The one way we lost in the battle for the SCA

We pointed out Justin Vacula’s feet of clay, and nearly a thousand signatures were collected on the petition demanding that SCA either address his misdeeds by forcing him out or stand by those misdeeds. Vacula has stepped down from his position after this controversy didn’t go away.

Which naturally means “the terrorists” and “bullies” have won. (According to the real bullies, the anti-feminist and anti-woman contingents of our movement.)

I was really hoping this post would be “thank you Justin Vacula, your second chance begins now” but there’s absolutely no acknowledgement that the charges against him in the petition were evidenced. They are, instead, characterized as a whisper campaign by people with a vested interest in pushing him out of dialog. Among other choice salt-the-earth lines, he says the following:

My detractors did not only brand me as an ‘enemy of the people’ in a similar fashion to the eponymous play written by Henrik Ibsen, but also attacked the Secular Coalition for America – an organization with with women as staff members including the organization’s executive director – claiming it “dislike[s] feminist secular activists in Pennsylvania,” is responsible for “alienating women,” and “is woefully out of sync with the atheist movement” to just mention three items. Those who demand respect and object to disrespect — as should be apparent — offer no or little respect to others, thus not modeling the behavior they wish to see.

I can’t even begin to express my sadness that Vacula has learned absolutely nothing and has gained absolutely no measure of introspection from this. Instead, he’s slurring and mischaracterizing and eliding the arguments against him and the reasons people might sign the petition. That’s hardly the optimal outcome — that being, that Vacula realizes his missteps and apologizes for them so we can move on. Of course, he claims that he’s made mistakes, but never specifies what he’s done that he perceives now as having been a mistake, and continues mischaracterizing the arguments against him notwithstanding.

We’ve won big on this, owing to the numbers in our community who agree with the assessment of the evidence. We won in that we’ve refused to accept a bully and witch-hunter as a leader, and the SCA has hopefully learned a lesson from this, that you have to look deeper into the beliefs and actions of people you choose to represent you in leadership positions. They did precious little to vet him because they have hardly any volunteers, and are by all appearances pursuing an all-fifty-states initiatives. But that hardly matters. What matters is that they learned that one can’t just presume they know everything about someone because one person vouched for them.

FtB learned that lesson when PZ vouched for Thunderf00t, and continued to vouch for him during the first few weeks of him going slash-and-burn on everyone who blogs here both privately and publicly. Resolving the issue required messiness, and we had no idea the depth of the damage to which Thunderf00t was capable. Now SCA has learned that some people aren’t followed by controversy, but instead generate it themselves through their actions.

But we took losses in winning this battle, including the slurs and lies and elisions that are peeling away names I recognize and names that should support our goals, and the fact that Vacula had to slam the door behind him to knock as much china off the walls as possible is the saddest loss of all. I guess we just have to take solace in the fact that the folks who would rather inculcate the chilly climate and entrench sexism and bigotry in our community (whether knowingly or because they think feminists are just too shrill and hysterical) are truly a minority.

Vacula, the moment you recognize your misdeeds and make an effort to reach out to us, I’ll personally forgive you and give you another chance. Not a chance for leadership, but a chance to work together to be atheist activists without rending our communities over gender politics. I know this means little, coming from the guy who still thinks your argumentation is vacuous and your tactics often trollish. But it’s a sincere wish that you’d have a moment of introspection and actually consider that the people who find your actions offensive might have good reasons, rather than imagined fascistic ones.

The one way we lost in the battle for the SCA

71 thoughts on “The one way we lost in the battle for the SCA

  1. 1

    Vacula, the moment you recognize your misdeeds and make an effort to reach out to us, I’ll personally forgive you and give you another chance.

    Given his reaction and digging in of heels, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

    I will still donate to the SCA, but it will be a smaller donation this year, and I’ll be keeping a closer eye on them. They are competing for a fairly small pie of contributions, and my particular contribution might not mean much to them, but I hope the combined effect is enough to make a difference.

  2. 3

    It is the dishonesty/delusion of his posturing that makes it clear that he’s unrepentant and either refuses to accept the reality of the criticism against him or is incapable of engaging with that reality. There’s no “whisper campaign” and his “I did something wrong” only exists as a platform to launch more dishonest attacks, and make himself a martyr for his partners in hate.

