A Statement on the Upcoming Anti-Theism International Convention

Sometime last year I agreed to speak at a conference being held in Brighton in 2020 called the Anti-Theism International Convention, after being invited by John Richards, the principal organiser. You may have seen the controversy surrounding Lance Gregorchuk, who was (is?) one of the funders of the event, taking part in a horrific interview, in which David Worley asked why the conference had invited Lawrence Krauss to speak, considering the allegations of historic sexual misconduct against him (something which I am not commenting on here).

Gregorchuk, rather than defending Krauss on the basis of the lack of any legal convictions, or the presumption of innocence, defended the actions he had been accused of, and appeared to suggest that he had himself made similar unwanted advances towards women in the past.

This troubling interview prompted John Richards to nominally ‘sack’ Gregorchuk (his phrasing), but there has been no clarification as to whether he is still funding the event or not. Most obscenely, Gregorchuk appeared to threaten an unwanted sexual advance towards David Worley, and it is unclear whether or not this was intended as a joke. Gregorchuk has not been banned from attending, despite this comment in particular constituting an unequivocal threat to break the sexual assault policy of the conference.

Naturally, this provoked some backlash, and John Richards made a number of videos and interview appearances to defend the conference and reassure its attendees. Unfortunately, these consisted in some of the most unprofessional and embarrassing PR I could possibly conceive of, including:

  • Failing to understand the nature and necessity of sexual assault policies, and making light of them, in a video response to Rachel Oates
  • Ending an interview with Shannon Q regarding accusations of misogyny by making an advance towards her, first asking if she ‘will be in the kitchen,’ then saying, ‘I was thinking of inviting myself to your table.’
  • Displaying an infantile attitude towards talking about these issues in a train wreck of an interview yesterday with ‘Nervardia’.
  • In the same interview, claiming to have no control over nominations for awards at his event, as a defence of the nomination of David Silverman for an award (who has also been accused of sexual misconduct), and claiming that he had not been aware of David Worley being nominated, despite numerous people nominating him, and an email being sent to David by John (which you can see here), in which John acknowledges his nomination, but refuses to accept it unless David has him on his podcast, in what I can only describe as an extreme act of pettiness. (This not only demonstrates that John was likely lying about having seen Worley’s nomination, but also that he was lying about having no control over the nominations.)
  • Saying, again in that same interview, that I had agreed to the new date of the conference after its postponement due to COVID-19, which I have not, and will not.

This list is not exhaustive, but it was principally the interview with Nervardia that served as my final straw. I would recommend watching it in its entirety if you have any doubts or reservations about my decision to pull out of the conference.

I would like to stress that the main reason I did not pull out earlier is mainly due to concerns over people having bought tickets (which are not cheap) and transport, potentially at least in part due to the promise of my being there and delivering an address, and attempting to balance this against the concerns I had after Gregorchuk’s interview. As these concerns began to multiply, culminating in the most recent interview with Nervardia, I began to realise I cannot speak at this event. However, another reason for my silence is that I have also been privately trying to raise the above issues with other speakers before pulling out myself, so that they might make a similar decision should they wish to. Now that I am no longer committed to this periodic silence, I will be pleased to answer questions about the conference. It disappoints me that some people have mistaken this silence for complicity, which is understandable, but false.

When the conference was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, I no longer had to worry about ticket holders and their transportation bookings, providing an excellent opportunity for me to quickly announce my departure from the event before anybody books anything for the new conference date (if you already have, or cannot get a refund, please see below). I also feel I have done all I can in terms of talking to other speakers, privately searching for ways to fix the conference, and leaving possibilities for John Richards to recover its credibility, and so am ready to publicly announce my leaving the conference, as silence seems to me no longer a viable tactic for improving the situation.

My ultimate conclusion is this: I do not have confidence that a conference which cannot appropriately respond to a scandal involving concerns about sexual assault can possibly appropriately respond to an actual or attempted sexual assault. Though the chances of such a malady arising are small, I feel I must refuse to speak at a conference that cannot guarantee the safety of its attendees.

