I have an overdue update for a story I previously reported on.
In November 2019, I wrote about American Atheists firing David Silverman after allegations of sexual misconduct (some of which he admitted). But, like many mediocre white guys who never have to reckon with the consequences of their actions, he landed on his feet. He was almost immediately rehired by a different group called Atheist Alliance International, which created a paid position just for him.*
AAI aggressively defended Silverman on social media, insisting that the allegations were unproven and that he had the right to a job. Still, after getting this reprieve, you’d think Silverman would have known that he was on thin ice. In his position, I would have been especially careful to behave in a way that was respectful, cautious and above reproach.
But it appears Silverman himself didn’t feel that way.
Less than a month after AAI hired him, he was accused of inappropriate conduct again – this time by Rebecca Vitsmun, an atheist and feminist activist who said he nonconsensually stroked her back (“creepy touching“) at a party while she was bending over to pick up her shoes. To my knowledge, Silverman never denied touching her. Instead, he sent her a series of messages trying to convince her not to tell anyone about it, because it would ruin his life.
It was to no avail, because Vitsmun did speak out, and AAI suspended him pending an investigation. Then, on December 20, 2019 – barely two months after they hired him – he resigned in disgrace.
AAI’s official statement said nothing other than vaguely claiming it was “for the avoidance of doubt”. They didn’t reference the earlier allegations or offer any apology for not believing those women initially, although it clearly would have saved them a lot of trouble if they had.
Incredibly, Silverman himself was rehired again – although arguably it was yet another step down in prestige – by a group called the Conru Foundation, which gives grants to “demonetized truth-tellers”. Since then, he’s descended further into the slime, like when he claimed that systemic racism doesn’t exist or called George Floyd “human garbage“.
That’s the old update. Here’s the new one.
Last week, on September 15, I got a Twitter message from John Richards, the publications director of Atheist Alliance International. He praised me as a “kindred spirit” and offered to interview me for their newsletter.
I was surprised that anyone from AAI wanted to talk to me, given my previous criticism. I didn’t want an interview to take place under false pretenses, so in case he was unaware of it, I replied with a link to my post:
There’s a couple of ways this conversation could have gone. He could have acknowledged that AAI hiring Silverman was a mistake, but they had learned from it and were trying to do better, which is why they reached out to interview a notorious SJW like me. Or he could have offered to interview me with the understanding that no topic was off the table, including my past opinions about AAI’s conduct, as a show of open-mindedness and devotion to rational debate.
But since I’m writing this post, you can probably guess that he said neither of those things. Here’s his actual response:
The line “in today’s hectic world, that’s ancient history” deserves some kind of medal for audacity. Do you think AAI considers religious misconduct that took place before November 2019 to be off-limits for criticism?
Furthermore, his statement that “my interviews are not about our organization” made it clear that if I talked to him, criticism of AAI wouldn’t be permitted. The price of using their newsletter as a platform for self-promotion was keeping my mouth shut.
Under the circumstances, I had to decline:
I expected a disappointed but professional response. But again, it wasn’t to be. Instead, Richards went off on a rant, acting as if my turning down his offer was a grave insult. For several days afterward – yes, days – he sent me a flurry of messages, alternately denouncing me as inflexible and biased against him, or sending video links to the good stuff he says AAI has done and urging me to reconsider:
I fail to see the relevance of this, unless it’s to argue that if AAI has ever done anything good, I should never criticize them. Again, do they apply this same standard to churches? Because they run soup kitchens, we should overlook their history of sheltering sex abusers or defending patriarchal politics?
Ironically, I think this goes a long way toward explaining why they hired Silverman in the first place. Although Richards adamantly denies that AAI’s actions of eleven months ago could or should still matter to anyone, this obsessive, won’t-take-no-for-an-answer behavior is a glimpse into the mindset that prevails at this organization. Let’s just say it doesn’t provide evidence for a healthy understanding of boundaries.
* Silverman had posed as a feminist ally, but apparently it was only a pose. As soon as he himself was laid low by the principles he had advocated, he did an about-face, raging about “feminist tyranny” and palling around with alt-right figures he had formerly denounced. AAI didn’t consider this to be a red flag prior to extending him a job offer.
UPDATE: AAI responds!