What “we” know

Russell Blackford, surprisingly, has announced that

We now know that Ophelia Benson did not receive threatening emails (she received a couple of earnest, concerned emails from people who were on her side … unless the emails were actually intended as parodies).

The way that’s worded, and in the context where it’s worded that way, it’s clear that that is an accusation of having, at least, exaggerated – and at most, lied. That of course is the view of the troll who keeps dropping in here under various names, but I expect reasonable people to take a slightly more nuanced approach.

I expect reasonable people at least to see that the messages I got are very peculiar, and that it is not obvious that they are not threats disguised as “earnest, concerned” advice. That’s because it is not obvious that they are not threats disguised as “earnest, concerned” advice. It’s really not. The “earnest, concerned” advice is itself exaggerated, wildly exaggerated; so exaggerated that it made me frown in puzzlement and try to figure out exactly what was going on – was this really advice? Was it mockery? Was it a warning?

In fact, it was so exaggerated that it triggered skepticism – which is exactly what Blackford is urging. That’s what led up to his announcement of what we now know:

Note, however, how Chris Mooney fell for the Tom Johnson/Wally Smith story because it confirmed his biases. This should be a lesson to us all. Be sceptical about every such story, even if it tends to confirm your biases. In fact, especially if it tends to confirm your biases.

I was skeptical. I couldn’t figure out what the hell the first message was. I didn’t just read it and think oh, great advice, I’ll do that – I’ll book myself into a different hotel while keeping the one I’m supposed to be in, and make JREF pay for both; I’ll demand a “Green Room”; I’ll agree with the writer of the message that I’m a big star and of course JREF won’t mind obeying my every command because I’m such a big star.

No, I didn’t do that. Instead I thought wtf? This is ridiculous. Green Room?? Escape taxi??!

So I replied, to express my skepticism and try gently to calm the guy down. I’ve already reproduced my reply to him, but I’ll just remind you of what I said -

I really don’t think things will be as bad as that. I’ll have some friends there. I think it could be extremely awkward at times, and I’m dreading that, but I don’t think I’ll be torn limb from limb or anything. PZ went to the GAC and we know there were people there who hate him, but nothing happened.

See? I was skeptical. All I was expecting was extreme awkwardness. That’s all.

But the guy replied, and what he said at the end shaded into what looked more like a veiled threat than ever.

I’m happy that PZ was not shot (gun or uppants camera) at GAC, but that gives me scant reassurance that you will *not* be shot either way in Las Vegas.

Please do not respond to this message. If you adopt safety measures, whether I’ve suggested them or not. DO NOT TELL ANYONE, including me.

As I said in Closing the file, I went back and forth, and I asked friends what they thought. I didn’t say omg it’s certainly absolutely a threat! I just felt creeped out and wary and doubtful. I asked people, they replied, I swayed back and forth – and then I got fucking sick of the whole damn thing – of DJ’s putting a metaphorical target on me in the first place, and failing to take it off once it was on, and (however inadvertently) creating a situation where I was dreading that extreme awkwardness, and now this – I just got totally sick of it.

I don’t think I was terribly unskeptical in calling those two paragraphs threats. They certainly felt threaty to me, thank you very much. It’s easy for Blackford to sneer; they weren’t addressed to him. I wasn’t certain that they were threats, but they certainly did feel threaty. There’s a difference.

So less of the triumphalist “We now know that Ophelia Benson did not receive threatening emails,” please. “We” now know that only because I reported what came next, which was Tim Farley’s generous help, including a tense phone conversation with the guy who sent the messages. I wasn’t trying to con anybody when I said I’d had threatening messages, and I wasn’t being credulous, either.