  3. 4

    There is no loss here. The goal was never to make angels smile upon the world and right all wrongs. The goal was to keep someone with every demonstrated intention of using any power he had against people out of a position that would give him greater power. That’s it. That happened. Goal achieved.

    We can and do make a difference by what we do. Don’t slight it by saying we didn’t do something we never tried.

  4. 5

    Oh, and BTW… don’t use the word “terrorist” to describe these people, please. Terrorists murder people, blow up and set fire to cars and buildings, throw acid on people, etc. These aren’t terrorists, although they ARE bullies and assholes.

  5. 8

    I’ve softened some of my statements of dismay somewhat to address Stephanie’s concern. Yes, we won bigtime, and the SCA knows now that they need to look at who they’re taking on and are on notice that you can’t put someone so divisive and evidently power-hungry in charge. I am still sad that there’s no introspection. Sue me.

  6. 11

    “Vacula, the moment you recognize your misdeeds and make an effort to reach out to us, I’ll personally forgive you and give you another chance.”

    I doubt I count as objective but this strikes me as the language formulation of the neocon’s on dealing with recalcitrant mideast countries.

    It smacks of ‘I’m right (or I AM The Power), bow down to mmeeeeeeeeee’ cartoonishness.

    That said, I’m very glad you took the time, effort and personal costs to get him removed. He’s odious and I don’t believe he could have carried out the role successfully (for every reason you mention).

  7. 12

    This shit will absolutely never end.

    Not until the bigots grow up and learn to take personal responsibility for their actions, no.

    For this post to be ball-spiking, he’d have to be mocking Vacula. There is nothing mocking Vacula in this post at all, just expressions of dismay that he said what he said and learned absolutely nothing.

    Funny though how you only have tone-trolling comments for FtB though, and never those doling out bigotry and harrassment whereever they go.

  8. 13

    @5: I’d argue that ongoing and coordinated efforts to harass people to get them to shut up or drop our of a social movement counts as terrorism.


    I doubt I count as objective but this strikes me as the language formulation of the neocon’s on dealing with recalcitrant mideast countries.

    Maybe, but context matters. Extending the possibility of reconciliation when you’ve knocked down someone defending his right to be an asshole to members of marginalized social groups is way different than doing so after you’ve just successfully kicked someone who’s already down.

  9. 15

    What I mean by spiking the ball is that you didn’t even try to understand why Vacula might have written that as he was leaving. It’s human nature to try to save face as you are being pushed out and I might have done something similar if faced with the same option. It’s incredibly difficult to give in, first of all, and then way difficult to completely say that one is wrong and will try to fix one’s self. When do you ever see that in public life, except when a politician is found cheating or charged with a crime? You could have just been gracious, accepted that he did what you wanted him to do and chalk up his last post as an emotionally charged response but, no, you had to break down even the last post.

    If you remain so hypercritical of others then you will slowly whittle down the range of people that you can relate to and then you will only have choirs to converse with. In other words, be charitable.

  10. 16

    @Illuminati I doubt that you can be so positive that I am tone trolling or that I do not criticize bigoted views. I believe that one can only be a troll if one is only concerned with causing outrage. I never want to stir the shit but I am a cocky person who thinks that people should care what I say so I go on blogs and twitter to spout off on things I find distasteful/tasteful. I do think tone matters though because a poor tone can make it impossible for the recipient to accept the arguments of their opposition. It’s human nature to go on the defensive when our character or like is attacked and to completely miss all cogent arguments lying therein. So yes, tone matters.

  11. 17

    I love that Vacula thinks that apparently the presence of some women must mean the SCA couldn’t possibly be alienating other women–even when those women sign petitions and explicitly state why they are alienated!!

    And the fact that Edwina Rogers is a woman isn’t exactly comforting–and I’ve noticed more than a few Vacula supporters (IIRC it was at WWJTD?) saying that we were alienating women by criticizing Edwina Rogers…as if we didn’t bend over backwards to give her a chance, as if any of our comments had anything to do with her gender, and as if she weren’t an embarrassingly transparent liar and woefully unprepared to address the community! (And, since then, when Dana Milbank DID trash Edwina in gendered terms even some very harsh critics of her on FTB said “this is not okay,” because picking on a woman’s clothes instead of her competence is unacceptable no matter what her politics!)

