Summarizing the Current Allegations Against Richard Carrier

Skepticon has just released a statement saying that Richard Carrier will not be allowed to attend their future conferences because of inappropriate behavior. They had previously stopped inviting him to speak after he displayed a pattern of pushing a staffer’s boundaries.

In light of the recent revelations of sexual harassment, unwelcome attention, and/or unwanted behavior from more than one prominent atheist, Skepticon would like to renew our vow to keep our attendees, speakers, volunteers, vendors, organizers, and anyone else involved in Skepticon safe at our events.

The accusations specifically against Richard Carrier are, sadly, not so surprising to the Skepticon organizers. While he was a featured speaker for many years, we stopped inviting him to speak partly because of his repeated boundary-pushing behavior, including towards someone involved in Skepticon. What has been made clear by the recent discussions is that our attendees’ well being and comfort is put at an unacceptable risk by Carrier’s presence, and so we are officially prohibiting Richard Carrier from attending any future Skepticons.

In case you missed it last week, this is the third allegation of flatly unacceptable behavior from Carrier to be made public. The first he publicized himself.

At an afterparty at a pub after a sponsored event that had an event policy against making sexual advances, after having engaged in fascinating and intense conversation with a woman for hours, I badly misread her fascination with the subject as flirtatious interest in me, and I told her that I’d like to make a pass at her. She was confused and taken aback by that, was definitely not interested, and I immediately realized I’d crossed a line with her. I was worried I had made her uncomfortable. I immediately apologized. She continued on her own interest to engage me in excellent conversation for several hours more and everything turned out well, but still. I should not have said that to her.

We now know this was a student event and the rule he was breaking was “Speakers must refrain from initiating any and all sexual behavior with students with respect to Speakers Bureau events.” Nothing in this rule makes this okay if you think the student is interested in you. Nothing in this rule makes this okay if they don’t run away afterward. This is true despite Carrier’s mentioning both of these as though they were mitigating circumstances.

As of last week, we also have this public accusation of him violating the policy with another student. She says he hit on her and nonconsensually touched her arm and leg. There are comments from another student corroborating that these aren’t new accusations. This is the accusation that the Secular Student Alliance investigated and which resulted in his removal from the SSA Speakers Bureau.

Note that if you click through, you’ll see an allegation that Camp Quest allowed Carrier to work for them after knowing that the SSA took action. (The executive directors of the organizations are married.) Everyone agrees at this point that this didn’t happen. However, Camp Quest did promote Carrier showing off their logo at an event more recently than this. There are also questions about whether students were given enough information to protect themselves after Carrier spoke at events at SSA affiliate groups and was allowed to volunteer at SSACon. The SSA is conducting a board-level review of their actions here and their relevant policies and procedures.

Carrier denies this accusation. He says he didn’t fight the SSA Speakers Bureau removal because he thought it was about the event he made public. However, in this denial, he says straight out that he told her he would be interested in dating her. I’m not sure how that’s not initiating sexual behavior except in that it failed. Otherwise, it’s breaking the same SSA rule as the event he previously volunteered. A student saying they’re considering a poly relationship is not initiating a sexual relationship with the person they say it to. The person saying, “I’d like to date you”, is. Carrier’s other objections to Franks’ statement are a defense of the SSA, not of his behavior.

I’ve spoken to a Skepticon organizer. The pattern there is similar, except that the expressions of sexual interest were repeated, though more deniably after they weren’t reciprocated. I’ve also spoken with two other people who don’t wish to come forward publicly. Both have been on the receiving end of Carrier’s unwanted interest. In both cases, he met their polite deferral of his interest with more blunt expressions of interest. There are also very troubling aspects of how Carrier spoke of these people to others. I won’t go into that in detail because it has the potential to identify them.

Whether I’m looking at all five of these accusations or only the three public ones, my reaction is the same. The most charitable thing I can find to say about Carrier’s behavior is that he is oblivious to sexual disinterest in him and unwilling to stop initiating sexual contact despite that. I’m not inclined to that kind of charity in the face of that much problem behavior, however. I’m even less inclined to charity for someone who repeatedly breaks rules designed to protect students to behave that way. Less so yet for someone who tells us that in a post defending himself.

At this point, I have to conclude that Carrier is highly resistant to changing this behavior. He’s received plenty of feedback. Organizations and individuals have told him that what he’s done is wrong. His response is to handwave at irrelevancies. I don’t know why anyone would look at his recent blog post on this and think it won’t happen again the moment the opportunity presents itself.

