Update: Latsot has now repeated on his blog his allegation that I defend rapists, writing “This is what I mean when I say that Michael Nugent defends rapists. It’s what I always meant. I stand by it. I didn’t apologise for that and I don’t apologise for it now.” He has written of his previous Twitter apology: “It was a not-pology: sorry you thought that’s what I said. Sorry if I came across that way. But what I said stands.” Here is Latsot’s up-to-date allegation.
My original post:
Latsot, a pseudonymous occasional guest blogger at FreeThought Blogs, has withdrawn and apologised for their repeated allegation that I defend rapists, saying that they had intended to convey something else.
I welcome and accept Latsot’s withdrawal and apology. It is not an easy thing to do, particularly on emotionally intense issues, particularly after repeating the allegation when first challenged, and particularly having published rather than just said the allegation.
This might be a positive first step in trying to reverse the demonisation of some atheists by PZ Myers and others, which has resulted in increasingly serious allegations being casually made as if they were an acceptable part of normal discourse.
PZ has not withdrawn or apologised for introducing this particular smear about me, and he has failed five to times to substantiate his stated evidence for the smear, which is that some people comment on my blog who also post on another website.
I’ll return to PZ’s role in this later, but in this post I want to put on record the Twitter conversation that resulted in Latsot’s withdrawal of their allegation, insofar as I can reconstruct it, and my initial response to Latsot’s rephrased version of what they intended to say about me.
1. My Twitter conversation with Latsot
It is hard to record Twitter conversations, as there are so many threads happening at the same time, and Latsot was also discussing their allegations with other people. Here are the parts of Tuesday’s conversation which I was following, and in which I interacted with Latsot.
Latsot – @micknugent People like @pzmyers and @OpheliaBenson aren’t smearing you. They’re waiting for you to catch up.
Me – I’ve campaigned for social justice all my life. PZ and others are harming that already-difficult goal.
Latsot – (to someone else) OK, I don’t think that @micknugent is the sole arbiter of atheism. He thinks he is but nobody but him said he is.
Me – You may be confusing me with PZ.
Latsot – Really? You’re going with “I know you are, what am I?”
Me – Okay, show me one place where I said I am the sole arbiter of atheism, whatever that even means.
Latsot – I don’t need to show you, it’s there for all to see. You yourself told others how they should be.
Me – For the second time, please show me one place where I said I am the sole arbiter of atheism.
Latsot – Why do I have to explain why you’re wrong? I’m not the one pretending I’m in charge. You are the one pretending you’re in charge
Me – That’s your problem in a nutshell. You don’t understand justice. You think you can declare someone wrong without supporting it.
Latsot – I think I understand justice. I’m not sure why you think you get to decide I don’t. Do you look at the people who support your position and the things they say?
Me – That’s another of your problems in a nutshell. You should judge an assertion by its supporting evidence, not by who is saying it.
Latsot – (to Darren) But that’s not the point. Michael has decided that accusations are automatically untrue for reasons I don’t understand.
Me – I haven’t decided that any accusations are automatically untrue. I have said crimes should be reported to the police.
[at this stage, I checked back on the conversation, and I noticed that Latsot had tweeted earlier that I defended rapists. This is the exchange in which he did so]
Latsot – How are @pzmyers and @OpheliaBenson harming things? Why do you think your goal is the only worthwhile one?
The Written Ward – Do you consider calling an entire group of people (including rape victims) *rapists* to be helpful then?
Atheist Alan – Because accusing someone of defending rapists isn’t a smear at all, right? @micknugent should take it as a compliment I suppose.
Latsot – It’s a smear? Probable rapists were defended. By whom? What should we do instead?@micknugent
Peter Ferguson – To defend such a claim please answer a) who are the rapists (plural) and b) how is Nugent defending them?
Latsot – I don’t have a list of rapists. Does that mean that rape doesn’t occur?
Peter Ferguson – So rape occurs so therefore Nugent is defending probable rapists? What the actual fuck.
Latsot – @micknugent is defending rapists because he is defending rapists.
