Did Florida Governor Charlie Crist Attack an Atheist? March 9, 2010

Did Florida Governor Charlie Crist Attack an Atheist?

That’s the latest rumor floating around, courtesy of Michael Middlebrooks:

Last night as I was leaving a pizzeria in Downtown St. Pete, I ran into a small group of people around Florida Governor Charlie Crist who was campaigning for a US Senate run. So, I walked over waited a moment to gain his attention and shook his hand. As we were shaking hands I asked him if he really believes that the letters he sent to Jerusalem prevent hurricanes from hitting Florida.

His smile immediately dropped and he replied “Who’s more powerful than God.” That wasn’t really an answer so asked him again to which I got a similar reply. While this was happening one of his people put a “Charlie Crist for US Senate 2010” sticker on me. Then when I told Charlie that I did not believe in God he turned beat [sic] red and ripped the sticker off of my chest. He did a 180 to start shaking other peoples hands, and turned to scream over his shoulder that he feels sorry for me.

This supposedly happened to Michael, a member of the Atheists of Florida group, and Atheist Alliance International put out this statement on their behalf:

Atheists of Florida is demanding an official apology for this outrageous behavior. Imagine if any public official had reacted this way to a Jew or a Muslim expressing their worldview, by invading their personal space to rip off a campaign sticker, then screaming that he “feels sorry” for them!

If this happened, it ought to be big news.

But you mean to tell me Crist — a Republican candidate for Senate — attacked someone he was talking to while on the campaign trail and there were no cameras around?

Show me the proof, the video, the eyewitnesses — and then we can start taking this to the press.

Until then, no one should take this seriously.

It’s just like the oft-mentioned soundbyte from George Bush (the elder): “No, I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.”

In that case, the only person who heard it was an atheist (Rob Sherman)… and there’s no audio/video recording of the statement. Did it happen? Maybe, but without proof, who knows.

I’m not saying Middlebrooks is a liar. But I’m not going to take his claim seriously unless he can back it up. As far as I’ve seen, he hasn’t done that yet.

(via No God Blog)

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  • Miko

    I’d consider the act of putting the sticker on to be a more serious violation of personal space than the act of removing it.

  • Richard Wade

    Good skeptical stance. No one’s saying Middlebrooks is lying, but without any objective documentation, it should remain considered questionable.

    “Attack” seems over the top to characterize the sticker sticking and sticker ripping, if it did happen. A rude intrusion, yes. Remember, the sticker was not asked for and it seems it was not wanted. If we use the word “attack” for some jerky, childish thing like this, what word do we use when an atheist is shoved or beaten?

    If this conversation is accurately portrayed, then Crist seems to have been hair-trigger defensive about his ridiculous letters to Jerusalem. Good. People should ask him tough questions about it constantly. Just watch out for his sticker-wielding goons attacking with their deadly adhesives saying “Crist: on God’s Right Side.”

  • Smells hinky.

    I wouldn’t trust the reporting unless independently verified by a reliable source.
    Crist has every reason to want to bolster his right-wing bona fides, what with him facing a primary challenge from Rubio, but at the same time, this has the appearance of hyper-inflated bullshit. The tactic is reminiscent of liberal activism at its worst, being a prick to provoke a tangible overreaction from your adversary, and then cry foul and claim victimhood.

    Something is rotten in downtown St. Petersberg, and we shall wait and see. Nothing like a little daylight to shine truth on midnight rumors.

  • If this is what he’s like, it doesn’t sound like it would be too difficult to the get him to do it again – on camera.

  • Valhar2000

    Doesn’t sound like much of an attack, honestly. Though it is nowhere near as bad, this reminds of the stupidity of the people who claimed that Hilary Clinton was “raped” by Obama supporters during the primaries because they called her names.

    There are real attacks going on in the world, some of them against atheists for their atheism: we don’t need to dilute them with this crap.

  • Ben

    Gotta agree with you on this as well, Hemant. It’s the standard of proof any self-respecting skeptic would insist upon.

  • keddaw

    If it is not denied then it becomes much more believable. Like the Bush one, maybe only one person heard it but he was a journalist and it wouldn’t take much to deny it, or even come out and show that wasn’t his thinking by mentioning atheists like Obama did.

