While They Raised Money for Atheist Tornado Victim, He Was Capitalizing on the Generosity for Personal Gain

On May 23rd, the organizers of the FreeOK Oklahoma Freethought Convention decided to hold a fundraiser for Rebecca Vitsmun. Vitsmun, as you might recall, was the woman who famously told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that she was an atheist when he asked her if she was thanking the Lord following the tornado:

The fundraiser put Vitsmun’s phrase, “I’m actually an atheist,” on t-shirts:

These shirts will be sold online and at the FreeOK Convention in June for a $25 donation to a relief fund designated to help our heroine and her son get through this very difficult time. All tees are black, 100% cotton with “I’m actually an atheist” screen printed in white with the scarlet letter A that has come to be associated with atheism. Ladies cuts are available. When ordering, you may choose to have your tee shipped or have it waiting for you at the convention on June 22nd. As always, your support is appreciated.

Awesome, right? You got a shirt and Vitsmun’s family received some money to help them out through their difficult time. In fact, FreeOK sold over 1,000 shirts — they’re still fulfilling orders as we speak, but we’ll know very soon how much money will be given to the Vitsmuns.

Here’s where things get weird.

On May 25th, two days after the fundraiser began, a San Francisco-based man named Richard Cox bought the domain name ImActuallyAnAtheist.com and began selling t-shirts that were clearly a rip-off of those sold by FreeOK:

Cox also extended the line of clothing to phrases like “I’m actually a Buddhist” and “I’m actually an Improviser” and other things that made no sense at all outside of any context. Why did he do that? Who knows. Maybe to throw people off.

We also don’t know how many shirts he sold.

Either way, none of the money from his shirts went to Vitsmun’s family (or any relief efforts that we know about).

Kai Tancredi, the Events & Social Media Coordinator for the FreeOK conference, told me via email why this was so upsetting to her:

I’m less concerned with the legality of his actions and more irritated with the opportunism. We’ve spent way too much energy preserving the design and intent of the Actually merchandise we sell for strictly non-profit purposes.

I have contacted both CafePress and Mr. Cox via email with a cease and desist request and 72 hours to comply before the matter is escalated.

I don’t know who this guy is — given his name, “Dick Cox,” it may just be a pseudonym — but I hope he does the right thing, shuts the store down, and gives any money he made to charity.

What a horrible thing to do, to take a wonderful act of generosity and repurpose it in order to divert the funding and make money for yourself.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • 3lemenope

    I don’t know who this guy is — given his name, “Dick Cox,” it may just be a pseudonym

    Either that or he’s seven feet tall. Else it is very difficult to account for how he survived high school.

    • Gary Hill

      True story – I went to high school with a guy called Richard Alcock. As soon as he turned 18 he changed his name to Jason something or other!

      • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

        Shortening Richard can get tricky. I was going through old baseball cards with a friend a few weeks ago and found Dick Shiner’s card. That guy’s parents were eeeevil!

      • 3lemenope

        There was a Richard Small (I swear!) on the roster at my Jr. High school. By the time I reached high school, he had vanished without a trace. I generally assume the worst. :)

      • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ TBJ

        I read an obit of a guy named Harry Butts, I posted it on the cash register at work and got fired the next day.

      • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ TBJ

        Upon reflection I also knew a kid in elementary school named Harry Peach, he socked me in the gut.

      • Janet Holmes

        My husband was at school with a boy named Richard Head, he was one too.

      • Randay

        Don’t forget the best screen names from Monty Python’s Life of Brian: Nauthious Maximus, Biggus Dickus and his wife Incontinentia Buttocks. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2K8_jgiNqUc

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      I knew a guy in school named Richard Reddick. Lucky for him, he WAS almost seven feet tall. I never saw him angry, but in seventh grade, he threw a dodgeball made of heavy foam so hard it knocked down someone thirty feet away. I reckon any jokes had long since stopped by that point.

      There was a high school football player a few years ahead of me at a nearby school whose mom somehow managed to give him a name pronounced Shih-THEE-id, which sounds cool enough, but the spelling*… Reportedly he became quite the kicker of asses over it.

      *Yep. She wrote “Shithead” on his birth certificate.

      • 3lemenope

        Richard Reddick

        Yikes. That’s “Boy Named Sue” territory right there.

      • Rich Rodgers

        I used to name my game characters “Shi Thead”, but most sytems won’t let you any more.

  • pierre

    Despicable. I bought one of the FreeOK shirts, and love its quality. Then my two-month old spit up on it and ruined it not five minutes later.

    • Croquet_Player

      Surely you can just throw it in the wash. It’s a t-shirt.

    • modernmoron

      The secret is to run the baby messes through a full cold cycle (no detergent necessary). Then run it through as you normally would.

  • Kalex

    A shame but not unusual, every disaster brings out opportunists who lie and con to make a quick buck. Usually the state’s attorney general would be on point to quash these folks, has FreeOK reported this? (a good test to see if they “care” as much for atheist causes)

  • martinrc

    If you look at his profile it looks like he just buys up domains probably hoping to sell them.

  • decathelite

    I’m actually a buddist

    buddist

    BUDDIST

    • Michael

      Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      Maybe he could do a whole series of these misspelled t-shirts:

      I’m actually a Catholick.
      I’m actually a Protestint.
      I’m actually a Muslin.
      I’m actually a Joo.
      I’m actually a Hindew.