  12. F

    birdterrifyer @ 15

    Regarding your first paragraph: While that is an accurate observation of human behavior, such behavior is classified as being immature or being an asshole. Saving face is bullshit. It is also ineffective when too many people already know the truth.
    But we’re all just supposed to play along to soothe an ego, and wait for that person to continue to pull the same shit before calling it for what it is?

    Never mind that this contention isn’t over a single remark or incident, but a long term pattern of behavior.

  13. 21

    birdterrifier @ 15

    What I mean by spiking the ball is that you didn’t even try to understand why Vacula might have written that as he was leaving.

    How can we know what he intended? All we have to determine that (as of now) is Vacula’s resignation letter itself. And given that he characterizes an open, specific petition as “a campaign of lies, character attacks, and distortions,” I think it’s fairly obvious he meant this resignation letter as a back-hand against his opponents, instead of an attempt to ask forgiveness for real “errors of judgment” and move towards something better.

  14. 22

    I’ve generally stayed away from this particular drama. But I did recently decide to unfriend Vacula on Facebook after I could no longer make excuses for keeping him around. For me, it was his increasingly dishonest, passive-aggressive approach to his sexism that chafed.

    The last straw was when he posted some link to a blog post by Rebecca on Skepchick, and accompanied his link with deceptively neutral questions (“Rebecca Watson says X. What do you think, readers?”), all in the interest of sounding like the calm voice of reason in the face of controversy. What happened next, of course — and what Vacula certainly damn well knew would happen — was that hordes of misogynists and MRA-types on his friends list immediately flooded the comments with the usual profane, sexist personal attacks against Rebecca. It all just struck me as an especially weaselly way to go about your bullying: post an “innocent question” and then let the great unwashed do your dirty work for you.

    He probably has other character flaws and dirty deeds to his name, but that was the one that pissed me off.

  15. 23

    You all expect complete capitulation and refuse to try to put yourself in the same position.

    You have removed a volunteer from the PA chapter but do you care if the next person is as qualified at battling the encroachment of church on their state? Do you have any idea how difficult it is to gather volunteers in meat space?

    From my own experience in Oklahoma, we have a local AU chapter that is mostly comprised of older non-theists and older, traditional Baptists as well as a sprinkling of younger non-theists. Of course, we have no problem organizing a monthly meetup at a pizza parlor that attracts over 50 people but the activists are always the same die hards and there aren’t many of them. I think that’s part of the reason why Edwina did not bother with a background check making sure that FTB/Skepchick approved of their volunteer that wanted help them in their incredibly difficult endeavor. Was this really about your concern for how SCA is organizing to maintain the wall between church and state or a personal grudge?

  16. 24

    To address baal’s point @12, this post is partly in response to all those folks who complain that we can’t be charitable and give Vacula a second chance. He hasn’t even finished, as F said, with screwing up his first chance. First you have to understand and agree that your behaviour was wrong, and apologize with contrition.

    Us taking Vacula to task for behaviours he’s never even recognized as wrong, behaviours that could land the SCA and other skeptical organizations in hot water, is nothing like demanding capitulation and fealty and whatever other fascistic hyperbole you make up.

    And make no mistake, you’re employing the exact same tools to shame us for believing what we believe, birdterrifier. So anything you claim we are, you are too.

  17. 25

    Additionally, your post amounts to “fuck the people he’s wronged — he did bus ads and a podcast! He MUST be good!” Vacula offers nothing that could not be equally offered by people who aren’t bullies and witch-hunters.

  18. 26

    birdterrifier @ 24

    You have removed a volunteer from the PA chapter but do you care if the next person is as qualified at battling the encroachment of church on their state? Do you have any idea how difficult it is to gather volunteers in meat space?

