acknowledge if you even did a cursory search.

      But... that would break up you and others' quaint hate-porn, wouldn't it? It's kind of unfortunate, because you're literally confirming the conclusion of that article, and you're not self-aware enough to see it.

      Oh, man. Kafka couldn't have dreamt of anything this ridiculous...


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