    I know not every claim people make can, or should, be responded to by politicians, but when a story builds up a head of steam they have to do something otherwise it seems that most people will assume it’s true.

  • Korinthian

    Who really cares about this particular incident? Is it really such a big deal? Even if this was true and not possible mere rumor-mongering it’s really fricken mild.

  • Ron in Houston

    I’m not saying Middlebrooks is a liar. But I’m not going to take his claim seriously unless he can back it up.

    This sort of reminds me of a John Stewart joke where he adopts that Jersey accent and starts talking about your mother.

    I get what you’re saying but there is a high level of irony to it.

  • qwertyuiop

    Yeah, like the press would even give a damn. The Governor is on the right team. Now if this was a Christian being “attacked” it would be a WAAAAY different story.

  • JT

    Charlie Crist, you are just another anti-gay “christian” republican who exudes “I’m a self-loathing closet queen” with every breath. No matter how many prayers you send, no matter how much you lash out at gays or atheists, your fake god still hates you. The idea that you think you’re in a position to feel sorry for anyone is laughable.

    There may not be proof that this went down, but there is more than enough elsewhere to condemn you.

  • Flah the Heretic Methodist

    The two camps on Crist are that he is, as JT says, a closet queen that staged the big showy wedding to salvage his national political standing, or that he’s a decent gentleman who honestly has Florida’s best interest at heart.

    Regardless of either stance, he is first and foremost a politician, and very few politicians act without thinking. I’m not saying the above incident didn’t take place, but there is only the one account and I have to admit I’m skeptical.

    Additionally, the last thing we want is for Marco Rubio to win the primary, unless the Democrats can dig up someone. Anyone.

  • plutosdad

    It sounds like they were putting the stickers on everyone, assuming the only people talking to him were fans.

    keddaw Says:
    If it is not denied then it becomes much more believable

    politicians don’t bother denying every crackpot rumor out there, to take the effort to pay attention only lends them an air of authority they don’t have. And it should be paid attention to because “a journalist heard it?” please, journalists can’t even quote people without that person confirming the quote, and they are not above stretching the truth or telling things the way they want to, even convincing themselves. Look at Dana Millbank.

  • Kurt

    As @keddaw says, “If it is not denied then it becomes much more believable.” To take the extremely cynical view on this, I’d say it’s possible that Crist is not refuting this precisely because it has the ring of truth about it, whether it really happened that way or not.

    The atheists and sympathizers cry foul for the lack of apology, and make ourselves look like victimhood-seeking whiners. Meanwhile, millions of god-fearing people in Florida are saying to themselves, “Turned beet-red and smacked down that God-rejecting, amoral, sinful, un-American, smug little back-talker? Hey, Crist is my kind of manly patriot!” Now why would friendly old Governor Chuckles ever want to disabuse them of that?

  • Joe

    There are verified witnesses to this incident. This can be considered assault and/ or battery under the Florida statutes, as well.

  • AaronF

    What is this obsession with demanding meaningless public apologies from people? First, it didn’t seem like much of an attack to me. Secondly, he wound’t actually mean it if he made an apology, so what’s the use? Atheists constantly criticize the religious for playing the “offended” card all the time, and here we are doing the same. Kind of ridiculous.

  • Rob Curry

    A little pragmatism may be helpful here:

    Believe it or not, cameras are not everywhere yet, and this was a completely impromptu incident. The local press would care if they were present, but they are not ubiquitous. Let’s be seriouis; they go where they are called on their beat or for big events (not to every minor opportunity to shake hands while visiting the folks at home).

    Like Charlie Crist, I am a native of St Petersburg, and it’s not unusual for Crist to visit his home town without it becoming a media event. This is really little more than an overgrown small Florida town (one of about two dozen “cities” in Pinellas County).

    When an incident like this happens, it is only reasonable for those involved to speak up about it regardless of whether the state of evidence immediately provided meets the most stringently applied skeptical standards. I am concerned by the unspoken implication I see in some comments that silence might be a better alternative. To remain silent is to be complicit in our own oppression, no matter if the attack is great or (as in this case) relatively small.

