Dave’s update on Skepticon


Rumors are flying about what happened at Skepticon very early this morning, and Dave Muscato said “please distribute” on his update when he posted it on Facebook, so I might as well distribute it here too. The original is at Skepticon.

My name is Dave Muscato; I am the Public Relations Director for American Atheists. I am at the Skepticon conference in Springfield, MO, although I am attending on my own “off-duty” this weekend and not in a working capacity for American Atheists.

Early Saturday morning, there was a security incident and I would like to clear up any misconceptions, explain where things stand, and tell you how Skepticon has resolved the situation.

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.

I still feel safe at Skepticon. I have been coming to Skepticon for four years now and intend to continue to donate and to return to Springfield for Skepticon 7.

I am not going to name the person involved in this incident at this time. Skepticon organizers and American Atheists have this person’s name and information. I will let them decide how to handle informing other event organizers about this situation.

What happens next depends on what American Atheists’ in-house counsel and the Springfield Police Department advise.

I would prefer not to discuss this incident further. I am OK. I thank everyone for their concern. I am extremely impressed and flattered with the outpouring of support from Skepticon organizers, other attendees, and speakers, as well as the support from the atheist community online.

I am here the rest of today but if I miss you, I will see you next year for Skepticon 7!

Sincerely,

Dave

I hate the gun culture in the US. I hate, hate, hate it.

I hate it.

Comments

  1. Al Dente says

    another attendee of the conference made a graphic and direct verbal death threat to me while brandishing a semi-automatic pistol

    WTF? This is not normal behavior.

  2. felixBC says

    What possible rationale is there for not naming the person and pressing charges? All I see is one guy letting another guy go without repercussions, because guys will be guys. It’s normal, if you’re a guy (and I’m guessing a white guy). Certainly no need to let other people know he is prone to threats with guns.

    (Yes, he had to leave the conference and is banned from future Skepticons. This illegal action needs more than that.)

  3. says

    felixBC

    What possible rationale is there for not naming the person and pressing charges? etc.

    The rationale is that the incident happened to Dave Muscato and he gets to decide.

    While it’s clearly a shame your personal standards weren’t met on the occasion of a threat made against someone else, the post clearly states that hotel security and law enforcement were notified. The event is on record and the person is now known to authorities – beyond that we don’t actually know what else is in motion.

  4. says

    The anti-harassment policy gives the organizers grounds to remove that person from the convention. That person knew the rules, and will have to accept the consequences. He can’t say that he is being unfairly treated or singled out, because he knew what was expected of him to attend.

    Policies themselves don’t make conventions safe, but they are an important tool. Just like laws are. I suppose Sara will now argue that we don’t need gun laws because they didn’t stop this person from brandishing a gun.

  5. Pen says

    I realise this happened off hotel and conference premises, but I wonder if there is a possibility for Americans to make progress by asking for no-gun policies at private events. I mean, just the idea that anyone could be toting a gun around at a conference where there is the possibility of debates getting heated and drink is also flowing is just mind-boggling. I suppose maybe he left his gun in his room during conference events? In a safe I hope? But is he required to do so?

  6. felixBC says

    Hankstar

    The rationale is that the incident happened to Dave Muscato and he gets to decide.

    That’s exactly the bit I don’t understand. I don’t understand American laws, approaches, and attitudes to gun use. From my (Canadian) point of view, threatening someone with a gun should be prosecuted automatically, not just let go with maybe a warning. It doesn’t make sense to me.

    So yes, my standards on gun usage and responses to it are different from what I see in the States.

  7. Pen says

    felixBC – I would be interested in knowing more about the law in different countries. My understanding in British terms is that it’s the state that prosecutes. Once they’re aware of a crime either because a victim files a complaint or through other means, the victim may no longer get to decide whether a prosecution goes ahead or not.

    As for publicising too many details of what happened or the name of the perpetrator, I think there could be legal reasons why that might interfere with a subsequent court case. If I’m totally wrong about these things, hopefully someone will say so.

