October 18, 2019 update: I was indeed missing something important. See the Q2 2018 Q&A in American Atheist below.
Sorry for the dead air. I’ve been both sick and working on other commitments. However, with the news that Atheist Alliance International has hired David Silverman into the executive director position they created for him, I do want to get this up.
What is this? This is a short summary of things that have been said about Silverman’s suspension and firing with dates (and some annotations) attached. There’s confusion about just what’s been alleged by whom aside from the allegations of sexual misconduct, and I’m already tired of trying to straighten that out on a piecemeal basis. So here’s a timeline I can send people to. It’s probably missing some important statements now that I’ll add as I remember or am pointed to them.
On the evening of Saturday, April 7, 2018, the American Atheists Board of Directors received a complaint regarding David Silverman, the President of American Atheists. The Board takes very seriously the concerns expressed and, in accordance with organization policies, the Board has placed Mr. Silverman on paid leave while an independent investigation is conducted. Mr. Silverman has pledged his full cooperation with the investigation.
April 11: Nick Fish’s statement to Christian Post
The allegations relate to alleged violations of the American Atheists employee code of conduct and staff handbook. Because this is a personnel matter, we cannot go into any more specifics about the allegations.
The Board of Directors has reviewed internal documents and communications related to the initial complaint as well as evidence relating to the additional allegations brought to the Board’s attention. Today’s announcement is based on these findings, and the Board intends to cooperate with any future investigations.
American Atheists is committed to creating and maintaining an environment that is safe and welcoming to all. Based on the allegations made, and the evidence presented, the Board believes it is prudent and necessary to reaffirm that commitment and move forward with new leadership.
April 13: Buzzfeed article
On Tuesday, American Atheists placed Silverman on paid leave while it investigated a complaint from staff concerned that he had not disclosed financial and personal conflicts of interest relating to the promotion of his book, Fighting God: An Atheist Manifesto for a Religious World, and the appointment to a senior position of a woman with whom Silverman was allegedly having a sexual relationship. (That appointment has been rescinded.)
This article also contains the first public comments on the sexual assault allegations against Silverman. However, as the question here is what Silverman was actually fired for, I’m not reproducing them. Nor will I entertain debate about them here. Take it somewhere else if you must.
I want to make this perfectly clear: I categorically deny any wrongdoing, legally or ethically. I have not done what I am being accused of in this article. More than that I cannot say at this time, for reasons I’m sure you can figure out.
Q: The board’s initial announcement mentions “a complaint” but provides no description. Did it include any allegations of sexual misconduct?
A: No. The first complaint alleged violations of American Atheists’ policies, including allegations of undisclosed conflicts of interest, as well as breaches of confidentiality and staff management guidelines. It’s important to know that the first complaint was received before the two individuals brought their allegations to the board.
The investigation was a result of the allegations made in the first complaint, which relate only to conflicts of interest and failure to adhere to organizational policy. The additional alleged sexual misconduct was not a subject of the investigation. The termination decision was made before the investigation was complete because enough information was already in hand, and the board had lost confidence in his leadership.
David Silverman is a creative, dynamic man who is effective at attracting media attention and using it well. But, as one board member remarked to me, “He was not who we thought he was.” It is worth noting that the decision regarding the termination was made without dissent from any board member, which means it was made by a very diverse group of atheists (go to Atheists.org/About/Board to read their profiles), all with a well-developed sense of fairness and a good understanding of how to evaluate information.
August 23: Silverman’s Facebook page post
2) I never acted knowingly to the detriment of American Atheists, it’s membership, or our mission. I managed the budget well (as verified by yearly Board Finance Subcommittee reports, and in fact 2017 was operationally positive for the time in at least 20 years), and had our numbers audited by a third-party accounting firm every year (and had the results posted online).
3) I obeyed both the letter and spirit of the Conflict of Interest Policy and provided regular detailed financial reports to the board regarding my book.
September 6: Washington Post article
“I certainly behaved sometimes in a manner that was unworthy of the office of president of American Atheists,” Silverman, 52, said in a phone interview this week, the first time he has spoken publicly about being accused of nonconsensual sexual contact with two women, one of them a student, at atheist gatherings.
Silverman denies the women’s allegations that their relations were nonconsensual, and American Atheists say he was not fired due to sexual relationships.
Nick Fish, a spokesman for American Atheists, said the sexual allegations were not the reason that Silverman was terminated. “The board was able to review a lot of [documents] that allowed them to conclude Silverman violated its internal policy,” including staff management, conflicts of interest and violations of its general code of conduct, Fish said. “He lost the confidence of the board, and his contract allowed the board to terminate him for any reason. And loss of confidence is more than enough.”
On social media and atheist blogs, community members speculated that Silverman misused American Atheists money to promote his book, “Fighting God,” which was published in 2015. But Silverman said that the organization approved the use of its funds for his book tour on the conditions that he seek outside reimbursement and promote American Atheists.