    Yes, actually. Good volunteers are worth their weight in gold. Those that could alienate other volunteers, or damage the organization they are volunteering for, are worth shedding at the first available moment. Vacula’s actions, and lack of remorse for said actions, put him in the latter camp. The short-term pain of losing that person is better than the long-term pain of having to defend such a person, or having to remove them once they’ve become comfortable.

    Was this really about your concern for how SCA is organizing to maintain the wall between church and state or a personal grudge?

    Vacula has done nothing to me personally, and I’ve praised some of his activism before. I don’t carry a grudge. If Vacula carries on with this behavior, however, he could hurt the SCA’s ability to fight for secularism by attracting controversy or driving away potential volunteers. Is that so tough to understand?

  19. 28

    I would like to be able to just say, “Yay, a victory for not-sexism,” but honestly all these fights, necessary though they may be, just make me feel sick inside, no matter how they come out. That’s not to denigrate all the work people do when they put themselves out there to fight this stuff, it just sucks when even a victory doesn’t mean an end to the hostility and might even create more of it, at least in the short term.

    For me, this is the first one of these incidents that’s actually involved (tangentially) people that I’ve met in person and had some positive interactions with, which makes it even more distressing from my perspective, and all the more difficult to negotiate the drawn battle lines. I don’t know how all y’all who’ve been dealing with it at that level for the past year and more have managed to cope. I can see why a lot of people just conclude that the internet is too much of a clusterfuck of empathy fails and hate spirals and drop out. I wish there was a way to fix this. :/

  20. 29

    You all expect complete capitulation and refuse to try to put yourself in the same position.

    This may be difficult for you, Bird.

    When I do something wrong, when I make a mistake, when I have been mean to an individual without merit, I go and actively admit my fault, work to correct the error, and apologise profusely to the person I have wronged.

    There are plenty of mistakes I have made at work that I could have kept quiet about and none would have been aware a mistake was ever made. I have admitted them all, because I believe in taking responsibility for my actions.

  21. 31

    @ImprobableJoe Vacula made a mistake posting a public address on a thread where people were ragging on Surly Amy and was callous towards a blogger whenever she was going through emotional distress from being constantly trolled. This is not exactly Mussolini material.

    @Jason I’m not trying to shame you like you were a wicked child, I was just curious what your answers might be to questions that I didn’t think you had considered. That might be something you could have done with Vacula on a podcast or something in an attempt to understand his point of view instead of constantly blogging without any hope of reconciliation. Effectively talking around each other.

    So you say that anyone could offer what Vacula could offer but that’s not what I’ve encountered. What’s the volunteer situation for your local church/state activist group (AU for example) versus the general meetup group in Minnesota?

    Hell, the president and vice president of our social group don’t even reveal their actual names on the web site so I doubt they’d be able to take the kind of abuse that Vacula has sustained in the past. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t care what harm Vacula has done to others but was curious if you even cared about the church/state activism situation in PA.

  22. 32

    @rowanvt I believe in being honest and owning up to my mistakes but I don’t always do what I ought. Also, I’ve never had the light shine so brightly on my faults in the way that Vacula has experienced.

  23. 34

    birdterrifier, the part of Vacula’s behavior that disturbs me the most is actually his choice to post that article on the “A Voice for Men” website. If he hadn’t done that, I might be willing to consider the possibility that his comments about Jen were just a bit of one-off juvenile dickishness, and that the thing with Surly Amy’s address was just thoughtlessness and poor judgment. Just, maybe, y’know, personal disagreements that got badly out of hand. Merely, as you suggest, a bit of callousness and a mistake. Still not good, but not necessarily indicative of deep-seated misogyny or anything. But AVfM is committedly and proudly misogynist, and the fact that he willingly put an article there and hasn’t given any indication that he understands what’s wrong with that makes it much harder to give him the benefit of the doubt on everything else. It’s “not exactly Mussolini material”, but I also don’t want unrepentant AVfM authors running any movement that I’m part of either.

    I do think it’s good that he at least admits he made mistakes, I just hope he starts thinking about exactly what those mistakes were and what about them was problematic. I don’t want him driven away. I just want him to do the right thing, by which I mean, I want him to show genuine contrition rather than just, “Yes, maybe I made a little bit of a mistake, but you were really mean about how you pointed it out, so screw you.” And yes, the fact that he just got slapped down very hard and very publicly undoubtedly makes it much harder emotionally to do the right thing. But if he succeeds in doing it nevertheless, it would be a pretty damn good testament to his intellectual honesty and the quality of his character, and he would probably find that he’d get a very positive reception for it. I hope he’ll keep that in mind.

