We Were Too Forgiving

So you may remember when DJ Grothe accused certain skeptic women of scaring other women away from TAM, and destroyed the goodwill of many in our community. Former supporters ceased supporting TAM, but most of us were willing to give James Randi the benefit of the doubt. Some of us even tried to meet our obligations to TAM, and suffered for it.

And many of you probably remember when Ron Lindsay got up in front of a room full of skeptic women, at a conference for skeptic women, and insulted them thoroughly. Then he took to his official blog and attacked Rebecca Watson rather viciously. Then he failed to apologize. CFI took an inordinate amount of time to issue a statement that amounted to “suck it.” But when Ron finally got round to apologizing, we forgave him, and most of us cautiously supported CFI again, despite the fact the Board had failed to take appropriate action.

And now, this. And this.


It’s too much.

My opinion is only my own, but I believe we have been too generous. We’ve forgiven too easily. And we’ve shielded reputations, failed to name predators, failed to demand substantial change. Our community has suffered for that failure.

We just wanted to be reasonable.

We need to internalize this truth: the reasonable thing to do is to demand abusers and harassers be held accountable for their actions. The reasonable stance is to demand that the leaders of the skeptic community apologize sincerely when they’ve harmed women, and make necessary and substantial changes in addition to that apology. The reasonable request is to require that organizations take measures to appropriately respond to harassment and abuse perpetrated by their employees, or speakers and attendees at their conferences.The reasonable stance is to say that this behavior will not be tolerated within this community, and if you are proven to engage in it, you are no longer welcome in our organizations and at our gatherings. And it is reasonable to expect those who fail to appropriately address misbehavior to step down, or if necessary, for their employers to terminate their employment.

It is reasonable to withdraw support from organizations that fail to live up to these standards.

It is unreasonable to tolerate the status quo, to protect big-name predators because they are big names, or to expect the victims of predation to suffer in silence.

It’s also reasonable to give people and/or organizations a chance to correct their deficiencies (although obviously this does not apply to those whose harassment was egregious, or if they assaulted or abused another person). It may even be reasonable to give them a second chance to get it right.

But it is far from reasonable to give them a third chance.

We cannot be expected to accept excuses, explanations, and lukewarm apologies indefinitely. Nor should we be expected to endure indefinite inaction. We cannot tolerate abusers remaining comfortably anonymous and allow their victims to be gagged.

We cannot continue to support organizations like the JREF and CFI, who have gotten it so egregiously wrong so very many times.

Here is what I believe should happen now:

Women in Secularism 3 should be moved from CFI to Secular Woman, American Atheists, or another national organization that has proven it can be trusted on these issues.

Those who speak, write, or volunteer for JREF and CFI should decline to continue doing so.

Employees of those organizations who are not okay with how these serious issues have been handled should be assisted in finding other employment if they choose.

Those who donate their time and/or money to these organizations should cease all support immediately.

Does this seem harsh? It’s meant to be. We’ve already given them first, second, third, fourth, and umpteenth chances. Despite the good they have done, they have proven they will not adequately deal with harassment and abuse. They’ve made their choice.

It’s time for us to make ours.

We Were Too Forgiving

In Answer to Annie

Annie took me to task for thanking Thomas Tamm and pointing up the need for whistleblowers. Cujo359 answered her quite well, but I’m going to expand on that a bit here.

First off, I have blown the whistle. I lost my job over it. So I guess that makes two of us.

Secondly, silence does fuck-all to help anyone. Noise gets attention. And attention sometimes leads to people who can help:

The bottom line is that Tom Tamm blowing the whistle is probably the linchpin behind us knowing what we do about the egregious unconstitutional and illegal actions of the Bushies. Tamm coming forward at this time may also prove to be critical in forming Judge Walker’s mind on his review of the immunity assertion.

A lot of readers have asked about how to donate to Tamm’s legal defense fund. In that regard, I contacted Mr. Tamm’s attorney, Paul Kemp and obtained the information; here is the response:

Hi [bmaz]. Thanks for your inquiry. The address of the defense fund

Thomas Tamm Legal Defense Fund
Bank of Georgetown
5236 44th Street
Washington, DC 20015.