“I am sure American Atheists made far more from my book in donations than I did as the author,” he said, citing an advance of $30,000. “My books were clean. I obeyed the letter and the spirit of every board motion, and no one has given me any specifics of what I did wrong.”
American Atheists declined to respond to this statement. Fish said an independent lawyer conducted an investigation, and both he and Silverman said there are no plans to pursue legal action “at this time.”
September 6: Silverman’s Facebook page post
As to Fighting God, I am pleased that the AA narrative now no longer includes any kind of financial mismanagement allegations, but rather centers on “lack of confidence in leadership.” However, when I was informed I’d been terminated, the Chair did inform me that the accusations were the “primary reason” I was terminated. For the record, they had their forensic audit and did not come to me with any issues or questions at all. Our financials were clean and audited every year by an independent accounting firm, and I obeyed the letter and spirit of every board motion about this issue, including the Conflict of Interest Policy.
April 15: Silverman tweet
I anticipate this week will suck. One year since lies took me down. One year of horrible pain and loss. And now they gather without me.
So glad I have friends who didn't bail. Who came close instead of abandoning, who used both skepticism and compassion. Love them. A lot.
— David Silverman (@MrAtheistPants) April 15, 2019
April 18: Silverman tweets
It's an interesting place I'm in: Actually able to prove lies by those who did so to harm me. Able to use recordings and pictures and witnesses to prove certain people lied, for ego, while being unable to find a job because of said lies, hence I have nothing to lose.
— David Silverman (@MrAtheistPants) April 18, 2019
#backinmyday we didn't grossly exaggerate attendance numbers. We actually publicized our conventions with billboards and press and a good line up and a pre event debate. We earned lots of attendees and we liked it.
— David Silverman (@MrAtheistPants) April 18, 2019
For the record, Silverman shared a photo that gave him this impression of attendance. It was of one of the side-seating sections of the huge room in which keynote speeches were given. Attendance was roughly the same in 2018 and 2019.
Early August: Silverman’s website
On April 10, 2018, I was suspended from American Atheists for very vague reasons and walked out of my office like a criminal. My 22 year career in activism with American Atheists died that day, due to lies. I was given zero due process, and the organization performed zero investigation before firing me, again like a criminal.
Many vague reasons for my termination were circulated from American Atheists, including the accusation that I had mismanaged money in association with my book. This was, IMO, a lie told by AA to protect itself from the criticism of what really happened: a knee-jerk firing on the rumor, with no due process at all.
Want proof? Here’s a clip of the recording of Neal firing me. He admits that the original complaints against me were “very general”, without admitting they were bogus (yet they – Nick actually – had demolished my reputation by then anyway, on those “very general” allegations) and states clearly that new people came forward with new allegations between the suspension and the firing (one day) which made them decide to fire me “without cause” immediately, and they refuse to tell me why. This is how my 22 years of service ended.
Transcript of the recording, itself recorded April 12 or 13, 2018:
Cary: We’ve had additional information come forward since the initial minutes, you know, were [unintelligible], you know, the charges that you were first given, which were—are very general. But we’ve had other people step forward with more information. And that is the primary reason why we are terminating you.
Silverman: And what is the new information? What do I get terminated for without even getting to defend or even know what the charges are, Neal?
Cary: Well, you know, I will tell you that we don’t have to provide you any reasons whatsoever. We can fire you without cause.
More from Silverman:
And what was that new information? According to Buzzfeed: “After word spread about the investigation (Monday), American Atheists received additional written complaints (Tuesday) about two allegations of sexual misconduct involving Silverman.” If you’d like further corroboration, here’s a signed letter from AA Board Member Mario Stanton, the only person at AA who has shown me an ounce of Humanism (thank you Mario), which states categorically that I was fired solely because of the allegations, and, surprise surprise, the forensic audit came back clean. IMO the people on the AA Board are not evil or stupid; they simply panicked at the lies. I wish so hard that they had given me the opportunity to calm them and present my side, and my witnesses, and I wish even harder that they didn’t publicly allege I’d done something fiscally wrong, apparently to cover up for their panic. They meant well, despite their obvious failure here, and I don’t hold a grudge against anyone who fell for the lies.
Stanton’s statement, itself dated April 9, 2019:
Despite what may have been reported, David did not embezzle from American Atheists.
As far as I know, there were no discrepancies in the numbers from financial statements and a third party auditor accounted for the treasury and any other funds attached to the organization.
The decision to remove David as president of the organization was made with heavy hearts and done so to protect the organization against any and all allegations against him.
In closing, I trust David. This is not simply because I consider him a friend but because I have seen what he can do. I have seen him take a struggling organization and make it relevant again. I have seen him reach out to those that he may not agree with on other issues just to further our cause. He was exactly what we needed when we needed it….
