Ophelia Benson and PZ Myers threaten me with expulsion from Women in Secularism 2

PZ Myers and I at American Atheists' 2012 conference
PZ Myers and I at American Atheists’ 2012 conference

Women in Secularism 2 approaches! Thanks to gracious donors who contributed to a fundraiser aiming to send me to the conference, I raised $1500 ($300 of which was donated to Operation Smile). Many feminists were (and are), oddly enough, upset with my intentions to attend the conference and — as was expected — cultivated a threat narrative postulating that I am a dangerous individual who should not be permitted to attend.

Commenters on Ophelia Benson’s blog — in a post mentioning my fundraiser — encouraged people to contact organizers of the conference so that I would be banned from attending. Furthering this sentiment, the threat narrative was bolstered. Ophelia accused me of “stochastic terrorism” (inspiring people to commit acts of violence). PZ Myers hypothesized that my intentions were to “goad people into a rage.” Others postulated I have a “history of threatening behavior” and likened my appearance to a “homophobe who routinely calls conference speakers crazy faggots” attending an LGBT conference. It goes on and on…

More recently, Ophelia Benson sent me a Facebook message in response to a tweet I had authored in which I lamented the fact that Ophelia refuses to call in my radio show (although she is quite happy to mention Karla and I on her blog). I had wondered if she would be willing to talk at Women in Secularism 2. Ophelia wrote,

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I wonder…what are feminists like Ophelia Benson so afraid of? Why does Ophelia Benson feel the need to send me a message like this? Melody Hensley, the organizer of the conference, accepted my registration and thanked me for my support of the conference/the Center for Inquiry with warm regards. Ronald Lindsay, the CEO of the Center for Inquiry, responded in a fair fashion to an open letter I had written which voiced some of my concerns.

I have an impeccable track record as a result of acceptable behavior at various secular conferences and events – many of which I have been invited to speak at. I have no criminal history. I am committed to non-aggression and do my best to promote open inquiry, exchange of ideas, and a welcoming environment in which reasonable discussion and debate can be had.

What is this message from Ophelia but an attempt to intimidate me, create a reason for me to be ejected from the conference, and cast herself as a persecuted victim? Ophelia believes her feelings trump where I may happen to walk, who I may happen to speak with, and my level of enjoyment at the conference. Ophelia acts as the arbiter, dispensing what she sees as justice by removing me from the event if I happen to “approach” or chat with her – and she believes the conference policy is on her side. As a speaker at the event — who apparently believes she has authority to interpret the event’s conference policy — she creates a hostile environment for attendees with her publicly voiced intentions to file “official complaints” against people whom she happens to dislike.

Ophelia Benson apparently has no interest in critical engagement with me at the conference although she is more than happy to author at least 27 blog posts mentioning my name. I, of course, have no problem with Ophelia discussing my work. I have no problem when Ophelia retweets me. I would have no problem if Ophelia were to approach me at the conference. Ophelia can talk about me all she wants…and I welcome it. Like Ophelia, I am a public figure. Criticism or mere discussion — as reasonable people should see — ought not constitute harassment or warrant dismissal from a conference.

On what grounds can Ophelia Benson legitimately make an “official complaint” if I happen to “approach” her? What threat do I pose? What harassment is inherent within myself being in earshot of Ophelia Benson? I should not have to ‘walk on eggshells’ concerned with where I am standing and who may happen to stand near me while a conference policy threatening to eject me is held over my head.

Ophelia Benson, rather than creating a positive environment at the conference and welcoming discussion, creates a hostile environment with her heavy-handed threats to eject me from the conference. She doesn’t simply ask to be left alone or express desire not to talk with me; she goes much further than that – wielding a proverbial ‘gun in the room’ and holding a conference policy she abuses to fit her petty personal desires over my head. Ophelia Benson apparently is not capable enough to simply ignore me or say ‘no thanks’ to discussion or — to be even more radical and intellectually honest — defend the ideas she publicly makes available. She must instead abuse the conference policy and threaten to expel me from the conference.

PZ Myers, an attendee at Women in Seculairsm 2, has also weighed in:

I’m going to be at Women in Secularism in a few weeks, which I expect to be great. However, certain nuisances are talking about approaching the people they’ve been harassing online for years, and trying to harass them in real life, getting them to be grist for their podcast mill. Ophelia has made a clear declaration:

Ok this is specifically for Vacula: do not approach me at WiS2. Stay away from me.

That goes for me, too. If you’ve been nattering away on twitter & podcasts & blogs about how evil I am, how useless feminism is, and how much you hate freethoughtblogs in general, we have no grounds for any conversation, so stay the hell away from me. I won’t bother you, you won’t bother me.

I won’t be exchanging a single word with Vacula, or any of his fellow travelers.

I think there’ll be more than enough intelligent, interesting people to have conversations with at this meeting, the dross can just stay away.

There will be no confrontation. They will stay away from me, and if they don’t, I’ll just turn to the conference organizers and report them, as Ophelia promises to do.

I also intend to give them no grounds for complaint that I’m confronting them. I have zero interest in those assholes.

Apparently, PZ Myers believes I have been “harassing” people online for years and that I am trying to harass people in real life – again with no evidence provided. The threat narrative is bolstered as PZ Myers slips further into dogmatism and announces his unwillingness to defend his ideas in a conversation with me. What is he so afraid of? What justification might PZ Myers have to report me to conference organizers and dictate where I may stand and who I may talk with at the conference?

If PZ and Ophelia don’t want to talk with me they can refrain from doing so, but it is not permissible to threaten me with expulsion as if they have the authority to remove me from the conference. Both PZ and Ophelia are blatantly abusing conference policies to suit their own agenda – to censor me, intimidate me, to have me removed from places where they attend, and to paint me as a bad person.

I am looking forward to attend Women in Secularism 2 and I have no intentions whatsoever to harass, threaten, or engage in any behavior which would permit my expulsion from the conference. I come — as I stated — with intentions to report on the events of the conference, seek interviews with attendees/speakers, and offer critical commentary in accord with the Center for Inquiry’s mission statement. There is no reason for anyone to feel threatened or to believe I will be harassing anyone. The smear campaign continues as the atheist world turns…