Friday night at Skepticon, I went to bed early. I had some sleep to make up from driving through the night to get there. I’d given blood. It seemed like a good idea. I knew I’d missed stuff, though, so I checked the hashtag shortly after getting up. Unfortunately, I found this.
@EllenBethWachs: So apparently Skepticon isn’t safe. American Atheist employee receives a death threat at the end of loaded 38 #sk6
Never what you want to see. Nor is it fun to see things like this before you have any idea what’s going on.
@Sc00ter: @EllenBethWachs I’m sure the anti-harassment policy at #sk6 will take care of that no problem. Be safe @davemuscato
So it was going to be one of those days. Yay. But first to find out what had happened to Dave. Luckily, I knew from looking at who was tweeting it, it had to be public. It was on Facebook.
Hey universe, when I said it could be worse as far as the airline losing my luggage… that was not intended as an invitation for a death threat accompanied by a loaded 38.
I get a lot of hate mail and have lost count of death threats now, but this is the first time I have actually perceived my life to be in immediate danger from one.
Although it would not have helped in this particular case, I’m seriously considering a kevlar vest for future public talks.
Fellow activists, a reminder to be very careful about vetting whom you allow in your personal surroundings, and let me just say if I didn’t want kids before, I sure as hell don’t now.
This situation involved someone who I am lead to believe is normally pretty trustworthy who had simply had too much to drink. Obviously that’s not an acceptable excuse for this, but I’m not upset at the person as much as that I don’t want that person around me. I’m sure this is going to be going around the conference tomorrow but I don’t feel it’s necessary to name names and I’m not pressing charges. I may change my mind if I perceive this person to be an ongoing danger to me or anyone else at Skepticon. Hotel security and the Springfield police are fully aware and taking care of it, and I will be giving all the info I have to the conference organizers when they wake up, and I’ll let them decide if there’s further action they want to take, but I think it’s under control now.
There was also already a comment there from Micah Weiss, one of the Skepticon organizers:
Glad you’re okay. Contact us when you’re ready. We’ve got your back however you want to handle this. *hugs*
That right there? That’s the reaction I want to see from a conference organizer when something bad happens. First, concern for the person who has been harmed. Second, concern to follow up as soon as the injured party is ready and able.
Notice what there was not: No declarations about Skepticon except as they related to the conference’s responsibility to Dave. No “damage control”. No messages that Dave shouldn’t be talking about his experiences publicly. No interrogating his story. No allegations that he was out to ruin Skepticon. Just a focus on him being okay and on following up.
I was in the right place to see Dave as he arrived at the American Atheists table that morning, mostly because I was already talking with others about the limited information we had. He’d just been talking to the conference organizers. I heard the story first-hand. I haven’t asked for permission to share any additional details, so I won’t, but there’s really nothing relevant that’s been left out of the security update that Dave then proceeded to write up for Skepticon to post on their website.
About 4 AM on Saturday morning, another attendee of the conference made a graphic and direct verbal death threat to me while brandishing a semi-automatic pistol, which this person claimed was loaded. The incident occurred on E St Louis Street outside, away from conference property and neither in the conference hotel nor in the expo center. I was with a small group of people who were able to distract this person with conversation and diffuse things until we were able to return to the University Plaza hotel, where the person went to his room. I reported the incident immediately to hotel security and the Springfield police, and made statements on the record about what happened.
Skepticon organizers have been fully informed of all details of the incident, and all organizers and volunteers, as well as police and hotel security, have this person’s name and photograph. This person has agreed to leave the hotel and not return to Skepticon this year or in future years.
Skepticon organizers have been overwhelmingly supportive and competent. I was offered a security escort, which I appreciated, but felt was unnecessary and declined.
There was one person present who said, essentially, “Can’t you just go to bed at a reasonable hour so I don’t have to worry about you? But now that I have that out of my system, of course you can do whatever you want. I’m just fussing. You did nothing wrong.” It was a refreshing change from “Well, if you’re worried, just don’t go to any parties.”
Unless you can come up with something about Skepticon that led to this event, this is ridiculous. This person won’t be returning to Skepticon, which would be the only reason to expect a repeat at subsequent Skepticons. Not letting offenders come back is how you make the conference safer.
