Petition to the SCA on Justin Vacula.

Surrounding the whole hullabaloo with the SCA promoting a very bad person (unless all volunteers are co-chairs of a state branch, in which case I guess Justin wasn’t promoted, although that would make their announcement of Justin’s new title somewhat weird), Stephanie Zvan has created a petition to the SCA to have him removed.  If this were a paid job for Justin, I’d pull any support from the SCA on my end, but I’d be reticent to opine that he should be fired.  But since it has been repeatedly asserted that he’s a volunteer, and therefore will not be out his livelihood, I must admit I do think the SCA would be right to purge him from a position of responsibility or to demote him back to an intro level position until his behavior improves.

The petition is hereI’m almost tempted to make another one to request that Edwina Rogers address Justin’s past transgressions as well as his lack of repentance, but if she were going to do it she’d have done it by now.  She did quibble over whether or not he was hired though, as if saying he was appointed rather than hired would suddenly make him a good person.

As for this “he’s just a volunteer” noise.  Did you miss the part where he was made co-chair of a state branch?  That means the SCA found him particularly worthy.  It’s an endorsement of him.  Now, either the SCA didn’t know about all the terrible things he’s done (and though they’ve still said nothing of his past, though surely they cannot still be ignorant of it), or they did know and endorsed him anyway.  Either way, it reflects on them and I don’t see how anybody can suggest otherwise through the excuse of “he’s just a volunteer”.

Also, what if he was just a volunteer?  Obviously at some point a person is so despicable that you don’t even let them volunteer.  If an unapologetic KKK member wanted to volunteer, you’d turn them away.  Much less, you wouldn’t tell the world that you think they are the person you want leading a group.  Justin is clearly beyond the point, in terms of integrity, that an organization should endorse him without at least acknowledging why they don’t think his actions (and absence of remorse for them) are of consequence.

Also, on the idea that I’m making a disagreement personal, I’m not (Jason Thibeault has a great post on this).  I disagree with a lot of people on a lot of things (including Stephanie Zvan, PZ Myers, Greta Christina, Jen McCreight, and others), and yet somehow I am allies with them in the atheist movement.  But the evidence is clear that Justin is an especially bad human being.  I certainly believe that our desire to win should never supplant our compassion, yet Justin has conducted himself in contra to that principle.  If you disagree, you should explain either why you don’t think Justin has consistently behaved in a way that suggests he lacks empathy or why you don’t think that should matter to the SCA.  If you do not have an answer to either of those things, I honestly don’t see how you could not agree with me.

What’s more, look at what Justin did with Jen McCreight and Amy Roth.  His response to disagreements with both of them was to attempt to do damage to them personally by exacerbating Jen’s depression with a taunt and posting Amy’s address, as well as a picture of her residence, to a forum full of people who hate and harass her.  If you defend Justin, but gripe about me trying to do harm to those with whom I disagree, you should recalibrate your sense of irony.

I also certainly believe that affiliation with a hate site/hate group speaks volumes of a person.  I don’t care if the KKK asked me to write an article about how puppies are cute for their newsletter, the next words out of my mouth would be “Absolutely not, I would never associate myself with people like you.”  But when a site monitored as a hate site by the Southern Poverty Law Center asked Justin for an article, he said, “OK.”  Or, he actively submitted the article to the hate site, which is even worse.

You’ll note that these have always been my complaints.  Not once have I mentioned feminism or Atheism plus, though Justin’s defenders bring them both up ad nauseam.  You can swing at those things until you’re blue in the face and never once graze the reasons for my displeasure.  My position from the get go is that Justin is a person of extremely low moral fiber who doesn’t need to be given positions of responsibility in our movement until he demonstrates some sort of contrition.

I also love the idea of the SCA, as I’ve repeatedly said (and repeatedly shown by donating to them the last couple of years).  I want them to do well, and I want them to operate in a respectable manner.  I want them to denounce malice and to appoint the best of our movement to positions of authority (FSM-knows, there are lots of great people out there being activists – enough for this blog to run a column on them every Monday).  With the promotion of Justin Vacula, the SCA is failing to live up to the very low standards my hopes entail.  They are either unaware of promoting a malicious person (and unwilling to admit the mistake, even if they don’t fix it), or they are embracing maliciousness rather than denouncing it.  I do not express my love for the idea of the SCA by staying mum when I believe they are making enormous mistakes, nor do I express it by giving them positive reinforcement when instead of handling the situation with dignity they dodge the issue.  Good leaders should expect to earn support, not to receive regardless of how they are performing.

