The Purge is the name given to the Island-wide toxic gas attack that effectively wiped out the DHARMA Initiative's presence on the Island, marking the end of the long conflict between the DHARMA Initiative and the Others. The gas was released from the Tempest, and when inhaled it resulted in violent spasms, bleeding from the nose, and death. The Purge occurred at 4 P.M. on December 19, which happened to be Ben's birthday. If Locke's dream was supposed to occur in 2004 (Horace's mention of 12 years), this would make the year 1992; however this has yet to be confirmed, and many events in the time line suggest a 1980s date.
BEN: The DHARMA Initiative. They came here seeking harmony, but they couldn't even coexist with the Island's original inhabitants. And when it became clear that one side had to go, one side had to be purged, I did what I had to do. ("The Man Behind the Curtain")
Sometime between its 1970 founding and 1973, by which time the DHARMA Initiative established themselves on the Island, they became aware of a defensive group cohabiting the Island with them. ("The Man Behind the Curtain") It is unknown exactly how the conflict began; Mikhail claimed that the DHARMA Initiative "foolishly initiated a war against" his group and called it "the Purge". ("Enter 77") On the other hand the Others wiped out groups who came to the Island, like the US Army. ("Jughead")
DHARMA Initiative strategist Horace Goodspeed acknowledged that his group had been "having some skirmishes with the natives." While Benjamin Linus was still a schoolboy, his lessons were interrupted by skirmishes between the factions, involving a shoot out and explosions near the Barracks. The DHARMA Initiative installed a warning system to alert the community against incursions. The sonar fence built around the perimeter of the Barracks may have functioned to protect the community against attack.
DHARMA took further steps as the conflict escalated, including devoting one of their stations (The Arrow) to developing new strategies against the Hostiles, installation of security cameras and other monitoring systems, stockpiling weapons (an unusual step for a utopian community) and even employing a professional interogator. The conflict does not appear to have been helped by the appearance of the time shifting survivors in 1974-1977.
The conflict between the two groups may have spanned as long as 22 years. At some point before 1989, the DHARMA Initiative abandoned their radio tower, possibly deeming its remote location too dangerous an area to venture into.
Violation of the Truce by the DHARMA Initiative
According to the Richard Alpert's addendums to the original Truce from August 1973 between him and Horace Goodspeed, the DHARMA Initiative was not allowed to
- enter or violate any ruins on the island.
- dig or drill any more than ten meters into the ground, even in their designated territory.
- stay longer than fifteen years. At the end of this term all facilities and personnel are to leave the island.
- exceed a maximum population of D.I. members of 216 at any one time on the island.
However, the DHARMA Initiative conducted digs under the houses of the barracks, performed drills at the Orchid and Swan Station and hadn't left the island by August 1988 in addition of developing counter-measures against "the Hostiles".
After years of conflict, the Others reacted with extreme measures. At 4 P.M. Ben murdered his father, Roger Linus, with a canister of toxic gas, and when he returned to the Barracks, the bodies of DHARMA Initiative members lay strewn about on the ground. Horace Goodspeed, who brought Ben and his father to the Island, sat dead on a bench, and Ben closed Horace's eyes in a gesture of respect. As Ben and the Others removed their gas masks, Richard Alpert offered to retrieve Ben's father's body, an offer Ben declined. ("The Man Behind the Curtain")
It is unknown how many members of the DHARMA Initiative defected to the Others before the Purge, but Ben indicated he was not alone in doing so. ("Through the Looking Glass, Part 1") Other DHARMA Initiative members may have survived the Purge, protected from the gas attack by quarantine safety measures such as had been implemented at the Swan. Stuart Radzinsky and Kelvin Inman are known to have survived the Purge.
Exactly who ordered and planned the Purge remains unclear, although it appears Charles Widmore was the leader at the time. ("Dead Is Dead") Ben seemed to take responsibility ("Not so long ago, Jack. I made a decision, that took the lives of over forty people in a single day") ("Through the Looking Glass, Part 1") but also stated that the Purge "wasn't (his) decision" because he answered to someone else, the Others leaders'. ("Cabin Fever")
It has not yet been revealed how the gas attack was perpetrated on the DHARMA Initiative, although it is highly likely the Others seized control of the Tempest, a DHARMA station and chemical weapons development facility. ("The Other Woman") Ben's account of the Purge was supported by Charlotte Lewis's statement when she and Daniel Faraday were trying to neutralize the gas in the Tempest in order to prevent Ben from killing everyone on the Island:
CHARLOTTE: Juliet... look me in the eye and tell me you are certain that Benjamin Linus wouldn't use this gas to kill everyone on this island! We know he's used it before. ("The Other Woman")
The Lamp Post
An additional operation during the Purge may have taken place off the Island. The Lamp Post—a station used to find the Island—was originally constructed by the DHARMA Initiative, but later fell into the custody of Eloise Hawking. Eloise described the DHARMA Initiative in the third person, indicating she was not a member of the Initiative. In keeping with the Others' goal of protecting the Island, they would have a strong motivation to hide this station from the outside world and prevent its use. ("The Lie") ("316")
The DHARMA Initiative was apparently prepared for attacks by the Hostiles in the Flame, an outlying communications outpost. The Flame was rigged with explosives and in the event of an "incursion on the station", the operators of the station were instructed to enter the code 77 into the station's computer, triggering the detonation of the C-4 in the basement of the station. ("Enter 77") The DHARMA Initiative was also well armed, as indicated by the existence of armories at both the Swan and the Hydra stations. A number of firearms were also kept at the Barracks, and the sonar fence was equipped with an early warning system to report a perimeter breach. ("The Man Behind the Curtain")
- The exact year the Purge occurred was not mentioned during Ben's flashback in "The Man Behind the Curtain"; however, Horace Goodspeed told Locke in a dream that he had been dead for twelve years. Assuming Locke's dream was supposed to take place in 2004, it places the Purge in 1992. ("Cabin Fever")
- According to stipulations in the Truce of 1973, the DHARMA Initiative was allowed to stay on the island until August 1988. Possibly meaning DHARMA ignored the 15 year stipulation, and continued to stay on the Island; Furthering the Others reasons for destroying them.
- The Purge also did not represent the first time the Others killed a group of intruders on the Island; 38 years earlier, Alpert and the Others wiped out 18 members of the United States Army who had come to the Island to make a test detonation of a hydrogen bomb. ("Jughead")
- In an EW.com article published on March 6, 2007, when asked for a 10-word teaser about "Enter 77", Damon Lindelof replied that only a one-word tease was required: "Purge."
- The term "purge" in politics means to "remove people considered by the group in power to be 'undesirable' from a government, political party, a profession, or from community or society as a whole, often by violent means." The term is often associated with the totalitarian Stalinist and Maoist regimes.
- The event of the Purge, especially where it took place, bears resemblance to the real-world event of Jonestown. The people of Jonestown sought a utopia just like the people of DHARMA Initiative; the Barracks look similar to the Jonestown Troolie Cottages; and they had a radio tower.
- Lost: The Complete Third Season (DVD) commentary revealed that the mechanism for the Purge at the Barracks was different from the mechanism Ben used in the van. The gas canister was added in post-production to give Ben a more active role in his father's death. The original plan was for something to happen more-or-less Island-wide to cause the Purge.
- This mass purging, rather than a series of individual acts, was later confirmed by Charlotte's statements while neutralizing the Tempest. ("The Other Woman")
- For fan theories about these unanswered questions, see: The Purge/Theories
- Apart from Ben and Ethan, were there other defectors who joined the Hostiles?
- How did Rousseau survive the Purge?
- Why did the periodic resupply drops continue after the Purge?