The Great War of Rastb5: How a cabal of trolls in the Babylon 5 newsgroup led the show’s creator to flouncing from the newsgroup, ultimately causing the most responded to RFD in Usenet history and the creation of a 2nd Babylon 5 newsgroup

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Title: The Great War of Rastb5: How a cabal of trolls in the Babylon 5 newsgroup led the show’s creator to flouncing from the newsgroup, ultimately causing the most responded to RFD in Usenet history and the creation of a 2nd Babylon 5 newsgroup
Creator: 3eyedgiraffe
Date(s): 2021
Medium: Reddit
Fandom: Babylon 5
External Links: [1]
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

The Great War of Rastb5: How a cabal of trolls in the Babylon 5 newsgroup led the show’s creator to flouncing from the newsgroup, ultimately causing the most responded to RFD in Usenet history and the creation of a 2nd Babylon 5 newsgroup is 2021 a Reddit post by 3eyedgiraffe at r/HobbyDrama.

Some Topics Discussed

  • this post is (primarily) about drama between November 1994 and March 1996
  • rastb5 and rastb5.mod
  • trolls
  • fan entitlement and relentlessness
  • JMS's flounce, see jms resigns rastb5
  • JMS's presence and activities in fannish spaces, using and abusing power
  • a lot of fan boy-ing, a lot of "our creator can do no wrong"
  • JMS calling out for other fans to report a fan to their service provider
  • JMS plugging one of Harlan Ellison's books, and fans having mixed feelings about being used in this promotional way
  • JMS keeping a justified secret
  • anger

Article Headers

  • An Overview
  • In the Beginning
  • “Yo Theron”: JMS Makes a Callout Post (and I mean a CALLOUT post)
  • JMS “Abuses” the Newsgroup… by posting an ad of a friend’s book
  • So… What the Hell Was Going [On]?
  • JMS Makes Yet Another Callout Post
  • The Flounce to End All Flounces
  • The Highest Participation to Any RFD in Usenet History: The Creation of rastb5.mod
  • The Fallout
  • Today?

Embedded Links

From the Essay

Between the years 1994 and 1995 [1], a group of infamous trolls sparked into existence a great flamewar that sundered a once-beloved newsgroup. From the ashes of this newsgroup came two (2) twin newsgroups--rastb5 and rastb5.mod. Yes, two newsgroups for the same sci-fi show--an unprecedented thing in the dawn of early fandom culture on Usenet. What makes this more spectacular is that the proposal for the new moderated Babylon 5 newsgroup was, at that time, the most responded to Request for Discussion (RFD) in Usenet's history. That is how much fans of the series wanted to escape the flames.

In 1993, Babylon 5 premiered, and immediately sci-fi fans flocked to it with loving arms. It came at a time when people's home offices had begun to dial into the Internet, and that meant, for some, it was the first time one could discuss the show as episodes aired with fellow fans across the world. A newsgroup for fans of B5 was created on Usenet: (often shortened to rastb5). A passionate online fandom was born.

B5 show creator J. Michael Straczynski (aka JMS) used many different early Internet platforms (such as GEnie and AOL) to talk with fans of the show, but this drama centers on his participation in Usenet newsgroup rastb5. Within the group, occasionally JMS would respond to users who wrote "ATTN: JMS" in their post title (and occasionally would pop into many other threads here and there). Many of these fan interactions are archived today in easy to read guides for fans and include many insights into the inner workings of the series.

What makes this situation unique is that it is one of the first instances of a show creator becoming directly involved with the fanbase--to sometimes incendiary results.

While this post is (primarily) about drama between November 1994 and March 199[6], rastb5 was never without drama. There were, of course, people who regularly kicked the hornet's nest by snidely comparing the show to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9), which was a contemporary of B5 (and there's a whole drama involving DS9's creation and accusations of plagiarism but that is more for r/HobbyTales), and obviously all sorts of other scuffles throughout its existence (like the reason a small group of fans called the Rangers formed to shield JMS from story ideas like some sort of medieval poison testers). But, for the most part, things were fine in this little newsgroup.

… For about a year.

In November 1994, Babylon 5’s 2nd season aired. It brought with it the seemingly random and quick departure of then-lead actor Michael O'Hare, who played Commander Jeffrey Sinclair, and his replacement with actor Bruce Boxleitner who played Commander John Sheridan.

The lead actor exiting in such an abrupt manner (and off-screen no less) caused a BIG splash in the fandom, as nothing like this had really happened before. What made this even more odd is that JMS often discussed how thoroughly B5 was planned, and Sinclair was heavily foreshadowed to be a mysterious figure called "The One” (who would later go on to do very important things in the story). As a result, the departure fueled rampant gossip and speculation. Why foreshadow Sinclair having a major role in future events and then kick him off? O’Hare hadn’t landed any other acting gigs to justify a contract dispute or anything. What was going on?

