I Did What Now? The Lie Machine in Action (Updated, Again)


Justin Vacula is busily whining that CFI’s policy on hostile conduct protects its conference attendees freedom to associate with each other without having that associaion disrupted by hostile elements. That’s par for the course. Normally, I wouldn’t bother to draw your attention to it (or even read it; I have plenty of evidence that Vacula understands neither the point of conferences nor the point of such policies).

However, someone pointed out to me that the lie machine is in action on this one. See this comment by Damion Reinhardt.:

First off, I’d like to state for the record that “Blonde In Tokyo” is not to reply to me or contact me in any way, as I will construe any counterarguments or words from her as attempted harassment and report her to the site mods.

Secondly, I’d like to point out that the previous paragraph is an example of a preemptive silencing tactic, designed to prevent the free flow of ideas upon which all genuine freethought is ultimately founded. Tails I win, heads, you SHUT UP AND CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE!!!

Finally, I’d like to point out for the record that Hensley and Zvan solicited harassment complaints on Twitter in hopes of a preemptive ban. This has been their game plan all along.

The myopia is strong with this one. My “game plan” for Women in Secularism 2 is to say interesting things on one panel, ask interesting questions on another, meet a bunch of incredible people I currently only know online, catch up with others I only see at conferences, and conduct a little business for Minnesota Atheists and Atheists Talk. To assume that, as a speaker and a board member of a regional atheist group, my agenda would be shaped by some half-competent gadfly is to completely elide the fact that I’m a successful and active member of the secular movement who will be attending a much-anticipated conference with other successful and active members of the secular movement. That, however, is also par for the course.

This bit about soliciting harassment complaints, however, is flat-out, ahistorical nonsense.

Let’s cast our minds (and links) back to January, when Reinhardt came up with the idea to send Vacula to Women in Secularism. (Yes, this was his idea.) People who were speaking at the conference were upset. People who wanted the conference to be a success were upset. People who were considering paying a not-insubstantial sum of money to attend the conference for reasons entirely unrelated to it being one more space where they would have to defend their feminism were upset.

Into that atmosphere came Melody Hensley with some reassurances:

Hi, this is Melody, the organizer of Women in Secularism. I can assure you that Women in Secularism is a safe place for everyone and I promise that every speaker and attendee will be taken care of. Comfort and safety is one of my biggest concerns.

As some of you might know, I have been the victim of cyberstalking and online harassment and it has affected me greatly so I take this matter very seriously. However, I do not have the authority to decide who does or does not attend to the conference. I do have other ways of making sure that everyone enjoys the conference and feels safe.

If you have concerns that are beyond my control, please contact my president and CEO, Ronald Lindsay at rlindsayATcenterforinquiry.net.

To the best of my recollection, she tweeted something similar. I may have retweeted it. I may have pointed some people who were upset to Melody’s comment in order to reassure them that the conference would still be everything it had promised to be. I did the same thing in the footnotes on this post. What I didn’t do was “solicit harassment complaints”. I didn’t have to. I already had plenty.

On January 22, I sent a four-and-a-half-page letter to Ron Lindsay. Four pages of that letter (plus an additional 11 pdfs) documented the parts of the policy on hostile conduct that Vacula had already declared open contempt for, both with respect to speakers at the conference, potential attendees, the conference itself, and secular conferences in general. Unlike Reinhardt, I’m perfectly comfortable putting my own name on my work.

Also contrary to the story Reinhardt is telling, I didn’t ask for Vacula to be banned. Here’s the last half page of my letter:

That is what I think you need to know about Justin Vacula potentially attending one of your conferences. What am I asking you to do with this information? I’m not asking for any particular action. Among other reasons, there is no upside for me in this situation. Once Vacula decided he wanted to attend this conference, all my options were bad. If CFI decides he should not attend based on the information I’ve provided, I will be blamed for excluding him from the free exchange of ideas. You will be accused of cowardice in caving to my demands, but the responsibility assigned by Vacula and the others who “criticize” me will be mine.