      I’m actually a Playjerist.

      • Anymouse

        I’m actually a Protestaint.

        • Gus Snarp

          Wait, is Protestaint another word for atheist?

  • Croquet_Player

    I live in San Francisco. Somebody find out where he lives and my little dog and I will pay him a visit. I may forget to bring a doggy poop bag. Oops!

    • 3lemenope
      • Croquet_Player

        Exactly! (Thanks, that was awesome.) xxoo

  • Roxie Deaton

    Capitalism at its finest!

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

    This should not surprise anyone at all. Some people are just opportunistic assholes.

  • randomfactor

    I just got my shirt in the mail…from the original group. They reportedly have plans to sell the shirts later on.

    • Kai Tancredi

      They’ll be back in the fall! :)

  • Michael

    Looks like his cafepress store is dead.

  • http://www.devidreams.com/ Devi Taylor

    I’m sorry, I can’t get mad at the fact that he saw a business opportunity. To me, that’s just capitalism and I don’t think that’s wrong in and of itself. He’s a good person if he gives the money away but a bad person because the money is going in his pocket. That doesn’t sound right.

    However, I am mad that he ripped off the design. That’s outright theft and clearly something that needs to be addressed. I hope they are able to bring the hammer down on this guy for that. It’s one thing to capitalize on an event with an original product. It’s quite another to blatantly steal someone’s idea and try to make money off it. Wrong on so many levels.

    • 3lemenope

      I think you’re eliding a bit with “saw a business opportunity”. There’s a moral component in “saw a business opportunity [directly stemming from the tragic misfortune of a wide-scale disaster]” that, remaining unspoken, disguises that not all business opportunities are the same. It’s the difference between setting up a vendor booth at the beach and setting one up at a funeral. In that way, it is not just capitalism.

      • http://www.devidreams.com/ Devi Taylor

        I don’t agree. The example you use kinda makes my point. *Setting up a booth at a funeral* The funeral parlor is making a profit off the death of others. Maybe they are not as crass about it as this guy, but they are still in the business of profiting from disaster. How is that any more or less moral than this guy?

        • phantomreader42

          The funeral parlor is making a profit off the death of others by providing a service to their surviving relatives. Not by selling knockoffs of a product created to raise funds for charity, without clearly distinguishing the knockoff from the real thing, so that people buy a fake product because of the false impression that the money will go to a good cause. Unless they’re filling urns with fireplace ashes or leaving corpses to rot, the funeral parlor is not engaged in fraud.

    • Michael

      The problem here is that he is passing himself off as a charitable fundraiser. He’s hoping that somebody will mistake his cafepress store for the donation page so that he gets the money instead of the disaster victim.

      If he’d included a large disclaimer that he’s not the donation page then I’d think he was a prat. Without something like that I think he’s scum.

      • http://www.devidreams.com/ Devi Taylor

        The problem here is that he is passing himself off as a charitable fundraiser.

        He is? I didn’t see that on the guy’s site or in the article. If that’s true then that definitely changes things.

      • Larry Meredith

        I don’t think that speculation holds any water. His page very clearly advertises all kinds of different shirts for all kinds of different people. They’re marketed as merchandise rather than rewards for charity. He points to the Wolf Blitzer CNN moment as a meme. He’s trying to capitalize on the phrase as a meme, not as a fundraiser.

        If he really wanted people to mistake it for the fundraiser, he would have made it only with the atheist statement. Turning it into a mass market phrase that can fit anyone doesn’t make sense if your intent is to pull off a con.

        • Michael

          Including other religions gives him just enough deniability that he might get away with it in court, but people searching for that shirt having seen reports of the fundraiser will find his cafepress site and some of them will make the mistake of buying from him instead.

          • Larry Meredith

            not just other religions. Even occupations and political affiliation. He’s literally taking what he considers a meme and trying to mass market it with a ripoff design. He may not even know that the design he’s ripping off is for charity.

  • UWIR

    Is that video greenscreened?

    • B V

      No, it’s not.

  • Adicus Ryan Garton

    So here’s a question fer ya: where can I buy one of these Actually an Atheist shirts, if not from Dick Cox, because the FreeOK guys aren’t selling it anymore. And that’s a pretty cool shirt.

    • Kai Tancredi

      We (FreeOK) will be re-opening sales in the fall with a wider range of merchandise. All proceeds will continue to benefit humanist projects. There will also be a a crowd-sourced video project called The “Actually” campaign being launched. Stay tuned. :)

      • Guest

        Will Ms. Vitsum be compensated for your use of her phrase?

  • Anthony Magnabosco

    I suspect that, ifsomeone simply ordered an item from this merchant, they would be able to learn a trove of information about them.

  • Larry Meredith

    There’s always going to be people taking advantage of an opportunity to further their own goals. I’m not surprised someone would do this. Clothing with catchy slogans sell well, so anyone with a good phrase is going to have it ripped off. I’m more surprised FreeOK didn’t register that domain first.

  • Kai Tancredi

    For anyone interested in purchasing more “Actually” gear, we (FreeOK) will be re-opening sales in the fall with a wider range of stuff. All proceeds will continue to benefit humanist efforts. We’ll keep you posted. Thank you all for your support.

  • Mike Johnson

    The mainstream Greek believes in god and not in science.
    Greece has many problems because of that third world view.
    Many people want to make us Americans poor and simple-minded
    like Greeks!!!


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