#MythCon Disagreement And Thomas Smith’s Online Abuse
I truly believe Mythcon IV has been a huge embarrassment this year—not for its organisers and attendees mind you, but for its screeching critics. Many an authoritarian ideologue has been exposed by a mere desire to fill a room with people and have a few conversations. Attendance optional.
This small conference in Milwaukee had gone off without a hitch in previous years, but their decision to invite some popular YouTube personalities this year culminated in a sustained campaign of harassment and threats against the organisers.
The venue owners were phoned and fed lies about an incoming ’Nazi rally’, organisers were personally threatened with being ‘blackballed’ from atheism (whatever that means), an organiser’s wife was reduced to tears after receiving constant harassing phone calls, and the organisation itself was threatened with financial ruin. As a result of pressure from the mob, two prominent speakers dropped out of the event.
This behaviour meant that the organisers were forced to fork out an additional $12,000 for increased security. This is especially absurd when you consider that security was only called into action on one occassion—to remove a person associated with the de-platforming mob for confronting Sargon Of Akkad.
Despite the bulk of the event comprising of people like Melissa Chen, Asra Nomani, Matt Dillahunty, Faisal Al Mutar and Ron Miscavige, the main point of controversy appears to be the invitation of YouTube personality Carl Benjamin, AKA Sargon Of Akkad.
Regardless of what you think of Carl, he is clearly an opinion former and has a substantial online following, and as such it does not surprise me that he would be invited to make public appearances. He spoke on the much bigger platform of the Joe Rogan show earlier this year for example.
I’m not so terrified about what he might say that I think it should be my mission to prevent him from saying it publicly.
Nothing about this means I have to endorse or even like him. I’m sure there are things we agree on, and things we do not. Also, his primary trade is speech, not violence or any other form of criminality. It is my opinion that people have the right to invite him to an event and others have the right to go hear him speak if they so wish.
Most of the objection seems to stem from a tweet Sargon sent to a British MP several years ago for which context is provided below:
This is not something I would do and it clearly crosses the line of taste and decency for me. However, I’m not here to police the lines of taste and decency for everyone else and their conferences.
The other man on stage in the above video is Thomas Smith who is a podcaster (‘Serious Inquiries Only Podcast’, formerly ‘Atheistically Speaking’). I didn’t even know who Thomas was until he begin swiping at me online and on his podcast. He seemed to be annoyed with my views, but couldn’t quite articulate what it was he was annoyed about specifically. But this would all be sorted out if I just gave up my time to come on his podcast apparently. Despite politely declining, this entitled badgering to come on his show continued for over a year with the occasional accusation of ‘coward’ levelled my way.
I’ve heard from others who were put off from speaking to Smith due to this way of operating. Why would this sort of behaviour make anyone want to give him their time?
Thomas Smith was also invited to MythCon this year to interview and challenge Sargon on stage. It’s worth noting Smith was offered a platform all to himself at the same event last year, completely unchallenged.
There were a number of ways you could approach this conversation in order to take Sargon to task for his transgressions, however Smith opted for hostility and emotion, even calling the audience “deplorables” and the conference “a fucking embarrassment”. He also insulted the conference organisers directly—from the very stage they had afforded him to make his case against Sargon and boost his profile.
Smith eventually stormed off stage during the Q&A section. It did not go well for him. In short, he blew it.
Despite having opinions to the contrary explained to him, Smith continues to propagate the wildly unsupported claim that the crowd at the event “cheered for sexual harassment”.
This refers to an incident around the 5 minute mark of the ‘debate’, where Smith, assuming the role of inquisitor asks “…you saw fit to tweet at her [Jess Phillips] ‘I wouldn’t even rape you’”. Sargon facetiously responds with “yup” to which the crowd reacted with cheers.
Rather than being sensible and recognising the possibility that the crowd cheered in support of Sargon’s defiance in the face of moral outrage, it was spread far and wide as an example of the crowd cheering actual sexual harassment.
It’s become a mantra at this point: “the crowd were cheering for sexual harassment”. This viewpoint relies on two gigantic assumptions. 1. that sending a tweet with “I wouldn’t even rape you” constitutes sexual harassment in the first place and 2. that you were able to read the minds of those cheering.
I can completely understand why this may have made people feel uncomfortable, or how it may have been misinterpreted. However, I’ve yet to hear a single person come forward from the event to affirm their support of sexual harassment.
Critics of the conference are clearly fighting their own uncharitable interpretation—one which is not supported by what the crowd did say when the organisers questioned a number of them, or the interpretation of those disagreeing with Smith et al’s approximation.
Someone in the crowd at the event even shouts out “that’s not what they are cheering!” when Smith makes this accusation of cheering for “sexual assault”:
— Stephen Knight (@GSpellchecker) October 24, 2017
We hear a lot about ‘lack of empathy’ from these circles, yet they refuse to recognise others simply do not feel the same way about this tweet or perceive the crowd reaction in the way the do.
