Interview with John Richards, Anti-Theism International Convention (Updated)

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. Continue reading “Interview with John Richards, Anti-Theism International Convention (Updated)”

Interview with John Richards, Anti-Theism International Convention (Updated)
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“With Prejudice”

There may be no sweeter words in the English language. At least no sweeter words for someone who’s spent three years with lawsuits hanging over their head and cleaning out their pocketbook. (We haven’t actually updated this yet with the most recent costs.)

The Plaintiff asks the Court to apply equitable tolling in this case and find that the statute of limitations will not bar his claim. The Court declines to do so. “Courts have generally reserved the remedy of equitable tolling for circumstances which were truly beyond the control of the plaintiff.” Ousley v. Rescare Homecare, No. 4:13-CV-00898-SPM, 2013 WL 5966050(E.D. Mo. Nov. 8, 2013)(citing Hill v. John Chezik Imps., 869 F. 2d 112, 1124 (8th Cir. 1989)). Plaintiff filed the case in Ohio within the Ohio and Missouri statues of limitation. Defendant was aware of potential jurisdictional defects in his case by way of Defendants’ Motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction on December 1, 2016, well within the Missouri statute of limitations. See (ECF No. 6-8, at 2 Plaintiff’s Motion for Prospective Equitable Tolling). Plaintiff was also aware of the possibility of his claim being time-barred should the Court grant Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. Id. at 1 (stating “Plaintiff… hereby moves this honorable Court to apply the doctrine of equitable tolling to toll the statute of limitations for one year, in the prospective event this Court might grant Defendant’s motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction or for improper venue…”). Plaintiff has not argued that there was any impediment to him complying with the Missouri statute of limitation and has not indicated that anything prevented from filing in Missouri within Missouri’s two-year statute of limitation. Therefore, equitable tolling will not be applied in this case.

That’s one suit done. Two still to go. But one is done. Whew.

“With Prejudice”

Who Do You Think You Are? Gods?

In 2016, I took part in the Godless Perverts reading at Skepticon. The performance wasn’t recorded, which opened up the possibilities for more than one performer. It also means no one outside that room knows what I said there, until now.

I lucked out on sex education. My house was the place the other kids came to learn how babies were made and whether the things that were happening to their bodies and minds were normal. Me? I didn’t have to wonder. I had the information before I could ever get curious.

Now, of course, we were Minnesotan (fourth generation here), so that means we didn’t actually talk about any of this. It came out of books. That the books were radical says more about the time they were written than anything, about attempts to codify the openness of the Sixties and to prepare new generations to live in that open world. Though who knows? They might be radical again in a year or two.

Photo by wilecany.

That our house was the house for these books also says a lot. It says some things about poverty and education, given how and where I lived, but it also speaks to religion and shame. Strict rules around pleasure and sexuality were one of the reasons my parents abandoned organized religion and promised never to foist it on their children. Apparently eloping before their scheduled wedding just so they could fuck felt ridiculous even to them.

Those books and their place on our public bookshelves were part of their efforts to spare us what they went through. I don’t know whether we were supposed to find the books on the private bookshelves, the erotica and the sex guides. As I said, Minnesotan. But they served the same purpose.

I entered adolescence with a solid sense of sexual possibility. I can’t quite tell you how I reconciled that with being pathologically shy at the time, but I did get over the shyness. Continue reading “Who Do You Think You Are? Gods?”

Who Do You Think You Are? Gods?

David Silverman: Liar for the Defense

See updates at the end of this post.

Late summer is apparently the time of year when David Silverman gets a new website and a new story. Last year, it was Transformative Humanists of America. That was where the man who wanted everyone to identify as an atheist instead of humanist urged people to elevate forgiveness to the pinnacle of Humanist values.

If you want to know more than that, you’ll have to read about it at Pharyngula, since the domain itself has been surrendered. It’s okay, though. A new year brings a new rebranding.

Silverman is now apparently a “firebrand for good“. Of course, like “humanism”, “good” takes on its own meaning in Silverman’s hands. Looking at the site, it appears to mostly mean appearing on conservative TV. Oh. And saying, “Bitches be lying.”

I suppose the new site represents something of an improvement in intellectual honesty. He’s no longer arguing for forgiveness without mentioning that sexual assault is the thing he wants to be forgiven for. On the other hand, he’s now moved from preaching forgiveness to claiming he has nothing to be forgiven for.

