Testimonial from Sam Weatherald (2015-present)

I have known Stephen Reid since what seems to be recognised as the first ‘Find the Others’ (FTO) gathering, ‘Jurassica Spectacular’ in late 2015. I became increasingly involved with the gatherings and the extended community around them and was a co-lead organiser for one of them (‘the Rewylding’). I also lived with Steve briefly. 

It was not an easy decision to sign the statement in support of Steve, highly qualified though it is. For a long time, Steve and the community and gatherings associated with him here - and my mostly enthusiastic participation in them -  have been the source of tension and division in both my intimate personal life and wider friendship network. There are likely to be negative personal consequences for me for doing so. 

I know many of the individuals in the Seeds of Solidarity collective who have written testimonials making accusations against Steve and consider them people of integrity, courage and conviction who I highly respect. They are some of the people who I was most delighted to get to know via the communities and circles discussed in the allegations, and in many ways identified with the most politically. I consider many of them friends and truly hope we can remain so, though I fear I will now be declared an ‘enabler’ by the collective. This episode will surely strain many relationships as it plays out. I do not wish to cast doubt on their moving and revealing testimonials - much of it I know to be true and that which I don’t know to be true, I believe. I also do not wish to call into question their motives at all, which I genuinely believe are to prevent further harm and hold Stephen accountable for his actions: I support this. 

In the case of the allegations of sexual misconduct it is not appropriate for me to comment at all other than to say they should of course be taken extremely seriously.

I wish, however, to add some context and reflections, because fundamentally I believe the manner in which the testimonials have been gathered, combined and summarised, and the patterns and conclusions formed, lack balance and overall paint a misleading picture. I do not believe the answer to the question ‘Who is Stephen Reid?’ is answered by that website , nor is much of the content even attempting to answer it - much of it contains a much broader critique of the psychedelic and ‘burner’ community, one in which many people, myself included, are implicated. I believe combining the specific personal accusations against Steve and the broader critiques - while connected and understandable - muddies things. I will speak here to both separately.

In relation to Steve - I will not speak to the specific accusations, some of which were before I knew him, but some of the wider character criticisms. As the statement on this website says, it is abundantly clear Steve is ‘neurodivergent’ - he simply does not think and feel in a typical way. I say this as someone who is also diagnosed as and identifies as neurodivergent (in a very different way), and someone with a degree of familiarity with neurodiversity discourse having organised a festival exploring it. 

Some of the accusations centre around Steve behaving ‘strangely’, sometimes on the influence of psychedelics (wandering around naked in the desert at a festival where that kind of behaviour is entirely socially sanctioned, approaching a couple ‘forcefully’, whatever that means), but mostly in the process of dealing his relationships: he acted ‘oddly’ and started ‘weeping in front of everyone’ in a men’s circle while speaking positively about the relationship of another man with an accuser; he went down on one knee and kissed the hand of a friend while she was emotionally detailing the hurt she felt in their relationship in a mediation; he made ‘strange faces’ at someone who had criticised his behaviour speaking at an event. Some of the accounts seem almost to be shaming this strangeness as a negative thing in itself as if he’s basically doing emotions wrong, which I find uncomfortable and surprising, especially given the clear familiarity with and respect for neurodiversity from the collective - one of whom introduced me to the term. Some of the other accounts - which I repeat I believe -  make highly speculative, negative  interpretations of his behaviour however, as ‘sociopathic’, ‘manipulative’ and / or ‘performative’ for his own benefit. Evidently if it was performative for his own benefit it evidently wasn’t particularly effective in these cases! While I cannot say whether or to what extent these speculations are true - probably there is at least some truth to them - there are other ways of interpreting his behaviour. In one sense I believe Steve does indeed ‘perform’ his emotions for instance. We all do this to some extent, but for many neurodivergent people - some autistic people for example, who neither naturally feel or express emotions the way neurotypical people do, ‘performing’ emotions is both a learned survival method and a genuine way of caring for others. An autistic man once told me while we were speaking ‘So right now I’m making eye contact with you and smiling - I had to consciously learn to do that’. Many neurodivergent people are constantly tasked with catering to other people’s comfort zone around the ‘appropriate’ way to demonstrate warmth, trustworthiness and emotional sensitivity to facilitate interaction, and they often fail or do so inappropriately. That doesn’t mean they don’t care. I for one believe for all of his mistakes, flaws, and insensitivities, Steve cares a lot, and it is not fair to simply assert that he feels no empathy or remorse when people experience pain in relation to his behaviour. 

Is is also abundantly clear to me and to everyone who has known that whatever he was guilty of in the period in question, Steve over recent years that has grown, changed, matured hugely, and has gone to great lengths to respond to the criticisms both personally and professionally, as has been described in detail in his response and in other testimonies. 

He’s still a total fucking weirdo, but that’s not and should not be a crime. 

In relation to the wider FTO community and gatherings it is worth emphasising that neither Steve nor any of the original instigators created the basic format or culture for these gatherings. The initial ones were firmly rooted in ‘burner’ principles as expressed at festivals like Burning Man and Nowhere: anarchic ‘co created’ sex and drug positive events where ‘radical self-reliance’ is prized. These festivals themselves were inspired by west coast American libertarian psychedelic culture in which the (yes often white, male) individual boundary pushing ‘trip’ is valorised and participants are invited to take responsibility for themselves psychologically and physically. These spaces are wonderful in numerous ways - and have certainly been transformational, healing and liberatory for many. Yet they are also a perfect recipe for the ‘tyranny of structurelessness’ and various forms of oppressive power dynamics as described by the collective, as well as people pushing their own and each other’s boundaries too far. A culture of collective care and a more sophisticated analysis, grounded in feminism and other anti-oppression discourse, of the way that power and privilege operates in these conditions has also emerged within these communities and gatherings but in some ways perhaps it is not in their DNA - one of the major and most important critiques of the entire culture particularly from a left wing perspective. In this way they are a microcosm of the wider ‘default world’ they seek to subvert. 