    Furthermore, while it is perfectly appropriate to withhold judgment until all the evidence is in, my hope is that atheists, skeptics and freethinkers of all descriptions will maintain a sense of balance to be able to resist the temptation to overcompensate by attempting to diminish legitimate concerns over one abuse just because it is not nearly as egregious as so many others. Every attack, be it large or small, deserves to be brought out into the light, and cynical calculations about potential political fallout should have no place in the determination of whether to speak up. We don’t really know if this will help or harm Crist in his primary battle with Rubio, and that does not matter to a nonprofit organization with its primary purpose to stand up for equal protection and respect for atheists.

    How can we ever gain respect from others if we do not even respect one another, or if we belittle other atheists who decline to be treated with such evidence contempt?

  • Rob Curry

    TONIGHT AT 6:00 PM

    Hear the story . . .
    Call with questions . . .
    Add your voice . . .


    The Atheist Forum on BlogTalkRadio will interrupt our standard programming to cover this breaking new story on what would be a relatively minor incident if it were not the Governor of Florida who lashed out at an atheist for not believing in god!

    If we do not speak up and stand up for ourselves, then who will?

    Listen on your PC by going to the above link, or listen by phone by calling 914-338-0261 at 6:00 p.m. tonight (Tuesday, March 9). For those who cannot listen live, the show will be recorded for later podcast online and through iTunes.

  • JF

    I’m surprised, shocked, and saddened that Bush the Elder would be capable of saying such a thing. I had always liked him at least a little better than his completely idiotic son. He always seemed more reasonable and intellectual. I’m actually not an atheist, but to say that atheists shouldn’t be citizens or are not capable of being patriotic is absurd! Why can’t people who don’t believe in G-d love their country? In fact, I think that people who courageously fight for our country see such horrors in their line of duty that they are at particularly high risk for becoming agnostic or atheist. That shouldn’t dim our view of their achievements. Furthermore, this should no longer be considered a “Nation under G-d”. Our country was built upon human pursuits of wealth and freedom, and unfortunately included such deplorable things as slavery. We should not pretend to have a higher power on our side when we have committed such atrocities. We might as well have as strong a separation of religion and state as possible so that no one group can try to monopolize our diverse country.

  • Greg

    And I thought I was the only one that was skeptical about the George H. Bush’s statement. It was not recorded, no other eyewitness heard the comment. All we have is the word of Rob Sherman. I know many non-believers would not accept evidence like this on other claims.

    Plus, if I am not mistaken, George H. Bush has denied he said it.

  • Greg, I think you are mistaken. To my knowledge, Bush has never denied saying it.

    The Bush presidential library contains quite a few letters about this quote, some specifically including it, but in White House replies to this correspondence, the hateful remark is neither denied nor corrected. Staff memos make it clear that President Bush was aware that some Americans had heard he said this and were offended by it, but was in no hurry to change their impression.

    That’s not proof, but it is evidence in favor of the quote’s accuracy.

  • DSimon

    Robin, can you link to that? I’m curious about those letters now.

  • EllenBeth Wachs

    I am deeply saddened at the blogger’s following comments, “Did it happen? Maybe, but without proof, who knows.

    I’m not saying Middlebrooks is a liar. But I’m not going to take his claim seriously unless he can back it up.”

    This is reminiscent of the 1970s when a woman who was raped needed independent verifiable evidence in support of the claim before she was taken seriously.

    As fellow atheists and freethinkers, we should be standing by this man’s side and supporting him. How are you being “friendly” to him?

  • Min

    This is reminiscent of the 1970s when a woman who was raped needed independent verifiable evidence in support of the claim before she was taken seriously.

    This is nothing like that. Rape is a serious crime; this is a politician being a jerk.

    As fellow atheists and freethinkers, we should be standing by this man’s side and supporting him. How are you being “friendly” to him?

    As skeptics, we should demand proof of something before we believe it. I’ll give that it’s entirely possible (even probable!) that the scene happened as described, but I’m not going to go on some campaign against Crist or accuse him of attacking somebody just because somebody whose views on religion are similar to mine said he did. I will, however, keep an eye on Crist in the future.

  • Robin, can you link to that? I’m curious about those letters now.

    Rob Sherman has posted a 40 page PDF file of the relevant documents from the Bush Presidential Library on his website.

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