Have you been following the saga that is the new Anti-Theism International Convention? Probably not, so long story short: A new conference was set up in Britain to honor the legacy of Christopher Hitchens. It claimed to have very prestigious (brand new) awards and high tickets prices to match.
Then one of the organizers did an interview on YouTube to promote the conference, and the whole thing was bizarre. It was antagonistic, incoherent, and peaked with sexual assault apologetics that claimed all men had committed assault and involved a (probably joking) threat to assault the interviewer if he attended the conference. Yes, really.
When Hemant Mehta picked up the story, the convention’s other organizer showed up in the comments to say he’d fired the, er, outspoken organizer and was willing to be interviewed. So I did that, or at least I started to. I’m reproducing the exchange here, because edits, deletions, and out-of-order comments make it difficult to follow there. Comments here are posted in the order they occurred.
John Richards [comment edited after my response]: Hi Guys,
It’s John Richards here.
I’m the organizer of the Anti-Theism International Convention.
I hope you might be willing to hear what I’ve got to say about this subject…
Firstly, I’ve sacked Lance Gregorchuk.
Secondly, I have school age daughters and I do not want them to be sexually, physically or mentally abused, or in any way treated badly. NeIther do I want them to think they can get away with making false accusations in future.
I love them.
Thirdly, I do not want the Anti-Theism Convention to be taken over by issues associated with the current social turbulence regarding what should be considered to be appropriate sexual behavior for the twenty first century.
I recognize that social media has enabled a sudden change in attitudes towards what should be considered acceptable sexual behavior today and I understand that older men are having difficulty adjusting to the new standards, especially as these standards seem to be applicable retrospectively.
Here’s MY personal position:
I do NOT approve of using male strength to impose activities on unwilling women.
I do NOT approve of psychological torments being used to force women into submission and I do NOT approve of the trafficking of teenage girls for sex. All sexual activity should be BY CONSENT.
I’m a retired Science teacher who can’t stop teaching Science and, although I do work for Atheist Alliance International, this event is not being produced under their auspices. The Anti-Theism International Convention has no connection with David Silverman and we have invited Lawrence Krauss for his knowledge and experience not for his proclivities, whatever they may be alleged to be. His wife will be accompanying him to the event.
Ask yourselves, why should the Anti-Theism International Convention be derailed by a separate, unconnected issue?
This is not a convention about sexual behavior, it is about how we should address the question of the harm caused by faiths.
The issues at stake here are the harm being done by the imposition of religious doctrines on government, education and society at large.
I believe we need to challenge the undeserved respect and control traditionally given to religious ‘authorities’ who do not sufficiently disapprove of the mutilation of newborns’ sexual organs, the sexual and physical abuse of children, the demonization of homosexuals, the subjugation of women, the ‘martyrdom’ given to radicalized terrorists and the deception perpetrated on the population at large that there is a better ‘afterlife’ to go to upon death.
I contend that the ‘rights’ to a mass audience and to a voice in decision making bodies demanded by clergy are illegitimate because there is no evidence for the existence of the deities that they claim to represent.
I do not wish to impose non-belief on anyone, I just want people to value evidence and apply rational thinking to decision making, as any Science teacher would…
Go ahead, argue with me if you think this is not virtuous…
I’m available for interview.
Me: Your “personal position” is all well and good for your living room. You’re inviting people to spend money on your event. What are you doing for the event to make sure harassment and assault aren’t problems? We already know you’re not screening your co-organizers or speakers.
Richards [comment edited after my response]: There will be security guards.
You do realize you are impuning the reputations of the other speakers?
What would stop them from suing you?
“We already know you’re not screening your co-organizers or speakers.”
I have SACKED Lance Gregorchuk as those of us who can read will have discovered.
Me: There’s nothing “of course” about it. Most conferences, in fact, don’t have or need security guards. What are you telling the security guards to do?
Richards [comment deleted after my response]: You’ve obviously never organized a tea party.
Me: I’ve organized five conferences and consulted on at least a dozen more. Now, what are you telling the security guards to do?
Richards: The security guards are fully trained and need little instruction. They work regularly in the buildings for events.
Richards [comment edited after my response]: The Security Guards are fully trained and work regularly for events held in the buildings. Should I tell them to police for inappropriate touching?
When’s your next conference, so that I can try to put the kibosh on it?
Me: Why are you asking me if your security guards should police for groping and assault? Do you not think this is a consideration that comes along with inviting a speaker who you know has been credibly accused of multiple instances of harassment and assault and who resigned his position before he could be fired when his university found wrongdoing? Have you not already discussed this with them? Does your venue even know? Do you not think you have that responsibility to your guests?
I’m also just going to note here for the record that your deleted comment said, “You’ve obviously never organized a tea party.”
Richards: In the UK, where this event is being held, regulations and conditions of hire of venues for the attendance of large numbers of people require security guards, many of whom are trained in First Aid.
Hence my ‘of course’.
Richards: OK, your earlier comments indicated that you had little expertise on the subject of organizing events, hence my hasty assumption.
Perhaps Health and Safety regulations are lax in your country, but in Brighton UK it is necessary to provide security guards for events involving large numbers of people. How was I to know that you didn’t know this?
Me: Actually, I’m given to understand UK regulations only require that you have enough staff assigned to the appropriate duties to maintain safety at your events and that any staff paid for certain security positions must be licensed. Individual venues may have stricter requirements as a condition of leasing. That’s not appreciably different than it is here in the U.S.
Have you contacted a solicitor (forgive me if I choose the wrong type of legal expert here) about your responsibilities as an event planner? If so, have you discussed with them what liability you incur bringing in a speaker credibly accused of sexual harassment and assault? Also, I’m still waiting for an answer on whether you’ve discussed the issue with your venue and your security management.
Richards [comment edited after my response]: Of course (am I permitted to use that expression?) the owners of the venue (Brighton University) and I have been in protracted communication on all sorts of issues. They are aware of the speaker list and have not disapproved it.
My legal expert tells me I have no responsibility for how self-determining members of an audience choose to behave towards each other and that accusations are not equivalent to charges let alone to convictions.
Naturally we have event insurance.
Me: That doesn’t really answer my questions. Is the venue aware that one of your speakers has been credibly accused of sexual harassment and assault? Is your legal expert actually a solicitor giving legal advice to your event, or are they the same person who told you security guards were required by law?
Richards [comment edited after my response]: In view of the publicity about Lawrence Krauss it is extremely unlikely that the managers of the Sallis Benney theatre are in ignorance. Again, accusations are neither charges nor convictions. I am not excusing Lawrence for whatever he may or may not have done, I just prefer living in a society that is regulated by a system of justice.
There is no Law (Act of Parliament) requiring the provision of security guards although there are Laws about their qualifications. The provision of security is a regulation not a Law.
Me: What I’m hearing is that you haven’t discussed the accusations against Krauss with the venue, so you haven’t had the discussion with them about how to protect your attendees from him. Also that you haven’t sought professional legal advice on your liability or responsibilities in this. Please correct me if I’m wrong.
Richards: Again, accusations are not charges or convictions.
Stop acting as though they are.
Take your complaints to the police.
Hopefully you will get DUE PROCESS.
Society depends on DUE PROCESS.
Without DUE PROCESS there is no society
Me: I’ll take that as confirmation. Would you care to comment on why you don’t want to share this information with your venue?
Richards [comment edited after my response]: Do you think it is secret then?
When were you appointed Judge over all you survey?
Me: I think you have a responsibility to prevent harm to your attendees and that not discussing the matter openly with those whose job that is does nothing to meet that responsibility.