Urban cavers fight over turf and free speech

How an exploration dispute between academic Greg Brick and Action Squad's Gabe Carlson became a vicious legal battle

In the piece, Brick makes a jabbing reference toward "point-and-click kids" that Carlson took as a personal insult to his group. He also confirmed that he was the one who locked the Heinrich Brewery.

"I thought that was kind of — pardon my French — but kind of a dick move," says Jeremy Krans, another Action Squad member. "It's not his place. None of us go locking things up trying to keep other people out."

Brick says his intentions were misinterpreted. The gated entrance leads to part of the cave where bats hibernate during the winter, and he was afraid that if too many people had access, the animals would be disturbed or killed.

The Action Squad atop Abbot Surgical Hospital, overlooking the city.
courtesy of Gabe Carlson/Action Squad
The Action Squad atop Abbot Surgical Hospital, overlooking the city.
Carlson, a.k.a. Max Action, on a trip the Ford mines.
courtesy of Gabe Carlson/Action Squad
Carlson, a.k.a. Max Action, on a trip the Ford mines.

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No matter the reason, the damage was done, recalls Dockery. "That was the beginning of the end."


Eight years after the article came out, an urban explorer named Nick Johannes unknowingly walked into a signing for Brick's book, Subterranean Twin Cities, at Common Good Books in St. Paul.

Johannes was a regular on the Action Squad website during his more active exploration days, so he was well aware of the rivalry. But he didn't have any personal qualms with Brick, and he decided to introduce himself.

After they exchanged pleasantries, Brick gave him a book to pass on to Carlson. "To Max Action," Brick wrote on the title page. "With Best Regards, Greg Brick."

He hadn't seen Carlson in months, but Johannes decided to head straight over to his house to give him the book. "Wait until Gabe gets a whiff of this," he remembers thinking.

When he arrived, Carlson was sitting in his living room with a few friends, all explorers, already talking about Brick. Another friend had called to tell them about the signing, and that Brick wanted Carlson to "come pay your respects."

As they collectively flipped through the book, they immediately discovered critical passages that appeared to refer to the Action Squad, and took turns reading them aloud. In the book's introduction, Brick laments how "would-be explorers" began revealing the locations of caves, leading tourists and vandals to the once-secret locations.

"I believe that many urban exploration websites are ultimately self-defeating, unwittingly destroying access for fellow explorers," he writes.

Later in the book, he chastises "careless urban explorers" for exposing the entrance to the Ford mines online, "thus wrecking it for everyone including themselves."

When Johannes came upon the passage about the security guard, he silenced the group to read it.

"On one occasion we did have a close call," writes Brick. "After spending hours exploring the mines, we exited to find a Ford security vehicle parked smack across from us. But the driver was asleep, so we were able to make good our escape."

Carlson was speechless, he says. "I thought he was just messing with me, and said that to get a rise out of me. I made him actually hand me the book so I could see it myself and read it. I was in disbelief."

Everyone in the room agreed it was too similar to be a coincidence. Over the next few days, Carlson spoke with others in the community who also shared his opinion, and he drafted an open letter on the Action Squad website accusing Brick of stealing the story. In a post titled "Pedantry and Plagiarism," Carlson rehashed the sordid past between Brick and the Action Squad, and the story about Brick locking the cave.

"UN. FUCKING. REAL," the post ends. "Sometimes you just have to laugh. I have no idea what the hell he could have been thinking, or why he did it — but I'm glad he did, and showed his true colors. Hey Greg Brick — I think you owe Action Squad an apology."


On a recent afternoon, Brick doesn't want to meet in public. He's afraid talking about the case could draw stares, and if the wrong person overheard, it could be used against him. So he arranges to be interviewed in an empty classroom in the geology department at the U of M.

Brick doesn't deny the legitimacy of Carlson's story about going to the Ford mines. He believes they both shared a similar experience, and Carlson's accusations are merely an attempt to ruin his reputation.

"It's such an absolutely trivial event," Brick says. "It's a red herring, and what he's trying to do is just distract attention away from other things. If he can discredit me as an author, then he doesn't have to answer other arguments I make in the book."

