Christian Troll Masquerades as Racist Atheist

Over the past two weeks, an individual calling himself Steve Leone has attempted to leave about half a dozen variations of the following comment on my thread about the “miracle” of Fatima:

“Oh yeah? Well, how did three illiterate Portuguese peasant children know that some strange atmospheric phenomenon was going to appear in the sky over Fatima at the exact date and time they predicted? Answer that, you smarty-pants atheists!”

Here’s an entirely typical example from my moderation queue:

Author: Steve Leone (IP: 205.188.117.11, cache-dtc-ae07.proxy.aol.com)
Comment:
Whatever the thousands of people witnessed at Fatima, one has to ask: How did 3 peasant children know that something would occur at that time? Among all those in that varied crowd of people there was present newspaper reporters from Lisbon who witnessed and so reported the phenomenon that occurred. Agnostics, Atheists, Fanatics, yes even Fools were also present in that crowd of THOUSANDS. There can be no question that a spectacular event occurred. Without computers, 3 children alerted all to the event at the predicted hour. Solar activity was not in the mind of that crowd at that hour since it was rainy and overcast. The children did not fantasize, did not profit materially, did not conspire etc. Make of all this what you want but logic must prevail at the end.

While I don’t demand that commenters agree with my viewpoint, I do insist that people who disagree with me take the time to read my posts and respond to the arguments I make. Since it was obvious that this person hadn’t bothered to read or comprehend the Fatima post – if he had, he would have known that his criticism is completely irrelevant to the explanation I actually propose – I didn’t approve any of these comments.

Then, in the past few days, I’ve started getting comments of a much more disturbing nature, submitted by someone calling himself “White Power Atheist”. Here’s one example of the kind of garbage this individual routinely submits:

Author : White Power Atheist (IP: 205.188.117.11, cache-dtc-ae07.proxy.aol.com)
Comment:
We must assassinate all believers

For even more obvious reasons, none of these comments made it out of my moderation queue. But it seems that “White Power Atheist” has suddenly become active on a variety of atheist blogs, as you’ll see if you do a Google search for his handle. See this thread, for example, to understand the sort of filth he spews. (These comments were posted on Words of Wrath, a site run by an atheist blogger of color, which I’m sure was intentional.)

Now, if you look closely at the header information for those two comments, you may notice something: Steve Leone and “White Power Atheist” have exactly the same IP address, an AOL proxy server. Their comments also started being sent in to my site within a few days of each other.

Since AOL users all access the internet through these proxies, it might happen by coincidence that two separate people could leave comments from the same IP address. That would be a reasonable explanation if this had only happened once. But my suspicions were up, so I went back and scanned comments submitted to my moderation queue for the past two weeks. Here are the IP addresses used by Steve Leone for the comments he submitted:

64.12.116.69   [18 August 20:21]
205.188.117.11 [24 August 17:03]
205.188.117.11 [24 August 19:45]
205.188.117.11 [25 August 11:07]
205.188.117.11 [25 August 15:10]
64.12.116.69   [5 September 16:14]
205.188.117.11 [6 September 12:50]

And here are the IP addresses used by “White Power Atheist”:

205.188.117.11 [4 September 22:15]
64.12.116.69   [6 September 16:00]
64.12.116.69   [6 September 16:03]

I also checked the database of existing comments. These are the only two commenters any time within the past month who have used either of these IP addresses. The fact that both of these commenters appeared within the same general time interval, as well as the fact that they both use these two IP addresses and no other current commenter on my site uses either of them, leads me to conclude that they are the same person. The fact that the Christian-apologist comments appeared first, and with greater frequency, indicates to me that their subject material is the author’s primary concern, which leads me to conclude that the Christian persona is the true one and the racist-atheist persona is a masquerade. The implication is that this is a Christian pretending to be a racist atheist in an attempt to smear all atheists with the taint of racism.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • TommyP

    Sounds like the moderation queue is the happening place to be for those naughty little boys and girls of the information age!

    Your conclusion about the person doing the dirty deeds seems sound. My sincere best wishes for them to grow up already.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    I have some supplementary facts to add about all this:

    “Steve Leone” provided an e-mail address with his comments (I omitted that address from this post). By Googling that name in conjunction with that e-mail address, I found contact information for a real person, including a mailing address. I’m attempting to contact this person to see if he’ll confirm or deny responsibility for these comments.

    However, I don’t necessarily believe the real Steve Leone is the party at fault here. It is, of course, possible that he didn’t realize his separate identities could be linked by their shared IP address. However, racist trolls have been known to impersonate other people to try to smear their character, so let’s not jump to that conclusion just yet. (That said, I grant that it would be an unusually subtle and unlikely plan for someone to post comments under Steve Leone’s name and then post racist comments under a different identity and hope that the connection was noticed and remarked on by the site owner. If the goal was to smear someone’s character by masquerading as them, there would be far more direct ways of going about it.)

