This April, there’s a conference scheduled to take place in Brighton, England called the “Anti-Theism International Convention 2020.” Okay. Fine. It’s not weird to see local organizers setting up conferences with speakers well known to those of us who read about or watch people commenting on atheism online.
This particular event, however, is being co-organized by John Richards, the Publications Director of Atheist Alliance International, the organization that just hired David Silverman, who’s been accused of sexual misconduct. One of the main speakers is Lawrence Krauss, who’s also been accused (many times over) of sexual misconduct.
Those aren’t the people you want center stage if you’re eager to bring new, diverse people into a movement.
YouTuber David Worley even asked the other organizer, Lance Gregorchuk, about Krauss’ presence at the event. Why invite him? What’s the benefit to inviting someone with his tainted reputation to a conference like this? What safety precautions are being put in place to make sure attendees are safe?
During an hour-long interview in which Gregorchuk repeatedly insulted Worley for not asking challenging enough questions, he also dismissed the very notion that Krauss was a problem… before defending his own alleged groping of women because, “you never got wrong signals from a girl that you thought, she likes me [but] she doesn’t like you, and you touched her?”
Get ready to cringe around the 5:05 mark in the clip below:
It gets worse:
… come on, dude. I did it. You did it… something. Look, come on, we’re not the best looking guys in the world… Did you know? Come on! When you were 15, 16, 17, did you get the signals? I didn’t get them. I have no fucking idea what girls want… and Krauss… he’s just in the higher limelight. That’s all it is. They could’ve nailed me, you, anybody else…
… I’m just being honest. If I don’t know the signals, and I put my hand on your knee, what do you want me to say?
So, in summary, it’s fine to touch women who don’t want to be touched, and women who accuse men of unwanted advances are doing it to everybody. (Watch out! You’re next!)
And then Gregorchuk sarcastically joked to Worley about how, if he attends the event, “I’m gonna put my hand on your knee. I’m gonna rub it up your leg. And you can say what you want.” (Hilarious, this guy.)
Incidentally, the allegations against Krauss weren’t just about an unwanted touch or misinterpreted brush-up against someone’s leg. The main incident looked like this, as explained by the victim:
They made a plan to eat in the restaurant at the Washington, DC, hotel where Krauss was staying, [she] recalled. But first he asked her to come up to his room while he wrapped up some work. He seemed in no rush to leave, she said, ordering a cheese plate and later champagne, despite her suggestion that they go down to dinner.
Then, [she] said, Krauss made a comment about her eye makeup, and got very close to her face. Suddenly, he lifted her by the arms and pushed her onto the bed beneath him, forcibly kissing her and trying to pull down the crotch of her tights. [She] said she struggled to push him off. When he pulled out a condom, [she] said, she got out from under him, said “I have to go,” and rushed out of the room.
That’s what Gregorchuk is apparently okay with, to the point where he wants Krauss speaking to a group of people on behalf of atheists. That’s also what the other speakers are apparently okay with since they’re still on the website despite Krauss’ inclusion. Richard Dawkins will even be receiving a “Lifetime of Service to Rationalism Award” from Krauss.
That’s just one of several awards to be presented at this event. About the others, the website laughably describes them this way:
The Atty Awards [Anti-Theism International Awards] are probably the most prestigious Awards in the Atheist Community and winning a Atty Award will not only get you recognition within the Atheist Community, it will give you a chance to enjoy giving worldwide speaking engagements as well as Keynote presentations at many events around the world. The Awards will be presented by some of the most famous atheist on the planet and the winners will be invited to the VIP area of the after awards ceremony for photo opportunites and press talks.
That’s a lie.
An award that’s never been given out before isn’t “prestigious,” and winning an award at a conference that is brand new (or even one that isn’t!) doesn’t suddenly lead to anything as a result, much less speaking gigs around the world. It’s like a participation trophy. It might make the recipient feel nice. No one else really cares.
In any case, if you want to spend £199 for early tickets, or £249 for regular tickets, or £699 for VIP tickets, they’re still available.
Wear pants. Bring mace. It should be an exciting celebration of reason and rationality and laughing off allegations of sexual assault.
I should add that I asked several of the scheduled speakers for comment about their involvement in this conference. Two of them, Aron Ra and Maryam Namazie, told me they will be pulling out of the event. Their names should be removed from the website shortly.
So far, I have not heard back from Dawkins or several of the other speakers.
***Update***: In addition to the featured comment below, co-organizer John Richards has sent me this statement on behalf of the organization, which he asked me to publish (emphases mine):
Unfortunately, my former business partner, Lance Gregorchuk, got a little drunk and had a train wreck of a podcast interview, which has had some fallout on The Friendly Atheist Patheos site.
Some commenters have interpreted his attitude as misogynistic so I have fired him; he no longer holds a position in the Anti-theism International organisation.
I am seeking an interview on the same podcast to make a statement on behalf of the company.
A-T I strongly deplores any form of misogyny or denigration of women.
In fact, faith inspired malicious treatment of women is one of the harms that we are very much against and wish to combat.
However, as you are aware, to use Hitchen’s phrase, religion poisons everything; it’s not just misogynistic.
Many theists condone the victimisation of homosexuals, the denial of a liberal education for children, the coercion of donations under threat, the mutilation of children’s genitalia, cruel punishments (including death) for disobedience and the committing of acts of terrorism.
There is no doubt that, in the present world, religions cause more harm than good by instigating a spurious reason for division, demonisation and conflict.
Given that there is no evidence for any deity, we should not tolerate religiously inspired human abuse by those who claim power in the name of a god.
Consequently, I am not prepared to be intimidated by a few who have a singular focus, particular as improved female safety is a policy that we support.
The International Convention goes ahead as planned; we already have attendees signed up from the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, the UK, the USA and Canada.
We already have many nominees for the Awards and at least two artists wishing to paint the portrait of Christopher Hitchens.
If any of you would like to make suggestions for our celebrity judging panel, please let me know. The task is not onerous, being done online, and the reward is a free ticket for the Banquet.
Just to state the obvious, firing Gregorchuk is fine, but it hardly resolves the underlying problems with this conference, many of which are laid out in the post and in the comments below.
(Screenshot via Facebook)