Atheist Alan – 1)What rapists has @micknugent defended? 2)Where/when did he defend them? 3)Can you prove they are actually rapists?
[Having read this interaction, I asked Latsot to withdraw that allegation]
Me – Latsot, can you please withdraw and apologise for saying “@micknugent is defending rapists because he is defending rapists.”
Latsot – No, but I’ll modify what I said. @micknugent is defending rapists.
Me – @pzmyers PZ, @latsot is repeating your defamatory smear. Can you please withdraw it and apologise to avoid it spreading further?
[some time later]
Latsot – Come on, Mick, do you feel people like Richard Reed represent you?
Me – Nobody represents me other than myself.
[some time later]
Latsot – You both miss the point.@micknugent clearly doesn’t understand how much rape hurts people, I wish he’d think harder.
Me – Wow. That’s quite an assumption you’ve made there.
[some time later]
Latsot – I think PZ said that rape apologists and threateners comment on @micknugent’s blog.
Me – Then your argument is built on something you mistakenly think is true. This is what he said – PZ Myers has failed five times to justify his smear that I am defending and providing a haven for rapists on my blog
Latsot – I think PZ is right. You equivocate at best.
Me – Have you read that link or just replied without reading it?
Latsot – I’ve read it.
Me – Good. Then do you acknowledge that PZ said rapists, not rape apologists?
Latsot – Sure. I don’t think it changes the argument at all.
Me – It changes your argument. Steersman said PZ said rapists, you said you think PZ said rape apologists. You were mistaken.
Latsot – You’re nit-picking. Fine, rapists, not rape apologists. That’s about your problem with PZ, not mine with you.
Me – Okay. PZ’s argument is that I defend rapists because he says they post on my blog. What is your argument?
Latsot – That you equivocate. That you don’t take a stand against rape culture, that you’re wierdly blind to it.
Me – To clarify before I respond, are you saying that is your evidence for saying that I am defending rapists?
Latsot – Of course not. You are being deliberately obtuse.
Me – Then what is your evidence (I assume you have some) for repeatedly saying that I am defending rapists?
Latsot – Twitter is hardly the best place to do this.
Me – Is that just dawning on you now, after you repeatedly made the allegation on twitter?
Latsot – Calm down, Michael. I’m not making quite the accusation you seem to think I am. I’ll try to clarify. I don’t think you are defending rapists for raping. I don’t think PZ thinks that either.
Me – Then why would you describe them as rapists? Why not describe them as whatever you think I am defending them for?
Latsot – Because the point is a little more subtle than you’ll admit. Being complicit in rape culture is making a haven for rapists. I think you are defending people who happen (probably) to be rapists. If that sounds like I’m backtracking, I’m not. I think – and no doubt I could have been clearer – that you defend the actions of people who either rape or apologise for rape when you dismiss evidence of rape and when you encourage people who do the same. I think that it is a moral imperative to take a stand on this issue and hyperskepticism is at best a cop out. This is what I’ve been trying to say. Most of the time I’ve been replying to what other people have said, so the message will be fragmented at best. I hope this is a little clearer.
Me – Okay, I’ll come to your argument as you describe it now in a moment. First, on the basis of this newly described argument, can you please withdraw and apologise for writing “micknugent is defending rapists because he is defending rapists” and can you please withdraw and apologise for writing “I’ll modify what I said. micknugent is defending rapists”
Latsot – You have defended someone I strongly suspect is a rapist. I still don’t know why. My previous tweet stands.
Me – I’ve given you repeated opportunities to withdraw and apologise for your defamatory allegations. Are you declining to do this?
Latsot – I have said very clearly that I don’t think you defend the actions of rapists. I didn’t intend to imply that you defended specific rapists for the act of rape. I meant to say that your actions seem to perpetuate rape culture and are very problematic. But I don’t think for a moment that you endorse rape in any way. Does that make my point more clear?
Me – Yes. So will you withdraw and apologise for writing that I defend rapists, and that I defend rapists because I defend rapists?