  24. 38

    @36 and 37. This not-just-uncomfortable-but-downright-bloody-dangerous-to-the-Party fact has been spelled out but it keeps getting swept under the carpet. See my comment @36 here, and what follows.

    I was sitting on the fence prior to this JV episode but the sheer, bald-faced reinvention, lying and four-legs-good-two-legs-bad-lynchathon has me thorougly disgusted.

  25. 39

    GumboFood: perhaps you have more information than I have, then. My understanding of the situation is that Amy provided the name she received from the DMCA counterclaim to conference authorities so they were aware that the ElevatorGATE hate-blog owner would be flagged as a potential security risk, and some unknown entity floated some name (that nobody’s confirmed as belonging to ElevatorGATE) on some forum or other. Did anything come out other than hir name? Was it confirmed hir information? Perhaps you could provide links, since you’re looking for “news” about this?

  26. 40

    CiizensOnPatrol: No. Flat no.

    We a) don’t know who that person is, though Vacula and a few people who’ve seen the screenshots know who it is but aren’t telling; and b) don’t know that this information is actually Vacula’s.

    But you’re welcome to keep asking if we’re doing things to poison the well. Here’s some more examples:

    “Were FtBers responsible for the dinosaur die-off?”

    “Where were the FtBers during the Beer Hall Putsch?”

  27. 41

    permanganater: if you call the comments at that link “sweeping it under the rug”, you and I are speaking a completely different language with idioms that don’t mean anything alike. Here in reality, “sweeping it under the rug” means trying to cover something up. Usually something odious that someone has personally done.

    Since nobody here did the thing you claim we’re sweeping under a rug, but rather all involved agreed that posting a person’s address to a forum where there might be even just one cracked vigilante is completely morally reprehensible, perhaps you’d like to provide better evidence than has been offered. And perhaps you might like to examine why it’s both:

    1. perfectly acceptable for one person to find through easily available public records someone’s address and posting it to a forum of their ideological opponents;


    2. completely unacceptable for one person to find through easily available public records someone’s address and posting it to a forum of their ideological opponents.

    FtBers are saying both are wrong. You’re defending your hero’s actions while excoriating identical actions by some unknown third party and blaming us for it.

    Think on that.

    You’ll all have a long time, since you obvious trolls are being binned.

  28. 42

    Also, I’ve never had the light shine so brightly on my faults in the way that Vacula has experienced

    As a potential leader, higher standards of investigation must be expected. For me, this wasnt about Vacula (because I had seen his work before and had already drawn my conclusion… I was interested to see if his response to this would change my mind, but it doesnt seem so) but more about the SCA appointment process.

    In the rush to get a man on the ground, they didnt look at the man. They didnt investigate as strongly as a leadership position demands. I will be interested to see if they double down like Vacula, or if they can rise above his sterling example and write a letter explaining what went wrong and how its not going to go wrong in the future. Maybe they will sweep it under the rug and immediately/unquestioningly appoint someone who is simply not known on the internet, hence learning the wrong lesson

  29. 43

    Whoa, I said ‘sweeping it under the carpet’. Not rug. Huge difference! OK….just jokes to break the tension.

    Justin, I’m not a troll. I hope I’m not a toll. I’m a regular Joe/Josephine trying to make sense of all this. I read here and on A+ that JVs more notable sins included doxing someone at a hate site. I go looking and divine this isn’t the case, that he was defending himself against allegation of intending-to-dox in the context of the DMCA dispute by saying look here, these particulars are two clicks away.

    The responses this generated – apart from grudgingly admitting the sl*me pit maybe isn’t a hate site but was in a previous incarnation (which I did not know until you told me)- dissembles the primary point as to whether their really was a meaningful doxing.

    Justin, given the gravity of what was being alleged, without context or correction, I saw this amounting to a sweeping under the carpet (rug).