So if you’re going to harp on my motives, you are welcome to do so.  But if you continue to swing at phantoms or come into the comments doing little but tossing around insults, I will either break out the ban hammer or edit your comments in ways that amuse the hell out of me.  Justin appears to lack compassion to a degree that should make anybody associating with him cringe.  If you’re going to disagree with my assessment, that is it.

Rebecca Watson has weighed in on this and I agree with her assessment.  She also included a video from the HFA conference last weekend where she asked SCA Research and Advocacy Manager Kelly Damerow about the Vacula hire and how someone like him fit into their mission of outreach/diplomacy.

Rebecca received the same “he’s a volunteer, not hired” non-answer that I did.

We don’t care if he was hired or appointed.  Don’t care one lick.  We care about your endorsement of the type of person he is, and now we also care about the SCA’s attempts to ignore the issue by citing one, irrelevant distinction that does not at all unmake the SCA’s endorsement.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • wills4223

    I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment JT I don’t understand why the SCA would want to be anywhere near a known harasser and a known MRA. The amount of hate being spewed about just shows to go that there are a lot of children out there on the web. I guess I shouldn’t insult children by comparing them to the people fake signing that petition. Children actually have some redeeming qualities.

  • AKAHorace

    There is plenty of hate on both sides of this issue. Do you really want to amp up the volume of these pointless internet disputes ?Let him have the job and see how he does.

    • wills4223

      False equivalency alert! The systematic harassment by the MRAs and the people that support them isn’t even close to anything done by the ‘other side’. Don’t drop false equivalencies like that.

    • JT Eberhard

      Since when is denouncing dispassionate behavior in our movement pointless?

      And also, I am certainly disappointed, but I don’t think you can call anything I’ve written “hate” (at least, not fairly). Unless you’re referring to my hate of doing damage to others in an effort to win the war of ideas by some means other than your ideas and your presentation of the. That, since my first sentence to the SCA, has been my gripe.

      Go back to the post. See the image that says stay on target? See where I talk about what my issues are? Stop addressing anything else other than the problems I listed.

    • otrame

      Both sides. Well, I am on one side and I do not hate Vacula. I despise him. I think he is immoral. That is not the same as hating him. I suspect most others on “my side” agree. Of course Jen probably hates him, but she has every reason to. For her, it got real personal. For me, I just watch what has been happening, and as I said, I find Vacula’s behavior reprehensible, despicable, and vile. I do not hate him.

    • Azkyroth

      Yes, we do think posting someone’s address and a picture of their home to a forum with a past history of cyberstalking and threats of rape and murder is worse than thinking that was a bad thing to do.

      What is wrong with you that you don’t?

  • Joe T

    JT, could post some kittens or puppies in the next few days? I’m discouraged. Our perhaps an update on your roommate’s awesome cooking?

    • JT Eberhard

      I’m doing an awesome, smile-inducing fundraiser at the end of this month. Will do a blog about it around 4pm EDT. :)

  • Doug B.

    It says a lot about a group by the people who are the face of that group.

    If his appointment stands then I’ll have to withdraw my support of SCA.

    I find it disturbing that SCA seems so out of touch as to what is going on in the freethought community.

    I made a promise after the Elevatorgate firestorm that I would refuse to support or work with any group that supports misogynists or their enablers.

  • Shadow of the Hedgehog

    Your assertion that Vacula made Amy Roth’s address public is extremely disingenuous and casts a shadow on your other assertions. He posted that Amy Roth’s business address was in fact already public.

    • secular dude

      Is this actually true? I keep hearing different sides to this Vacula thing. Some say he did apologize and the address was public anyway and others disagree.

      If there is this much disagreement on what happened, how can we expect the SCA to turn down a volunteer without any definite facts?

      That said, anyone who causes this much disruption in the freethought movement shouldn’t be in a diplomatic position where it’s their job to work with others individuals and groups in the movement.

      • Azkyroth

        I would direct you to some reading on the concept of disinformation campaigns and “FUD” but I’m afraid needing to have “scumbags often lie” explained to you is beyond my skill to heal – you need elvish head-extraction-from-rectum.

    • Anonymous Atheist

      As JT wrote, the concern was “posting Amy’s address, as well as a picture of her residence, to a forum full of people who hate and harass her”. This wasn’t secret information, iirc the address was in her website registration; but he chose to call attention to it, and couple it with what I assume was a Google Street View photo, in a context and audience that many people thought indicated intent to intimidate her and encourage escalation of the harassment being directed at her, particularly in light of his past history.

      • John Horstman

        (Serious question: is satirical trolling still trolling? I’ll gladly cease doing it if it is, even though it brings me joy.)

