A funny thing happened nearly two and a half years ago. When I say “funny”, I mean the kind of thing where the principals get together years later, look each other in the eye, and laugh because what the hell else are they going to do?
In early January 2012, after months of hesitation, I wrote a post about three incidents involving JREF president D. J. Grothe’s reactions to pseudoscientific rape apologia, child sex trafficking, and misogynist, threatening comments aimed at a feminist blogger. I pointed out that Grothe, in each case, had stepped in to defend the anti-feminist actions in question and suggested he needed to take a look at that trend.
The response from him at the time was the now-infamous chant of “Doin’ it for the pageviews!”. The response a few months down the road was to blame me, among others, for the decline in female attendance at The Amazing Meeting, an assertion that was contradicted in the very thread where his comments were left. The ongoing response has mostly been futilely derogatory, vague comments on Facebook and Twitter and blocking anyone who might have an interest in discussing those comments skeptically in public.
The responses from people other than Grothe, however, were enlightening. There was the usual back-and-forth of “Thank you for speaking up publicly” versus “How dare you say bad things about a public figure?”, but I’m not talking about those. I’m talking about the people who have known Grothe personally.
I’m talking about people who have worked with him or for him. I’m talking about people who considered him a friend or an ally. I’m talking about some people who have since said these things publicly and others who will probably never be able to afford to speak up. I’m talking about an awful lot of people, enough that I wondered why no one had been in a position to warn me when I set out to write about Grothe.
Their stories were enlightening in that they almost always contained two elements, along with the story of whatever specific way Grothe had been horrible. They almost all involve a warning–“D. J. is a bad guy; don’t trust him”–that was overlooked on a temporary basis because Grothe was charming and plausible in person, and they almost all involve the word “psychopath” being applied to Grothe.
Several people brought the word up spontaneously. Others reached a point in the conversation where they dithered and fretted over being believed when discussing the blatancy of his misbehavior. When I told one of them that “psychopath” had come up in previous conversations, the response was (I paraphrase), “Yes! That sounds so melodramatic, but that’s really the kind of behavior I’m talking about here.” So I started mentioning that to people when these conversations hit that point. The response has frequently been grateful. When it has been something other than entirely positive, it’s been hesitation to diagnose as a non-professional.
Nor can I diagnose Grothe as a psychopath, a person with antisocial personality disorder. I don’t have the training, the licensing or the access to Grothe it would require. If I did, I’d be bound by confidentiality standards to not talk to you about it.
I do, however, understand the impulse to put a name to the dichotomy that is Grothe. It’s an easy thing, particularly for people who haven’t been victimized this way before, to let yourself be led into the circle of charm. It’s hard to feel all that warmth–the focused attention, the soothing voice, the little intimate-but-not-too-intimate touches on the shoulder or the arm–and not feel he thinks you’re special. It is confusing when someone you believe thinks you’re special, someone you believe is your friend, starts to act against you while still acting like your friend. It’s very, very difficult to believe that someone will tell you lies, or tell lies about you in public, that are easily contradicted by the documents you have in hand–while still acting like your friend.
Grothe still does all that, though. There’s no polite way to say it. He lies, publicly and privately, boldly and blatantly, in the face of evidence, to and about people who trust him. Let’s take a look at a few examples.
Most recently, we have the lie that Grothe didn’t know who had run the clinics at TAM and didn’t have their contact information. This was seven months after he’d been forced by bad publicity to release the report that came from the the same organization that sponsored those clinics, Women Thinking, Inc. According to Jamie, the author of the report:
The guy who was trying to get in touch with us actually found a business card I gave him a couple years ago and called me up today and I talked to him for awhile giving advice for the vaccine clinic he wants to do.
He told me he had spoken with DJ Grothe but DJ told him he had no idea who was involved with the past TAM vax clinics and had no idea how to get ahold of us. Luckily he found my business card and also made his way to Skepchick where he sent us a message via the contact form.
I wonder how many other people may have asked DJ the same question and then given up when he said he has no idea who we are.
Then, when Jamie tweeted about the incident, the JREF Twitter account responded:
It seems he knows exactly how to contact members of Women Thinking, including Jamie, who ran the vaccination clinics, since JREF did exactly that when it suited him. Yet he still went on to claim otherwise to Liz Ditz.
Subsequently I received a private Facebook message from DJ Grothe, in which he claimed not to have contact information for either Elyse Anders or Jamie Bernstein, despite the years of close contact between JREF and both women. He also accused them of “lying” and misrepresented other matters of fact.
It’s seeing that kind of lying in the face of clear evidence to the contrary that makes people go back and check that their facts are straight. And it persists in the face of people pointing out that it’s self-contradictory.
Because if you pretend that no one has mentioned the communication channel on which you’re communicating, it magically evaporates. Or something.
Then there’s the tweet right after that with the claim that Jamie said Elyse was running a “fake” Twitter account.
