And Then All Hell Breaks Loose…


So, I go off to the Atheist Film Festival for the weekend and come back to find out the Thunderf00t scandal broke, David Barton was publicly exposed and disgraced, and Romney deliberately tanks his campaign by picking a social conservative as veep. Christo santo! I couldn’t do anything about any of it until I got back. So here I am.

F00tGate

I was going to do a roundup of the Thunderf00t thing anyway (I was on the backchannel so I knew this was coming, I just didn’t know it was going to drop this weekend), but Dana Hunter already did such an excellent job of it I’ll just point you there: Thunderf00t’s Potentially Illegal, Positively Immoral Crusade.

For those who have been debating the point, yes, what Phil Mason (aka Thunderf00t) did is called “hacking” (legally and culturally) and besides being grossly immoral (read the posts in Dana’s roundup to see why), and essentially career-ending (IMO, no one who does such a thing can ever be trusted again by any future employer or colleague), also comes very close to violating many state and federal laws against gaining unauthorized access to a computer. Such statutes are filed not only under cybercrimes, but more specifically under wiretapping (listening in on private email conversations bears little relevant or legal difference to listening in on private telephone conversations, and many state laws recognize that obvious fact, as do federal laws).

Hacking private email can also grant a civil action for violation of right to privacy: the 4th amendment establishes that right against all intrusions, not just government ones (although as we all know, defending your rights in civil court can be more costly than it’s worth even when you win, but they’re still your rights, and they were still violated). For an act to be a cybercrime, you must use the hack to commit another crime, like extortion or sabotage, then it’s a ticket to prison–but even then, stealing confidential information through any unauthorized access to a computer is often what makes that other crime a cybercrime specifically, not only under Federal law, but often state law as well. Meanwhile, under wiretapping statutes, almost all unauthorized accessing of private email is illegal (and this is where I think Mason might be risking prison time). Committing a crime across international borders makes jurisdiction a problem (among other things), although morally we know that doesn’t matter. Morally, Thunderf00t is a criminal, at least in the colloquial sense of someone who willfully and maliciously violates human rights, and in result can never be trusted by anyone again.

So much for him.

BartonGate

And then there’s David Barton, who has long been the David Irving of the American Christian revisionism movement (those who argue that this has always been a Christian nation, founded by conservative Christians writing a Constitution based on the Bible, and praying thanks to Jesus and whatnot). Barton’s bestselling book The Jefferson Lies was voted “the least credible history book in print” by the History News Network and exposed as bullshit on NPR, and our own Chris Rodda has been instrumental in fact-checking and exposing his distortion and misrepresentation of the facts (and even the fabricating of quotes).

Now even prominent fellows of the fundamentalist Discovery Institute have declared his book full of “embarrassing factual errors, suspiciously selective quotes, and highly misleading claims.” Yes, you heard that right, even they are now spitting him out of their mouth. Many other conservative Christians have been piling on and confirming Barton a fraud, and have pretty much washed their hands of him. But the final blow was that his own publisher just declared his book essentially fraudulent and has pulled publication. That’s Thomas Nelson, a major Christian publisher. Barton is still defending himself and has a few lackeys punting for him, but his ship has well sunk by this point. (You can read up on all this breaking news as reported by our own Ed Brayton, Al Stefanelli, and Mano Singham.)

So much for him.

RyanGate

Scene from the Gospel of Supply Side Jesus ("Shouldn't you feed the lepers, Jesus?" "No...that would just make them lazy.")All of which makes, for me, the far more publicly known event this weekend seem weak by comparison: Mitt Romney declared Paul Ryan his running mate for the November election. I was told this by someone sitting in front of me in the theater (while we waited for the next film to start), and for a moment I thought what they told me was that Romney had picked Ron Paul as his running mate, which I was about to praise as a brilliant move that could actually win him the election. But no, it was Paul Ryan. Which will essentially destroy his chances of winning–unless the Obama campaign makes some really stupid mistakes, or the con game of voter ID laws actually swings the swing states by disenfranchising millions of American citizens (as they are now set to do), either of which is still possible, so the outcome is not foregone. But be that as it may, what this choice of a radical white male social conservative has done is even further eliminate Romney’s support from women, Latinos, and independents, and it’s increasingly becoming the case that when they all walk, no one can win the White House.

On the other hand, this could and should turn the campaign into a real campaign at long last: instead of two candidates struggling to pretend they are centrists with no clear positions on anything (offending as few people as possible in order to win the independent vote, as one must to win at all), we have a real distinction between a progressive who will actually have to defend progressive policies openly and forcefully (health care, social security, human liberty, and just tax laws) and a conservative who will actually have to defend conservative policies openly and forcefully (supporting tax laws favoring the rich, maintaining and increasing restrictions on human liberty, and the eventual elimination of subsidized health care and social security).