Since the book came out, Brick has experienced what he describes as constant harassment. Someone started a Facebook page under the name "Craig Blick," designed to mock him, as well as a bogus LinkedIn account for "Osama Bin Laden," listing under the employment section, "Pig Farmer at Greg Brick Homo farms." Dozens of negative reviews were posted to his book's page on Amazon, some accusing him of plagiarism (many of which Brick has gotten Amazon to delete).

"People get to come in anonymously and say whatever they want — the nastiest things," Brick says. "And then he can claim that he's not responsible for that, but he's the one who initiated this whole thing."

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11 comments
MaxActionSquadMPLS
MaxActionSquadMPLS

While this thankfully wasn't an outright smear-job like the 2001 CP article was, it nonetheless contained several inaccuracies, didn't include a link to the page the lawsuit is all about (http://www.actionsquad.org/Greg-Brick-Subterranean-Twin-Cities.htm), and did quite a remarkably poor job explaining my side of this situation.

So I thought I would post a comment containing a simple list of reasons that we do not believe that the same thing really happened to Greg, as he claims. 

  • the written witness account from Brick's friend (who was with him the night that they accessed the mines, using the entrance we'd found & shared) labelled Greg's Ford Mines story as "inaccurate" - and revealed that the vehicle Greg saw was "several hundred yards away" from the mine exit.  (Brick wrote that it was "smack across" from them, upon exiting the mine  - as it was in the Action Squad story).

  • in Brick's (since deleted) response to my Amazon book review, he claimed that Ford security "always" parked their vehicles across from the mine entrance - and that this proves that I am "unfamiliar with the mines." (ha) 

  • also in that review, Brick made the bizarre claim that he knows that security guards commonly slept there / parked their trucks there - because a friend of his monitored Ford security's radio conversations. (?!?)

  • yet, in dozens and dozens of explorations by dozens of other local explorers, no one else EVER saw a guard sleeping there upon approach or exit, or even saw a truck parked anywhere near the mine entrance. And of course, not one other person or group was either busted or almost busted coming from the mines.

  • Brick was clearly well-aware of the Action Squad site's Ford story (he actually referred to it in the same paragraph, and must have written that passage of his book with the incredible similarity to the story in mind) - yet the alleged surprising coincidence had never came up before the book was published, in ~10 years.

  • witness accounts from Greg's friend (and his friend's wife - both of whom were with him the night he went into the Ford Mines after they learned of the entrance we'd found) do not include ANY mention of a sleeping guard, or even any mention of Brick reporting having seen one at the time - although this seems likely to have been a highly memorable aspect of the event (particularly in light of the well-known story on the Action Squad site)

I know well - better than most, perhaps - that crazy coincidences can and do happen.

However, for the reasons above (in addition to the way Greg has since behaved, and how he seems so clearly motivated by SPITE in his dealings with other explorers), I continue to believe that Greg inserted the sleeping guard story in his book - likely in an effort to anger me in a way he thought I would be impotent to do anything about.

It's been a pain in the butt dealing with the legal threats and intimidation, and I'll be happy to see it all finally go away with the upcoming settlement - but I don't regret it, and I still stand by everything I've written. 

Max Action

relux
relux

I see comments are being deleted from this article. Is Greg Brick also convincing the City Pages to squash free speech now too? Incredible. 

Squeamish
Squeamish

From the 2001 article, linked below by Relux:  "Brick decided he would try to emulate the adventure. After going down the same manhole three weeks later, however, Brick and his longtime sewering companion John were alarmed to see that NMT's flow had increased. "I just started feeling so fucking weird," Brick remembers. "Then John looked at me, and he said, 'Let's get out of here.' He said it. But I probably would have if he hadn't. We just hightailed out of there." It was a bitter setback. "I just steamed about it all winter," Brick says now. "It was like I'd been shown up by some greenhorn.""

Later, in the same article:   "[Brick's] just very into the historical thing, and he almost scorns the idea of being into this for any thrills or adrenaline, which is important to most of us," Max says. "I like risk. I like getting into places at night where I'm not supposed to be."

 ..."To me, that's just a nuisance," Brick counters. "The difference is between people who come from a caving background and people who come from a trespassing background. A lot of cave work is boring. You do a prospecting trip, then you come back and you do some digging. You know, that's boring to a lot of these point-and-click kids. They're not willing to put in the back-breaking effort."