I should also be inclined to add that, even without the more serious concerns I have just raised being a part of my consideration, I frankly hold myself to a higher professional standard than that exhibited by the organisers of this conference. (For a characteristic example, take a look at the nominations for ‘atheist comedian of the year’ on the conference website.)

I do not wish for this to be in any way interpreted as a commentary on the decisions of other speakers and attendees, who may still not even be fully aware of everything I have mentioned. I would also like to stress that this is about Lance, John, and the conference, not Lawrence Krauss.

Finally, if you are reading this and had bought a ticket to hear me speak, please reach out using the contact page on my website with proof of purchase, so that I might make it up to you.

14 comments

  1. Well put Alex. I think it’s classy of you to want to make it up to those who may have purchased tickets to see you but it was the fault of the above individuals who caused this whole debacle, therefore your refusal to be a part of it in anyway lays firmly at their doorstep and you shouldn’t have to make up for it in my opinion.

    Like

  2. Of course Alex is fully entitled to his views and I respect them.

    What alarms me is the level of suspicion and the lack of a sense of humor among the current audience of video podcasts. No-one can make a jovial remark anymore and the world is the worse for it. Dickens and Shakespear would be slaughtered online. IMHO the problem is one of over-analysis due to the permanence of digital information. Dwelling on the content allows the nightmare side of humanity to rise up in a sort of internet paranoia that we don’t experience in face to face meetings. None of us actually resemble the way we are perceived.

    Yes, Lance was drunk and crass in his interview but, no reasonable person could possibly imagine that he really wants to sexually assault David Worley! And, yes, I did sack (‘fired’ in American) him. You may have noticed he has not appeared since.

    We are all entitled to our opinion but I don’t think I made light of anti-harassment policies with Rachel Oates. (I invited Rachel to speak at the A-TI convention but she refused.) In fact, our policy has been described by the Ann Craft Trust as more than satisfactory.

    As for my throwaway line to Shannon Q, there was no possibility of me flying across the Atlantic to gatecrash her Christmas lunch! It’s just ludicrous! Lighten up! And as for ‘in the kitchen’, well for many years I was the only cook in our household and I still do my share: tonight I am the Yorkshire pudding chef.

    The nominations had to be submitted on a form which triggered an email to me. Sending me a personal email did not qualify. I have seen no nominations or votes for David Worley. I have no certain explanation for this but I did have to do a complete delete and OS re-install when my computer got infected during the process. Perhaps they are still in the ether somewhere. If my computer savvy friend can recover anything, of course David will be inserted into the system, which is now at the judging panel stage. I am pleased and grateful for his interest in our awards.

    I am insulted to have my attitude described as ‘infantile’ in my conversation with Nervardia. I had to explain to her how the award process works because of her repeated attempts to tar me with the brush of ‘giving an award to David Silverman’. That’s wrong on two counts: firstly, we don’t know who the winners are yet and, secondly, the one person in the world who has no influence over who wins those eight awards is me! It did get a bit annoying having to explain this over and over again, I’m sorry it took so long.

    Let me be crystal clear. I did not nominate, nor did I vote for any of nominees to the eight awards.

    However, there is ONE award that is in the gift of the company, the Lifetime of Service to Rationalism Award and I DID make an executive decision to give it to Richard Dawkins. This is the largest trophy and will be signed by all the attendees in recognition of this giant of science and atheism. Nobody has objected to this proposal so far.

    I’ve just got the Yorkshires out – they are magnificent if I do say so myself.

    Did I say that you’d agreed to attend the postponed event, Alex? I don’t remember saying that. Particularly as, at that time I had only just emailed the speakers with news of the postponement and had little idea of who could make it and who could not. I’ll have to watch again to see what actually was said. I can’t even check when I sent out the notification to speakers because my mail box is not catching ‘sent’ right now… If I said that, I’m sorry, what I should have said is that no-one has pulled out at the present time.

    As for, “a conference that cannot guarantee the safety of its attendees,” I would draw your attention to the Ann Craft Trust who emailed their satisfaction with our policy and to our intention to fully implement it.

