D.J. Grothe threatening legal action against WTinc

Hug Me I'm vaccinated with adorable sloth

Earlier this year, I reluctantly resigned from my position as the president of Women Thinking, inc (formerly the Women Thinking Free Foundation, an organization focused on science and critical thinking outreach for women and women’s issues) for health and personal reasons. This weekend, and all of yesterday and into today, I’ve been back in touch with the board, offering support and advice, as they struggled to find a solution to a problem: D.J. Grothe is shitty at jokes.

A few weeks ago, Sasha Pixlee wrote a blog post at More Than Men, a diversity education project he and I launched together as part of WTinc, about a time he was at a party with D.J. and D.J. made a terrible joke about date rape (emphasis mine):

(the full story is cached here in case WTinc is forced to or chooses to remove it from the More Than Men blog.)

I’m embarrassed to say that at the time I was still a bit fame-struck and too shocked to really process it. I didn’t do what I should have done, and told him how rude, insulting, and unprofessional it was to say something like that, even while drunk. Even in a casual social setting. But then it got more bizarre and incredible. I’m a tall guy, chubby (fat, honestly) and bearded. If I were gay I would definitely be a bear. This was discussed and DJ then made an hilarious horrendous “joke” about how I should pay him a visit down in Los Angeles so that he could drug me and let some of his friends have some fun with me. You know, in other words so that I could be gang raped.

I never felt like he was serious when he made that joke about having me raped. I never felt like I was in actual danger. I am a straight cis man. I’m not as likely to have to worry about those things as someone else.

 

The Women Thinking partnered up with the JREF in December of 2010 to do a vaccine outreach research survey as part of the Hug Me, I’m Vaccinated campaign. Since we were and are a small organization without the resources to take on such a project, we asked the JREF to fund it. They agreed, and gave us ~$5,000 to travel and conduct surveys around the country and for that, they would publish and promote the research for us. Now, almost three years later the survey is finished. The report is complete thanks to a tireless effort by the WTinc board, especially Jamie Bernstein. The report has been delivered to the JREF and reviewed by experts. Today, it is essentially ready to be published, and has been for over a year. But right now, Grothe is using a blog post about being bad at jokes as a reason to hold up publishing this work that we were planning on using to save lives.

From an email sent to the WTinc board (edit: A commenter was unclear where this email originated. It was sent to the WTinc board by now-former WTinc board member Matt Lowry and was drafted by both Lowry and Grothe together):

DJ’s concern, beyond his public reputation related to these blogged allegations that he flatly denies, is that he may receive pushback from various people supportive of JREF if he tries to work with us in good faith to finish up the vaccine project given what he sees as the harmful nature of Sasha’s allegations. He also mentioned various discussions about possibly taking action (legal or otherwise) against Sasha or WT, Inc. for defamation. (He said that his longtime partner Thomas was at the party, and that other disinterested parties were there too, and are willing to witness that such threats or comments were never made, and that there is concern that such potentially “actionable” and “defamatory” blog posts on one of our websites could be demonstrably harmful to DJ and Thomas during their adoption process that they are beginning. He also believes there is a demonstrable history of Sasha showing ill will towards him, which would show a “pattern of malice”).

 

Grothe doesn’t like that someone said something bad about him on the internet. And he’s shaking down a small organization that he knows cannot afford to defend themselves against a baseless lawsuit thrown at them by a man who thinks that being bad at jokes is going to stop him from ever becoming a parent and will stand in the way of him running the world renowned nonprofit organization that he’s already in charge of.

Because of Grothe’s threats, the past few days have been emotionally wrought for everyone. They’re scared. They’re angry. And they want this project they’ve been working on for almost three years to be published. They also want to stand firm to their commitment to feminism and the More Than Men Project. And right now, thanks to Grothe’s bullying, two of the four board members have resigned. The More Than Men Project has offered to leave WTinc to save them the hassle, but are worried about it looking like a less than amicable split.

It’s a mess. And I’m heartbroken to watch this happen to the organization I founded and resigned from out of love. I’m tired of higher ups in this movement using heavy hands and legal threats to shut down conversations about harassment and assault. I’m tired of being told that if I don’t like how things are happening in the movement to step up and change them, then getting shut down because I’m trying to change them. I’m tired of people being tired of “the drama.” “The drama” is tearing apart small organizations because your Big Deal Vatican of Skepticism organization doesn’t like everything the smaller organizations are doing.

And right now, the remaining board members are terrified of this going public because of what Grothe might do.

He can do 2 things:

1. Publish the research and stop threatening WTinc with legal action because he doesn’t like that someone said he’s bad at jokes.

2. Don’t publish the research and explain to JREF donors why he paid us $5,000 for a project that was completed but never delivered because he’s bad at jokes.

 

Or, you know, just get better at rape jokes.

 

(Edit: some of the language I originally used in this article gave the impression that this was a rigorous scientific study. This was inadvertent and I’ve edited it to reflect that this is market research, not scientific research.)

Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

62 Comments

  1. DJ had already limboed his reputation to the ground before I read the article written by Sasha. I didn’t think I could dislike the man more….but I do. hang in there Elyse and Sasha.

  2. It’s so frustrating that actual good work in skepticism is being held hostage because of DJ Grothe’s petty anger at being called out. He should be ashamed, and the JREF should have a good long think about what he’s doing to their reputation.

    • THIS. In so many ways this. I would have hoped that saving lives was more important than on man’s ego, but I guess I was wrong, wrong, wrong. Hoped, but sadly far off from what I expected, which is more ego-fueled bullshit.

    • JREF has a reputation left?

      I want to support Amy’s latest project for the Boulder Science Festival, but I’m afraid if I do that, they’ll go down the tubes like CSI and JREF have. But there are loads of worthy organizations, I’m sure.

      It must be far more frustrating for people like Elyse, Jamie and Amy who have given time and effort, blood, toil, tears and sweat (to steal a phrase from my favorite reactionary racist.)

      • Phil Plait and his wife are in charge of the Boulder Science Fest. It’s a friendly Mom and Pop, “we love science” project. No need to worry about corruption. Unless… Phil gets bit by an mysterious radioactive spider while hiking in the hills of Colorado and then becomes a super-powered, evil-spider-man-overlord of the universe who slings comets and destroys small planets and rogue civilizations who refuse to bend to his will. Excuse me, I have to go make a comic book now…

        • So it’s quite likely, then?

        • I would read that.

        • I think that even if Phil Plait became Evil-Spider-Man-Overlord of the Universe who slings comets and destroys small planets and small rogue civilizations whom refuse to bend to his will, he probably won’t make rape jokes.

        • I would read this comic book so much.

        • Can we do a Kickstarter for this comic? Please? I would like to read this.

      • I’ve known Phil Plait for eight years now, and I’ve seen him at his worst. His worst is most other people’s normal day.

  3. Wow, not being skeptical people! Why are we assuming Pixlee is remembering the conversation correctly and DJ isn’t? Supposedly, DJ has witnesses that contradict Pixlee’s story, so could he be remembering more accurately? Could DJ be correct and innocent? Could Pixlee have malice toward Groethe? Was this recorded? False memories work against both Pixlee and Groethe, but we assume Pixlee is correct because….he is part of an organization you founded? Maybe? Just a little? False memories have been subjects of SBU’s podcasts and are a known phenomena, so unless there is a recording, I have to side with DJ if he can present witnesses, not because it makes it true, but the weight of the argument will have to lie with testimony, not facts unfortunately. As far as holding up printing the research, yeah if they promised to do that, they should do it. That is a separate issue.

    • This has nothing to do with whether or not Pixlee is remembering his story accurately.

      • I disagree. What if DJ is absolutely correct on every count? Should he sue for defamation of character? He can sue all he wants, that is not for me to say, it is for the court system to decide what is true after he files. DJ is saying it didn’t happen, why are we automatically assuming he is lying, or not remembering correctly? As for the publishing issue, that is separate. DJ is mixing them up, but what was the agreement? If you have something in writing, courts love that. Breach of contract is an easy win usually, but this sounds like the JREF can do whatever they want with it, since they funded it, but again I don’t know what the agreement said. If I just funded something, then one of its leading members said something really crappy about me that I don’t ever remember happening, I might be reticent to publish something that gives them publicity also. I get that it will hopefully “save lives”, although I am taking this as true, but important life lesson, say your crappy things about people AFTER, they did what you wanted them to do, not before, whether its true or not.

        • “I disagree.” Of course you do. Like all jackass skeptics, that’s how you get attention.

        • “say your crappy things about people AFTER, they did what you wanted them to do, not before, whether its true or not”

          This is such bullshit. This is how chilling effects work. Don’t point out the rape threat while someone could fuck over your project. Don’t point out the company’s wrongdoing while they could sue you. Keep your mouth shut or you’ll get in trouble. Fuck that. FUCK that.

        • What if DJ is absolutely correct on every count?

          Yeah… I wouldn’t put much money on that horse.

          • I keep forgetting using blockquote in this comments sections screws it up. Sorry.

          • “Yeah… I wouldn’t put much money on that horse.”

            (Reply to Vexorian’s next comment about block quotes, because it’s hit the Reply depth limit…)

            Block quotes in Firefox only seem to have problems if they are the very first thing in a comment. They seem to work fine in Safari. I don’t know about other browsers. I think it is a Firefox problem because I dumped out the source HTML and it looked okay to me, though I am very far from an expert.

            As an experiment, I put a blank line at the top of this comment followed by a block quote from Vexorian. If I can see it when I post this, then we might have a work-around.

          • There is a post-meta class div above div contents. It has a float:right CSS property . It seems to cause the bug. Removing that property, makes blockquotes stop being an issue in firefox.