 --So who here is coming from a caving background?  Not to mention, I have been part of the Twin Cities urban exploring community for many years and I can attest that there are many explorers who will spend countless days of hard work (e. g. digging) to get into a new location.  Like it or not, Greg, we're not point-and-click kids.

lucid
lucid

Great article, with lots of implications for free speech and censorship!

Seems to me that it's amazingly hypocritical that Mr. Brick goes out of his way to complain about websites revealing the caves in his book that's written with the soul purpose of revealing the caves. Someone needs to get off their soapbox.

relux
relux

After reading this article and specifically the part about this lock that Brick admitted to placing, I have a few thoughts. Strangely, the 2001 article that is mentioned is not linked (http://www.citypages.com/2001-10-17/news/notes-from-underground/). 

City Pages 10/17/2001
GREG BRICK: "I don't know if it's selfishness or whatever. Maybe I just want the cave to myself," he says. "And it's not the only time it's happened. I guess I just like having my own little keys to the underworld. I know it's not mine. It's not my cave or my sewer tunnel to lock off, but I do it anyway. Isn't that bizarre?"

City pages 03/06/2013
GREG BRICK: "Brick says his intentions were misinterpreted. The gated entrance leads to part of the cave where bats hibernate during the winter, and he was afraid that if too many people had access, the animals would be disturbed or killed."

--
I guess I am confused here as to what was misinterpreted. In 2001, he offered that maybe he locked it because of selfishness "or whatever". But really, he said he just maybe wanted the cave to himself. Then he said it's actually because he wanted to "have his own little key to the underground". 

He then went on further to say he knows its not his cave or sewer tunnel to lock off, but he does it anyways. However, previously in the same City Pages article, he says "The difference is between people who come from a caving background and people who come from a trespassing background." So who here is coming from a caving background? 

Now, after 11 years he graciously offers us a 4th reason he locked the gate. Naturally, this one falls more in line with the image he is trying to rewrite for himself. Yeah, dude. I'm sure. You were thinking of the bats. 

To answer Greg's own question of "Isn't it bizarre?". Why, yes, Greg. It is bizarre. You can't reshape history. 

ManikawG
ManikawG

"This has been a pure and simple nightmare for Greg".

Yeah, that's what happens when you try and suppress free speech. Imagine the nightmares people have in Myanmar. 

Markus.Amberson
Markus.Amberson

Well written and fascinating story. Like many others who read this, I had no idea such stuff existed and never heard of "Action Squad". From all accounts, Greg Brick appears to come across as a professional but the article never mentions what he does for a living. Certainly at age 50, there would be some type of career involved here. Is he just an assistant to a researcher? 

Looking at the Action Squad website it looks like it hasn't been updated in ages. Why does Greg even care about Action Squad? Is this group that important that he feels they have the power to undermine his writings? It seems to me that Action Squad are a bunch of kids that are doing what kids do. Explore their city. It happens everywhere. People say mean things about people all the time.

I don't know I could come up with another case of someone as old as this dude fighting a bunch of kids over something they said on the internet. What a waste of time.

EmilyErikson71
EmilyErikson71

This greg brick is a doctoral candidate? He reminds me of the senior in high school that would always pick fights with the cooler more hip freshman. Except this guy is 50 years old. Sad sad state of affairs. Get a life.

olso6311
olso6311

@Markus.Amberson Brick is a geologist and historian, as well as a caver.  I purchased the book awhile back and it is both well-written and informative, but he has handled this situation poorly.  He's tried to take UE into a professional thing, blaming the 'no-good punk pipe rats' (i.e. action squad) who have done nothing wrong, never once directly revealing a location on the site.

And the site has been defunct for awhile as the group has dwindled in size and I think Max just doesn't want to be web-master anymore.  Both parties are well informed, and in a sense, well intentioned, Brick is just being a little immature about this, as he DID steal the Ford story from Action Squad.

dennislang07
dennislang07

Fascinating story beautifully covered by the author. Yes, it's about people who explore caves afterall but does have far wider 1st Amendment implications. Of especial interest is the role of attorney Anfinson. To my knowledge no more vigorous advocate of free speech anywhere now on the other side of the table. If this case went all the way would be truly intriguing to see how it's decided. One of the great virtues of the internet is as  platform to share information, also one of its potentially devious detriments--no guarantees that information is credible.. Nice article!

 
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