Latsot – Sure. Why not. Michael, As I’ve said several times, I do not think and have never thought that you defend or condone rape. If you want me to say that I withdraw those statements, then I withdraw them. Now can we actually talk about something useful? I apologise for saying you defend rapists. I meant something slightly different and I wasn’t clear.
Me – Okay, we are getting somewhere now. I can’t discuss any more tonight as I have a to take care of a dying cat but I will talk tomorrow. Meanwhile, can you please tweet to your own followers (not just @ me) that you withdraw and apologise for writing that I defend rapists, and that I defend rapists because I defend rapists? Thanks
Latsot – I’m sorry about the cat.
Me – Yes, so am I. He’s been with me for 18 years.
Latsot – Ack. My cat went missing for 24 hours recently and I was beside myself. I feel your pain. I certainly admit that twitter is not the best place for this argument and that we are talking at cross purposes. I also see how what I said might look to people who were not part of the conversation and I’m sorry for that.
Me – He is old, sick, was missing yesterday, came back this morning, on a drip at the vet today, back home for probably his last night.
Latsot – Poor thing.
Me – I know. Anyway, Twitter can wait till tomorrow. Goodnight.
2. My response to Latsot’s rephrased allegation
Latsot, I want to repeat that I welcome and accept your withdrawal and apology. It is not an easy thing to do, particularly on emotionally intense issues, particularly after repeating the allegation when first challenged, and particularly having published rather than just said the allegation.
I will now address your rephrased intended allegation, which is not that I defend rapists, but that in your opinion, my actions seem to perpetuate rape culture and are very problematic.
This allegation is vague and impossible to respond to in its current format.
I will assume that it is related to your previous opinions that I don’t take a stand against rape culture, that I clearly don’t understand how much rape hurts people, that I dismiss evidence of rape, that I have defended someone you strongly suspect is a rapist, and that I am defending people who happen (probably) to be rapists.
These opinions are more specific but are hopelessly ill-informed.
To put them in perspective, the most common advice that I am getting from people who actually know me, including women and including rape victims and including lifelong social justice activists, is that I am out of my mind to be even giving you the credibility of responding to you.
Seriously, Latsot, I really have to emphasise this. You have no idea how bizarre your allegations seem to people who actually know me, who actively campaign for social justice, and who do not share the particular worldview that has shaped your public allegations about me.
However, I will respond insofar as I can to what I think your revised allegation is based on, because you have shown the ability to change your opinions about your previous misinformed allegation, and I hope that you will be able to do so again about your revised one.
I’ll start with your general opinion that I don’t take a stand against rape culture. I am going to park for a moment the definition of rape culture, because different people have different definitions, but here is my repeatedly stated position on how to combat sex crimes, from my recent post Another week, another set of misrepresentations and personal smears.
For context, before I examine the tactics that Ophelia, Adam and others are using to misrepresent and smear me, here are my opinions about combating sex crimes. Please bear these in mind as you read how my views are being misrepresented.
Combating sex crimes while protecting the rights of both victims and alleged criminals is a sensitive and difficult balance. Sexual assault and rape are serious crimes, which all reasonable people abhor, and it is precisely because they are so serious and abhorrent that society should address them in a way that is just for everybody.
Nobody should try to objectively trivialise the subjective emotional suffering that a sexual abuse or rape victim undergoes, which is unique to each victim. Sexual abusers and rapists violate the bodily integrity of their victims, and violate the personal consent of their victims, by imposing their own desires onto innocent children, women and men.
The victim’s suffering can be equally traumatic regardless of whether the abuser or rapist is a family member, friend, acquaintance or stranger, and regardless of whether the abuser or rapist used physical force, or threat of physical force, or non-violent psychological coercion. If you live in a stable democracy, the people best placed to support and advise victims are the rape crisis centres that exist in many towns and cities.
In every area of crime, we need laws that respect the rights of both victims of crimes, and people accused of crimes, that will maximise the number of guilty people who are convicted and the number of innocent people who are cleared. Having these protections in place does not imply that any specific allegation of a sex crime is false. Indeed, most allegations are true. But the legal system must protect the rights of everybody involved in every specific case.