On the other hand, if he attends, I will have a much less productive conference. Everything I do or say will be observed and reported on by a hostile party. Sarcasm and even obvious jokes will be off the table. So will unguarded exchanges about challenges, which was one of the most productive parts of last year’s conference. Additionally, there is a not insubstantial chance that I will have to engage in the reporting process for hostile behavior, resulting in a loss of productive time for me (as this letter has).

Still, if that is the case, you will have this documentation as a starting point. So I leave you with this information and the unenviable task of deciding how you wish to resolve the situation.

Thank you for taking the time to consider this fully.

I didn’t ask for a ban. A ban wouldn’t do me any favors. Of course, as it turns out, I didn’t have to ask. Reinhardt has assigned me that blame for asking even though I didn’t. Hooray, consequences without actions!

As I told Ron, there is no upside for me in this. All I can do is keep working to make the conference as good and as welcoming as I can with the limited resources I have. To that end, let me just note that all of Vacula’s hand-wringing about people trying to get him kicked out of the conference is pointless dramatics. I received a response to the letter I sent Ron. I won’t share the text because I haven’t asked for permission, but long story short: Vacula was communicated with about appropriate behavior at the conference shortly after I sent that letter. He knew how he would have to behave before he finished raising funds to attend Women in Secularism. This should be no surprise to him.

If he has concerns now, he doesn’t have to blog about them for all the impotent world to weigh in on. He can go directly to whomever at CFI has already talked to him about the policy with any questions he has. He can get all the clarification he needs to make sure he gets as much out of the conference as it was designed to provide.

Just as I did with other attendees and potential attendees back in January, I urge Vacula to make use of that contact if he has any questions or concerns about his conference-going experience. And I urge Reinhardt to develop a closer relationship with the truth and to take some responsibility for his actions in this movement.

Update: Vacula has posted an “I know you are but what am I?” accusation that I’m lying about trying to get him banned from Women in Secularism. I left a comment congratulating him on maintaining an argument from incredulity while linking to his answers. I also added myself to the list of people who have told him to leave them alone at Women in Secularism.

Update #2: Reinhardt has posted this “solicitation”. Apparently one solicits attendees to complain by mentioning to two non-attendees and the conference organizer in a side conversation most people will never see that if speakers and attendees had concerns that it would be better they be made before Vacula raised a bunch of money and bought his ticket. One does not broadcast said solicitation to, say, people in an actual position to make a complaint.

Comments

  1. says

    What part of his career is Justin not trying to destroy?

    Toilet, meet Justin’s career. Justin’s career, toilet.

  2. says

    Ophelia and I are also getting hit with their big lie machine. Now it’s claimed that we’re “threatening to get him thrown out if he dared to approach” and that we’re going to going to maneuver him into a conversation and instantly flag down a guard to evict him.

    They’re idiots.

    The last thing any of us want is for Vacula to get thrown out of the conference — that would just feed his already rampant martyr complex. He’s going to have to try very hard to violate the harassment rules if he really wants to be tossed out, and we’d rather he didn’t try at all…because that would disrupt our enjoyment of the conference.

    Reminding him that there are consequences to boorish behavior is not a threat.

  3. Ulysses says

    You’re right, there is no upside for you. What’s worse, there’s really no downside for Vacula. If he doesn’t engage in harassment he gets informed about interesting topics. If he does harass and suffers any type of sanction, even just receiving a warning, then he’ll ride the FREEZE PEACH DENIED! propaganda wagon for years.

  4. blondeintokyo says

    Wow, that is pretty funny! I got accused of harassing someone that I have never spoken to before. :) Methinks someone has a flair for the dramatic. I guess I got on his nerves. Seriously though, can anyone see that I was being unreasonable in my comments any way?

  5. says

    He’s going to have to try very hard to violate the harassment rules if he really wants to be tossed out

    under normal circumstances, the response of “don’t give him ideas” or similar would be meant as a hyperbolic joke.

    In this case, I’m quite serious about it: don’t give that ass the idea that he will be able to “try very hard” to be tossed out, because it might result in some (possibly entirely uninvolved in this fight) person having their boundaries violated because Vacula wants to make a point.

  6. says

    he gets informed about interesting topics

    that would require the content of the talks/presentations/discussions to get past his Morton’s demon. More likely, the conference will provide him with fodder for more BS distortions and whining, even if he manages not to harass anyone.