  8. Al Dente says

    In this case the state can decide to prosecute, regardless of Muscato’s desires. If the state decides not to prosecute and Muscato wants them he, he can file a criminal complaint with the Springfield police. However the local district attorney can ignore the complaint and still not prosecute. It’s the district attorney’s decision to make.

  9. Wowbagger, Designated Snarker says

    Improbable Joe wrote:

    Sara Mayhew really IS the dumbest person on Twitter.

    This raises an interesting point: if she is the dumbest person on Twitter, what does that make her followers?

    The ones she didn’t buy, I mean.

  10. says

    Where is the EVIDENCE this even happened? This isn’t being prosecuted. This is only mere personal experience, and based on that a man has been kicked out of a conference? /hyperskepticism

  11. Vicki says

    He’s not saying that the person won’t be prosecuted. He wrote:

    What happens next depends on what American Atheists’ in-house counsel and the Springfield Police Department advise.

    Dave Muscato is saying that he will not be naming the person at this time, and doesn’t want to discuss things further. That doesn’t mean the Skepticon organizers or American Atheists won’t name the man with the gun.

  12. says

    A) I don’t believe it happened.
    B) Why is this person being persecuted? He should sue. Where’s the legal fund?
    C) No one should talk about it unless names are named.
    D) No names can be named unless the person’s been convicted of a crime.
    E) If Dave was anywhere in the vicinity of a gun, it’s his fault responsibility if it was brandished at him.

    How am I doing?

  13. says

    felixBC: It’s only been what, 14 hours since the incident? Even up here I can imagine the police taking that long to investigate a complaint (in which no one was injured and no gun was fired) and lay a weapons violation charge. Let’s wait and see.

  14. says

    I am not going to name the person involved in this incident at this time. Skepticon organizers and American Atheists have this person’s name and information. I will let them decide how to handle informing other event organizers about this situation.

    Conveniently this gets at the heart of part of why these issues of people behaving badly matter so much in term of telling us who is doing what. I sort of don’t care what he thinks of naming the person. Am I safe? Who is resorting to threatening with weapons? Maybe I should not support this social function with my presence.

    Funny how it looks so much clearer when it’s someone with a gun and not sexual harassment and abuse of women.

  15. Stacy says

    ANECDOTAL EVIDENCE. We’ve only heard Dave’s account of the situation.

    IMPORTANT SKEPTICAL WHARGARBL.

    (Sorry. I’ll stop now.)

    P.S. What Pen and felixbc describe is also the case in the United States: in the US the state,* and not the individual, presses criminal charges. For various reasons (including the fact that investigating and prosecuting a case is easier with a cooperative victim, and law enforcement workers tend to be overworked,) the victim’s wishes may be taken into account when choosing to pursue a case. But the cliche of an officer asking a complainant “Do you wish to press charges?” is misleading. Individuals don’t “press” criminal charges: society does, via the government.

    * Or sometimes the federal government, depending on circumstances.

  16. fwtbc says

    *boggle*

    While I’m curious as to who the loser with the gun is and if it’s a name I recognise, I’m far more curious about their motives.

    Does anyone know about that? Was he a disgruntled Jesus freak, a mens rights shithead, a libertarian, etc?

  17. Pierce R. Butler says

    Twice is a pattern: Skeptics just shouldn’t do anything at four am.

    And real Amurkins know this is clearly Muscato’s fault. If he’d been packing his own fully-loaded semi-automatic, he and the other guy would’ve had a much better understanding, and ended up getting their picture taken together.

  18. A Hermit says

    Funny how it looks so much clearer when it’s someone with a gun and not sexual harassment and abuse of women.

    And that’s what the pitters and fellow travellers just don’t get; you won’t see them demanding video evidence, DNA samples and the corroborating testimony of four good Muslim Skeptic men before accepting that a)the event described actually happened and b) it was a bad thing which shouldn’t happen.

  19. says

    @ A Hermit 25

    Did the sarcasm come through? Sometimes this shit seems like it should be so obvious that people should be tisking me for stating the obvious.

  20. John Morales says

    Brony @26, I have no idea of what hyperskeptics (or ‘pitters) are claiming about this instance, but I do think it’s hardly similar enough to the “grenade” instance involving Shermer, so that decrying the lack of the same response to it is unwarranted.

