Anyone who’s seen Netflix’s The Most Hated Woman In America about American Atheists founder Madalyn Murray O’Hair knows that a major plot point in the film (SPOILERS AHEAD) revolves around how she supposedly embezzled money from her own organization. It’s such a dramatic twist that she’s eventually murdered by someone who wants that money.
American Atheists released a statement over the weekend denying that version of history, saying “we have seen no credible evidence that there was financial impropriety on the part of the O’Hairs as was implied in the film.”
Last week, I gave a talk in Ohio and I had a chance to chat with Frank Zindler, someone who has been involved with the organization for decades, was the Interim President at one point, and still serves on their Board of Directors. I was really curious to hear what he thought about the movie since he knew O’Hair personally. While he hadn’t seen the film at the time, he knew what the storyline was, and he gave a thorough denial that went far beyond the statement American Atheists later released.
Looks like he finally saw the movie.
In an article appearing on John Loftus‘ website Debunking Christianity, Zindler explains how the movie is hardly even based on a true story.
As one who lived through the anxiety, worry, fear, attempts to discover what had happened to Madalyn Murray O’Hair, Jon Garth Murray, and Robin Murray-O’Hair — and then the grief and sorrow when the case was solved five years later — I am hard pressed to determine how to deal with the cloud of misrepresentation, fiction, conflation of actual events and persons, distortions, anachronisms and subtext animus that will surely be defended as “artistic license.” In fact, that would be a hopeless task. Let me try to set the record straight as to the most crucial parts of the story.
What [eventual murderer David] Waters did not know, however, was that the million dollars in the trust fund were the result of five years’ worth of highly publicized fund-raising drives. Every month, the American Atheists Insider’s Newsletter had a thermometer graph showing how close to the million-mark we had come. The goal had been reached about a year before Waters came on the scene. Not knowing about the trust fund, Waters logically supposed there must be lots more such accounts, perhaps in a second set of books he had not found. (The film actually has Madalyn showing this imaginary set of books to Waters!) Since the New Zealand account required the signature of an officer of American Atheists, kidnapping and extortion would be the only way Waters could get the money.
Imagine being an atheist from Texas several decades ago and you get a sense of why O’Hair might have wanted to avoid keeping money in American banks and why law enforcement officials were so slow to take action against Waters even when O’Hair presented them with evidence of his crimes.
The film not only blames the main victim for her death, it implicitly blames the deaths of Jon and Robin on Madalyn. This is shameful. This is unutterably shameful.
If you watch the film, be sure to read Zindler’s first-hand account of what happens. And then, as he suggests, you should read a more comprehensive and accurate version of O’Hair’s life story as chronicled in Ann Rowe Seaman‘s America’s Most Hated Woman: The Life and Gruesome Death of Madalyn Murray O’Hair and Bryan F. Le Beau‘s The Atheist: Madalyn Murray O’Hair.