  7. says

    … I urge Reinhardt to develop a closer relationship with the truth and to take some responsibility for his actions in this movement.

    At this point I think a “don’t hold your breath” would be redundant. Reinhardt has been proudly and loudly on the wrong side of this argument from the very first day it began and his painstakingly contrived civility has masked an inexplicable hostility to reasonable behaviour and a deep aversion to honest discussion.

    As to the topic, I won’t suggest how others should conduct themselves at WiS but were I there, I’d just be giving Vacula the widest berth possible.

  8. says

    It is just ridiculous that the very people who are against the harassment policies behave in the exact ways that necessitate their existence. Vacula could have made plans to shut up,watch and listen, and leave… and at the end of it he could have said “see, nothing happened, no need for harassment policies”. He would have still be wrong and illogical, but at least non-disruptive and he would have made superficial sense to his fellow irrational “skeptics.” Instead his entire plan is to be disruptive, confrontational, and ruin the experience for other people. You know, some of the things that anti-harassment policies are meant to prevent.

    Also, stand ready to hear lots of rules lawyering, as Vacula and his crew work overtime to find “loopholes” in the WIS policies so that he can violate the spirit of the rules while maintaining barely inside the letter of them, and try to show that other people in attendance are violating the rules on some technicality while obviously maintaining the spirit of those rules. You KNOW he’s not going to come within a country mile of playing things straight and behaving like a decent human being, if he can find some way to act badly and get away with it.

  9. says

    blondeintokyo, I don’t think Reinhardt thinks you’re being at all unreasonable. I think he saw an opportunity to be unreasonable to you and took it by way of “proving” that this meant we would be unreasonable to Vacula.

  10. Wowbagger, Designated Snarker says

    Huh. I did wonder exactly how much Vacula was being used by the other ‘pitters to do their dirty work, and this confirms it. I now feel a bit (not much, but a bit) sorry for him, since it’s looking more and more like he’s a puppet – and one day he’s going to wake up, shunned by our side and scorned as a foolish tool by the people he thought were on his side, and realise just how much he screwed up by going along with them.

  11. Wowbagger, Designated Snarker says

    Yeah, and yet, Reinhardt is in moderation claiming he does everything under his own name.

    Of course he is. He has to; the Vacula puppet hasn’t danced yet.

  12. says

    I made the mistake of looking at the comments on Vacula’s blog post. I find it frankly astonishing that a man who wrote a blog post with the title “Stephanie Zvan’s Lie Machine in Action”, could respond to you calling him on this accusation as follows:

    Can you please identify where I accused you of lying?

    Really? I mean…really?

    That’s the blogging equivalent of saying “I’m not doing anything!” while his hand is stuck in the cookie jar. Continuing to deny it even as he grabs more cookies.

    This needs to go into the great list of examples for chutzpah, right underneath the man who killed his parents begging the judge for mercy on the grounds that he’s an orphan.

  13. Martha says

    I’m sorry you have to deal with all this nonsense, Stephanie. I’m looking forward to the conference, and I’ll be bringing my mother along to deal with anyone who behaves inappropriately ;-) She’s a retired employment lawyer who’s heard it all and doesn’t suffer fools gladly…

  14. hjhornbeck says

    Flewellyn @15: Oh come on, I don’t know how a person could be that… oblivious….

    … shit. I. I… wow. He’s really lost it, hasn’t he? Vacula has drunk his own Kool-aid, and closed himself off to critical thought on this topic. I haven’t met a young-Earth creationist this blind to fact and reason…

  15. says

    I still suggest buttons.

    STOP: Justin Vacula Stay Away From Me.

    Sell them for $1 each.

    You’d make a ton of money.

  16. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Stephanie Zvan : You (along with pretty much all of of the B bloggers) have my admiration and respect and my sympathies for being put through this hate campaign for whatever little that may be worth.

    Vacula and your fellow slimepitters – you seem to be such utterly contemptible, sad and petty people lost in your own all devouring cesspit of hatred against people who have done you no wrong and who are seeking to do you no wrong.

    My advice to you is just drop this whole issue and rethink your lives and attitudes. Please.