    All we can say with confidence at this point is that the same person is probably the author of both sets of comments. As to the real identity of that person, I don’t have enough evidence to speculate right now.

  • Andrea

    I’m sure Jesus is sooooo proud of Steve for this little escapade.

    Did you share this info with the owners of the other sites where he’s posted?

  • Betsumei

    Who still uses AOL? I remember over a decade ago all the problem users that came from there (and the number of places that simply solved the problem by banning *.aol.*), and I’m wondering if anything’s changed.

  • http://larianlequella.com Larian LeQuella

    Didn’t Daniel Florien over at Unreasonable Faith also expose another instance just like this? They sure are upholding the xtian values that I actually expect of them. ;)

  • http://camelswithhammers.com Camels With Hammers

    Indeed, Florien did catch a pastor lying for Jesus http://unreasonablefaith.com/2009/03/20/pastor-gets-caught-lying-for-jesus/

  • Douglas Leeder

    AOL have several proxy servers, so anyone commenting from AOL would show that pattern. There’s obviously a correlation between your only two AOL commenters, but I’m not sure that it’s strong enough to draw the conclusion that they have to be the same person.

  • atheistlove

    desperate times call for desperate measures.. they are smart enough to know that logic and reason is winning the struggle, but obviously not smart enough to understand that the excrement they build upon is like glass, opaque if not see-thru.
    every-one digs for truth, eventualy all of the dung is dug and one can see the hard ground.. all we atheists do is speed up the progress by shining light, if we where silent, logic will still win (albeit a lot slower..) LOVE 4 THE SAKE OF LOVING, not to appease the “GODS”.

  • atheistlove

    p.s if you love through fear… is that love? or is it what they call REVERANCE??

  • Aerik

    Holy crap, is it that pastor again? Why don’t they learn!?

  • Ritchie

    The fact that the Christian-apologist comments appeared first, and with greater frequency, indicates to me that their subject material is the author’s primary concern, which leads me to conclude that the Christian persona is the true one and the racist-atheist persona is a masquerade. The implication is that this is a Christian pretending to be a racist atheist in an attempt to smear all atheists with the taint of racism.

    Hmmmm, sounds logical, though slightly speculative. I have a job moderating article comments and discussion forums, and I’ve come to the conclusion that some people are just a**holes who like to stir trouble. Give them a topic, any topic, and they’ll use it to try to wind people up and insult them.

    In short, some people really need to get lives and make some friends…

  • keddaw

    There are a similar proportion of racist atheists as racist theists. They just don’t happen to have a book to hand to legitimise their racism.

    Their is actually an unwillingness to scientifically take on issues of race. I find this cowardly by the scientists and funding bodies. While we are all mongrels there is an undeniable difference across continents/countries/races that should be evaluated. Alas, politicians (and people on this site) are too PC to seriously investigate.

  • Neal O

    @keddaw

    Did you not read the post?

  • Valhar2000

    Keddaw, there was a post on Sandwalk recently that touched on this topic. One of the interesting things that came out from it is that biological ideas about race often do not correspond very well with coloquial ideas.

    As an example of this, one commenter said that even though coloquially all africans are thought of as being of one race (blacks, or africans), there are at least 12 different races in Africa, and that groups of people that are often considered of different races (like northern africans and southern europeans from the mediterranean) are not sufficiently different geentically to be considered separate races (the segregation amongst them is mostly geographic and cultural).

    This kind of thing is likely to make discussions about race by scientists very problematic when laypeople are involved, since a lot of explanatory spadework will have to be done before the lay public can participate effectively in this. Add to this the equally ignorant press attempting to explain biological findings about race using the coloquial understanding I have talked about and you can fully expect all sorts of nonsense to appear.

  • keddaw

    My general point was that people are idiots and we shouldn’t try to hold atheists up to a higher standard than the general ignorance or we’ll be shot down as soon as an atheist does/says something idiotic. (Like saying their instead of there!)

    More specifically, I was trying to point out that there are legitimate areas of scientific research that are avoided for fear of the media misrepresenting either the research or the findings. And Obama’s ‘death panels’ are the perfect example of sections of the media going off on one. Yes, I know that people’s preconceptions about the various races are dumb that’s why we need serious scientists looking at issues, especially those relating to health – is there a predisposition for a given disease within one race? If so then we can more effectively allocate healthcare in future. If not then it was still worth doing to find out.