It’s just that, in actual fact, conservative policies are unpopular (a significant majority are actually against them), so they have to be “packaged” and “disguised” with rhetoric that conceals their actual consequences and significance. But Ryan has been so open and clear on his positions, the chance to package and disguise what he stands for is simply impossible. The Romney Campaign has swallowed the Kool-Aid. Now it’s just a question of how many angry white men they can get out to vote for them and how many poor minority folk they can scare away from the polls by various new Jim-Crow devices (a tactic now well-mocked but nevertheless likely to work).

There are of course still non-differences (neither candidate is perfect, e.g. both are similar on the use of force abroad and the expansion of federal power), but the actual differences matter–most importantly of all, who gets in this November will pick the next Supreme Court justice, which will in one stroke decide the direction the U.S. goes for the next forty or fifty years: towards a conservative Catholic-controlled nation of laws suppressing citizen rights, backing corporations, tearing down the wall between church and state, and supporting every use of force abroad and every expansion of federal power (with a 5-4 voting majority of conservative Christians on the bench), or back from that brink, towards a more moderate and liberal-minded court that will actually stand up to Congress and future presidents and actually strike down laws and acts that violate American rights, indemnify corporations, Christianize our government, and gradually boil the frog of limited executive power.

This single factor, who picks the next Supreme Court Justice, is literally the single most important decision every voter will be making this November, whether they are aware of it or not. We had all better vote with that on our conscience.

 

Comments

  1. says

    “The Romney Campaign has swallowed the Kool-Aid.” I think you may mean they hired the Kool-Aid Man of conservative politics that will crash through their own walls of willful ambiguity and say , “Hey kids! Want some hardcore conservative economic policies!?!” **snickers**

  2. coelsblog says

    First, Thunderf00t’s behaviour was clearly wrong and unacceptable; second, I’m not a fan or follower of Thunderf00t (I’ve only read his pieces or read about him when he’s been referred to by Pharyngula).

    But, it does seem to me that FTB is somewhat reaping what it has sown. Thunderf00t’s first piece on FTB was not great, it rambled a bit and its central points weren’t clearly made. But nor was it the misogynist hate-filled rant that PZ claimed it to be; it was reasonable, and, analysed sensibly, not that far from FTB’s position.

    PZ’s reply was way over the top, gumby-quoting him and blatantly misrepresenting the piece, making it out to be far worse than it was. I raised my eyebrows about PZ doing that to a fellow blogger. Nowadays he seems to go into attack-dog mode about anyone who differs with him even a little. Perhaps he’s so used to it that he simply doesn’t see it.

    Clearly Thunderf00t was then going to defend himself, and as a result got accused of being obsessive on the topic. I wonder how different things would have been if PZ had just ignored the first post, and Thunderf00t then gone on to other topics. But from PZ’s 1st post it was clear there was going to be a bust-up.

    Nothing in the above excuses Thunderf00t’s subsequent escalation and behaviour; nor does it say that I agree with Thunderf00t’s pieces.

    But I do worry about the attitude of some on FTB (mostly Pharyngula) of vitriolic attack-dog posting and commenting, with a seeming attitude of “let’s make enemies of everyone who disagrees with us”, even when they might agree on most things and disagree on a few things (Sam Harris is another recent example).

    We need to be able to at least talk amicably with people who basically agree on much, even when there are disagreements (that doesn’t in any way suggest censoring differences or not arguing about them).

    The whole thing is a big pity (and I particularly sympathize with Natalie Reed): Thunderf00t is of course majorly to blame, but that doesn’t mean PZ and others are blameless.

    • says

      I don’t care about any of that. That some people were a dick to Thunderf00t (even if that was an accurate description of what they did) would not in any way justify engaging in potentially criminal activity violating our human rights. He could have had the high ground. He decided to take the lowest ground possible and destroy all trust anyone could ever again have in him. That’s on him. Blaming the victim is bullshit and you ought to know it.

      (And I would also remind you, FtB is not PZ: tell me how my treatment of Thunderf00t’s argument rates, as well as my follow-up, and whether that justifies Thunderf00t violating my trust and my right to privacy. Oh, and while you’re at it, find me a single response from tf00t to anything I argued, in either of my posts, even though I was one of the first ones on the whole FtB network to post a response to him…then ask yourself why he ignored my arguments and only went on a rampage against PZ.)