    Justin Vacula if you do go to the Women In Scepticism conference you have an opportunity.

    An opportunity to sit back, listen seriously, learn and gain a new perspective or two and an improved understanding and appreciation of others views and life generally.

    Alternatively its an opportunity if you so choose to (again) be a silly schmuck who perhaps annoys a few people who already dislike you, humiliates yourself and perhaps gets thrown out for your own misbehaviour.

    So you probably have an opportunity here to surprise us and prove us wrong about you by choosing wisely -the former option over the latter one.

    Here’s my challenge to you, refute me, Ophelia, PZ and others by showing you can behave like a reasonable, decent human being who is capable of learning and not just being a internet clown whose unfunny performances turn off and disgust most people who encounter or read about you.

  17. PatrickG says

    Slightly OT, but I saw this ever-sparkling gem in one of Vacula’s responses in the comments:

    You see, not one person I have seen has pushed for atheist/secular/skeptic organizations to focus on issues important to the ‘manosphere’ and men in particular such as high rates of suicide, incarceration homelessness, alcoholism, etc. It is simply not the place for these concerns.

    This incandescently flaming stupidity boggles the mind. You don’t have to wander far around FTB to see that these issues are talked about non-stop. I mean, come on, has this towering buffoon never even read the work of Black Skeptics, Crommunist, or hell, any of the bloggers he routinely derides by name — who talk about these issues, too? Who routinely call for action and discussion?

    Has Vacula never heard of Google?

    Oh wait, I forgot. It doesn’t count if you bring race and gender and sexuality into the discussion. Obviously we should talk about these issues without being ‘distracted’ by such petty concerns. When people at FTB talk about, say, mass incarceration in general while noting that disproportionate impacts exist…. they’re not talking about it at all! It’s simply “not the place for these concerns.” Because logic!

    It’s pretty clear what Vacula wants: if anyone talks about these issues, it should only be in the context of of white straight men, preferably aged 18-35. Talking about anybody else means you’re not talking about it all, or worse, you’re hurting Teh Menz but not talking about them exclusively! In the context particularly of posts by Black Skeptics and Crommunist, this is absolutely en-fucking-raging, because if we grant that he’s done his damn homework, the only conclusion to draw is that Vacula thinks black men not count as part of the “manosphere”, or “men in particular.”

    Fucking asshole. Staggeringly stupid, staggeringly offensive, and staggeringly puerile. But then, that’s Vacula for you.

    I will thank him for one thing — coffee just wasn’t getting me revved up this morning. But now I’m quite perky.

  18. PatrickG says

    Revved up too late, it appears. Make that “… black men do not count as part of the “manosphere”…”

  19. hjhornbeck says

    Apparently one solicits attendees to complain by mentioning to two non-attendees and the conference organizer in a side conversation most people will never see that if speakers and attendees had concerns that it would be better they be made before Vacula raised a bunch of money and bought his ticket. One does not broadcast said solicitation to, say, people in an actual position to make a complaint.

    You’re not viewing this from the right angle. To someone who obsessively follows a handful of bloggers in the hope of finding some dirt, that looks identical to a public broadcast. Since this conversation was known to the Slyme Pit (or so I think, haven’t checked), it must have been seen by everyone else.

    It’s one more bit of evidence that the ‘Pit warps your view of the world.

  20. says

    Kevin @18: no, that would:

    a) make the conference even more about him and less about the issues at hand;
    b) constitute making a chilly climate for him as a person, e.g. harassment.

    Why stoop to his level and try to make him uncomfortable right back, when he’s clearly only going to make others uncomfortable and score points with his supporters and our detractors? Why not simply tell him he’s not wanted when/if he approaches you, and watch him get thrown out on his ear if he persists despite your wishes?

  21. says

    Haha.
    FYI- someone in the Pit suggested Jason’s comment @24 was advocating harassment of Justin.

    Totally awesome…..

  22. Gus says

    This:
    “People who were speaking at the conference were upset. People who wanted the conference to be a success were upset. People who were considering paying a not-insubstantial sum of money to attend the conference for reasons entirely unrelated to it being one more space where they would have to defend their feminism were upset.”

    and this:

    “On the other hand, if he attends, I will have a much less productive conference. Everything I do or say will be observed and reported on by a hostile party. Sarcasm and even obvious jokes will be off the table. So will unguarded exchanges about challenges, which was one of the most productive parts of last year’s conference.”

