In observing the way the skeptical and secular communities have melted down lately over the merest hint that some of its top members might have occasionally behaved in manners that are not beyond reproach, I’ve come to the realization that certain members of our community think that all this “rage blogging” about “drama” is about trying to steal power from other people; that the communities upper echelons are populated entirely by people who think they’re reliving a secular Game of Thrones. The political machinations, the people who are willing to sell out their principles, the people who have no such principles to begin with who rise to power, and all the toadies… toadies everywhere… who will swarm on anyone who dares scandalize someone’s scandalous behaviour. It’s all very tiresome to watch, especially when some players are willing to excuse every bad behaviour even while they’re admitting that behaviour actually happened as stated.
Carrie Poppy has been extraordinarily well-placed in some of the bigger scandals regarding sexual harassment and sexual assault recently, in having been employed as communications director for JREF and having resigned after six months due to, let’s say, philosophical differences with DJ Grothe, president of the organization. Well, if you can classify her stating her reasons for leaving as mere philosophy, being his “constant duplicity, dishonesty, and manipulation”.
So people rushed then to attack Carrie Poppy, to destroy her as an irrational harpy with a bone to grind and an axe to pick against Grothe. So when she recently decided to suggest that women should generally stay away from TAM because the JREF was unlikely to treat any incidents with any level of seriousness, people naturally resorted to the same trope — that she was trying to destroy TAM and JREF.
Only the strange thing is, the corroboration of her claims came from those very people that you’d least expect. The ones who have been trying to naysay the whole thing all along.
Carrie was tight-lipped about why at first, but the nay-sayers brigaded as they normally do. When asked what JREF / TAM could do to make things better:
The answer is going to sound very vague and like the JREF *must* already be doing this, because who in their right mind wouldn’t? But from my vantage:
1. Do not allow people who have assaulted others at your conference, or you have reasonable suspicion that they have done so, back at the conference.
2. Take women’s complaints (and any victim’s complaints) seriously. Investigate them fully.
3. Have an infrastructure for reporting complaints, where people feel safe and listened to.
These are reasonable complaints, and her putting them forward here suggests she knows that, at least when she was in a position to see it, that they were not in place. She’s evidently seen enough to know this is a trend, not a one-off.
But people keep pressing her for evidence or at least concrete examples, and she eventually talks to her lawyer:
Hi everyone. I just spoke to a lawyer about sharing this information with you, and feel comfortable telling you this one thing (though it is one of several):
D.J. Grothe told me and others, repeatedly, that he (DJ) had personally witnessed Michael Shermer groping a female TAM speaker’s breast, unprovoked and against her protestations. She has confirmed this, since. D.J. continued to invite that speaker to TAM in subsequent years. D.J. has stated this much over and over. So please, do feel free to ask him yourselves.
(By “that speaker,” I meant Shermer.)
One of the other people DJ has apparently told this story to, confirmed:
D.J. told me the same thing. He’s told several people he witnessed Michael Shermer groping a female TAM speaker, though this didn’t occur at TAM. The woman in question has chosen not to speak publicly about it, presumably so it won’t become the focus of her professional life. I don’t blame her. And I have every reason to believe that people in charge of both CFI and Dragon*Con’s Skeptrack are aware of the same incident. I didn’t see it, so I don’t know if it happened. D.J. certainly believes it happened, though, and so do others who have chosen to invite Shermer to events anyway. You’d have to ask them why they continue to do so.
So, the person accusing Shermer most recently of sexual harassment is DJ Grothe, who by his behaviour evidently thinks every discussion of sexual harassment is an anti-TAM plot. That he’s personally seen Michael Shermer grope someone against their will is not only on audio recording (somewhere), but it’s apparently also on a court record somewhere!
No, you do not understand what I am saying. It is, in my opinion, much worse than you imagine. I am not worried about a defamatory suit. Truth is an absolute defense. And further, some of this has already been on court record, under oath. It would be amazing if I were sued for acknowledging what the major players already told a judge. Please, major players, go ahead!
Carrie was getting a lot of grief from these folks despite acquiescing to their demands, including some other grief I’m aware of that led her to making her accounts private and generally tightening up her security around the intertubes. Then elsewhere, Barbara A. Drescher, a TAM speaker and long-time anti-bitches-who-are-sabotaging-JREF activist, said the following:
Okay, people. Something occurred to me this morning that is a likely reason Carrie restricted her FB account. I’m sure that someone pointed out to her how easy it is to show that what she’s doing is driving by a personal vendetta and not concern for women or victims.
It IS easy. Just think about the incident she’s leaning on (the groping — hey, we could call this “gropegate”, but DON’T), who witnessed it, when it happened, and who organized the next TAM. HINT: it wasn’t D.J. But if D.J. is a misogynist, then so is anyone else who invited Shermer after witnessing the incident. In fact, according to everything said by that camp, so is anyone who invited Shermer after HEARING about the incident.
(FTR, the alleged victim described the incident to me herself a couple of years ago; it’s not the big secret that Carrie is making it out to be. It just hasn’t shown up in a blog post with names attached.)
Emphasis mine. This is confirmation.
Regardless of the fact that the “next” TAM was not organized by DJ, suggesting that this happened prior to his run as president of JREF, this also confirms that it was an event witnessed by a number of people, and that some of those people might have been in a position to invite him to TAM — suggesting either Phil Plait or James Randi, or both. Or possibly Jeff Wagg, who has also been in a position to book him. It also suggests that Drescher has insider knowledge of this, and that this incident is apparently separate and distinct from other harassment claims, making this the first actual movement in my harassment timeline in a while. And it came, via Carrie Poppy, from DJ Grothe and was confirmed by Barbara A. Drescher. That others may not have necessarily had the courage of their convictions to flat refuse Shermer is no specific indictment of them — rather, it is telling that DJ Grothe has so often publicly defended people from “vicious locker room rumors” and has expressly attacked the people fighting for harassment policies so incidents like Shermer’s aren’t ignored, something he’s done implicitly and explicitly.
And it proves that Grothe was aware of that behaviour, which we (well, MOST of us!) generally find to be classified as sexual assault, and there’s a very good chance this assault is on some court documents somewhere, where DJ had to tell the truth under penalty of perjury. And that fits with patterns that have already been established about Shermer’s behaviour. And yet nobody’s done anything to repair the Missing Stair — and when we broach the topic, we’re feminazis and fascists and Talibanesque.
And even still, people are “skeptical” that this happened. Despite the confirmation coming from people highly placed in the anti-feminist, evidently-pro-harassment camps. People who long for the 1980s when there was “a little” oppression, but “less PC”.* People who generally think the feminists are going too far with all this talk of “harassment policies” and “consent”. The good old days when a little thing like getting groped in public against your protestations wasn’t such a big deal.
This is not about drama. It’s not about making individuals pariahs. It’s about making sure that everyone is aware that certain behaviours are terrible and that we won’t brook them in our communities if we’re going to have any kind of communities worth having. Some people think the communities are better off without the people agitating for better morals and less molestation. I can’t help but think that if they win, we all lose.
The people saying nay are the ones verifying this stuff happened. How we deal with that information defines our communities.
* (That was Drescher, on a post on DJ Grothe’s Facebook wall that has suddenly disappeared to, apparently, anyone who’s not his special friend, wherein he complains about how “jarring” and “disruptive” it was to see a trans* person who didn’t pass very well at a conference or convention of some sort.)