  • http://www.atheistrev.com vjack

    Thanks for posting the IP data. That should make it easy to catch if he migrates to lesser blogs (like mine).

  • Ritchie

    Valhar2000

    Richard Dawkins says something very similar to that in The Ancestor’s Tale. If I remember it correctly (and I assure you my memory is infallible), Africa was the cradle of human civilisation, and there were many different races and strains of human. One tiny exodus of no more than a few hundred people crossed the mouth of the Red Sea some 85,000 years ago to colonise the rest of the whole world (actually Dawkins here says that there were probably several migrations, but even so…). Consequently, if everyone except Africans were to disappear, the human race as a whole would maintain something crazy like 80-90% of its genetic diversity – the same amount as would be lost if only the Africans disappeared.

  • http://defiantskeptic.wordpress.com/ defiantskeptic

    Thanks for this. I put those IPs into the “automatically hold for moderation” list on my blog.

  • Nero

    It was not steve leone…
    It was an experiment on social darwinism and scientific racism and attitudes toward them. It was done by theists anmd atheists that used a shitty system like aol to make observations. AOL is fucked up, man!
    But, Steve Leone did not leave those comments!
    Thank you,
    Nero

  • http://www.superhappyjen.blogspot.com SuperHappyJen

    Perhaps the second person is Steve’s son, an atheist whose views are being so oppressed in his own house that he has become an angry extremist!

    (your conclusion is more likely, but it’s fun to think of alternatives)

  • Nero

    AOl has the WORST proxy system on earth. Some people leave comments that encourage violence and someone on the other side of the USA gets blamed. Google it!
    Also, Steve Leone is no racist! Does he even exist?
    We were experimenting on racism. We sought to answer such questions as “Would an atheist rebuke atheists thatused eugenics to justify hatred” YES. Or, “Can atheists be racist?” Sadly Yes. “godless sodomite” (“no god ‘from toronto’”) “dan savage” “karl rove” “pol pot” “richard lynn” certain supporters of SA Aparthied. Oh and a lot of people on the atheism forum on topix. Just saying… And, we all know the stereotypical Klan Kristian, right. Would atheists react differently from one of their own if he was racist? (even one that used blacks and religion to justify it)
    Do not blame a man who had nothing to do with this. My friends with AOL state that this is not the first time it happened before! Coincidences allow skepticism when ever theists claim miracles happen, eh?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    For the record, “Nero” uses the same e-mail and IP addresses as the comments submitted by White Power Atheist.

    I’ve also contacted Steve Leone by e-mail. He acknowledged being the person who wrote the comments submitted to the Fatima thread, but vehemently denied being the author of the racist comments. He did not offer any explanation for why he shares an IP address with that person, but pledged to contact AOL. If they provide any exonerating evidence, I’ll post it here. Until and unless that occurs, I have seen no evidence to dispute the conclusions I drew in my original post.

    I don’t believe Nero’s explanation that his racist comments were written as “an experiment”. I also find it suspicious that he has suddenly appeared and seems so concerned to defend Steve’s innocence, particularly when I stated in my first comment in this thread that I had no firm evidence that Steve was the author of the racist comments, as opposed to someone seeking to impersonate him. I’m now reevaluating that conclusion.

  • http://www.WorldOfPrime.com Yahzi

    “this is not the first time it happened before!”

    Yogi Berra would be proud.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    Now this is an interesting development…

    The same person who commented in this thread as “Nero” has also popped up on Words of Wrath, taking responsibility for the racist comments and defending Steve. (http://wordsofwrath.blogspot.com/2008/05/invisibility-of-black-atheist.html)

    The fact that Nero has emerged so suddenly, and is so intently interested in defending Steve, is classic sockpuppet behavior and makes me more suspicious, not less. In particular, I note this line, which could well be interpreted as a veiled confession:

    He ain’t bad, his ideas were good, trying to expose racism amongst atheists. He/she/it/they(?) just went about it the wrong way

    The reason I find this interesting is because “Nero” is the only person so far who has explicitly taken responsibility for the racist comments. He claims they were “an experiment” carried out by “theists and atheists”.

    If this is so, there is an easy way for Nero to exonerate Steve from guilt. All he has to do is tell me: Who are the people who carried out this “experiment”? What are their real names and what is their contact information? I don’t mean e-mail addresses: I want a street address and/or a phone number, something that can be verifiably associated with a real person whom I can speak with and who will take responsibility for writing these comments.

    I sent an e-mail with this offer to the address submitted by Nero with his comments. It bounced back as undeliverable, which did not surprise me. If Nero is reading this thread and is willing to supply this information, I invite him to contact me by e-mail at his earliest opportunity.