    So let me get this straight – you have willingly entered into a public debate (you aren’t required to have a blog, attend or speak at this conference, etc.) and not only are you not looking forward to defending your ideas you wish (and take action in the hopes) that they go unchallenged. That’s an authoritarian impulse, one I would think you would try to suppress.

    If this guy is such a douchebag, it should be exceedingly easy for you to whip him in a debate. Attempting to have him excluded from the event – which is clearly the subtext of the letter you quote here, if it wasn’t why give them a “situation” to “resolve” – will force people like me, who are new to this whole kerfluffle, to believe that you really don’t have ideas worth defending.

  23. says

    Oh, no. I fully expect my ideas will be challenged. I just want that to be done by people who have shown some basic interest in and capability for unserstanding them. I’ve already responded to Vacula at length on several things. He doesn’t respond. He doesn’t even give any evidence of understanding what I’ve said. He just keeps wandering around like a broken record and continuing to claim that the fact that I call him a waste of my time means that I want to hide from debate.

    The funny part? You fell for it.

  24. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    So let me get this straight – you have willingly entered into a public debate (you aren’t required to have a blog, attend or speak at this conference, etc.) and not only are you not looking forward to defending your ideas you wish (and take action in the hopes) that they go unchallenged.

    I like how Gus went directly to the blatant bullshit misrepresentations of reality right after typing “let me get this straight”. I mean, why bother pretending to be asking in good faith. Go right for the obvious trolling.

  25. says

    What is not made obvious and what I would love to know is what is it that he did
    in the first place to make him so hated // I am assuming it has nothing to do with
    the First Amendment otherwise we are in deep trouble // I wonder sometimes at
    his reason for going where he is not wanted // I cannot figure out whether it is an
    ulterior motive or simple curiosity that is being referenced here // Asking any one
    is not going to be necessarily productive which just leaves the man himself // He
    does not have to attend and he can still blog to his hearts content // Stephanie is
    under the impression that she is in a no win situation yet the decision is not hers
    to make so she is free of that responsibility // I was surprised to see her state now
    every thing would be under scrutiny so being her self is not an option here // This
    would be laughable if it was not serious // But the other thing which is odd is this
    notion that conference cannot ban him as Melody Hensley cannot decide who is
    and is not eligible // It is also curious that the reason some do not want him to be
    banned is because of the publicity it will provide him // I do however agree thet he
    cannot dictate agenda // But anyway the machine has to be fed and this is just an
    other tasty morsel for it // But Stephanie do not be afraid to be yourself because a
    person who does not share your world view makes you so // I am not talking here
    about Justin now just in general // Anyway have a good one // With or without him

  26. Mark W says

    Having shown up late each morning of the conference, I had the dubious honor of staking out a place in the back of the hall, a few feet away from where Justin Vacula set up camp. He was seated along the back wall with his podcast partner and took up three seats for himself (one for laptop, one to mouse and notes, and one to rule them), none of which he offered to give up when people needed chairs for overcrowded talks.
    His activities during talks (nearly-exclusively) included intent, head-down, live-blogging, and exaggeratedly loud and vigorous clapping when a speaker made a comment with which he agreed — most frequently, any statements mentioning male roles in secularism (though not exclusively). His outward presentation was outwardly hostile (from what I saw, at least), but his emphatic claps were notably obnoxious and douchey; and I noticed several nearby attendees (many of whom I hold in high personal and professional regard) give him dirty looks with regards to the style and timing of his applause.
    My overall impression of him (prior to learning who he was, and more-so after) was that he was intending to appear non-aggressively hostile, while at the same time being deliberately overt about his disagreement with the entire idea of the conference.

  27. says

    Wait, revisiting: Ron Lindsay had Vacula’s form spelled out to him in detail before the conference.
    And yet Ron Lindsay chose to explicitly welcome Vacula in his podium speech.

    I didn’t think RL could look worse, but now he does.

Trackbacks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>