Both JMS and O'Hare made it as plain as they could (without going into any detail) the departure was amicable and without drama. JMS tried to spin that this was even planned. But some fans weren't buying it (with, admittedly, some reason as the explanation for the departure was never fully fleshed out--but there's a very good reason for that I will get into in just a bit). While strange, most fans moved on.

… But not everyone moved on.

The trolls did have one thing right--and one thing right only. JMS hadn’t told the whole truth about O’Hare’s departure, but the real reasons weren't disclosed until almost two decades later. In 2012, O'Hare tragically passed away--and, with O'Hare's passing, JMS came clean about the real reason O’Hare left the series.

The truth was O'Hare exited the show due to worsening mental illness, for which he needed to leave the high-stress position of lead actor and seek treatment. JMS, respecting O'Hare's privacy, never said the reasons why he'd left, but it was mutually decided O'Hare exit his contract and the series. JMS decided to write around this tragic and unforeseen departure to the best of his ability (and many fans would agree he handled it incredibly well).

So you can see how theorycrafters and Internet speculators could see something was being withheld, I mean, the lead of this heavily-planned show just left out of nowhere! but given JMS would not disclose the real reason, and occasionally had slipped up his cover-story, this only fueled theories, and why Fuller et al. were convinced JMS was a “liar”. At the same time, given the sensitive nature of O’Hare’s exit, it is also easy to see how the conspiracy theories greatly upset JMS and O'Hare.

With that context in place, we go back to the ‘90’s (before anyone knew the truth). In the coming months, detractors like the Fullers and Thaxton hammered JMS on everything (as they were now in the camp “JMS is a dirty, rotten liar and we can’t trust anything he says”)--from the musical score, to repeated inquiries and speculation into O’Hare’s departure, and, most notably, prying about Babylon 5’s ratings (which they celebrated as tanking and accused JMS of covering up/lying about failing ratings on more than one occasion). Theron and Deborah Fuller especially theorized about the ratings, using them as “proof” of the reason O’Hare was replaced by Boxleitner. To these trolls, JMS was a prevaricating god and the rest of the newsgroup were his loyal, brainless sheep.

Anyway, all this to say: perhaps JMS did have a bit of a god-like presence in the newsgroup, which some users took umbrage with, and the Fullers and Thaxton were the rastb5 boogeymen notorious for their trolling shenanigans. Rastb5 was filled with posts about these particular posters. Posts calling them out, telling them to shut up. Several members openly stated they had them on their killfiles (aka block lists) and instructed others on how to do so as well. Theron Fuller was known for calling his haters "attacking chihuahuas" and this spawned what could be called an early meme within the newsgroup because users would jokingly refer to one another as chihuahuas.

Things reached a boiling point when JMS posted a thread titled "Notes from jms" on November 11, 1995. Within which he discusses some housekeeping things, brings up the oft-speculated ratings of the show, aaaaaand he tells users to report Ford Thaxton to AOL if they’ve been abused by him. Yes, he told members of this newsgroup to report another member of the newsgroup to AOL to have this dude's Internet access revoked.

JMS's unabridged flounce is 1,654 words long and very evocative, with paternalistic deifying qualities (“I have become, in many ways, the football used to pull others on either side of the line into an ugly and destructive game. And the only way to stop it is to remove the football”). This and its follow-up post on December 1st are definitely worth a read.

From a modern day perspective, this rings as excessive and even dangerous. A show creator leveraging his celebrity to essentially sic his fans on his enemies? And, in a way, it brings credence to what some of the “trolls” like Fuller have been saying. There is something odd about how JMS’s word became law, and any detractors were seen as automatically in the wrong. Having said that, as we’ve seen Fuller, Thaxton, etc. were terrorizing this newsgroup in that they were widely hated and also flinging accusations without proof at any opportunity. It’s easy to see how JMS (and others) lost their cool with this cabal of trolls.

The fallout of JMS leaving this newsgroup was downright cataclysmic. Users were even more angry at the already near-universally reviled Thaxton and Fullers than ever before. (See: “FUller [sic is an idiot”]) Many posters flounced themselves, citing JMS as the only reason they were staying in the troll-laden newsgroup.

While others were disgruntled at the newsgroup's reaction. William Huber writes:

I'm mildly insulted (very mildly) by the 'JMS is gone? Then I'm out of here!' posts. Are the rest of us chopped liver? Are you just looking for a Q&A session?

Which is a very good question. Did anyone in this newsgroup really care about discussion with fellow fans? Or was everyone just there to talk to JMS?

But a light on the horizon. Moderator Jay Denebeim floated the idea of a new group. A better group. One free of the bane of trolls like the Fullers and Thaxton. … one which might bring JMS back.