        • IslandBrewer

          I’d say “no”, as it’s really satire, not trolling, IMHO. But then, I’m a free speech-hating feminazi.

        • Parse

          I’d say that so long as there’s an unambiguous sign that you’re satirizing the trolls (like the ‘ELEVETYONE’), it’s not trolling. Otherwise, you may fall victim to (the general case of) Poe’s Law – that without some visual cue that you aren’t being serious, there will always be a troll who would say seriously what you’re saying tongue-in-cheek.

      • Shadow of the Hedgehog

        He was accused of attempting a doc drop on Amy and he demonstrated that a doc drop was pointless as her address was already available to the public.

        • Stephanie Zvan

          Mailing out campaign literature is pointless because it’s available at a candidate’s office.
          Advertising your product is pointless because it’s in the store.
          Posting a link to a petition is pointless because it’s on the internet.

          • B-Lar

            This is why I like your brain.

          • Sarah

            Well lets put it simpler for you then: He was accused of revealing State secrets but demonstrated that it was pointless because they were already freely available on the State Dept Website. That’s not Doc Drop or Wikileaks territory yet.


        • John

          If her business address is public, bringing it to the attention of people who hate her is an invitation to harassment. If that isn’t malice, it’s severely, compromisingly stupid.

        • Azkyroth

          I’m sorry you’re not smart enough to understand the concept of “distinction without a difference.” Perhaps you can get a real hedgehog to explain it to you? Ask it to speak slowly and use small words.

  • Michael Gobaud

    JT, you may already know this, but all these phone conferences the SCA has been doing in their national expansion effort have been recorded and put online for anyone to listen to (you can even scan through the recordings to particular speakers, very useful). Anyway, I just listened to the first 2 PA conferences to see exactly how Justin was made co-chair of the PA chapter (this is all very interesting to me because I might become a co-chair of the NV chapter, I don’t really know much about Justin). So you might wanna listen to those recordings to see the process of Justin’s appointment, it was actually very enlightening for me because I wanted to understand your complaint better. Here is the SCA PA website with links to all the recordings:

    Here are the relevant parts on Justin’s appointment:

    1ST PA CONFERENCE CALL (50 minutes):
    Justin Vacula (7:02): “I’m Justin Vacula. I’m calling from Scranton, PA…”
    Edwina Rogers, JD: “We don’t know you guys… I’m taking notes.”
    Justin (32:55): “[I was in the press recently about the bus ads and have done a lot of media. You could speak about the SCA on my podcast].”
    Edwina (36:00): “We’ve got three solid people with extreme talent in Pennsylvania… Hoping we can turn the Republicans around… We’re looking for a committee.”

    2ND PA CONFERENCE CALL (34 minutes):
    Kelly Damerow: “[Scott, Brian, Stacks, and Justin expressed interest in taking a leadership position].”
    Jusin (15:00): “[I have spoken with my legislature in the past].”
    Kelly (25:00): “[You guys are all pleasant to work with and cooperative, making my job easier].”
    Kelly (26:00): “Do any of you have any interest in being a chair or co-chair?”
    Stacks Rosch: “I would nominate Justin.”
    Kelly: “Justin you’ve been nominated, what do you think?”
    Justin: “Thanks, I’ll accept the nomination.”
    Kelly: “Excellent, is anyone else interested and want to be co-chair?”
    Brian Fields: “I wouldn’t mind working with Justin. Justin and I work really well together, we’ve done a lot of stuff in the past.”
    Justin: “I’ll nominate Brian.”
    Kelly: “Ok Justin and Brian, you guys are going to be our co-chairs of our executive committee… Thank you so much for accepting… Woo hoo!”;1MzkwNTMxMjc=1

    Well there ya have it. It looks like despite Justin’s presence on the internet (positive and/or negative), Edwina and Kelly had never heard of him (and neither had I until somewhat recently). His co-chair “appointment” took all of 60 seconds, and pretty much anyone who accepted a nomination by a fellow founding member was “approved.”

    I don’t really read blogs much, so perhaps I am just out of the loop on how “bad” Justin is. But I think that’s sort of the point: a lot of activists in our movement (e.g. Edwina, Kelly, myself, etc.), just don’t keep up much with all this internet drama stuff; it’s just not a big deal for many of us (for better or worse). I think there is definitely merit to some of your complaints that you have backed up with evidence, but I just don’t think it is enough to warrant an attempt to systematically ostracize an activist from our movement who seems to be doing SOME positive things and many people seem to respect.