  30. 44

    You’re hilarious, permanganater. First, my name’s Jason. Second, I just got done saying, it doesn’t matter if her address was in the US trademark database, nor that his was in the Scranton phone book. It doesn’t matter how public the info is. Defending yourself from accusations that they intend to “drop dox” by “dropping dox” (gads how I fucking hate that term) is kind of ridiculous. That’s like defending yourself from charges that you’re violent by punching the accuser. It’s a serious own-goal, you must realize this.

    And no, neither what Justin Vacula did by finding her address in a public database and posting it, nor what that anonymous S-person did by finding his (potentially his) address in a public phone book and posting it, were acceptable.


    Posting it to a forum full of ideologues — especially where a number of those ideologues have threatened creeper actions in the past — is directly endangering that person.

    If you think what S did was wrong, then you think what Vacula did was wrong too. Or you’re too busy with your cognitive dissonance of “FtB Bad, People Against FtB Good” to look at the salient details. The events were identical, and you’re defending one (Vacula’s), and using the other to attack unrelated people (us). Do you know how blinkered that makes you look?

    Don’t answer that. Unless you’ve got something really good, I’m done listening to your “I’m not a troll” slur slurry.

  31. 45

    Justin, one quick housekeeping matter, as a postscript: You said: ‘Here in reality, “sweeping it under the rug” means trying to cover something up. Usually something odious that someone has personally done.’

    Well, that is one meaning, but the less common in my experience. I was using the expression in the ‘ignore’ sense, one of the two meanings; I was trying to say that the meat of the issue was whether JVs doxing in fact amounted to doxing, in its context of the DMCA exchanges. That’s what was ignored.

  32. 46

    And sorry Jason re the Justin thing. I work with two Jason’s and a Justin and (and two Katherine, a Catherine and a Kate) and they’d laugh hard but knowingly seeing me wrong-footed again over the opening phonetic of someone’s name. That is a meaningful apology. Well, meant as such.

  33. 47

    Apology accepted, though what you call me actually matters very little as long as I know you’re addressing me. I was pointing it out mostly to suggest that maybe you weren’t really paying much attention.

    And I think it does mean that.

    Someone suggests that Vacula was just trying to get her address via the DMCA counterclaim so he could post it online. Vacula says “I don’t have to wait for the counterclaim, fuck it, we’ll do it live” and posts it immediately.

    Does it matter how easy it was to obtain? Does it matter how easy it is to obtain a person’s address, no matter who you’re talking about? Is it less wrong for someone to look it up in a Trademark database than in a phone book? Is it less wrong to do it to prove how easy it is, than to try to give a person pause about how cavalier they were with the information? Is it okay to do it to strike fear into the person’s heart on purpose? Is it okay to do that unintentionally?

    Answer all of them “no”, and you and I are in complete agreement. And that means Justin Vacula did wrong, “S” did wrong, and people need to start admitting it and owning up and smartening the fuck up.

  34. 48

    I am paying attention, and I think what Justin did was stupid. As I said on the other thread, that he did so demonstrated shit judgment under pressure.

    I suppose where we part company is whether his online cv amounted to a hanging offence as regards the PA SCA appointment; and the upshot seems to be that the SCA, to whom it fell to be the arbiter of this whole disaster, agreed it did/does.

    Justin’s motive for posting SAs personal details seemed (to me) designed to head off the charge that his DMCA appeal was motivated to flush out SA’s personal partics. I felt and feel that needed an airing.

  35. 49

    I do agree with the sentiments here, that Vaculas appointment would have been divisive and potentially harmful to membership, as you stated in this reply here:

    the SCA knows now that they need to look at who they’re taking on and are on notice that you can’t put someone so divisive and evidently power-hungry in charge

    However, this works both ways. You need to be aware also that some of the people involved over here are also incredibly polarising individuals and would equally do a great deal of harm if appointed in the same kind of capacity.
    You may retort with the ‘but we are in the right’ line. I have to say that pragmatically that is irrelevant, it is in the nature of disputes that both sides feel they are ‘in the right’. Common sense dictates that any person liable to stir the hornets nest still further is unsuitable right now.
    Jim (np99)

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