    We are in this for the long term. We plan to commemorate Carl Sagan next year want to invite agues from the USA who knew him and, naturally, we want to provide an environment that is as safe from molestation or any form of harm as possible.

    Like

    1. i agree with u for the most part. In my opinion, todays Atheist conferences are a joke. As a male atheist, I do not appreciate being seen as a possible sexual assaulter. I do not need to be informed that sexual assault is not ok at the conferences.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Exactly. It’s insulting to us non-misogynist males. That’s what infuriated me in my interview with the ‘High Priestess’.

        Like

  3. (typos and errors corrected in this version)

    Of course Alex is fully entitled to his views and I respect them.

    What alarms me is the level of suspicion and the lack of a sense of humor among the current audience of video podcasts. No-one can make a jovial remark anymore and the world is the worse for it. Dickens and Shakespear would be slaughtered online. IMHO the problem is due to a combination of being able to instantly respond in an ill-considered way, where previously, it took a week to get published in letters to the Editor, and of over-analysis due to the permanence of digital information, where previously, copy had been used to wrap fish and chips and discarded. Dwelling on the content allows the nightmare side of humanity to rise up in a sort of internet paranoia that we don’t experience in face to face meetings. None of us actually resemble the way we are perceived.

    Yes, Lance was drunk and crass in his interview but, no reasonable person could possibly imagine that he really wants to sexually assault David Worley! And, yes, I did sack (‘fire’ in American) him. You may have noticed he has not appeared since.

    We are all entitled to our opinion but I don’t think I made light of anti-harassment policies with Rachel Oates. (I invited Rachel to speak at the A-TI convention but she refused.) In fact, our policy has been described by the Ann Craft Trust as more than satisfactory.

    As for my throwaway line to Shannon Q, there was no possibility of me flying across the Atlantic to gatecrash her Christmas lunch! It’s just ludicrous! Lighten up! And as for ‘in the kitchen’, well for many years I was the only cook in our household and I still do my share: tonight I am the Yorkshire pudding chef.

    The nominations had to be submitted on a form which triggered an email to me. Sending me a personal email did not qualify. I have seen no nominations or votes for David Worley. I have no certain explanation for this but I did have to do a complete delete and OS re-install when my computer got infected during the process. Perhaps they are still in the ether somewhere. If my computer savvy friend can recover anything, of course David will be inserted into the system, which is now at the judging panel stage. I am pleased and grateful for his interest in our awards.

    I am insulted to have my attitude described as ‘infantile’ in my conversation with Nervardia. I had to explain to her how the award process works because of her repeated attempts to tar me with the brush of ‘giving an award to David Silverman’. That’s wrong on two counts: firstly, we don’t know who the winners are yet and, secondly, the one person in the world who has no influence over who wins those eight awards is me! It did get a bit annoying having to explain this over and over again, I’m sorry it took so long.

    Let me be crystal clear. I did not nominate, nor did I vote for any of the nominees to the eight awards.

    However, there is ONE award that is in the gift of the company, the Lifetime of Service to Rationalism Award and I DID make an executive decision to give it to Richard Dawkins. This is the largest trophy and will be signed by all the attendees in recognition of this giant of science and atheism. Nobody has objected to this proposal so far.

    I’ve just got the Yorkshire puddings out of the oven – they are magnificent, if I do say so myself.

    Did I say that you’d agreed to attend the postponed event, Alex? I don’t remember saying that. Particularly as, at that time I had only just emailed the speakers with news of the postponement and had little idea of who could make it and who could not. I’ll have to watch again to see what actually was said. I can’t even check when I sent out the notification to speakers because my mailbox is not catching ‘sent’ right now… If I said that, I’m sorry, what I should have said is that no-one has pulled out at the present time.

    As for, “a conference that cannot guarantee the safety of its attendees,” I would draw your attention to the Ann Craft Trust who emailed their satisfaction with our policy, and to our intention to fully implement it.