In some ways I think the main way the FTO gatherings mentioned in the testimonials differed from these festivals was their size - generally from 80 - 150 people. The so called ‘Dunbar number’ : tribe size… Never big enough that you couldn’t start and end with a circle where you could see and be seen by everyone. Ritual like this, as well as various other forms of spiritual exploration also emerged as a core part of the culture.  I think both of these elements were a key ingredient in both the success of the gatherings and the pain they were to unleash, because after 3/4 days of collective and largely joyous experiments with powerful drugs, intimacy, creativity spirituality and consciousness, that sense of tribal belonging - which most of us are painfully lacking in was immensely powerful and more intoxicating and addictive than any drug. It felt like community. Though I reject the ‘cult’ description, this dynamic I believe is what is being referred to. It felt like a huge loss to me when I couldn’t attend for a few years due to early parenthood for example. 

What happens when that community doesn’t truly sustain itself between gatherings?  What are its boundaries? How are decisions made and who gets to decide who’s included? And how is inevitable conflict - as well as clear examples of abuse of power, which are not the same thing - dealt with when the community feels deep and real but only really emerges in fleeting and shifting form every few months? These are thorny problems which were spoken and clumsily addressed but never resolved, and much resentment and hurt was left in their wake. These are also common problems to every community, radical or otherwise - which is not to downplay them at all, particularly in the context of a community which hubristically thought of itself as utopian, progressive and on the cutting edge of culture change. In retrospect, we were absolutely playing with fire and it was mostly vulnerable people, as usual, who got burned. Steve always said he had no intention of creating a close knit community via the gatherings or the ‘Find the Others' Facebook group, which I both believe and think was naive at best, and at worst I agree denied the appropriate level of care and responsibility when these social dynamics inevitably emerged - but we all struggled to know how to navigate these dynamics. 

I say all this mainly to emphasise what has been mentioned in some of the original testimonials, but seems not to really be clear enough in the critical framing of them. Steve was a core instigator of these particular gatherings sure, but he didn’t invent this type of gathering, and he was only one of at least twenty or thirty driving forces behind the gatherings mentioned - including some of the people making testimonials. While he clearly has personal accusations to answer for he should not be used as a scape-goat for the wider evident harm that has occurred - which by all accounts he did make many (flawed) efforts alongside others involved to respond to. An example of this in relation to steps Steve took is I distinctly remember him explicitly saying at an opening circle of I believe the second event (Purbeck) ‘If you have never taken a psychedelic before, this is not the place or time to do so’ - I certainly did not witness him handing out psychedelics indiscriminately. In terms of the wider response, buddy systems, welfare spaces and sober welfare volunteer systems were set up (I do not recall specifically but would not be surprised if much of this emotional labour was indeed disproportionately done by women).  From their chaotic beginnings, the gatherings became progressively safer spaces in my view, though never entirely safe - could they ever be given their nature? Though clearly not the safest of ‘settings’ for psychedelic use however (in a small group of trusted friends, ideally with a sober trip sitter, in a simple and predictable environment), I would still say these were much better places to be experimenting with psychedelics and / or intimacy than the average festival or party where none of the above systems are usually in place. And after all, that is what many or most of the people came to these gatherings to do. 

In relation to attempted collective learnings around patriarchy, race, colonialism, and other oppressive dynamics, in my experience of the culture around these events this was explicitly welcomed - though participants (including women and POC) may not have agreed with every element of anti-oppression discourse particularly on highly nuanced topics like cultural appropriation where there is reasonable disagreement . Though I am personally on the left and am sympathetic to these discourses I also valued the political diversity of the events - it felt like less of an echo chamber than other more politically homogenous communities I am part of, which meant much of the conflict and tension was highly generative. We were learning a lot from each other, to the extent we were able to remain in conversation.

I did however also notice that the creative intersection of activists and hippies / politics and spirituality which I encountered when I first attended the gatherings gradually gave way to a space where political discourse and politically inclined participants were less present, which I felt was a huge shame. To the extent that this was due to political insights, values and critiques feeling unwelcome or ‘too negative’ I absolutely agree this is indeed a reflection of ‘toxic positivity’ and ‘spiritual bypassing’ as the collective claim. I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that most of the testimonials come from people on the political left. I share much of their analysis of the problematic nature of this culture, yet I myself always saw many more positives than negatives in the community and regularly witnessed people growing, learning and evolving in response to feedback, as did I - though I also fully recognise I was much less subject to the dynamics discussed.

To all the accusers I repeat - I hear you, I believe you,  I recognise the truth in much of what you say, share much of your analysis and support taking steps to prevent future harm. I just don’t believe crucifying one flawed individual like this in a suggestive and misleading way is the way to do it. Perhaps a useful conversation will be stimulated as a result - around collective care and consent in drug and sex positive spaces, around patriarchy and other forms of oppression that operate in this culture as they do in the culture surrounding it. Perhaps harm will be prevented as a result. But that conversation will not be the answer to the question ‘Who is Stephen Reid?’. And I do not believe the answer to that question is ‘a monster’ who deserved to be publicly shamed and humiliated in order to facilitate that conversation. 

— Sam Weatherald