His argument? Well, a whole bunch of people suddenly decided to lie about him. No, I don’t know what their motivation was supposed to be either. It doesn’t really matter, though, because he’s lying himself. He’s also very bad at keeping track of the lies he’s told.

Is that a strong claim? Yes, but I have evidence. Continue reading “David Silverman: Liar for the Defense”

David Silverman: Liar for the Defense

Ladies, Mind Your Manners

I was recently sent a copy of a column titled “He, Too” (pdf) from the September issue of The Rational Alternative, the newsletter of Atheists United in Los Angeles. Sadly, it’s not a call to remember that women and nonbinary people are not the only ones subject to harassment in the secular movement. It is, instead, a suggestion that #metoo is somehow obviating due process in the movement’s efforts to deal with sexual harassment and assault.

The first half of author Bobbie Kirkhart’s article is essentially summed up in one paragraph.

It is a sad surprise that the freethought community is tearing itself up over such accusations and denials. Unless the accused man confesses and apologizes immediately, our discussions on the allegations eat up much of our time and energy, destroy friendships and embarrass our movement. Although there is much emotion involved, I believe we can—and must—look at these things as the rationalists we are.

I suspect that Kirkhart means she’s distressed rather than genuinely surprised. I’ve been doing this too long to be surprised, and she’s been working in the movement longer than I have. I also disagree that confession of wrongdoing stops discussion and prevents strife. People expressing remorse for their actions are still told they have nothing to feel bad about when the subject under discussion is as politicized as harassment and assault are. I’d be a happier person if I’d never seen that happen, but I have.

Black and white, complicated flow chart of a process where every step has something to do with chickens or eggs.
Not all logic makes sense. “Chicken Chicken Flow” by healther vescent, CC BY 2.0

I do agree with Kirkhart that discussions on the topic could be more rational. The number of times I’ve seen an “argument” along the lines of “He’s nice to me/highly respected in his field/chased by other women, so he couldn’t have done that” is appalling. Harassers don’t harass everyone, and often groom others to stand up for them. We’ve seen many highly respected academics and business people turn out to be serial harassers. Harassment and assault don’t happen because people have no other choice; they are a choice. Literally none of those things are correlated with harassing people or not. Still the arguments fly with far too much of the secular movement.

Even more than rationalism, however, I would argue that the secular movement needs a heavy dose of empiricism on the topic of harassment and assault. In this respect, Kirkhart falls woefully short. Continue reading “Ladies, Mind Your Manners”

Ladies, Mind Your Manners

Reducing Barriers to Reporting Harassment

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With the conversations and reporting of #metoo showing no signs of slowing down, we’re being provided with a trove of information about the reporting of harassment: who is reporting, who isn’t, the social and institutional responses to harassment reports. This all means we’re able to see how serial harassers continue to function over time.

Sometimes, often, the problem is as simple as organizations and individuals with the power to make a difference failing in their responsibilities. At the Weinstein Company, executives helped Harvey Weinstein settle a multitude of harassment claims without taking him out of the position that facilitated that harassment. Outside the company, gossip columnists used him to advance their own careers while keeping his behavior out of the news. NPR News knew about Michael Oreskes behavior his entire tenure but didn’t fire him until it became public.

Several people who’ve come forward have also spoken about experiencing or fearing retaliation as a consequence of speaking up. Unfortunately, retaliation is a reasonable concern. It’s a common experience when reporting harassment in the workplace. An EEOC report suggests an overwhelming majority of those who report face retaliation from their employer or their peers.

Given that kind of response, it absurd to blame targets of harassment for not stopping their harassers from harassing again or even for not coming forward before now. If they stay quiet, they’re merely doing what we’ve trained them to do. The tsunami that is #metoo demonstrates that when conditions change, people are ready to report.

That means that those of us who have and enforce codes of conduct have the power to make harassment claims heard. Continue reading “Reducing Barriers to Reporting Harassment”

Reducing Barriers to Reporting Harassment

Because Ignoring It Worked So Well

Yesterday, an article was published in The Observer1 to let us all in on the exciting secret that Milo Yiannopolous likes attention. He even actively seeks it out.

Someone like Milo or Mike Cernovich doesn’t care that you hate them—they like it. It’s proof to their followers that they are doing something subversive and meaningful. It gives their followers something to talk about. It imbues the whole movement with a sense of urgency and action—it creates purpose and meaning.