Tom appreciates your support and that of your readers. [Some
unrelated chit chat on another matter redacted]

Paul F. Kemp

Irrespective of his precise personal motivations, Tom Tamm has done the Constitution, the Fourth Amendment, the rule of law and all of us a favor by exposing the rank lawlessness of the elected leaders of this country. If you see fit, send him a few bucks to lighten the load he has taken on.

Thirdly, even if not accompanied by fundraising, getting stories like Mr. Tamm’s out in the open accomplishes a great many things. It’s called consciousness-raising. Whistleblowers go through hell and back in part because people don’t know enough to care. They don’t realize what comes after that whistle’s blown. They don’t stop to think about the consequences of silence. Making some noise means that regular people become aware of both, and can take action. They’ll see the need to pressure lawmakers to pass legislation that will put heavy penalties in place for retaliation, for one thing. And who knows? Maybe the writer of the story can’t help directly, but maybe one of the readers is in a position to offer a job, or representation, or any one of a dozen necessary things.

Fourthly, what the fuck am I supposed to do? Ignore the sacrifice? Not even say “thank you”? Show no appreciation whatsoever for the person who brought abuses to light, thus making me aware and empowered? You may not feel the same way, Annie, but plenty of people find at least a bit of comfort in knowing that there are people who appreciate that sacrifice and are grateful for it. I know I did. And it felt good doing the right thing, even though I got shafted for it.

And finally, I’ll stand by my call for more people to come forward and reveal abuses. It’s up to the individual to decide if the risks are worth it, but I have no compunction about calling for people to bring light to dark caves. Even if all I have to offer in turn is gratitude, my sympathy for the hell they’ll go through, and my ability to kick up a fuss in the blogosphere on their behalf.

No one ever promised it would be easy. No one ever promised virtue would be rewarded, and evil punished. But I believe the greater evil is to let fear and risk silence us in the face of outrageous abuses.

I don’t imagine, after your experience, that any of that will hold any water with you, Annie. On this one thing, we may have to acknowledge an impasse and move on.

In Answer to Annie

Thank You for Blowing that Whistle, Mr. Tamm

We could’ve used a lot more like him during these past eight years.

Newsweek has a fascinating story about the person who first leaked the warrantless surveillance story:

“Thomas M. Tamm was entrusted with some of the government’s most important secrets. He had a Sensitive Compartmented Information security clearance, a level above Top Secret. Government agents had probed Tamm’s background, his friends and associates, and determined him trustworthy.

It’s easy to see why: he comes from a family of high-ranking FBI officials. During his childhood, he played under the desk of J. Edgar Hoover, and as an adult, he enjoyed a long and successful career as a prosecutor. Now gray-haired, 56 and fighting a paunch, Tamm prides himself on his personal rectitude. He has what his 23-year-old son, Terry, calls a “passion for justice.” For that reason, there was one secret he says he felt duty-bound to reveal.

In the spring of 2004, Tamm had just finished a yearlong stint at a Justice Department unit handling wiretaps of suspected terrorists and spies — a unit so sensitive that employees are required to put their hands through a biometric scanner to check their fingerprints upon entering. While there, Tamm stumbled upon the existence of a highly classified National Security Agency program that seemed to be eavesdropping on U.S. citizens. The unit had special rules that appeared to be hiding the NSA activities from a panel of federal judges who are required to approve such surveillance. When Tamm started asking questions, his supervisors told him to drop the subject. He says one volunteered that “the program” (as it was commonly called within the office) was “probably illegal.”

The man got put through hell after he decided to blow the whistle. Hilzoy takes the anti-whistleblower logic apart. It’s definitely worth your time.

I haven’t anything to add to the subject aside from this: people who risk their careers, their health and their families doing the right thing when others won’t deserve our gratitude.

Thank You for Blowing that Whistle, Mr. Tamm