    • coelsblog says

      Hi Richard,
      I thought your responses were appropriate and sensible (and a much better way of writing a rebuttal of Thunderf00t than PZ’s replies). I also agree entirely that Thunderf00t’s subsequent behaviour was entirely unjustified and wrong. You’re also right that FTB is not the same as Pharyngula (my criticism in my last comment was mostly about Pharyngula, not about anything you’ve said).

    • Forbidden Snowflake says

      I raised my eyebrows about PZ doing that to a fellow blogger.

      Really? I remember reading TF’s piece and thinking “If PZ fails to criticize this shit just because it’s by a fellow blogger, I’m gonna be so fucking disappointed in him”.

  3. says

    >>> (IMO, no one who does such a thing can ever be trusted again by any future employer or colleague)

    Bit harsh I think, if you are generalizing.

    Assuming there is a display of honest contrition, evidencing an understanding that what was done was wrong and why, and caution is taken I don’t see why trust cannot be regained over time. And we know people are trusted again, and sometimes they violate that trust again… but sometimes they don’t–that’s just life. I’ll leave the eternal damnation to the theists and settle for treating each case on the individual merits.

    In this SPECIFIC case, from what I’ve seen, it seems exceedingly unlikely that Thunderf00t would be likely change his tune and it’s pointless to speculate on possible futures.

    And I agree with you that it would be utterly devastating to any academic career (and more than a few private sector jobs).

    Thoughts?

    • says

      Bit harsh I think, if you are generalizing. Assuming there is a display of honest contrition, evidencing an understanding that what was done was wrong and why…

      True, I am not generalizing. Had that happened, my response would be different indeed. Instead, he is not even admitting what he did was wrong and is playing the victim instead–while continuing to leak the contents of confidential documents (selectively!), while simultaneously claiming he doesn’t do that (both recently in the very same post!).

      That is why he can never be trusted. He sincerely believes it’s okay to violate privacy and confidentiality and hack the email systems of his own former colleagues and employers if he wants to. That is why no one can ever trust that he won’t do that to them, or anyone else they connect him with; anyone hereafter who takes him into confidence or trusts him to keep confidences either is a fool or doesn’t know about his behavior in this case.

    • plutosdad says

      No, if it’s a teenager, then yes, he can learn and be trusted again, but this is not a dumb kid. He is an adult. Sure maybe you can hire him for some things, but anything where security is involved? No way. Any position of trust? No. I wouldn’t hire someone like that, even if they said they were sorry and learned. They should have already learned. Let someone else take the chance on that person.

      I work in IT, I’ve worked for HR and Compensation depts most of my life. People get fired for less than what he did.

      People like him are the reason companies do layoffs on Fridays. And the reason why when they fire you, they have security right next to you to escort you out the door. When I was laid off once, it was insulting to have security escort us out one by one as we found out we were being laid off, like I would do something bad. But there are people who would, people like thunderfoot.

  4. oolon says

    A three in one post – which subject to choose… Oh yeah Thunderf00t of course. So with now a number of bloggers on here either implying or downright saying it was illegal does that mean there is legal action in the offing?

    Thunders latest post is more of the same distribution of private emails with the intent of distracting from why he actually accessed the listserv and having to answer that question. Even some his fans did not fall for the ‘Payton was being victimised therefore I just had to hack in ain’t I a hero’ gambit. On his blog we now have someone sock-puppeting him and propping up a fan of his who made rape threats to Sally Strange. It really is not a great reflection on him – but then again I suppose YouTube comments are rarely that insightful either. I do wonder if he is capable of admitting he made a mistake…

    • says

      If we can take any legal action worth the bother, we will. We are consulting with lawyers now.

      In my article I already explain many of the reasons why we might not, even if we have the right to.

      But whether any action is practical or not, I believe he deserves to spend time in prison. We cannot have people in society destroying all our trust in confidential communications. They must be made an example of. Any illegal wiretapper needs to spend a few years staring at a wall. And any would-be illegal wiretapper needs to see that that happens. Otherwise, what’s to dissuade them, if there are no consequences? Their own conscience is all. And Thunderfoot clearly has none.

    • oolon says

      With the risk of looking like a crank by replying to myself I found some interesting stuff from you on John Loftus when reading a thread below. I came in after that so didn’t know about it but… wtf; to lose one blogger might be considered a misfortune, to lose two looks like carelessness. Not only ‘lost’ but both seem to literally have lost it having been kicked off – although maybe a bit before in both cases to precipitate the kicking.