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Summarizing the Current Allegations Against Richard Carrier

47 thoughts on “Summarizing the Current Allegations Against Richard Carrier

  1. 1

    For fuck’s sake, when are some guys going to grasp the idea that just because you’re attracted to someone does not make it okay to express that? Christ on a Razor scooter, I routinely see people I’m attracted to, and I have numerous reasons not to voice the fact in every case, like, you know, the fact that most of these interactions take place in SITUATIONS WHERE SEX AND SEXUAL ATTRACTION IS NOT A GERMANE TOPIC. Why is this hard? Who on Earth feels like they always have to be on the damn hunt? And what the hell does that say about the person in question?

    And here I thought the most objectionable thing about Carrier was that he has trouble listening when you try to clue him in on what he’s missing when he fields a half-baked, first-year grad-student epistemology essay as if it were profound.

  2. 2

    No, slympitters. Run along. Your attempts to treat various allegations as truth I’m hiding doesn’t fly so well when I’ve actually talked about the topic in the post. And your misogyny as you try to leave your “helpful” comments just makes it obvious it’s you.

    You’re all very bad at this, even after all these years.

  3. 3

    I’m not a slymepitter – we’ve actually spoken on Facebook, though I have no reason to expect you to remember. If I’ve said anything slymepittish, I’m frankly mortified. I regret my attempt at flippancy; I wasn’t referring to Carrier’s Bayesian approach to history, which I think is excellent, but rather a blog post of his where he sallied an attempt at arguing you cannot be both religious and rational. It was a decent argument, but flawed for lack of familiarity with Sellars and some other relevant epistemologists. I should have left that bit off, honestly – it was out of place and distracting. I’m sorry.

  4. 6

    So tired of being disappointed by leaders and speakers in the atheist community. It never seems to end. But I guess that’s all part of being involved in ANY human community.

  5. 7

    🙁 Many of the same things you point out struck me when reading his response. Particularly what appears to be his repeated insistence on being able to hit on students. Multiple times at different events and in contradiction to the rules. And in contradiction to what I feel is the reasonable (and now repeatedly voiced) expectation students might have to not be hit on.

  6. Gem
    9

    @Landon: I think it comes from the garden-variety white guy privilege of expecting to always be heard, expecting that everything you say is meaningful and relevant. I often catch myself about to jump in to a discussion other people are having and I have to ask myself, “Is what you’re about to say going to actually contribute meaningfully to this discussion?” And distressingly often the answer is “No.”

  7. 10

    She says he hit on her and nonconsensually touched her arm and leg. There are comments from another student corroborating that these aren’t new accusations. This is the accusation that the Secular Student Alliance investigated and which resulted in his removal from the SSA Speakers Bureau.

    This is the accusation that the Secular Student Alliance investigated? It included the part about touching?

    This is the kind of detail Carrier actually disputes. Yet you don’t mention that. Instead you seemingly think that he denies breaking the rule that only applies to Bureau Speakers?

  8. 11

    @Gem: Well, there is definitely an element of that to it, which I find vexing about myself – I am always trying to resist that impulse, with greater or lesser success. However, I do have one actual question, and that’s the one I posed half in jest: what the hell is it with people feeling the compulsive need to inform people when they are attracted to them? Is it generational? Even when I was single and in dating-like situations, I had trouble telling people when I was attracted to them. Am I an outlier? Is this now normal? Or is it as weird as it seems to me? I honestly have no idea.

  9. 12

    Brian, I don’t have a copy of Franks’ complaint to the SSA, so I don’t know exactly what was in it. The other student’s comments, however, suggest that she talked about the touching around the time she made the complaint, whether or not it was included in the complaint itself. By Carrier’s own account, her complaint was what the SSA was investigating when he was removed from the Speakers Bureau.

    I’m aware that Carrier disputes that he touched Franks sexually, but that doesn’t appear to be what she alleges. She says she was subject to [sexual harassment] and [touching], not sexual [harassment and touching]. And yes, he did deny breaking the SSA’s rule. He says he agreed to be removed from the Speakers Bureau because he thought Franks’ complaint was the complaint he’d already blogged about. By implication, he doesn’t think Franks’ complaint would qualify for his removal. Thus, he denies breaking that rule with her, even though his own description of events shows him attempting to initiate a sexual interaction.