Oh, right. You don’t actually care about conference security. You’re just obsessed with Rebecca Watson.
Well, no. As it turns out, no one has ever said that policies stop all problems. If you look at the start of all this (and as a skeptic, you’re going to check your facts, right?), policies were called for because of repeated problems. They do set standards for acceptable behavior, but they are there to stop unacceptable behavior from continuing. Just as laws provide clear guidelines but don’t stop all instances of harmful behavior, so with these policies.
Also, for the record, Skepticon’s policy has this covered already under “deliberate intimidation”. They didn’t have to change the policy at all to keep this person out.
I can’t tell you whether anyone received unwanted attempts at flirting at Skepticon this year. (Unilateral “flirting” isn’t flirting.) I can tell you that if anyone did, they knew they had the organizers’ backing to put an end to it. They knew that if someone refused to listen or became abusive when they set boundaries, they had people who would be on their side. That is what gives someone a safe space in which to set those boundaries–as tightly or as loosely as they want.
This one is just weird, particularly paired with another tweet a few days later.
Not only was the original tweet posted after the announcement from Dave Muscato and Skepticon, but Skepticon provided that link directly to Sharon Hill. She responded to that tweet, demonstrating that she saw it. She asked no follow-up questions that I can find, merely claimed she hadn’t received “any response”, which is blatantly untrue.
This one is also bizarre. I hadn’t tweeted anything about the threat or the response, except for retweeting Dave’s unhappiness with how the issue was being used on Twitter. The official channels had taken care of everything just fine. I did, however, tweet one thing from Greta’s talk having to do with celebrations and alcohol. It had nothing to do with security threats. It was about being careful not to encourage drug use as a primary means of coping with stress.
I haven’t bothered to find out what the slime pit’s careful analysis of the situation is. I’m sure it’s entirely factual and not at all targeted to suggest that we don’t need policies to deal with people misbehaving because people should just behave. Or not.
@toxicpath: @BirdTerrifier @D4M10N just be careful guys. You know there is a rampant gun problem at skepticon!
So you’re comparing a single incident that was handled swiftly and well with no prompting with years of events that have largely been shrugged off despite multiple protests? Get back to me when you understand the basics of analogies.
If you cared about facts, you’d know that (1) Greg challenges U.S. gun culture at every opportunity and (2) he didn’t travel for atheist or skeptic conventions even before he gave up the movement as rubbish. Lucky you, though, you don’t care, so you still get to try to be relevant. Maybe next time, you can even succeed.
Isn’t it fascinating to see how different the reaction is when it’s not a woman suggesting she should be treated professionally? Nobody arguing with this at all. I guess we do still need feminism, huh?
@OffensivAtheist: If the guy at w/GUN at #sk6 was drunk & so was the guy threatened they must both be rapists or am i confused? There should be guidelines
There are. You’re part of the reason why. If people didn’t work so hard at misunderstanding this, maybe those guidelines wouldn’t be needed.
@AmbrosiaX: Some of you are thinking the big news from #SK6 was a gun or that Zvan had a moment of sober clarity. No, there were Slymepitter t-shirts!
For once, Edie almost has a point. No, not about my drinking. She has no idea how much or when I drink. That’s just her trademark pointless nastiness.
However, we aren’t very good at celebrating the people who get things right in the secular or skeptical movements. It doesn’t make news even when it should. So kudos to Dave, Micah, Lauren Lane, and everyone else on the scene and working for Skepticon who helped keep Dave and the rest of us safe and did it so well that we could go on with our conference almost without noticing the interruption.
As for the matter of naming names, Dave is still getting advice on how to handle that. Since he has already been threatened by this person once, I certainly understand his caution. I don’t agree with anyone telling him he needs to add to his own risk by handling things the way they want them handled. That’s not a decision others get to make for Dave.
However, I’m confident as a conference organizer myself that Dave will be receptive to sharing that information with my organization as we plan for our next event. Unless your event is this weekend, give him time to figure out how to do it best. If it is this weekend, just ask him instead of telling the world that he’s handling this wrong. Have some confidence that he’ll handle this as well as he handled the original threat. After all, he did a great job at that.