      What is it about FtBs that inspires such spectacular hate? I’m not talking about only the bloggers as there is a little cottage industry of haters writing things like phawrongula. I spent a little time speaking with them on TFs blog and some have little stories of misfortune such as PZ banned them or just some commenters were nasty and dismissed them and their arguments. Before all this I had a little run-in on Pharyngula and was called an unthorough-idiot or something by PZ. For a minute I was really pissed off – how dare he – especially as I was right (Of course!) But then my little voice kicked in and said don’t be pathetic it really isn’t worth the effort getting worked up about it, its not like I’ve been excommunicated by the atheist pope. I’m at a loss to explain how little slights like that are so inflated to all out irrational hatred. Even to the extent that a lot of those shouting ‘FTBullies!’ are blindly backing TF no matter how unethical he has been – he is against the evil empire so it is all justified you see?

      I’m not saying FtBs is perfect – obviously it could not be and mistakes, unpleasantness and poorly thought out articles are going to occur. But to literally hate *all* at FtBs and *all* the content is a bit weird when it is so diverse. I’m tempted to fall into the ‘but we are sceptics so should be better’ fallacy. I’ve tried looking for articles on the psychology of hate on the internet – but they are all about how trolls are nasty because they are anonymous or the impersonal nature of the internet makes it easier. Not a lot to be found on if virtual slights and feuds are easier to justify because of the impersonal nature (Or something that explains it other than FtBs really is a den of iniquity that will ‘DesTroY AteiSm’ unless stopped).

    • says

      Just to be clear:

      Loftus wasn’t kicked off. He left in a huff, on his own, because one person in the backchannel was gruff with him one single time. (There was really no other reason I could see; his departure actually came as a surprise to us.)

      There is nothing unusual about a corporation firing a few people over the years. Saying that a corporation, with nearly fifty employees, firing one single person and losing only one other to quitting, in over a year of operation, is in any way indicative of anything but SOP for any business, is to hyper-exaggerate the ordinary.

      But you are right, conflating all of FtB with just a few bloggers on it is silly. IMO, it is a good litmus test for irrationality.

    • says

      Jason, Greg and Dan all criticized him on the front channel, as did Natalie and I think a couple other people weighed in in comments. They were all quite civil, though. Of course, this was over him calling Natalie an unqualified diversity hire because he disagreed with something she said about Christianity, so the meltdown was already underway.

  5. Jonas says

    What is it about leaving Freethought Blogs that makes people go completely insane? First Loftus, now Thunderf00t.

    What Thunderf00t did was sleazy and unethical, and I certainly do not defend it.

    However, I think the alleged illegality and the fear people have is being blown out of proportion.

    Thunderf00t was sent an invitation to join your email list. He clicked the link to accept. He then was booted off. He re-clicked the link to see if it would let him back in…and it did.

    I suspect getting any hacking charges to stick in court would be very hard. “So he simply asked to be let in, and your system let him in?” “Yes.” “If anyone with admin access had looked over the list of active users, would they have seen him on it?” “Yes.” “So he didn’t use any hacking skills to hide himself?” “No.”

    People have melodramatically talked about him exploiting holes in the system that would let him back on and not send a notification to the admin, but, really, he just clicked a link that should have been disabled. For all we know, he didn’t know that it would work and didn’t know there would be no notification and was as surprised as anyone that he was on the list, undetected.

    As for reading emails that he knew he wasn’t supposed to read, there is a much stronger case there. Ethically, he is guilty as hell. Legally, well, he simply asked to be let in, and he was. There may be some burden on the admins to not let people just waltz through open doors if they have an expectation of privacy. Or not. I don’t know.

    As for all the damaging information he “now” holds about people’s identities, etc., I am confused why nobody seems to have been worried about that before, since he presumably already had that information from the time he was legally on the list (I’ve seen nobody claim, for example, that Natalie Reed only revealed her real-life identity after he left FtB). I think some of the panic over this is a bit disingenuous.

    I heard the argument that now he’s proven that he’s willing to release information from this list, so that is what makes it frightening. I just don’t really buy it, because there is no indication he has vindictively revealed identities or anything of the sort. He has instead used information to try to back up his “FtB is a hive mind” claim, to claim that what FtB said about his departure publicly doesn’t match what they were saying privately, etc.

    This is still a despicable invasion of privacy, but the claim that people’s lives are now literally at risk (yes, that claim was made on FtB) is a bit overwrought.

    The really odd coda is that Loftus has been ever-so-slightly vindicated as a result of this mess. He railed against Natalie Reed for not belonging on FtB, and most people reading that (including me) thought he was coming off as completely unhinged and had no basis for this claim. Yet, now, in her goodbye post, she revealed that she never had much regard for either the atheism or skepticism movements. Maybe Loftus was more perceptive than I thought on this issue.

    Or maybe even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

    • says

      Thunderf00t was sent an invitation to join your email list. He clicked the link to accept. He then was booted off. He re-clicked the link to see if it would let him back in…and it did.

