Overview:

AAI released a 28-page Disclosure Document recently.

It's 28 pages of laughs and lies.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The AAI Files, Part Three

The main function of a rodeo clown is to protect a fallen rider from attack by distracting the bull and providing an alternative target. Some days, you’re the rider. Some days, you’re the rodeo clown. And some days, you’re the bull.

My intention was to write articles chronicling the slide into irrelevance of the only international atheist organisation with consultative status at the UN, Atheist Alliance International (AAI). I’m beginning to wonder if the constant, rolling omnishambles is a deliberate tactic to distract critics.

A few days ago, AAI published a 28-page “Disclosure Document” and made it available to a select few. This document is the result of an in-house investigation into the many accusations levelled at AAI ever since a few officers held an improper AGM in 2018. The document was immediately available everywhere because AAI is leakier than a chocolate teapot.

In the cover letter of the disclosure document, AAI Secretary, Bill Flavell, furtively admits that “errors have been made” in the passive voice. It’s as if they magically appeared, like the weather, committed by no one. The document goes on to blithely condone and defend what an Australian critic referred to as a series of “misunderstandings of bylaws & legal responsibilities”.

None of the this addresses the litany of spin and deception in the document. Is anyone surprised that after “the board conducted a thorough investigation” into itself, the board concluded that the board is blameless? Let’s instead look at every time an AAI officer committed to such an investigation.

A history of broken promises

The first suggestion of a possible investigation into the ridiculous 2018 AGM came from an official unofficial blog post by Jason Sylvester in April, 2021. He described himself as a “blog manager” at the time and is currently “Director (AAI Blogging & Podcasts)”. As manager of the AAI Facebook page, Sylvester is also in charge of addressing public criticism. Most recently, he deleted links to a fundraiser for one of their affiliate members.

In that post, Sylvester undertakes “to investigate it properly… with the objective and neutral approach that such a serious allegation requires…”. He then promises to report the findings “directly to Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland” for unclear reasons.

Repeatedly, various AAI officers have acknowledged the need for an independent investigation.

In May, 2021, AAI Secretary and Treasurer, Fotis Frangopoulos made no mention of any investigation in an offer to “put things right” in a letter to ex-affiliates. However, that letter did confirm what we already knew. The 2017 board intentionally changed the by-laws to suspend AGMs. This directly contradicts the earlier claim by Flavell that it was “an oversight”.

In June, 2021, then-president, David Orenstein suggested “an independent inquiry, not of AAI-board-selected people to do an independent inquiry… and then to come up with recommendations…”.

He confirmed this in private correspondence with me: “I have recommended that the board hire an unaffiliated company… to review board governance and leadership issues.” Orenstein resigned a few days afterwards. The prospects of that investigation resigned with him.

Also in June, 2021, Nina Sankari, who took over as acting president of AAI after Orenstein, posted a Facebook comment. “Public accusations need public answers,” it read in part. “I hope it will be done and published shortly.” Sankari resigned a few days after making that statement. The prospects of that investigation also resigned with her.

Things that did not happen

In September, 2022, seventeen months after it was initially announced, another Australian critic pressed Sylvester for a progress report on his promised investigation. Sylvester again curiously claimed that he “reported” to Nugent and “to him alone”. Nugent later tweeted that “this did not happen”.

Repeatedly, various AAI officers have acknowledged the need for an independent investigation into the circumstances of the ridiculous 2018 AGM. Including this latest secret, sad, self-serving essay, none of them managed to actually conduct one. 

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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...