Remember the Women Thinking, Inc. report on their vaccination survey? Remember how Grothe tried to hold it hostage to Sasha Pixlee retracting his harassment allegation against Grothe? One of the things that came out at the time was that Grothe had a history of lying about having sent the things that needed to come from him to keep the project moving.
I happen to have a copy of the correspondence, sent to me when people who had put effort into the report didn’t know how much bad publicity it would take to shake the report loose from JREF. It backs up Jamie Bernstein’s account, though checks are the clearest culprit, dated several days to a week after Grothe claimed they were sent. But, hey, everybody lies about checks and then doesn’t bother to backdate them, right? The checks aren’t the interesting part of that folder.
That “fake” Twitter account accusation? Funny thing about that. It came up in the Women Thinking correspondence that I have. It was one of those things Grothe was apparently holding the report hostage to. It went like this:
On April 2, 2012, Grothe sent an email to the Women Thinking board; Jamie; Brian Thompson (working for JREF at the time); three Skepchicks, including Rebecca; and the TAM mailing list. I assume the last was a mailing list for those involved in planning TAM. He was forwarding an accusation from his partner, Thomas (who, for some reason, has a JREF email account even though he’s not listed as staff anywhere), that he’d “caught” Elyse and Sasha Pixlee creating (“or at least involved with them somehow”) a new Twitter account. Grothe’s suggestion was that if anyone with Women Thinking were involved, it would be bad for working together. The implication was also that it would be ingratitude on the part of Women Thinking. The word “divisive”, which we’ve all come to hear at the topmost range of our hearing, was used.
The exchange that followed involved a lot of “Why are you telling me this?” The best answer Grothe had was that someone had told him Elyse and Sasha were involved with another Twitter account, and saying things about TAM was bad for their working relationship.
However, there is also a side email exchange just between Grothe and Jamie. It comes after they’ve had a call to discuss his accusations about Twitter accounts. Not only has Jamie not told Grothe that Elyse ran the Angry Skeptic Man accounts, but she talks about being concerned that rumors to that effect were “being taken so seriously”. Grothe references “a number of folks” who had told him Elyse and Sasha were behind the account. After talking to Jamie, he was worried about retweets from Elyse and Sasha, not tweets.
Not only did Jamie not tell Grothe Elyse was running that account, she appears to have reassured him otherwise. Saying anything else later is just one more flat-out lie in the face of contrary evidence.
Of course, we have Grothe’s best-known public lie. Remember those “on [no] reports of such harassment the last two TAMs while I’ve been at the JREF“? Remember Lee deLay and their friend, who each reported “over a full page of incidents” at the prior TAM, who spoke to Grothe directly, and who couldn’t get a response from JREF after their report was filed? Another lie, easily contradicted. The only difference with this one is that it happened to be very public.
Speaking of lies that are already public, there’s also:
- The lie about the cost of TAM, with Grothe changing the claim here without admitting it’s a change.
- The lie that women who were talking about being groped and followed were talking about “sexual exploits”.
- The lie that people were blogging about harassment policies but not reaching out to organizations, even as someone had reached out to the JREF.
- The lie that when we were discussing a rape allegation, we were teaming up with the religious right to attack consensual sex.
- The lie that sexual harassment can only happen in the workplace.
- The lie that Ashley Miller had said, “she didn’t feel like the harassment was worth reporting to JREF staff.”
There are more, I’m sure, but that’s off the top of my head.
So why am I beating on this drum? Why lay out the little lies? Why bring the big ones up again?
Grothe is threatening to lie again. This time, he’s threatening to lie about Pamela Gay* in a way that carries the very strong possibility of destroying her career in science.
Today I received the following threat from the person I thought was my friend, the person who intervened for me, person B. It was in the context of trying to get me to say nothing ever happened. He wrote, “I will also publicly speak about this as necessary, providing all documentation as necessary, including photos, emails, etc., and contact all relevant employers, as well.”
Gay doesn’t use Grothe’s name, but other people have made enough details of what happened public that there is no doubt about who she’s talking about. Some of these were details they heard from Grothe himself about the incident Gay wrote about last year. Some of those Gay probably doesn’t even know we know, like the presence the two recordings, because the discussion of them happened in a friends-only Facebook conversation that has only been quoted publicly in part.
But let there be no mistake. “Person B” is D. J. Grothe. He has privately contacted Pamela Gay to coerce her to make a public statement that Michael Shermer did not “lunge” at her breasts at Dragon*Con in 2008. He has threatened that if she doesn’t, he will start contradicting her in public, providing “documentation”, and contacting the employer who already made her life hell for simply discussing the fact that women face harassment.