      That’s not a complete account of what happened. He was informed he was excluded from the list (he was not ignorant of that fact), and then he tried to get back on (he therefore had knowledge aforethought that what he was doing was not authorized). That’s mens rea. And the access was indeed not authorized. That’s actus reus. Mens rea + actus reus = guilty.

      That he tried to get in, repeatedly, by other means after his exploit was identified and closed (and he was informed, a second time, that his access had been revoked), and that when he was in he kept silent on the list so as to hide the fact that he had access, only further confirm a guilty mind and an intent to violate privacy.

      We have him dead to rights on this.

      I suspect getting any hacking charges to stick in court would be very hard.

      Not at all. Abundant case law establishes any unauthorized access is illegal. How easy it is is irrelevant. For example, if I even leave my email account open on my iPad and you pick it up and start reading my emails, you have broken privacy laws (there are examples on the books of exactly that).

      Similarly, clamping a signal reader on your neighbor’s house’s external phoneline is just as easy. And just as totally fucking illegal.

      Likewise using a key to get into your former employer’s office after you’ve been told you no longer have access to the premises, and then rifling through file cabinets to steal confidential documents in them: that we forgot to collect that key does not matter one whit to the law–if you do that, you are a criminal. Plain and simple.

      The problems I suspect will not be whether he violated federal or state wiretapping statutes (as far as I can see, only a weirdly obscure loophole could possibly make that not so), but which jurisdiction applies and whether we can even touch him in Prague, and whether the responsible agency (once we figure out which that is) will deem it worth spending its taxpayer resources pursuing the case (contrary to naive assumptions, our government doesn’t prosecute all crime, just the crimes “it” deems worth the expense of prosecuting; the more so any other government). Likewise, pursuing a civil case might be too expensive to bother, even though we’d probably win (which is a fundamental flaw in our legal system, IMO, which propagates injustice far beyond this one case).

      As for reading emails that he knew he wasn’t supposed to read, there is a much stronger case there. Ethically, he is guilty as hell. Legally, well, he simply asked to be let in, and he was.

      You must not understand what he did, then. He did not access some other feature. He was accessing the email distributor itself. Trying to get “let in” and trying to “receive emails he wasn’t supposed to read” are literally identical actions in this case. So your distinction doesn’t exist here.

      I am confused why nobody seems to have been worried about that before, since he presumably already had that information from the time he was legally on the list (I’ve seen nobody claim, for example, that Natalie Reed only revealed her real-life identity after he left FtB). I think some of the panic over this is a bit disingenuous.

      Then you don’t know the whole story. First of all, many other private things were discussed after he left that he didn’t hear when he was on (and I don’t just mean things pertaining to him; and this isn’t all just about Natalie Reed). Secondly, he threatened to harm Natalie Reed by disclosing data before we were sure he had hacked the site (so she assumed he was going to violate privacy by disseminating content he had legal access to but was obligated to keep confidential). And when she told him that would be unethical, he told her no such ethical rules applied to him because PZ had been mean to him. That proved to us that he could not be trusted with confidential information. So when we learned he was stealing confidential information, information he never had legal access to, our concern was greatly compounded. It’s his behavior that produces our complete inability to trust him, and demonstrates his stunted conscience. It just so happens to also be profoundly immoral in and of itself (regardless of specific consequences), and, as far as I can tell, totally illegal.

      I heard the argument that now he’s proven that he’s willing to release information from this list, so that is what makes it frightening. I just don’t really buy it, because there is no indication he has vindictively revealed identities or anything of the sort. He has instead used information to try to back up his “FtB is a hive mind” claim, to claim that what FtB said about his departure publicly doesn’t match what they were saying privately, etc.

      Note the absurdity and immorality of this: he gets to selectively quote from stolen emails whatever makes him look good. How can we respond without violating the confidentiality we agreed to and require? We cannot be baited into destroying the confidentiality of our communications by exposing all our communications to prove the immorality of the guy who stole our communications.

      He’s already a proven immoral scumbag. That you would trust his self-serving selections from those stolen communications to honestly represent what happened does not speak well to your skepticism. Really, we need no other argument. He has condemned himself enough already. It’s just more gravedigging for him with every new post he publishes on this.

      Just imagine some asshole did this to you: stole all your deeply personal email, and then selectively cherry picked whatever he wanted from it and published only that in an attempt to make you look bad, then baited you to release even more personal email to rebut him, effectively asking you to abandon all right to privacy you could ever expect to have. Would that make sense to you? Or would you rightly be pissed and tell him and anyone who trusted him to go fuck themselves? Honestly think that one through before answering.