  21. says

    @ John Morales 27

    I’m a bit confused. Who is decrying?

    I’m not actually upset at A Hermit if it seemed like that. I’m just a bit tired of the ways that people do that sort of thing at every community. Women, ethnic minorities, the disabled…

  22. John Morales says

    Brony @28, this response makes me think I was mistaken.

    Your “Funny how it looks so much clearer when it’s someone with a gun and not sexual harassment and abuse of women.” @21 and A Hermit’s response @25 (who I believe was endorsing your comment) made me imagine that the referent was previous instances of hyper-skepticism (one in particular).

    Sorry.

  23. grumpyoldfart says

    What happens next depends on what American Atheists’ in-house counsel and the Springfield Police Department advise.

    If the gunman doesn’t give them a written and signed confession the coppers won’t do a thing about it.

  24. Stacy says

    And on Twitter, this happened:

    Sara E. Mayhew ‏@saramayhew 8h
    Death threat at gun point at #Skepticon, but no one received unwanted flirting, so still a safe space. #sk6

    Dave Muscato ‏@davemuscato 3h
    Hey, if you’re using the gun situation to mock ppl who’re concerned a/b sexual harrassment @ cons, pls let me know so I can block you #sk6

  25. left0ver1under says

    I hate the gun culture in the US. I hate, hate, hate it.

    I hate it.

    Gun cult would be more like it. The members have a blind obedience to their prophets at the NRA and view gunmakers as “victims”. I’ve never touched a gun in my life, and proud of it.

    As for Mr. Muscato’s handling of the matter, wow. That’s professionalism to aspire to.

    For those who question his decision not to name the person, it may also be for legal reasons. The…”individual” (the politest word I can use) might try to claim “false accusation” if he were named (see: Shermer and Myers). The police may have asked him not to talk about it, something I’ve been told after giving a statement as a witness to a crime. We don’t know all the details.

  26. Pieter B, FCD says

    IMO, possession of a loaded gun outside of one’s home with any alcohol at all in one’s system should be a serious crime. (and under certain circumstances in one’s home as well)

  27. says

    I hate it too and with Springfield having many Fundamngelicals in it, there are many who feel they NEED guns. That and 4 am is not the best time to be walking around in this backwards small city, whether or not the person threatening another is religious or not. It is generally a fairly safe place to walk around during the day and there is a lot more to do during the day, given that this town, as my late grandfather once said, “rolls up the streets around 10 pm”. That said though, I’m not meaning to place blame on those walking around at 4 am, when most places around here are closed, except for Walmart, Kum n Go, and alike, even though I realize it does sound like it. It was an unusually warm night last night and I’m sure the temperature outside felt rather good at that time in the morning and if out long enough to catch the sunrise, it can be beautiful. So there are reasons to be out and about early in the morning, it’s just that the freaks come out at night… seriously (no reference to Whoodini’s song).

    To be honest, there are many gun crazed people in this area, some even carry a concealed weapons permit, which for the life of me, I have no clue as to why. Many seem to feel they NEED their guns for protection, they NEED their guns to hunt for food, they NEED their guns period. Why? I have no clue, esp in this day and age, when it seems they only NEED their guns in order to threaten people’s lives, which IMO, is not a good reason at all to have a weapon. Statistics show that when there is a gun in the home, most of the time it’s a family member who gets shot, often mistaken as an intruder, but in this case, it wasn’t a family member, as far as I can tell and no one, luckily, was shot. Atheists are unfortunately a hated group in this area, with many misconceptions about atheists, and I don’t understand why, thus the title humanist comes in very handy. Even so, this strong NEED for guns astonishes me and often anything I can say as to why they don’t NEED guns, is easily rebutted by gun enthusiasts, of which there are many around here and many of them are religious. I’m not sure if this attendee was and was just attending to find out about Skepticon or not, because Dave never said or gave much details about the person, but one things I’m almost certain of, it that he probably believes strongly in gun rights and that he NEEDS guns, which makes me sick. Remove the gun freaks and the religious freaks and Springfield isn’t a bad place to visit and live. It’s just that there are just too damn many of them in this area.