You’re worried about “normalizing” their behavior when in fact, that’s the one thing they don’t want to happen. The key tactic of alternative or provocative figures is to leverage the size and platform of their “not-audience” (i.e. their haters in the mainstream) to attract attention and build an actual audience. Let’s say 9 out of 10 people who hear something Milo says will find it repulsive and juvenile. Because of that response rate, it’s going to be hard for someone like Milo to market himself through traditional channels. His potential audience is too spread out, and doesn’t have that much in common. He can’t advertise, he can’t find them one by one. It’s just not going to scale.

You’re shocked I know. Me too. I never would have guessed this before I saw people sharing it on Facebook in yet one more attempt to find an acceptable way to say, “Don’t feed the trolls.” I thought he was shy and retiring.

All right. That’s 100% obvious bullshit. Yiannopolous didn’t invent shock jockery. It’s not at all a new concept. We all know that protests draw attention to the thing or person being protested. We do it anyway, and for very good reason. Continue reading “Because Ignoring It Worked So Well”

Because Ignoring It Worked So Well

The Upside of Abuse

Martin Hughes has responded to my prior post on anti-theism. He notes that he decided not to respond point by point, but I definitely consider it responsive nonetheless. It’s a personal and vulnerable post, and I think it’s a valuable contribution to any discussion of the experiences of prior believers.

Martin’s post also clarifies that part of our disagreement is in how we conceive and construct our identities around religion. Where mine are many and determined by my actions, his is singular and determined by his primary priorities. While he’s rejecting “anti-theist” as his singular label, he’s not rejecting all anti-theist work. I still have serious concerns about the way vocal and public rejections of that label feed narratives that reject anti-theist work as anti-social, but I think Alex Gabriel’s piece from yesterday can speak to those for now.

Instead, I’m going to answer the personal with the personal. I don’t know that this is even arguing with Martin’s post, though my perspective is definitely not his and is counter to it in some ways. But who knows, maybe people dealing with situations like his will get something out of it.

It’s not a secret that I come from an abusive home. From the time I learned to say, “No”, there was nothing I could do right and very few places I could go to get away from the consequences of that. Eventually abuse became abandonment, and there’s nowhere to go to get away from that.

It’s also not a secret that one of the places Gamergate and “alt-right” harassment tactics were honed was in the broader secular movement or that I was one of the targets of those. Implicit and explicit threats, demeaning sexual commentary, smear campaigns, coordinated monitoring and attacks at a dedicated site, denial or tacit acceptance of the harassment from people and institutions who benefited from their critics being silenced, big names directing harassers and refusing to take responsibility–all of that was there. It still is.

People ask me how I do it sometimes, how I handle the harassment. I usually shrug or say I don’t know. I do know. I handle it because I was abused. Continue reading “The Upside of Abuse”

The Upside of Abuse

Serious Answers to Sloppy Questions, Part 1

Photo of about a dozen and a half questions marks stenciled onto black pavement in white paint. Alternating right-side up and upside down in three rows.
Crop of “What?” by Véronique Debord-Lazaro, CC BY-SA 2.0

Niki transcribed the latest video of “unanswerable” gotcha questions. No, this isn’t another one aimed at atheists by Christians, though it’s about as effective and as grounded in real attempts to understand another person’s position. This one is aimed at social justice warriors by the status quo warriors.

Niki’s answers were mostly snark. I love them. You should read them. But it’s also worthwhile to have a few people answer even questions like these seriously, so I’m going to take a stab at that. I’m technically a social justice assassin, so not all the warriors want to admit I’m in the guild, but whatever.

It’s going to be long and tedious, since there are plenty of assumptions to unpack along with the questions themselves and the list itself is long and repetitive. But if we’re going to adopt this kind of tactic from the Christians, we might as well gallop while we’re at it, right? In order to keep it from getting unreadable, I’ll break it into thirds.

  • Do you realize that your war on language through political correctness has made you bedfellows with true rape culture? In other words, Islam, the world’s most misogynistic ideology.

Let’s start with your assumptions. Continue reading “Serious Answers to Sloppy Questions, Part 1”

Serious Answers to Sloppy Questions, Part 1

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. Continue reading “Summarizing the Current Allegations Against Richard Carrier”

Summarizing the Current Allegations Against Richard Carrier