      The really odd coda is that Loftus has been ever-so-slightly vindicated as a result of this mess. He railed against Natalie Reed for not belonging on FtB, and most people reading that (including me) thought he was coming off as completely unhinged and had no basis for this claim. Yet, now, in her goodbye post, she revealed that she never had much regard for either the atheism or skepticism movements. Maybe Loftus was more perceptive than I thought on this issue.

      Revisionist history is despicable. Try getting right what actually happened in that case first, before trying to make a bogus example of it.

      Natalie Reed was never hired to get involved in intra-community atheist squabbles, but to represent trans rights, feminism and cultural criticism to the atheist community and defend them from an atheist perspective, and to be an atheist role model. She has actually consistently done that. That assholes like Thunderf00t dragged her into bullshit debates like the one over the obvious sensibility of having sexual harassment policies is on them, not her. They’re the ones who stumped for bullshit, and then dragged everything further into the mud with threats and insults. Of which she rightly grew weary.

      So would you.

    • Steinmaster says

      I might add, Richard, that you are getting very close to giving legal advice and crossing the line, if you have not already, into practicing Law Without A License.

    • Dunc says

      Yet, now, in her goodbye post…

      It’s not a goodbye post. She’s not going anywhere, she’s just declaring that she’s no longer interested in writing about the in-fighting within the “atheist movement”.

    • says

      Beyond what Richard says above, Loftus’s specific criticisms of Natalie were wrong too. It takes two things to be a “token” hire. The first is to be a memeber of an unrepresented group, but the other is to be unworthy of hire on their own. Why was Natalie supposed to be unworthy? Because she didn’t have an advanced degree and hadn’t written a book or three and didn’t have some long trail of blogging history. So she wasn’t going to be any good.

      Loftus is wrong about Natalie now for exactly the same reasons he was wrong then. She’s good. She’s really incredibly good, and that’s true whether she’s speaking specifically about religion and the atheist community or whether she’s applying the principles of freethought more specifically to gender identity and issues of marginalization.

      Natalie’s writing is like a cubist painting in that she takes an issue or phenomenon and studies it from a ridiculous number of perspectives–then presents them to you so you see all of them at one time. That’s the kind of facility advanced study and years of practice are supposed to gain you. Natalie does it all without the benefit of either of those.

      That’s why Loftus is still wrong about her.

    • Jonas says

      Hi, Richard.

      I think we agree more than we disagree.

      As for FtB feeling violated, Thunderf00t being a scumbag, TF setting up an impossible situation where he can quote for illicitly acquired email, I agree with you 100%.

      I may be incorrect about whether it matters if someone has to work to hack into a system or click a link he was given. As you point out, he cannot reasonably argue that he thought he was welcome, so the “misunderstanding” defense would carry not weight.

      Secondly, he threatened to harm Natalie Reed by disclosing data before we were sure he had hacked the site (so she assumed he was going to violate privacy by disseminating content he had legal access to but was obligated to keep confidential).”

      I assume you’re referring to this:

      This led to something really creepy and scary when Thunderf00t began threatening to publish the confidential contents of FTB’s private listserv, to “prove” that I’d been “lying” about his behaviour. When I reminded him of the ethical problems with this, and hinted at the real danger it poses to me, he laughed and suggested that his treatment by PZ and FTB as a whole justified any actions he wanted to take.

      I read that is feel felt he was being misrepresented and was going to publish quotes that he felt would vindicate him, which made Natalie Reed nervous, and she said that, he acted like a total dickhead about it.

      To me, it’s not clear he ever threatened to harm her. It is clear that when she felt threatened, he apparently didn’t try to alleviate her concerns. To me, it’s not quite the same thing, even though it’s still pretty vile.

      He’s already a proven immoral scumbag. That you would trust his self-serving selections from those stolen communications to honestly represent what happened does not speak well to your skepticism. Really, we need no other argument. He has condemned himself enough already. It’s just more gravedigging for him with every new post he publishes on this.

      I certainly do not trust him in that regard. My level of trust in him on this matter is low, but not much lower than it was before I found out he’d gotten back on the mailing list. Before I knew that, he already seemed to be going off the rails in his vendetta against FtB.

      Revisionist history is despicable. Try getting right what actually happened in that case first, before trying to make a bogus example of it.

      Natalie Reed was never hired to get involved in intra-community atheist squabbles, but to represent trans rights, feminism and cultural criticism to the atheist community and defend them from an atheist perspective, and to be an atheist role model. She has actually consistently done that. That assholes like Thunderf00t dragged her into bullshit debates like the one over the obvious sensibility of having sexual harassment policies is on them, not her. They’re the ones who stumped for bullshit, and then dragged everything further into the mud with threats and insults. Of which she rightly grew weary.