  10. 13

    In the post directly responding to Frank’s claims, he continuously employs the same apologia I recall Self Professed Male Feminist From Jezebel Who Teaches at Pasadena CC using when he was harassing students, which is that to deny college-age women the opportunity to be flirted at and propositioned by an older, more powerful man is to deny those women their “agency.” Carrier’s added a new twist in the form of “ageism.” To refrain from asking young female strangers for “dates” is to commit “ageism” against them. Indeed.

  11. 14

    Also, I would really love it if he would stop handwaving away these allegations with Non-Poly People Can’t Understand because poly people shouldn’t have to experience this kind of splash damage. None of this has to do with being poly. It has to do with him lacking self control or being highly uninterested in exercising it when alone with young women.

  12. Tek
    15

    Did Carrier admit that it was Frank’s complaint that the SSA was investigating? I read it as, he believed a different student made a complaint, and thought it was that lessor infraction (Carrier’s opinion not mine) that was being investigated. I could be mistaken.

  13. 16

    Tek, if you really find such a detail in any way important or interesting, go look. The information is still in his blog post, and there’s a link to that here.

  14. 17

    There’s a distressing trend of dudes who vocally and vehemently declare themselves feminists and allies, then turn out to be real creeps. I can think of at least a couple in the atheist movement, and a couple more in comedy and academia and the wider Internetosphere. It’s not entirely surprising that Carrier would be in that camp, after centering himself (and centering his foot in his mouth) in the whole Atheism Plus thing early on.

  15. Tek
    20

    Stephanie, I guess I do find it important because I believe Carrier is delibertly confusing the issue with intent to discredit Frank. At least that’s the way I have read it. I am asking here because it is possible that I am misunderstanding something and was trying to get another vantage point.

    If I am correct, and he is trying to confuse the issue, I think that should speak pretty loudly to anyone who currently doubts Frank’s accusations, which I myself believe to be true.

  16. 21

    He started skeeving me out a little when he used his blog to get dates a while back. I read a number of poly bloggers who blog about poly stuff as their main thing and they don’t do that. Perhaps I should have said something at the time. Someone who screams “hey ladies, DATE ME” on a soap box is demonstrating some kind of non-normative sense of boundaries.

    And… The touching isn’t okay at all, period full stop, but (sorry) I get a bit of a “living in the world we want instead of the one we have” vibe on the why not zoidberg incident that goes away as soon as I see the pattern. If it’s not too off topic to try to learn from that, is there a subtler way he could have signaled that would have been acceptable given the rules and his position?

    Minor point, you wrote like date is wholly a euphemism for sex, I don’t know his usages well enough to know if that’s founded or strongly inferable (I can totally accept that “scumbag carrier” means fuck when he says date though, I’m just tired and not sure if I tripped over my sandals or if there’s actually a gap, hopefully not backsliding bad habits) but for the people I’m around dating doesn’t correlate so strongly to fucking so it was a little jarring. Keeping with the question at the end of the previous paragraph, it might also be that the rules of that engagement equate the two and I haven’t read them so shrug.

    I’m not sure I realized it was three incidents, thanks for this post. Decades of hearing about shit like this is probably why I’m looking for a hair to split between my own identity and (what I will temporarily call for convenience) “the rest of” white cisheteromanity.

  17. 22

    You’d have to admit, this has been coming for a long time.

    After Carrier used his blog to advertise for a ‘booty call’, then left pornographic comments at Ophelia Benson’s blog, it became apparent that Richard has serious self-c0ntrol issues. I commend Skepticon for showing leadership on this.

    One person who hasn’t shown leadership here is PZ Myers. I don’t want to dredge up too much history, but this is not the first time that PZ has appeared to look the other way at blogger mischief. I don’t know what private conversations PZ has had with Carrier, but if these rumours have been swirling around for a while now then it seems strange that PZ is apparently comfortable with Carrier blogging on the network he dominates.

  18. 24

    Brad,

    If it’s not too off topic to try to learn from that, is there a subtler way he could have signaled that would have been acceptable given the rules and his position?

    Given the rules, it seems pretty clear that the point of addressing SSA groups is to educate and entertain the students. Carrier agreed to those rules and, by proxy, that purpose, as did I when I was added to their Speakers Bureau. Saying, “Fuck me maybe?”, to a student is at best irrelevant to that purpose and at worst interferes with it. If you can’t get through your speaking engagements without saying it, then maybe that isn’t really your purpose. So what’s the point of angling for more passable ways to do it?

    Minor point, you wrote like date is wholly a euphemism for sex

    Carrier has advertised for dates publicly. You can look at what he said he was looking for.