    We are in this for the long term. We plan to commemorate Carl Sagan next year and want to invite a guest from the USA who knew him and, naturally, we want to provide an environment that is as safe from molestation or any form of harm as possible.

    (typos and errors corrected in this version)

    Like

    1. Do you see how comments like these are only dousing this fire with gasoline?

      If you have any hope of making things right, here are some resources to read and implement

      From Professor Jennifer Freyd’s research on betrayal trauma and institutional betrayal:

      https://dynamic.uoregon.edu/jjf/disclosure/index.html

      And articles on harassment policies/why a written policy is not enough:

      https://www.ashedryden.com/blog/codes-of-conduct-101-faq

      https://the-orbit.net/almostdiamonds/2014/04/10/so-youve-got-yourself-a-policy-now-what/

      https://modelviewculture.com/pieces/a-code-of-conduct-is-not-enough

      Like

      1. HI John

        I am replying to you regarding the enquiry you sent about the upcoming event you will be holding.

        We don’t have a template/policy for this currently unfortunately but I thought i’d get in touch with some ideas we’ve had that you might like to consider.

        Really, a code of conduct for the events would be a good way of laying out your expectations for the attendees. You could draw this up and then ask people to sign to say they agree to it during registration- that could be in person or online prior to the event.

        A code of conduct (COC) could have a mission statement at the beginning saying something along the lines of: ‘ We want all attendees to enjoy the day, to feel safe and free from harm/abuse. We believe everyone has the right to their personal space being protected/respected. We are committed to keeping our attendees safe’.

        Then perhaps there could be numbered statements setting out what you expect conduct wise from the day. It could be a variety of things that are important to you and also discuss inappropriate touching and contact, personal space and boundaries, how to generally behave etc. You could have examples of what you feel is not appropriate if you feel necessary.

        Then the COC should clearly document where the attendees should go should they feel that someone else’s conduct does not meet your set requirements or if they have been assaulted/abused etc. This should be either a person’s name who is responsible or a phone number to call.

        I hope this helps and has given you some ideas. If you would like more information or examples you could look for a similar organisation to yourself and see if they have a COC on their website just to see how they are approaching the issue. If you would like one of us at ACT to have a look over what you have devised I would be happy to do so.

        Best wishes

        Laura
        Laura Thorpe
        Safeguarding Adults in Sport Manager
        Mobile: 07731624600
        Email: laura.thorpe@nottingham.ac.uk

        Thank you Laura.

        Yes please, I would like you to look over my draft policy see here – https://www.atheist-convention.com/safeguarding-policy/

        JR

        Hi John

        This looks good to me! Clear and to the point.

        Thanks

        Laura

        Visit the website link to see how we will be implementing and upholding our policy

        Like

  4. Congrats Alex!! You are a true inspiration of what a human should be, or can be. I’ve watched your channel for a few years now,
    The real leaders in the world, are the ones who are making positive changes, not only for themselves, but also sharing that knowledge and experience with us, to help us grow and change for the good. The real leaders are the ones who that love all life, regardless of shape, size, race, religion, type.. And your recent change to veganism only solidifies that point. Something grows, something changes, and grows more beautiful…planting that seed of reality into the minds of those who are searching for meaning in life.

    Lol, I carried on a bit, but the facts remain the same. You are, and will continue to grow, into one of the great leaders of this century. That may seen to be unbelievable or unrealistic, but history shows us, that if you surround yourself with great minds, (Dawkins for example) that you will also be a great mind in time.

    Like

  5. It appears due process is out the window when it comes to sexual allegation’s against men these day. As serious as sexual allegations are, careers and lives in general can be trashed without hesitation as if women can’t distort the truth of flat out lie, but the facts are they can and do, they are human after all are they not?

    If you haven’t yet, you might want to give a listen to the interview with Rebecca Vitsmun, and another with David Silverman on Dogma Debate that were released during that last few weeks.
    Try using a little critical thinking rather than relying on your emotions to determine what might be more likely.

    Rational, logical, critically thinking minds are becoming more and more obscure.

    Liked by 1 person

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