Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: David Silverman is no longer running an atheist group after an allegation of sexual misconduct.
Just over two months ago, the former head of American Atheists took on a new role as Executive Director of Atheist Alliance International. That came as a surprise to many considering the (very serious) reasons he was supposedly terminated from American Atheists. AA has maintained there’s more to the story than the publicly known sexual assault allegations, but they can’t say more. Silverman has denied doing anything that warranted a firing; he admits to acting unethically but insists his actions were consensual.
He has since filed a defamation lawsuit against the women who accused him of misconduct, BuzzFeed (which published their stories), and American Atheists. That lawsuit is ongoing, but he is now representing himself instead of using a lawyer. He told me that was for financial reasons.
In any case, that’s why it was a surprise to see him hired by AAI, in a paid position created specifically for him.
AAI’s justification was that their focus was international, and Silverman was a strong fighter for issues like repealing blasphemy laws and helping persecuted atheists who are currently in religious nations. They could also use his name recognition to fundraise for the group.
Things got dicey earlier this month, however, after atheist Rebecca Vitsmun accused him of unwanted touching during a party. Silverman denied that charge as well, but their text messages, which the victim shared publicly, showed him urging her not to speak out about it because it would get him in more trouble. That didn’t do him any favors.
As my colleague David McAfee wrote:
… Vitsmun said she was at a party with fellow atheists when Silverman inappropriately “caressed” her lower back as she bent over to pick up her shoes. She also provided screenshots that purported to show Silverman calling her “evil” and a “cu*t” when she decided to speak out about the incident.
AAI temporarily suspended him days later. They told McAfee that they would launch an “investigation into this incident” and that they would “make our conclusions known in due course.”
I honestly thought that was the right move at the time. They heard about an allegation, they promised to look into it, and they promised to be transparent with their conclusions. I don’t know what else I could’ve asked them to do in that situation.Then, today, they announced that Silverman had resigned. Just like that. It happened nearly a week ago.
At a Board Meeting on Sunday, David P. Silverman resigned as Executive Director. Accepting his resignation, AAI President, Gail Miller, thanked David for the contribution he had made in reorganizing the AAI board and its operations. This, together with a successful year-end fund-raising drive, will leave the alliance in a stronger position to take its campaigns forward in 2020 than in previous years.
AAI is now looking for an Executive Director, and will begin its search immediately.
That’s it. That’s all the information they’re giving us for now.
So… what the hell just happened? AAI didn’t respond immediately to my requests for comment. They didn’t explain what their investigation found, or what it consisted of, or if Silverman’s resignation had anything to do with the new allegations, or if they still plan to release any report. By not saying much, they’re letting everyone’s imaginations run wild, and very few of the possibilities put them in a very good light.
But one anonymous source who has connections with AAI told me the resignation was not a direct result of the allegation; that was just the last straw:
David was not asked to leave AAI. They were doing an investigation and believe in due process. It was widely know that Dave was working another job in addition to AAI, so when allegations of misconduct were made, he decided it was best to take the target off of AAI and put his focus into the other job.
Silverman didn’t immediately respond to my questions.
Vitsmun, who made the recent allegations against him, however, posted this just hours ago:
She told me that post is connected to Silverman, who has already been served with a restraining order. Beyond that, she added, “I only want to protect women.”
This story isn’t going away. But AAI can start by explaining how they handled this situation and what they found.
***Update***: The AAI statement has been updated to include this:
For the avoidance of doubt, at the board meeting, David tendered 30 days notice. He did this voluntarily and was not asked to resign. This means he will remain on the AAI payroll until January 10.