I have campaigned over the years against crimes of varying degrees, from petty neighbourhood crimes to terrorism in Northern Ireland. I have also campaigned to successfully reverse miscarriages of justice, where innocent people had been jailed for crimes that they did not commit. In combating any type of crime, it can be difficult to find the best balance between vindicating victims, bringing criminals to justice, protecting innocent defendants, and improving the quality of life and justice in society.
Finding the best balance is particularly difficult in cases of sexual abuse and rape. Many victims are reluctant to report such crimes to the police, because they fear the emotional consequences and further trauma of a court case. This fear can be exacerbated if the victim fears that the court is unlikely to convict the perpetrator, either because of difficulty in proving the crime or because the perpetrator is seen as a respected or powerful member of society.
We had similar problems finding the best balance in combatting terrorism in Northern Ireland. Many victims were reluctant to report intimidation, protection rackets, punishment beatings and murder to the police, because they mistrusted the police or feared retaliation from terrorists. State responses such as internment of terrorists, and over-enthusiastic prosecutors, resulted in the internment and jailing of innocent people, causing more injustice and further mistrust of the state.
To combat sex crimes and maximise the provision of justice, we need better resources for victim support, better public education about the nature of sex crimes, and better laws and legal training to vindicate the rights of everybody involved. As with any area of crime, we need as many crimes as possible to be reported to the police, so that as many criminals as possible are brought to justice and as many innocent people as possible are cleared.
Now I will respond to your more specific opinions.
Firstly, you say that I clearly don’t understand how much rape hurts people. The only response I will give to that is that you don’t know what you are talking about.
Secondly, you say that I dismiss evidence of rape. Actually, I don’t dismiss evidence of rape. I take evidence of rape very seriously. I believe, as do rape crisis professionals such as RAINN, both that rape victims should get strong support from rape crisis professionals, and should make their own decisions about reporting to the police, and also that reporting evidence of rape to the police is the key to preventing sexual assault and is the most effective tool that exists to prevent future rapes. As a parallel, I also take evidence of murder very seriously, and I believe that evidence of murder should be reported to the police. Indeed, that is how to take seriously evidence of serious crimes.
Thirdly, you say that I have defended someone you strongly suspect is a rapist. Actually, I haven’t defended anybody. I have simply declined to publicly discuss the details of any specific allegation of rape, other than to repeat that I believe, as do rape crisis professionals such as RAINN, that reporting evidence of rape to the police is the key to preventing sexual assault and is the most effective tool that exists to prevent future rape. You may not agree with this fundamental principle of justice, and you may believe that your strong suspicions are more important than due process, but that way lies the type of vigilantism and casual defamation that civilised liberal democratic values are gradually moving us away from.
Fourthly, you say that I am defending people who happen (probably) to be rapists. This is an extension of your earlier opinion, to include multiple people who you say that I am defending who happen (probably) to be rapists. I don’t know what you mean by this. Who are these people? Please don’t tell me, please tell the police. How do you know that they happen (probably) to be rapists? How am I defending them? You also say that you don’t think I am defending rapists for raping. If so, how is my supposed defence of them related to them happening to be (probably) rapists?
To be honest, these personal smears are becoming tiresome at this stage, particularly when they are repeatedly made after any legitimate confusion has been clarified.
I am continuing to highlight them to protect the reputations of the many people being smeared, to provide a record of the harm caused by this pattern of behaviour, and to help bring about a more productive discourse based on reasoned criticism of ideas and mutual respect for people.
Latsot’s withdrawal and apology is a positive first step in trying to reverse the demonisation of some atheists by PZ Myers and others, which has resulted in increasingly serious allegations being casually made as if they were an acceptable part of normal discourse.
PZ has not withdrawn or apologised for introducing this particular smear about me, and he has failed five to times to substantiate his stated evidence for the smear, which is that some people comment on my blog who also post on another website. I again ask PZ to withdraw and apologise for this serious defamatory allegation.