Their 15 Jan EGM was supposed to clear the air at AAI and identify a path forward.

In fact it significantly reduced the air quality and failed to resolve anything.

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As expected, the Atheist Alliance International (AAI) Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) on January 15 was a self-serving, mutual-back-slapping, rigged gibberish parade. At least, most of it was.

The ostensible purpose of the EGM was to decide a roadmap to correct admitted past mistakes, including a lack of transparency. Naturally, they held the EGM in camera.

The “facilitator” of this chaotic mess was Advisory Board member, Lawrence Krauss. Krauss was once a leading light of atheist public discourse. He’s been much quieter since multiple women made credible allegations of sexual harassment against him. He also publicly defended Jeffrey Epstein.

Things I’ve never seen at an EGM

I challenge any OnlySky reader with experience of EGMs to comment if they have seen any of these things.

  • At the start of the meeting, four “voting managers” were introduced who took two minutes each to gush freely about how amazing AAI is. All of these people materially benefited from AAI fundraising campaigns.
  • Delegates were often unsure of what the motions were.
  • Delegates were interrupting votes with amendments to motions. Delegates were voting on one motion while other delegates were shouting amendments to previous amendments to that motion. Accordingly, the wording of some motions was edited on the fly.
  • At least one delegate abstained from a number of votes for the stated reason that he did not understand what he was voting on.
  • Krauss repeatedly allowed observers with no speaking rights to contribute to discussions and delegates made many unchallenged accusations.
  • The fifth motion, “Business as Usual” was essentially a motion to agree that AAI are amazing and they should continue to be amazing. I planned a satirical tweet that one motion would be “that the board agree the board is amazing and no one should question the board”. Reality made that plan redundant.

Krauss deferred that motion to the next AGM. He sensibly deferred most of the subsequent motions to the next AGM. It would have been more sensible to concentrate on the emergency motion which an EGM requires under the bylaws. One attendee twice asked the board to specify that emergency motion. No one answered.

After several hours of confusion, the main business was concluded. Krauss moved the meeting onto “Any Other Business”. This is when things took a dark turn.

The Preston Question

During the brief window when observers were allowed to contribute, individual member Preston Jensen proposed a motion that the board continue to answer his questions. This led to the kind of hysterical reactions normally reserved for escaped tigers.

For AAI, it seems the biggest killer of atheists worldwide is accountability.

In December, Jensen sent a list of questions to AAI. Questions were solicited by the famous Disclosure Document. The document stated it “was not about avoiding criticisms” but “openly facing up to them” in “the spirit of full disclosure”. The questions are mostly basic administration queries. He received no reply or even an acknowledgment at any point.

The motion to answer Jensen’s questions was proposed by Kareem Muhssin of the Alliance of Former Muslims. He felt that it would look bad if a meeting called to address transparency issues refused to answer some very simple questions.

Meredith Doig, president of the Rationalist Society of Australia, voted against the motion. She felt that answering Jensen’s questions would only lead to “ever more detailed questions”. Doig claims to be an expert on corporate governance.

Conspiracy theories

There were many dark implications that spending time addressing transparency issues would mean atheists in trouble would die. Celine Cohen of Ateizm Dernegi claimed that time spent on answering questions “is enough for the Islamic Republic to execute maybe hundreds of atheists”. For AAI, it seems the biggest killer of atheists worldwide is accountability.

The people who were against answering questions appeared to believe that all AAI critics are working together. They think we gather together in dark rooms and share notes. However, most of the critics are working entirely independently. They criticize AAI for different reasons and most of them want to fix it, not destroy it. In fact, many of them only became aware of each other after they published criticisms.

In July 2021, Greek Helsinki Monitor Panayote Dimitras wrote a scathing review of their democratic procedures. Latin American director Shirley Rivera disaffiliated all Latin American delegates citing a lack of “transparency and democracy” in May 2022. They are still listed as affiliates on the AAI website. Former AAI president Nina Sankari resigned citing the “disastrous legal situation”. Advisory board member Kate Smurthwaite resigned citing lack of engagement. Another advisory board member, Mohanty Pranav, resigned because of “extremely serious” wrongdoings. Advisory board member David Madison resigned but they refused to take his name off the website. And so on.

They have learned nothing from their historic security issues.

Of course it benefits AAI to promote the fiction that they are the victim of a massive conspiracy theory. The reality is much less dramatic. Soon afterward, questions were raised about the true identity of Preston Jenson.

Tonoy Emroz Alam claimed that he knew Jensen’s secret identity because he had seen his membership payment. Alam is the AAI Regional Director for Asia and has nothing to do with the membership finance of AAI. It seems they have learned nothing from their historic security issues. Once you give your bank details to AAI, it’s open season.

Other delegates suggested that Jensen might be ex-secretary of AAI, John Hamill. A “voting manager” with no speaking rights then loudly claimed that Jensen was the current chairman of Atheist Ireland, Michael Nugent.

Michael Nugent

Several parts of the Disclosure Document cite Michael Nugent, chairperson of Atheist Ireland. Nugent said in 2017 that AAI was “in crisis, with a frankly catastrophic loss of Members”. Nugent explained at length on his own blog how the document misattributed his quote. AAI Secretary Bill Flavell knew this in June 2022 but the board continued to promulgate the misleading quote. The board may have been hoping to sway affiliates who value Nugent’s opinion.

During the EGM, the “voting manager” quoted Nugent as saying “I’ll be OK when AAI collapses”.  He took this as evidence of Nugent’s ill-intent towards the organisation. In fact, it was nothing more than a joke about soya beans. It’s impossible to read the tweet without seeing the context. 

AAI Advisory Board member Onur Romano openly called Nugent a “troll” during this discussion. He also referred to “deplatforming and cancel culture efforts led by Michael Nugent and [Freedom from Religion Foundation] FFRF”. This refers to an no confidence vote in Romano when he was AAI President in 2016.

Romano was posting indecorous material under the AAI banner on his Facebook page. This includes an N-word and many sexually explicit posts. Nugent and the FFRF specifically invited him to a meeting to discuss these issues.

This is of course the exact opposite of “deplatforming”. In probably unrelated news, AAI fired Michael Sherlock in 2020. He had used the word “r——d” in a tweet describing religion.

The gloves are off.

Why Michael Nugent? For one thing, AI qualified for UN consultative status last month. This will surely unsettle AAI. They used to be the only atheist organization with consultative status at the UN. Last year, AAI lost participatory status at the Council of Europe and their UN status is looking increasingly shaky.

This status was the only thing separating them from being a fundraiser. AI have already demonstrated a willingness and ability to represent atheist interests internationally in a way that AAI have not. Just this week AI made a presentation to the UN on the rights of the child. AAI have made no submissions of any kind to the UN for many months.

The gloves are off. Expect more AAI attacks on the only atheist organization with consultative status at the UN who are actually doing something with it.

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Barry Purcell lives in Ireland and writes about religion, philosophy, psychology, politics and language for a variety of paper and online publications. He has been involved in campaigns to counteract the...