      So would you.

      I reviewed the links you posted, and I think I did get it right. In a nutshell, Loftus didn’t think was a good fit. And now she says she never really had her heart in the whole thing. So I think he was essentially correct, as I assume you’d want people who are passionate for the freethought movement or whatever you want to call it.

      That isn’t to say she wasn’t a talented writer. She was. And that isn’t to say she deserved to have to put up with TF. She didn’t. And I can certainly see why she grew weary of this.

      Anyway, the Natalie Reed thing was a too-cute-by half, stupid, off-the-main-topic way to tie up my post, and I’m sorry I threw that in there at this point, so I’m not going to spend any more time defending it.

    • says

      I might add, Richard, that you are getting very close to giving legal advice and crossing the line, if you have not already, into practicing Law Without A License.

      That would require me either to claim I had a license to practice law or to charge money for my advice. Read the American Bar Association brief on this point and the Cornell analysis (which discusses, for example, this California statute).

      Otherwise, citizens are not only legally allowed to give each other legal advice, they are morally obligated to be able to do so. If we do not understand the laws, we cannot know whether we are conforming to them. And if we cannot openly discuss the laws and whether and when they apply, our first amendment rights are being abridged. It is therefore our obligation to discuss what the laws are, what rights they establish we have, and whether and to what extent our neighbors may be violating them.

      We just can’t represent ourselves as doing this for money or as licensed experts. And I am not representing myself as either. I’m just an American citizen talking about the laws of his country and whether and to what extent I believe I am protected by them.

    • Steinmaster says

      But Richard, you do get paid for this blog, don’t you?

      Hence you are getting paid for your legal advice.

      By the way, I don’t think Thunderfoot is very happy about you calling for him to spend time in prison. I think he will remember that.

    • says

      Just FYI, we know tfoot distributed whole emails to third parties (that’s how we caught him), so he did in fact compromise Natalie’s identity.

      And you are misconstruing what Natalie has said she is no longer interested in. She wants out of the internal squabbles, not the campaign to combat religious nonsense supporting transphobia and misogyny or anything else an atheist social-justice-advocate does, which is what she was hired from the beginning to do.

      Loftus’ notion that we were ever “just an atheism site” is ludicrous, given that we had many bloggers on the network even before he joined who had diverse focuses and weren’t specifically stumping for atheism (so don’t buy into his narrative: it simply isn’t correct).

      Indeed, he was hired to expand our anti-apologetics blogging and add some of what Loftus thought we were all about–when in fact we were never “all about” that, and never have been.

    • says

      @Steinmaster: Richard is getting paid, but is not getting paid to offer legal advice. He’s getting paid to write about whatever tickles his fantasy. He can’t be sued for this any more than someone can sue Brian Michael Bendis because they attempted to take legal advice from Daredevil comics and it didn’t work.

      As for THunderf00t holding a grudge, he’s holding so many now that Richard may get lost in the crowd.

    • says

      You are not paying me for legal advice.

      That advertisers sometimes pay me for attracting window shoppers to their products is not paying me for legal advice, either (I am not giving my advertisers legal advice, nor are my advertisers asking me to give legal advice; they in fact have no idea what I do at all, since my advertisers are assigned by robots).

      And I am not representing myself as a lawyer.

      So, no, I am not practicing law without a license. I’m exercising my first amendment rights as an American citizen.

      You, on the other hand, are just being a douchebag.

      Especially with the veiled threat against my right to free speech. Oooooh, the evil tfoot might do something bad to me for the awful crime of defending my right to privacy. Something really bad…like violating my right to privacy? Oh, no, too late. He already did that.

  6. says

    He railed against Natalie Reed for not belonging on FtB, and most people reading that (including me) thought he was coming off as completely unhinged and had no basis for this claim. Yet, now, in her goodbye post, she revealed that she never had much regard for either the atheism or skepticism movements. Maybe Loftus was more perceptive than I thought on this issue.

    His basis for his attack was a perception that she was not hired due to her qualifications but as a token minority. Her not having much regard for the atheism or skepticism movements has nothing to do with her qualifications at all and a lot to do with the bigotry displayed in both of those movements. Note also that it is the movements that she doesn’t care about, not skepticism*, and if she thinks that her time is better spent trying to bring social justice activists to skepticism (and the logical atheism it entails given current evidence) rather than trying to bring atheists and skeptics kicking and screaming into seeing her as a human being then I totally understand her.

    Her post makes it clear that she has a lot of regard for skepticism and that combined with her writing (both here and at skepchick before joining**) means that she is more than qualified to be a FTBlogger contra Loftus’ claims.