Stanton’s statement does not, in fact, say Silverman was fired because of the allegations in Buzzfeed but because of the sum total allegations against him. Nor does it say anything about a forensic audit. As Silverman noted in August 2018, American Atheists has had a third-party auditor review its books every year for quite a while. I haven’t found anywhere where Silverman mentions why he thinks a forensic audit was done when he says there was no investigation.
More from Silverman, fisking the Buzzfeed article:
Actually, I was suspended for vague “very general” reasons never clarified, including breaking the NJ Whistleblower statute. Funny how that was never addressed! Almost like it was a bogus placeholder charge to justify suspending me until the Buzzfeed article came out ? Almost as if this was all a smokescreen because they knew the Buzzfeed article was coming (how?)
A personal note: American Atheists had no idea the article was coming out at the time Silverman was suspended. At that point, Peter Aldhous had been working on the article for quite some time and had asked me if I knew of anyone harmed by Silverman who might want to talk to him for it. However, the article was on the back burner and remained there at least until Rose and R decided to contact the American Atheists board. Aldhous told me as much when he was scrambling to bring the article to print and contacted me again to check on something for it.
From Silverman, annotating the Washington Post article:
This is bullshit. Yes, they can fire me for any reason, but they can’t pretend its for other fake reasons publicly to cover up their amateur, knee-jerk incompetence. They fired me for the allegations, see the letter and listen to the recording
The forensic audit came back clean
August 14: Silverman’s lawsuit
On April 12, 2018, American Atheists, Nick Cary, et al., Defendant, after having conspired to defraud me of my right to speak against the the wrongful accusations that they promulgated, did wrongfully terminate my employment as President. […] American Atheists breached my contract, then defamed me stating I was fired for financial concerns.
It’s worth noting that the statute of limitations on defamation in New Jersey is one year, so that can’t be among the actions Silverman is suing over. However, it is among the statements in Silverman’s words on this subject, so I’m including it here.
September 7: Silverman’s GoFundMe
In 2018, I was fired due to false allegations of sexual misconduct by two women, concerning events that happened 3 and 6 years prior. No investigation preceded my termination. I was perp-walked out of my office without even a moment of consideration that the allegations might be wrong. Additionally, American Atheists claimed I was fired for vague other reasons never defined, further injuring my ability to find a job elsewhere. AA claims to have performed a forensic audit, which I have learned cleared me, but they refuse to release the audit or clear my name.
From Nick Fish:
Our Board of Directors fully stands behind its decision to terminate Mr. Silverman’s employment. After reviewing the allegations and materials presented, the Board concluded that there were violations of American Atheists’ policies that warranted termination. The results of a review completed by an outside investigator confirmed that decision.
This does mention an investigation. However, it can’t be referring to the forensic audit that Silverman claims exonerates him, as that wouldn’t confirm American Atheists’ decision. It presumably refers to the lawyer mentioned in September 2018.
I’m including a link to this statement from American Atheists’ former treasurer here for the sake of completeness and because AAI indicated it would be quoting her. However, after some back and forth, it was determined that Wingrove was not on the board when the allegations were presented to it, did not receive information on the details of the allegations from the board, and is drawing her conclusions only from her own high-level annual reports.
After all that, what was Silverman fired for?
Three people in a position to know have had anything to say about it publicly (or in a way that has been made public). Neal Cary said it was primarily about allegations received after Silverman was suspended, but not which allegations. Mario Stanton was still vague but said the board was reacting to “any and all allegations against him.” Nick Fish is cited as saying, “‘The board was able to review a lot of [documents] that allowed them to conclude Silverman violated its internal policy,’ including staff management, conflicts of interest and violations of its general code of conduct.”
The rest of us are guessing, including Silverman. Things he points to as evidence to support his guesses don’t match his descriptions of them. His presumption that the additional allegations received between his suspension and firing are only the sexual assault allegations is unsupported.
Moreover, Silverman’s focus on financial mismanagement is unwarranted by anything American Atheists or its board members have said publicly. The specifics they’ve given are policy violations and conflicts of interest. People have speculated about those conflicts of interest based on things they’ve observed, as humans do, but that isn’t American Atheists doing it.
Conflicts of interest don’t have to involve mismanaging funds, even financial conflicts of interest. They can involve funds that never reach the ledgers of the organization in question because they went somewhere else that benefited the individual more. They can involve failing to disclose or even hiding interests that would warrant greater financial oversight from the board.
In short, there’s no good reason to believe Silverman was fired for any reason but those given by American Atheists. Silverman can attempt to read more into the gaps, but people with more knowledge have said he’s gotten the facts wrong.
But he wasn’t fired for embezzlement. He and American Atheists are in agreement on this point.