Earlier this week, I received a cryptic email from American Atheists that said president David Silverman had been suspended due to some sort of misconduct. Yesterday, BuzzFeed published a report that stated Silverman’s “misconduct” was sexual assault. Silverman has since been fired by American Atheists.
Peter Aldhous, a reporter for BuzzFeed News, writes:
David Silverman, a firebrand atheist with a knack for generating publicity for his cause, has been abruptly fired as president of American Atheists, one of the leading secular organizations in the US.
The group’s board held an emergency meeting Thursday evening and unanimously voted to fire 51-year-old Silverman, based on explosive written allegations of sexual assault and undisclosed conflicts of interest, BuzzFeed News has learned.
“Last night, the American Atheists Board of Directors voted to terminate David Silverman as President of American Atheists,” the group said in a statement released Friday. The board made its decision after reviewing “allegations raised regarding Mr. Silverman’s conduct,” the statement said. The board also said it intends to cooperate with any future investigations.
In a brief statement to BuzzFeed News, Silverman’s lawyer, Sebastian Ionno, said that “Mr. Silverman denies any wrong doing and has never had a non-consensual sexual encounter.” At the time of the alleged incidents, he added, Silverman and his wife were in an open marriage.
On Tuesday, American Atheists placed Silverman on paid leave while it investigated a complaint from staff concerned that he had not disclosed financial and personal conflicts of interest relating to the promotion of his book, Fighting God: An Atheist Manifesto for a Religious World, and the appointment to a senior position of a woman with whom Silverman was allegedly having a sexual relationship. (That appointment has been rescinded.)
After word spread about the investigation, American Atheists received additional written complaints about two allegations of sexual misconduct involving Silverman.
Like many other communities in the #MeToo era, the atheist movement is undergoing a reckoning over the treatment of women in its ranks. In February, BuzzFeed News exposed allegations of sexual harassment against another prominent atheist, the physicist Lawrence Krauss. In the wake of that story, two women told BuzzFeed News that they were assaulted by Silverman. They each filed written complaints to American Atheists this week.
In one of those complaints, a woman described a hotel room party held at the end of the 2015 American Atheists Convention in Memphis. She used her name in the confidential complaint, but because of concerns about hostility experienced by other women who have made allegations of sexual misconduct against prominent atheists, she asked BuzzFeed News to use her first initial, R.
She and Silverman had known each other for years, and he flirted with her throughout the evening, she wrote in the complaint. After the other guests left, R. wrote that Silverman asked her to join him in smoking marijuana on the roof. But before they left the room, he suddenly forced himself on her.
“He physically pressed me to the wall and began to kiss me forcefully, grabbed my breasts, and put his hand into my leggings where there was actual penetration of my vagina,” she wrote.
R. believed Silverman knew she was interested in BDSM and wrote that he began using insulting language, calling her a “dirty little whore.” He then pushed her to her knees, “where his penis briefly made contact with my mouth,” she wrote.
R. got her feet and said “no,” she wrote. Silverman then lightly slapped her face and said, “You don’t get to say no to me.”
At that point, R. said the widely used BDSM safe word, “red,” which stopped him, and then she left. The next day, R. took photographs of bruises where she said Silverman had grasped her, and these pictures were included in her complaint to American Atheists.
Two prominent atheists confirmed to BuzzFeed News that R. told them about the incident in the days after it happened.
You can read the entire story here.