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  • Dan

    It appears “Steve Leone” also trolls the Reason Project:

  • Dan

    whoops … my link didn’t show up above. Try this:

    http://www.reasonproject.org/newsfeed/item/Why_Newt_Gingrich_Converted_to_Catholicism/

    Sorry!

  • Alex, FCD

    For the record, “Nero” uses the same e-mail and IP addresses as the comments submitted by White Power Atheist.

    Seriously? I mean, changing your IP is tricky, but you can just type in a new email address. Who taught this guy how to troll?

  • Valhar2000

    I wonder what hypothesis they were trying to falsify with this experiment? What variables were they modifying, and which ones had they controlled for?

    I can envision somebody carrying out this experiment in order to see what reactions are generally obtained in the atheist blogosphere, and where and why they differ, but this seems much too ham-handed to have been an example of such a thing.

  • http://reasonvsapologetics.blogspot.com jim

    Funny how they always resort to excuses like ‘experimentation’ and ‘putting one over on the oh-so-rational atheists’…after they get caught, of course.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    Damn, and here I was hoping it might be an atheist trying to see if s/he could create a fake Christian persona, itself disguised as a racist atheist. Atheist plays Christian playing racist atheist in order to bring down more heat on Christians – hoo boy, that’s a tough one to headline. Or maybe a Christian masquerading as an atheist masquerading as a racist Christian masquerading as a racist atheist!

    Ugh, sockpuppetry is sign #1 that zany hijinks are afoot. Nero may have simply used the royal “we,” but appears to be at least two different people, in addition to trying to remove all blame for what is definitely blameworthy. In my opinion, the whole lot should be banned with a hearty exhortation to try again and speak their goddamned minds honestly and openly, without trying to hide behind anonymity and without trying to experiment upon the audience. This is not your lab, Nero/Steve/whoever; it’s Ebonmuse’s whatever-he-wants-it-to-be. You weren’t invited (nobody was), and you’re only welcome so long as you play by his rules (same as the rest of us) – what’s so tough to understand about that?

    But hey, that’s just my two cents. I still think sockpuppetry is lame, though.

  • Nero
  • TommyP

    Sock puppets! Wow, looks like some folks can corrupt even the cutest of things! Naughty, naughty Christian trolls. For shame! Lambchop would be horrified.

  • Alex, FCD

    Oh man, how did I miss this:

    Also, Steve Leone is no racist! Does he even exist?

    “Friends, this year one out of every zero Americans will develop a condition known as Catastrophic Existence Failure. CEF begins with a series of increasingly unlikely AOL proxy server coincidences resulting in accusations of racism and culminates with an existential crisis so profound that one’s blog comments become dissociated from any known plane of reality. If you can find it in you heart to do something for the suffers of CEF, just write a cheque for the square root of fifty dollars on the back of a Moebius strip and mail it in a clear paper envelope to the Kierkegaard Medical Institute, Innsmouth, Mass., postal code aleph nought.”

  • Steve Leone

    Hello People
    I am the Steve Leone who has been maligned and slandered by Adam or Ebonmuse who controls and censors the comments submitted here. He has not told you that I have vehemently denied that I am Nero and that was checking out IP #s with AOL which on Sept 6, my comment and 2 from Nero were two different IPs. He has me in a position that if Nero reveals his group with names and addresses only then will I be exonerated. Well folks what do you think the result will be????

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    I feel like I’m beating a dead horse here, but if you needed any further evidence that Nero is a sockpuppet:

    This should prove our innocence. Sorry if it offended anyone

    Do I have to point out that it makes no sense for “Nero” to be uttering this comment? He admitted responsibility for writing the racist comments as part of an “experiment”. How can he now present evidence which he claims will prove his innocence when he’s already confessed his guilt?

    That said, this comment would make perfect sense coming from Steve. Perhaps someone has gotten his alternate identities confused.

  • Protoph

    Beating a dead horse or sockpuppet detection techniques and analysis?

    I would do some grammar, spelling, use of punctuation and phrase comparisons but that would be superfluous. Nero says “Does he even exist?” – despite Nero and Steve both being awfully familiar with one another, what the other is doing and whether or not they’re racists. So, a quite high level of inter-reference between Steve and Nero, but no communication between them in this comment thread (Steve’s not surprised that Nero’s defending him, nor does he direct any comments at him).

    The highly suspect behaviour, and inconsistency of familiarity between Steve and Nero, is enough to narrow it down to ‘odd, probably English or learning challenged, but good friends’ and ‘sockpuppets’.