  28. thetalkingstove says

    And here are Sara Mayhew and Karla Porter using the incident to make the point that conferences do not need anti-harassment policies.

    So Mayhew seems to think that people who propose anti-harassment policies believe that such policies will totally prevent harassment?

    She really is an ignoramus.

  29. moarscienceplz says

    If this loose cannon is indeed a parole officer, he should lose his job. But beyond that, I want him named, and in future I will only attend cons that promise to exclude him. I would prefer he be marooned on a desert island, but this is a start.

  30. says

    Cethis:

    Policies themselves don’t make conventions safe, but they are an important tool. Just like laws are. I suppose Sara will now argue that we don’t need gun laws because they didn’t stop this person from brandishing a gun.

    This, absolutely. Anti-harassment policies are not necessarily there to prevent harassment any more than fire escape plans are there to prevent fires or disaster plans are to prevent tornadoes or earthquakes. The anti-harassment policy exists so people in positions of authority know what to do if something goes wrong, and so they have a clear guideline on what constitutes acceptable behavior. Just as a good emergency plan includes indications of warning signs of dangerous conditions and what to do if a disaster occurs. And both are important for the venue’s legal liability issues.

  31. latsot says

    So Mayhew seems to think that people who propose anti-harassment policies believe that such policies will totally prevent harassment?

    I doubt it. It’s more likely that she’s pretending to think that, the way she pretends to believe that all FtB bloggers are bullies and liars and a hivemind. The way Richard Sanderson pretends there was a walkout/boycott of PZ’s talk. The way they all pretend to believe that Rebecca made up the threats she’s received. The way they pretend that anyone who has ever agreed with anything anyone from FtB says is a blind sycophant who accepts every single thing they’ve ever said and everything anyone decides they might possibly say in the future and also summarily dismisses everything said or might have been said by anyone they themselves happen to like.

    I don’t believe for a heartbeat that any of these people believe any of these things. They just say they do. I don’t know why. Because they really really want to, I suppose. Because it justifies their being shits, possibly. I’m not sure I even care why anymore.

  32. Wowbagger, Designated Snarker says

    Tom Foss wrote:

    The anti-harassment policy exists so people in positions of authority know what to do if something goes wrong, and so they have a clear guideline on what constitutes acceptable behavior.

    Plus it plays a small part in reversing the normalisation of harassing behaviour. If we say stuff enough times, no-one will be able to ‘but I didn’t know that was wrong’ excuse anymore.

  33. says

    What possible rationale is there for not naming the person and pressing charges?

    That’s a damn good question. If the Skepticon folks made a deal with the guy to go away quietly in return for not pressing charges, I guess that’s their decision (and it’s not unusual for such deals to be made) — but there’s no reason not to name the fool. Newspapers and TV news shows routinely name people arrested or sought by police, without waiting for formal charges to be filed. And as others have already said, other people involved with Skepticon have a need to know who to look out for and avoid.

    Also, generally speaking, if you make an ass of yourself in a public place, you kinda give up your right to “privacy” WRT other people talking about your actions.

    The rationale is that the incident happened to Dave Muscato and he gets to decide.

    Actually, no, it didn’t just happen “to” one person; it happened at an event attended by far more than one person; and though Dave may have been closest and most immediately affected, that doesn’t mean he was the only one in any danger.

  34. Lenny says

    The incident happened. You can find the police report online. Dave made his decision based on the fact that he is confident that this is, and will be, an isolated incident. The threat was made in a joking manner, but while waving around a firearm and under the influence of large amounts of alcohol. The person is not named in the police report because he never came out of the hotel room he was passed out in when police arrived. They never arrested him and they refused to enter the hotel room and risk their safety if Dave didn’t want to press charges. The threat was completely out of character for the individual involved.
    Dave was not alone when the threat was made. There are 6 other individuals that were involved and all were cooperative.

    The person that made the threat was attending the conference and is an Atheist. He and Dave had met earlier that day and there were no apparent hard feelings between the two of them. The person that made the threat is not a parole officer.

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