    *I did not put atheism there because from what I understand she doesn’t care much about atheism because she uses the word for what PZ would call dictionary atheism, i.e. merely not believing in gods, which is really not that important if it means somebody’s gonna be a bigoted asshole without a god instead of a bigoted asshole with a god.

    ** at least that part of it which I have read, I haven’t read every single thing she wrote, but I read enough to think she is a great contribution to the cause of both social justice and skepticism, even if she only concentrate on social issues from a skeptical perspective rather than more traditional skeptical topics. Hell, she is a better addition than she would be if she covered those topics as she would only be covering well trodden ground then, instead of adding important and relevant topics to the conversation.

  7. Jerome Haltom says

    Small clarification, because I like clarifying this stuff:

    Hacking private email can also grant a civil action for violation of right to privacy: the 4th amendment establishes that right against all intrusions, not just government ones (although as we all know, defending your rights in civil court can be more costly than it’s worth even when you win, but they’re still your rights, and they were still violated).

    This isn’t exactly true. The 4th amendment is not what gives you the right to privacy from private parties. It’s only restriction is on government action. Common tort law establishes that, along with various federal and state statutes, as you mentioned.

    You probably know this, but that sentence was slightly misleading.

    • says

      That’s true. The fourth amendment does not say anything about government (all it says is that you need a warrant to violate the right), and it makes no sense for it not to prohibit all warrantless searches and seizures, but nevertheless it has been interpreted the way you point out, necessitating state constitutions (like the one in California, where I live) to make clear the right cannot be violated by private citizens any more than government; and of course, as you note, statutes at all levels do this as well (such as against wiretapping).

      But IMO, the Fourth Amendment certainly should not have been so narrowly construed (as argued in the famous Brandeis dissent). And the Supreme Court has always argued there is a common law right against private violations of the right to privacy anyway (as discussed in Briscoe v. Readers Digest).

    • says

      Sorry, I didn’t see that one. Between the two theatres I was spoiled for choice and had to make some tough calls on what to watch.

      No, I won’t be blogging about the festival. That’s not usually what I do here. I rarely blog about events I’ve gone to. Unless something really amazing happened, and even then I’d just blog about that.

  8. Grayhame says

    Richard, you’ve posted the most sensible rebuttal to Tfoot’s FtB rants and your characterization of the whole FootGate scandal is right on the money. I don’t think Tfoot will ever understand that what he did is deliberately invidious, immoral, and illegal unless FtB takes some legal action against him — and maybe not even then! I realize that it may not be worth the expense, and I find this truly appalling; it reveals how utterly broken the legal system is (it’s the same in Canada, where I live). In my ideal state, access to free legal council would be a right, just as for health care. I can only hope that this whole tiresome debacle will soon fade into the past.

  9. Goldstein's Pal says

    If you would like to see Thunderfoot in prison just imagine what you would like to see done with Christians who crossed you.

    You are mean little whiner, Dick.

    And that makes you dangerous.

    • says

      You mean, Christians who hack my private email. You bet I’d want them in prison, too.

      My wanting to defend my rights makes me dangerous only to criminals. And we should all want criminals to see their victims as dangerous. That’s the whole point of deterrence. That’s the whole point, in fact, of laws.

      That you defend would-be criminals by calling their victims mean little whiners only demonstrates that you are far more dangerous than I am. Because it means you have no conscience and no respect for law or justice. It means you will side with criminals against their victims.

      And that is scary.

  10. Jonas says

    Hi, Richard.

    I see my comment from three days ago is still awaiting moderation. I suspect this is the polite way of telling me that it will not be posted.

    This comment may be headed for purgatory as well, but I thought I’d try again nonetheless, as I regret hastily writing at such length when I should have taken more time to express my thoughts concisely.

    The real point I was trying to make is that I think, as skeptics, we should be careful to stick to the facts. What I saw with the Thunderf00t incident is that his despicable behavior seemed to be taken as justification to somewhat exaggerate what he had done, and any pushback was seen as defending him.

    What he did was seriously and possibly illegally violate the privacy of people at FtB and give them sound reason to feel uncomfortable about what else he might do. Also, in at least one case he made a person feel personally threatened, and when that was brought to his attention he apparently thought it was amusing and did nothing to alleviate the situation.

    All of this is very bad enough, and it doesn’t need embellishments such as saying he hacked into the mail system. Even if it could be argued that what he did was technically hacking, when people hear the details they may feel they were misled and wonder what else is being exaggerated. And I think that would be a shame.

    I had found Thunderf00t to be entertaining and sometimes informative over the years, but he really did cross some serious lines here, and I hope FtB gets justice for this.

    That’s all.

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