  19. 25

    There are a number of things Carrier has said and done that are unconventional. Unconventional is not the same as nonconsensual. Treating them as though they are in the same class is a very bad thing for people who focus on consent while being unconventional. Don’t do that.

    That said, yes, there were things Carrier did or argued that were significant problems. When they were arguments, people argued against him both publicly and privately. When they were actions, people pushed Carrier to understand that they were wrong. He agreed that they were and claimed his behavior would change. Nobody hid what he did or claimed it was okay. That is, in no small part, why the current crop of statements have been received the way they have.

    Gerard O, I wouldn’t “have to admit” anything. Congratulations on seeing a pattern yourself, but a lot of people have been talking about it for a good long while. The big difference in this case is that Carrier’s friends didn’t get together to attack the feminists who were pointing out the problems as they occurred. If those attacks are what it takes for people to listen to those feminists, then we’ve got another problem.

    As for PZ, http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2016/06/21/richard-carriers-blog/ From what I understand, FtB has been moving to more of a committee model recently. That means things can move more slowly than you might want, but it doesn’t mean nothing is happening.

  20. 26

    Saurs @14:

    Yes. On the “those non-poly people won’t understand” argument, it’s worth asking “would this be okay if he was single?”

    What Carrier is accused of wouldn’t be more acceptable if he was otherwise unattached, or less so if he was legally married and/or in a monogamous relationship. “That person is cheating on their wife/husband” may hurt a person’s reputation, or lower someone’s opinion of the person involved, but it isn’t sexual harassment. “My partners don’t mind,” even if true, is no more relevant here than it is to an accusation of drunk driving or shoplifting, because they aren’t the people being harmed.

  21. 27

    In the interests of fairness, I retract my comments about PZ in this case (I only read 2 or 3 of the new blogs at FTB these days). I know about their committee, and that Myers has had little input into that committee after the Thunderf00t fiasco.

    The tech community is having its own dramas right now over the behaviour of Jacob Applebaum. There are some similarities between the two cases, for those who are interested.

  22. 29

    I didn’t follow Richard’s blog closely, only crossed paths with him a couple times, and have a certain distance from the back channels of communication, so I was unaware of any of this until this week.

    Now that the veil of ignorance has been torn away, all I can do is shake my head. This isn’t the first time that someone I liked and admired in the secular-science circle turned out to be a predator (Bora Zivkovic was another case in point)…and I’m sure this won’t be the last, sad to say.

  23. Tek
    30

    Interesting approach to new readership Stephanie. To clarify, I have looked and am not looking for anyone to spoon feed me anything, but rather confirmation from other readers that I am not misinterpreting anything. Thanks for the welcome.

  24. f.
    31

    Ugh, what a mess. I have to question why so many speakers seem to think of conference attendees as their dating pool in the first place. And it’s not “ageism” or removing college students’ agency to point out that it’s sketchy for older people to want to date them, when the students are the ones who make the complaints against the older people who hit on them!

  25. 32

    Oh, noes, Tek! No! How shall I ever live without a reader I’ve been doing fine without who can’t even click through to find the sentence that explicitly addresses the question they want me to answer for them but will tell me they did anyway and try to shame me at the same time for…some weird expectation they have that asking me to do extra work is doing me a favor? How?!

  26. 33

    I mean, seriously. “It wasn’t until months later that I learned that that person, whom I did wrong, did not file a complaint; but that Amy had.” It’s the start of a paragraph and everything.

  27. 34

    I’m sure someone will try to field the “oh, it’s so hard for freethinkers to meet people” thing as a way to excuse this sort of behavior, so let me throw this in: don’t most cons have a mixer or similar event where people can interact in a context where bringing up sex and dating would be appropriate? I mean really. I’ve been to lots of cons over the years, and I never brought it up when I found someone attractive except in those kinds of situations because holy hell, people, not every situation is about getting laid, and it’s creepy as hell when you suddenly make a non-getting-laid conversation into a getting-laid one. That’s messed up. When I was younger, I wasn’t so clear on that concept, and more than once, I turned a casual interaction into a conversation about dating the person I was talking to, but not only is that something a person should outgrow quickly if they have any sense of propriety at all, in this case they was a specific policy that addressed that kind of behavior. I mean, even if “I didn’t know it was wrong” was a valid defense in this kind of case (a ‘defense’ that, to me, sounds like an admission that one lacks common sense), there was a specific policy against doing what he did! Even if you ‘didn’t know’ before, it’s kind of hard to get around that point.