But of course, if I don’t agree with the deeply uncharitable interpretation that a crowd was cheering in favour of sexual harassment, I must therefore be on the side of pro-sexual harassment. This is how easy they make this game for themselves:
Smith has since had to apologise for the way he behaved in a number of interactions with attendees during the event too—including shouting at a female photographer who approached him.
The behaviour after the event has not been much better either. The following demand was made by Smith (emphasis mine):
“This happened, we’ve got some options: We can put it behind us, you [Mythycon] can issue an apology. As an organisation you can realise whoever is currently making the decisions, you can recognise that you fucked up, you made a bad decision, you got exactly the conference that we thought you were going to get and this can never happen again. If there’s an apology, if there’s a recognition of what happened, if there’s a clear change in direction and a change in leadership I will be happy to work with you again”
“If there is a change in leadership and good people take over and try to atone for what’s happened I’m more than happy to try and forgive and forget and heal this wound…
“if that doesn’t happen I’m going to be doing everything in my power to make sure that this conference and this group are not successful in the future. I’m going to try convince people not to go. I’m going to try to convince people not to speak there in the first place. What you did was not acceptable.”
So, just to recap this authoritarian ultimatum: Thomas is demanding an apology from the conference organisers (for what?) and that a person, or persons at the organisation lose their jobs. And if the organisation refuse to bend the knee, he will do everything in his power to shut them down. Just imagine what things would look like if people with Smith’s mind-set commanded any actual power in society.
I reached out to the organisers after this whole debacle to try and get their side of the story on record. I wanted to find out what type of people they were and what principles they valued, so I spoke to Brian and Sean from Mythicist Milwaukee on my podcast:
It turns out they are some of the most reasonable and fair-minded people you could hope to speak to. Despite the treatment they have endured, they still managed to acknowledge some mistakes and take on-board some of the sensible feedback they received. These are precisely the type of people I would want to be running a conference.
A little while later Brian (with Dimitry of Mythicist Milwaukee this time), also had another podcast conversation with Thomas Smith and Eli Bosnick to work through their disagreements.
Just listen and compare the tone, rhetoric and arrogance between the two parties:
It’s like Bosnick and Smith think they are calling the naughty children into the principle’s office for a telling off. Eli, someone who had absolutely nothing to do with the conference whatsoever, says he is “appalled” on behalf of the organisers and goes so far as to apologise for them like a sort of atheist Jesus dying for their sins. Listen to the clip below. Does this sound like a reasonable response in contrast to the way the organisers conduct themselves?
— Stephen Knight (@GSpellchecker) October 21, 2017
At one point Smith shouts “You fucking idiot!” in anger to a calmly stated claim made by the organisers that he believes to be inaccurate—a point Brian and Dimitry have the patience and class to concede, despite this abuse.
Well, my critical, yet non-abusive tweet commentary of this conversation seems to have been a trigger for Thomas who then unleashed a stream of abusive tweets my way in response:
Whilst referring to me as an ‘awful douchebag’ and ‘fucking coward’ Thomas himself confirms that he has sent me ‘DOZENS’ of ‘requests’ (that entitlement again) to come on his show over a period spanning ‘years’, despite my having already said I wasn’t interested. It’s not a stretch of the imagination to suspect people within his social justice circle would consider this sort of behaviour to constitute online abuse and harassment were it coming from someone else, or aimed at a woman:
Eli, who spends his time panning bad movies, seemingly took offence to a bad review of his own output, labelling me a ‘cock’.
(UPDATE 24 Oct 2017—Eli says says that his comment wasn’t aimed at me, but rather a summary of how he felt I felt towards him. Happy to take his word for that) 1
Keep in mind, I’m receiving all this abuse because I tweeted some civil objections on my own timeline to the way they conduct themselves and the views they hold. That’s it.
It’s amazing that those who espouse moral virtue and claim to fight for justice behave this way the moment their viewpoint meets some disagreement.
Unsolicited, abusive tweets of this kind actually violate Twitter’s terms and conditions regarding abuse. Luckily, I won’t allow myself to be harassed or upset by some tweets. Instead, I reproduce them here to serve as an example of the hypocrisy of those that espouse moral virtue about online abuse and harassment, but violate the very standards they demand of everyone else when it suits.
Their campaign of harassment and abuse in response to a conference they did not even have to attend has been an utter embarrassment for them.
For those fed up of so-called ‘in-fighting’, you will be pleased to know this does not qualify. I am not ‘in’ anyone’s group and I don’t want to be. I will not be told what I should or shouldn’t say, or what I can or can’t hear by a bunch of ideologues who have the self-importance to claim they represent ‘the atheist movement’ whilst behaving like the church.
Do not bow to their standards. Instead, just sit back and watch them be undone by the revolving door of their own purity tests.
Be truthful to your principles, rather than group-think, and you won’t lose a single night’s sleep to cognitive dissonance.
- Eli Bosnick clarifies his comment: https://twitter.com/elibosnick/status/922167320381984768 ↩