  • Dan

    It’s also not difficult to search out a poster’s identity when they’ve commented on a single issue on multiple blogs using the same name and occasionally mention a city location. That wouldn’t present much of a problem for that poster unless they engage in sockpuppetry on those same blogs using the same IP addresses, at which point the whole house of cards comes tumbling down.

    BTW: Ebonmuse “controls and censors” the comments submitted here because this is his personal blog. If you’d like to start your own Fatima Rant blog, you’re welcome to do that, and I’d likely be among your readers!

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  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    @ Steve: Buddy, watch your mouth. You may feel maligned, but you cannot have been slandered here because slander is always spoken; if you did indeed suffer any defamation of character on this blog, it would be libel. Even so, “Defamation of character is the communication of false information stated as a fact which brings harm to an individual or an entity (source),” so please point out what was presented as fact (not honest speculation) but was untrue and harmful to your character. Or maybe you should just look up words before you start slinging them about.

    At any rate, this isn’t a court of law, it’s the internet. Ebonmuse doesn’t have to give you a fair shake, he doesn’t have to give you an opportunity to redeem yourself, he doesn’t need to do anything he doesn’t want to do because this is his sandbox. If you’re interested in continuing to participate in this community after the dust settles from these shenanigans, then he’s given you a way to do that; but please don’t complain that it’s a tough row to hoe, because it’s always harder to reestablish trust than it is to establish it in the first place. Here’s a thought: if you wanted to pull a stunt like that, howzabout asking the guy in charge if he’s OK with it first? Seems like that would have saved you a lot of grief.

  • Steve Leone

    To Dan, Alex and others who may think that I am Nero.
    I have been commenting on other sites about the Fatima events, mostly on Brian Dunning’s Skeptoid Site. He does not censor and reject any comment which oppose his explanation. There has been no problem there with Nero. I am surprised that Adam Ebonmuse allowed my comment to appear yesterday. This was the first after several attempts in Aug.on his other venue. I hope I can defend myself if this Post will be available.
    Some comments on this post already have remarked that the AOL IP #s are subject to error. I don’t know a thing about IPs. I am currently awaiting to hear from AOL about the IPs problem. Adam is positive that I am this Nero and up to now I can’t prove otherwise even though this Nero has responded that he is not me.
    I suspect that Nero will not furnish Adam with the information he seeks and that leaves me in Adam’s mind set as the masquerader and unable to exonerate myself.
    My only recourse is to await AOL’s IP issue or to seek legal action.
    Meanwhile I ask if anyone can help me out on how to convince this Adam’s fixation I would appreciate it greatly.
    My rejected comments in the mail thread show only moderation and no talk using the words Oh Yeah, Smarty-pants, Assasinate etc. My posts elswhere should show this moderation. Adam has been correct only in his conclusion that I am Not an atheist.
    Again help would be welcome.

  • Protoph

    Threatening to seek legal action because someone has accused you of being someone else on the internet – Ordinary, sensible behaviour or sockpuppeteer freakout?

    Besides which, there’s no ‘AOL IP issue’. Any decent proxy system will hook you up with the nearest proxy (lowest ping). The IPs in question are assigned to “Reston, USA”, pings are ~93ms for both and traceroutes bring up almost identical paths (hops 17 and 18 are different, different path through same network on hops 8-11). Rather, the two proxy servers used are right next to each other.

    From what info I can find on it, apparently the AOL proxies are only used by AOL software to begin with – that is, Nero, Steve and “White Power Atheist” all use an AOL browser, which apparently has a marketshare of less than 0.5% right now. (I can’t find a concrete number, it’s usage does not appear to be tracked anymore. Best I can find is “0.82% – Other” on wikipedia.)

    Regardless, I think AOL began using X-Forwarded-For HTTP headers at some point. If those are available the originating IP behind the proxies can be identified. Not that 3 users all using an incredibly rare browser, sharing two physically adjacent proxies and commenting on the same website isn’t enough to confirm it. (HTTP headers also usually contain other semi-uniquely identifying information like OS & version, browser type/version/language/charset, accepted media types / encodings, etc.)

  • other scott

    Racists make me sick.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Racists make me sick.

    So don’t eat them :)

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com/ D

    But Steve, they’re so tasty! And what is other scott supposed to do? Just let them keep breeding in the wild? I think not!

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    I’ll spare you all the whining rants with which Steve has been bombarding my e-mail, but his latest defense is to assert that “dial-up connections use no IP numbers” (his exact words) and therefore I must have forged the IP addresses that appeared with his comments. I don’t even intend to dignify this with a response.

    It’s sad that some people are incapable of taking responsibility for their own actions, but there you have it. I now consider this matter closed.


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