    He is DEFINITELY polarizing, and has apparently made some pretty bad judgement calls, so you and others who dislike him should certainly ban him from the orgs. that you guys control, but is it really necessary to attempt to exclude him from ALL corners of this movement? Show me that this guy has a history of violent crimes/felonies and then MAYBE you would have a case for total exclusion. But I mean, are you really going to circulate petitions outlining the allegedly nasty things he’s done online to get him fired from every secular leadership position he ever achieves his whole life? Seems like a hopeless pursuit…

    • B-Lar


      Total exclusion is not the objective. Making his attitudes and actions known widely so that people can make their own minds up is the objective. If the SCA approved him without this knowledge and will stand by it even though they now know, then thats cool, but that also says something about them to those who observe.

      Knowing is important. Not knowing leads to decisions being made without knowing. Decisions made without knowing are more likely to subvert the desired result. Knowing is important.

      • Sarah

        Or as Blake Stacey on FTB put it, total exclusion is definitely the objective:
        “As long as he’s manifestly unfit for positions of responsibility, then, why yes, he doesn’t belong in positions of responsibility”

        In response to the question “But I mean, are you really going to circulate petitions outlining the allegedly nasty things he’s done online to get him fired from every secular leadership position he ever achieves his whole life?”

        • Joe

          You’re ignoring the ‘As long as…’ If he demonstrates that his actions are actually a thing of the past (by, say, apologising for his statements about Jen and his actions with Amy’s address and so on), then I would be happy for him to have a position of leadership – because he will have demonstrated that he is fit to hold a position of responsibility.

          • Sarah

            So “as long as…” are they going for total exclusion? Yep. Then I don’t care, that’s all I was showing.

        • Cubist

          I’m not sure what you find objectionable about that Blake Stacey quote, Sarah.
          “As long as he’s manifestly unfit for positions of responsibility, then, why yes, he doesn’t belong in positions of responsibility.”
          [nods] Sounds about right to me. If a person actually is “manifestly unfit for positions of responsibility”, then yes, that person “doesn’t belong in positions of responsibility”. Do you have a problem with that, Sarah? Do you think that people who are “manifestly unfit for positions of responsibility” do “belong in positions of responsibility”? Somehow, I kinda doubt that you disagree with the idea of keeping manifestly-unfit-for-positions-of-responsibility persons out of positions of responsibility… do you. Sarah?
          There’s also the “As long as” bit, and I have to wonder if you’ve got any problems with that bit of the Stacey quote. I certainly don’t; once a person who once was manifestly-unfit-for-positions-of-responsibility ceases to be manifestly-unfit-for-positions-of-responsibility, I don’t see any reason why people who are trying to fill a position of responsibility should continue to ignore that formerly-unfit person. Do you think once a manifestly-unfit-for-positions-of-responsibility person, always a manifestly-unfit-for-positions-of-responsibility person, Sarah?

          • Sarah

            That’s because you’re a partisan hack who is arguing with the phantoms in his head. [Noble chap, with whom I eagerly meet on the field of rhetorical battle].

            All I showed was that some people want him completely excluded. Which they do. I don’t give two shits about whether he will become fit enough for them later. But it’s clear you really care about this to the extent of making up imaginary people arguing imaginary things.

            [At this point, I'm reminded of the time that JT said...

            But if you continue to swing at phantoms or come into the comments doing little but tossing around insults, I will either break out the ban hammer or edit your comments in ways that amuse the hell out of me.

            I would like to wrap my comment up right here, without petty name-calling or red herring gripes about someone else's presentation.]

          • Joe

            You’ve shown that some people feel he isn’t fit for a leadership role, and as such do not want him in a leadership position. I’m not seeing how this is the same as total exclusion.

    • Matt Penfold

      So do you not care about the SCA attracting women then ?

  • Eliott

    Just so I understand this…one of, if not the most significant lobbying secular organizations in the country adds voluntary state co-chairs by no criteria what so ever other than someone over a conference call saying I nominate this person. That’s it? You’re shitting us right. You didn’t ask for qualifications or check references. You weren’t curious about their background or how they will represent you or us? Really? I don’t know much about this guy and neither do you apparently but it’s clear you have no standards regarding hiring. I’m sure the board couldn’t be more proud of your hiring standards and practices. One of the goals you stated early on for SCA was to have branches in each state and at the rate you’re going you’ll probably do that but I took for granted you would vette your hires. Fuck me for changing my original opinion about you and not being skeptical. You Edwina were the bad hire.

  • Steve Ahluist

    I question Edwina Rogers about the Justin Vacula controversy on the open conference call today. She said that as far as she knows Vacula has voluntarily stepped down from the position. When I asked her about the vetting of candidates for such positions, she said that of course they do so, but also added, somewhat contradictorally, that the SCA can’t afford to do that.