So, does anyone actually know what kicked this whole situation off?
I have followed a lot of the discussion about this online. Other than the Shells.com affiliate link allegation, which seems a bit weak, I can only find this from https://ariadne.space/2021/05/20/the-whole-freenode-kerfluffle/ which appears to try to summarise the situation without providing much of any substance:
"Because of this, I believe Andrew’s intention is to preserve IRC as it was formative in his transition from childhood to adulthood. He finds IRC to be comforting, in the same way that I find the bunny plushie I sleep with to be comforting. This is understandable to me, as many people strongly desire to preserve the environment they proverbially grew up in.
However, in implementing his desire to preserve the IRC network he grew up on, he has effectively destroyed it: projects are leaving or planning to leave en masse, which is sad."
So Lee loves IRC and wants to preserve it. That's hardly a shocking indictment in of itself. I really do feel that there is something weird going on here, but no-one seems to be interested to actually talk about it.