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

For Brick, the most troubling part has been people contacting the University of Minnesota Press, his book's publisher, to accuse him of plagiarism.

Longtime Action Squad member Jeremy Krans says he's called multiple times asking them to investigate.

"I think anybody that read those two passages could see why someone would feel that way," says Krans. "Maybe he did and maybe he didn't. Nobody knows. You can't prove it, but I can see why someone would feel that way. I feel that way."

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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Carlson also emailed the publisher about the Ford mines passage, but never filed a formal complaint. Asked why, he says he worried about the objectivity of the review and didn't feel the need to push the allegations beyond publishing them on his website.

Despite the accusations, the publisher has seen no reason to believe Brick plagiarized the passage, says Doug Armato, director of the University Press.

"My sense was this: If you read the book cover to cover, which I've done, Greg has done so many insane things," Armato says. "Why you would think he would need to make up anything just doesn't make sense to me."

Above all, Brick fervently argues that the anecdote is true, and was not borrowed from the Action Squad. In addition to the map, he presents as evidence a photo taken inside the Ford mines and his notes from the trip. Paula Laudenbach, a friend of Brick's who accompanied him to the mines, also signed a sworn affidavit affirming that Brick's account is accurate.

In September 2010, Brick hired noted First Amendment attorney Mark Anfinson to help silence the accusations, which he says have left him with a black mark as an academic, damaging his professional career and ability to find work in the field.

An attorney for the Minnesota Newspaper Association, Anfinson is not accustomed to arguing the limits of free speech; he's represented most of the local media outlets in the Twin Cities, including, at one time, City Pages. Before taking Brick's case, he had never in more than 30 years of practice found himself on the other side of the First Amendment.

But Anfinson believes this case is representative of a much larger problem: How the internet has created an unprecedented forum for anonymous defamation. He believes Brick's account of the Ford mines is accurate — if a guard fell asleep on the job once, he says, it's plausible he'd do it again. And even if it wasn't, the damage to Brick's reputation and career in academia would still be grossly disproportionate, given that the dispute is over three sentences in a 212-page book.

"This has been a pure and simple nightmare for Greg," Anfinson says. "He's lost an enormous amount of sleep. It's affected his personal relationships. It's been this dark cloud around his head."

After Brick hired Anfinson, he filed the lawsuit in summer 2011, alleging libel and emotional distress.

"Greg never really wanted to go to trial," says Anfinson. "He wanted to get Carlson's attention. And nothing else worked."


A year after Brick filed his lawsuit, Carlson hired media attorney John Borger. Along with Anfinson, Borger is among the small group of prominent First Amendment lawyers in Minnesota, having represented clients in many high-profile cases over the years, including several in the U.S. Supreme Court. He agreed to take Carlson's case pro bono after being contacted by the Online Media Legal Network, a group based out of the Harvard Law School whose mission is to protect the First Amendment.

In an interview in Borger's downtown Minneapolis office, Carlson argues that Brick has been the instigator throughout the dispute.

"I've actually tried to keep this down, to keep it from being a big deal," he says. "After I posted that first post on my site, I've never kept stirring the pot."

Aside from the original post, Carlson says he's written one negative review about Brick's book on Amazon, and signed it with his real name. He admits to sending Brick an email with a picture of a plaque created by other explorers, labeled "Biggest Drama Queen." In the email, sent after the lawsuit was filed, he also calls Brick a "craven, whiny little bitch," which Carlson now concedes was "ill advised." But he's adamant that he never instructed anyone to harass Brick.

"It's not been my goal to harass or ruin this guy," he says. "I just wanted to say what I thought had happened, and I did."

At this point, it remains to be seen if the lawsuit will ever see a courtroom. Brick and Carlson entered into mediation last fall, but couldn't come to a deal. Their attorneys have since been trading settlement offers.

On March 4, it appeared a settlement had finally been reached. Borger proposed a deal in which Carlson would remove any variation of the word "plagiarism" from his accusation and non-index the post, meaning it wouldn't be cached by a search engine and would be more difficult to find. In exchange, Brick would drop the lawsuit and post an alternate version of the Ford mines chapter on his website absent any references to the security guard or other explorers.

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12 comments
billwebster1963
billwebster1963

I was the Ford Employee who bought this to Ford  Managements attention.

The rabbit in the tunnel was left there as a joke when Paul Morarity  retired in 1996. Paul was the Maintenance man in the steam plant when he retired. When I sent this website to my boss he put it on the Security Managers computer just to mess with him. He didn't know that Ford Corp. was conducting a security review at that time. It ended up being a bad time to be in management at Ford TCAP. Max you made life interesting for us, Thanks and the security officer that wrote you was Bob  R.  and yes they used to sleep down by the steam plant

Max, I would like to talk to you

Bill



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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