Per Jay Denebiem, a Request for Discussion (RFD) was created and it was up to a vote: would Usenet create another B5 group? Factions grew on both sides. The pro-MOD and anti-MOD. Essays were posted from each corner, exalting the virtues of both.

Pro-MODers cited the likes of trolls such as Fuller and Thaxton as a reason the new group should come into being. Anti-MODers likened the creation of such a group to idol worship and fascism.

Fan Comments

I read every word of this despite being unfamiliar with almost everything mentioned and I regret nothing. Great writeup, OP!

Absolutely fascinating to be reminded that angry nerds yelling on the internet never really seem to change. A lot of this discourse would fit right into a subreddit. - deleted user

I remember Usenet with great fondness and still have friends I made there, but it was also an early illustration of how a batshit person or two could wreck a space. This is a great writeup. - sansabeltedcow

Nice write-up. The whole thing screams 90s so hard... - UnsealedMTG

You know, I occasionally wish a creator would come down from the heavens in one or two of my fandoms to unleash fire and brimstone upon the idiots, and then this comes along to remind me that it will NEVER be a good idea. Not ever. - nomercles

I have to say that when JMS revealed what had happened with O'Hare I gained a lot of respect for him for never even hinting at what had happened. - deleted user

Lovely write up. That takes me back to my Usenet days. While I don't miss the flamewars, I do miss some of the folks and conversations. - Pallais

I was going to say "the more things change, the more they stay the same" but you did that already, OP... - Cycloneblaze

Oh wow does this take me back. I remember some of this stuff happening in real time. No Story Ideas, the accusations against Katsulas, Mr. Fuller, the Narn Bat Squad, Lurkers, etc. Lots of fun. - deleted user

This brought back fond memories. I was in that forum, although my niche was the Marcus Cole estrogen brigade. We eventually had the good sense to go make our own email list, although eventually that grew some minor drama when fanfic started to take over the mailing list. I... Might have been part of that problem. - Eeyores Prozac


Well done write up. I love hearing things about the Old Internet.

I don't like JMS was trying to ban somebody from the Internet, yet I see him maybe feeling threatened. Some of those people sounded a bit...intense. The actor left, the writer isn't obligated to say. Move on! Especially given the context of it and the further strain it was probably putting on O'Hare. - Andorian Gray

Dear God that dredged up some memories, none of them good. -JoeXM

Great write up. I started using Usenet in 1993 and I did participate in b5 groups but I either missed or forgot all this drama. I do remember JMS left but the stated reason was Paramount made him because of copyright issues or something? (They didn't want claims that he got ideas from a fan or something) In retrospect it sounds like a ridiculous reason but I was young and naive (I am no longer young). - EvidenceBasedSwamp

Thanks for the trip down memory lane. I remember those days well. I even went a few rounds with Thaxton... He was some soundtrack producer who had a beef with Christopher Franke and accused him of sampling TWO NOTES from some other artist because apparently you aren't allowed to put two notes together in the same way...

These people were amazing self entitled assholes. But in the end, we survived. - Caduceus1515

I never knew this. I’ve always known JMS was quite active on Usenet and I regretted missing out on it. Partially because I didn’t have internet yet and partially because B5 was aired here late and out of order.

In the lurkers guide there’s a lot of reference to great discussions on Usenet.

But this toxic environment doesn’t sound appealing at all and reminds me of a lot of the forums in the late 90s.

It’s a fun peek in that early internet! - Mirage2101

Thanks for sharing this. I always felt I was missing something not having internet access until 1999 and had missed out on the UseNet B5 experience.

I know now it wasn't the golden days of the internet, just the same old same old human folly. - DiaBrave

USENET was different... but it was the same, you know? - underscorex

I just saw this thread. I used to lurk on the B5 newsgroups in the 90s. Thanks for bringing back some entertaining (if not always pleasant) memories.

Ah, “Gharlane of Eddore”! He once posted an account of traveling hundreds of miles by bus, as a teenager, to attend an SF convention in the sixties. After he died, Fuller and company (who’d frequently argued with him while he was alive) tried to make it look as if this was a ridiculous made-up story that no one in their right mind would believe, since who ever heard of a teenage boy traveling alone on an inter-city bus in the sixties? Just a cheap attempt at making him look like a liar after he couldn’t respond.

And Dennis O’Connor! I remember a shorter but memorable flame war between him and SF author John Ringo about 20 years ago that started on the Society for Creative Anachronism newsgroup. We have trolls aplenty nowadays, but there was really nothing like an all-out Usenet brawl.

Like others here, I thought there was something fishy about JMS’s 1994 account of why O’Hare left, but when I found out the real reason for the departure many years later, I felt it was deception in a good cause. I haven’t seen any of the terrible three online in years, at least not under those names. Like others in the comments, I wonder if they ever became aware of the truth about O’Hare’s leaving. - InfiniteAccount4783


  1. ^ The author corrects 1995 to 1996 in the post's comments.