Grothe has threatened this in the face of recordings that are in the hands of people who used to like him until they found out he won’t treat harassment seriously. He has threatened to do this despite the fact that his photographic “evidence” has already been seen, having been dug up by the slime pit and passed around by a “helpful idiot”, and is entirely consistent with Gay’s tale of making the best of bad things because it is dangerous to object. He has threatened to do this despite his own employee (yes, Drescher is still employed by JREF) talking about how Shermer’s assault was common knowledge. He has threatened to do this in the face of possible perjury charges.
And he’s threatened Gay privately while claiming in public that her story had already been discredited, then refusing to answer someone who asked about it.
iamcuriousblue: Rage bloggers now claiming
@DJGrothe is covering up evidence of Shermer harassment http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2014/05/that-he-had-personally-witnessed/ #sigh
There is still no answer. The closest he’s come to an answer, a suggestion to iamcuriousblue that Carrie Poppy isn’t to be believed because she claimed to have resigned from the JREF over something that happened after she left, is easily disconfirmed by following the source link in the post he links to as proof of his claim. Poppy said, “Yet, it was very clear by the time I left that my continuing to work there was being complicit in unethical behavior, including the kind of behavior of which Dr. Stollznow is now on the receiving end.” Emphasis mine. One more lie easily dismissed by checking the–public–source material.
Yet still Grothe makes the claim. Still he threatens the woman who spoke out about being harassed.**
The fact that his words are so easily refuted each time only does so much good in keeping his lies from spreading. There is an audience for what he has to say that isn’t interested in following his links back to real information. They aren’t interested in questioning why he linked a secondary account instead of the primary source. They aren’t interested in anything more than grabbing a quick hit of confirmation and dropping the topic the moment someone questions him.
Of course, Grothe wouldn’t even have had to convince these people if he could have intimidated Gay into changing her story. But he couldn’t. He can’t even stop her from making the story public before he could.
So now maybe he lies about her, publicly and to her employer. Maybe he points at pictures and project plans and uses the Radford defense, saying Shermer couldn’t have assaulted Gay because she was nice to Shermer afterward. Grothe’s willing dupes would certainly take up the story and do his smear work from there. Whether that’s what happens next, one more person ends up with a Grothe “psychopath” story like the ones people have been telling me for more than two years.
I won’t try to tell you that D. J. Grothe is a psychopath. Lots of people can and will be charming on demand, including many stage performers like Grothe. Lots of people lie in the face of evidence, including many if not most of the people who are too scared to take responsibility for their actions. However disturbing those behaviors are to deal with, they don’t necessarily rise to the level of a personality disorder.
On the other hand, I’m not going to try to take that word away from the people he’s injured either. Nor am I going to sit back and pretend he hasn’t established a long pattern of lying to and about people who thought he was on their side, even when those lies are worse for him in the long run. Whether Grothe is diagnosable or not, he’s left a trail of dishonesty in his wake, much of it causing damage.
He’s still using that dishonesty to hurt people. And he’s using it to help people with their own histories of hurting people. He’s helping Shermer pretend that there isn’t a string of people who have creditably claimed to at least have been harassed by Shermer. He’s trying to help Shermer make some of the most credible evidence go away, while simultaneously solving a nearly year-old problem that he and the JREF haven’t even begun to address.
Right now, he has the ability to do that, or at least to try. There are plenty of people who don’t have the integrity and willingness to take risks that Gay has. But Grothe has the ability to threaten her because we don’t talk about this pattern of his behavior in public.
I’m done with that. I’m not telling other people’s tales unless they give me permission, but I’m done with letting the lies pile up in a corner as though they were individual events instead of Grothe’s go-to method for solving his problems. I’m done looking away from that fact that, pathological or not, his behavior is continually abusive and unacceptable. I’m done with keeping quiet about the fact that one word, whether strictly accurate or not, seems to be the only thing that makes sense of people’s interactions with Grothe. I can’t tell you whether Grothe is a psychopath, but I’m telling anyone who’s ready to listen that he lies like one.
Comment moderation note: Don’t play armchair psychiatrist in the comments. Focus on behavior. It’s not like there’s a shortage of it.
* Full disclosure: I get along very well with Pamela Gay and have for several years. In fact, lunch with her was one of the things that made me feel welcome at my first and only TAM.
** In fact, he threatened her almost two years to the day after blaming me, Rebecca Watson, and others for the downtick in TAM registration, when he said people were blaming his bad behavior for not wanting to come to TAM. Were I the betting sort, I would put money on registration being down sharply again this year, with people citing Shermer’s presence as a factor dissuading them from attending.
Update: A reader contacted me privately about doing something to fix the problem. I think it’s pretty safe to say after years and years of this behavior that nothing is going to change Grothe. If you still give a damn about the JREF, however, you can try contacting their board. They’ve demonstrated they’re not going to make a change on their own, but they might if they understand how other people feel about this and how that affects how they feel about the JREF.
- Chip Denman: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rick Adams: Rick.Adams@cello.net
- James Randi: email@example.com