  28. 35

    Sorry, that didn’t quite communicate what I meant it to: my point was this, it Carrier’s defense of his behavior focuses on whether he was directing sexual attention at an inappropriate target (and attempting, lamely, to justify that), he’s blatantly ignoring that it was also in an inappropriate context, regardless of the target of his attentions. There may not have been a policy about that, but it’s still creepy.

    There. Much more succinct. I wouldn’t blame the mod for deleting my first pass at that entirely.

  29. 36

    To further clarify the issue of what PZ has or hasn’t been doing: As one of the FTB-ers who’s been involved in the backchannel during all of the approaching shitstorm and is now on the FTB ethics committee, I can confirm that PZ has indeed been prompt and active in raising concerns on the backchannel, but has been balancing this with the importance of keeping FTB-ers in general involved in making FTB decisions and policy rather than setting himself up as a one-man ruling force. So, there has been a *lot* of ‘we need to sort something out about this; thoughts, please?’, which has so far resulted in Carrier’s suspension and the post of PZ’s that Stephanie linked to above. I think he’s been moving things on very appropriately.

    I know Gerard retracted his initial comment about that, which I appreciate, but thought this would hopefully add some inner knowledge.

  30. 37

    sexual harassment and sexual assault are serious claims. breaking rules set forth by an organization is one thing, but public accusations such as these deserves a little more research before the pitchforks come out.

    also professional etiquette during organised events should not be confused with social behaviour at a pub late into the night.

    were any of these accusations to be refuted, would there be any out lash at the “victims” for exaggerating these issues? or would the quest for more social justice continue?

  31. 38

    and it’s creepy as hell when you suddenly make a non-getting-laid conversation into a getting-laid one.

    This.
    That kind of things requires context because outside of context it’s creepy and especially when the gender dynamic is male on female

  32. 39

    @30 Tek. I both appreciate this is an un-fun conversation for the authors finding themselves writing about harassment problems a-fucking-gain and then dealing with the slyme-pitter trolls and that it can sometimes feel as a commenter that entering these comments sections comes with a non-trivial risk of pissing someone off a lot and immediately.
    I don’t have a real answer for you as to the right approach to avoid that, but I empathize:P

  33. 40

    ricky, I’m letting your mess of a comment through mostly to let people know that they still have to deal with your kind of incoherent crap when they talk about this stuff. Just by a quick count, there are six major problems in your four sentences. That’s quite an accomplishment.

  34. 41

    Vicki @ 26

    “My partners don’t mind,” even if true, is no more relevant here than it is to an accusation of drunk driving or shoplifting, because they aren’t the people being harmed.

    Absolutely. No one is closely interrogating or criticizing Carrier’s actions because they’re morally repulsed or offended on behalf of one of his partners or the partner of one of his “date’s.” Monogamy and “cheating” are not the issue, are nobody’s business. The issue is whether behavior that is generally perceived to be nonconsensual or threatening or harassing or all three (or explicitly identified as such in codes of conduct) magically becomes normative, or Just How Poly People Behave (or how Carrier believes Self-Identified Poly Women Must Treat His Advances, codes of conduct be damned). That’s manipulative reasoning he’s using, and disingenuous.

  35. 42

    Just days before this came to my attention, I wrote in an article:

    ANY CONCEPT CAN BE MISUSED. Feminism can be misused. See SWERFs and TERFs. Prominent male feminists have turned out to be serial harassers.

    Oh life.

  36. 44

    I’m SO happy to not be part of this group, to know sane people who don’t consider hitting on someone harassment. I know how you will see this, that I am ‘part of the problem’ ‘something you have to deal with’ ‘full of Mysogyny’ , but I don’t care, because I don’t agree. Well, by your standards I am, but your standards are unfair, unrealistic and supremely problematic. If it makes you more resolved in yourself, so be it. But count yourself lucky to be born a gal, where expressing romantic interest, or saying something sexual isn’t seen as harassment or a problem, but empowerment and to be encouraged.

  37. 46

    Ms Zvan,
    I am new to this website, having come to it via an article about Richard Carrier, and must say, as an outsider, that the way you write and treat fellow commenters is despicable and ugly.
    I understand your ‘interest’ in and attitude towards the matter, but that is no reason for behaving like an ill mannered child.
    Sorry, had to say it…
    m

  38. 47

    Actually, Michael, you didn’t have to say that at all. No one forced you to say it. I presume you have a normal measure of verbal continence. Yet you choose to say it anyway. You might want to consider why you failed to engage with content and instead chose to focus on tone.

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