          • Ok, what really fixes the issue is to add a clear:both CSS property to the blockquote class. .comment-text blockquote { clear: both; }
            The following Stylish style fixes it:
            @namespace url(http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml);

            @-moz-document domain(“skepchick.org”) {
            .comment-text blockquote { clear: both !important; }

            }

    • Even if Sasha was wrong, what does that have to do with DJ holding up a study that was completed a year ago? Sasha’s story was posted very recently, so DJ’s been holding it up since before then. Why is he doing that, and why aren’t you focusing on that being the real issue here?

    • Are you suggesting that a hypnotherapist made Sasha remember something that never happened? Or are you referring to some other sort of false memory?
      As to why we believe Pixlee over Grothe, it all comes down to previous behavior. Read around, DJ’s stinks.

    • “As far as holding up printing the research, yeah if they promised to do that, they should do it. That is a separate issue.” It’s the issue the OP is about. I can tell you’ve read it, but not entirely sure you understood it.

    • You seem to be suggesting that withholding funds and support for an entirely unrelated project that could save some lives is a reasonable response to believing that Sasha Pixlee is lying or mistaken about DJ Grothe’s sexual harassment of him.

      That makes you either stupid or maliciously evil.

      • I am neither stupid nor malicious. If there was a contract to print the research and Groethe is not honoring it, that is an issue and he should publish it or face the consequences. If Groethe feels like he was slandered by Pixlee, he has every right to pursue legal action Anyone who says they believe Pixlee over Groethe, but wasn’t there to record it or witness it, has no weight with me. When I said it is a separate issue, I meant that Groethe is mixing the two up. Whether he has legal recourse to do that, I have no idea, I don’t know what the contract or agreement said. I suppose he may have legal recourse to back out if he felt he was being slandered, but I find it unlikely. As far as witnesses at a party, that’s all you’ve got. Hearsay evidence sucks, but if he brought forth 5 people who said Pixlee’s version of the story never happened and Pixlee couldn’t bring forth anyone to corroborate his story, would you still believe Pixlee? And, in a court of law, Groethe could show a pattern of maliciousness, would you still believe Pixlee? I am just saying that on the face of it, Groethe should publish if there was an agreement without any extenuating circumstances, and if he feels like he is being slandered, he has the right to sue. Just putting that out there, stay skeptical.

        • As has been pointed out already, proving that it was never said it hangs solely on Grothe’s word. The people at the party (do you really think his husband wouldn’t back him up?) did not hear everything he said that night so it simply comes back to who do you trust more.

          For me DJ has little credibility left and if he feels he could win a libel suit I would suggest he sue. I highly doubt he will, this is simply an attempt on Grothe’s part to stop that mean old internet from talking about him before someone important starts to believe he really is as callous as they say he is.

          He likes to use innuendo and finger-pointing to shift blame, just ask him who caused female attendance to wane at TAM? Hint, not Grothe or anything he did or didn’t do.

          • Proving it was said hangs on Pixlee’s word, there is no difference in my opinion.

          • Which is why I said it is then about credibility. You aren’t following very well.

        • “…Groethe could show a pattern of maliciousness…” You owe me a new irony meter.

        • If there was a contract to print the research and Groethe is not honoring it, that is an issue and he should publish it or face the consequences. If Groethe feels like he was slandered by Pixlee, he has every right to pursue legal action

          Indeed. And, if you buy into Grothe’s delusion that drawing a connection between these two things is reasonable, you are either stupid or evil.

    • “DJ has witnesses that contradict Pixlee’s story”

      I guess you’ve never been to a party. To believe for one second that DJ’s ‘witnesses’ were standing within earshot the entire time, is just plain stupid. Sasha saying what he heard is much more believable than DJ saying his husband and friends did not hear it.

  4. Correction, SGU (above), not the Skeptics Boyband to the Universe.

  5. I’m exhausted of feeling like I have to choose this side or that (and being pounced on if I do or don’t quickly and resolutely enough, or give the wrong side the benefit of the doubt for too long). I am quite simply not close enough to any of these kerfuffles to presume to. Of course DJ feels attacked and wants security for his family. Of course WT wants the research published and feels harassed by the threat of a lawsuit. A bunch of hurt, well-intentioned people doing their best with the brains, bodies, and circumstances they’ve got – and both sides stuck in retaliation mode due to the hurt.

    • Security for his family? Not seeing how DJ’s family’s security comes into play at all.

    • I don’t know if DJ made the terrible joke or not, but I just don’t see how DJ’s family would be more secure by not publishing the report or how is threatening legal action against WTinc makes any sense as opposed to going just after the individual.

    • I never seen any evidence DJ is “well-intentioned” about anything, but I’ve seen a lot of evidence that he’s not at all well-intentioned when it comes to issues of harassment and women’s rights. He’s made it very easy for me to choose sides, and that’s without even considering Sasha’s experience with him.

  6. I have completely stopped visiting the JREF site and have been for well over a year now. I very much admire James Randi for everything he has done for the movement, but am terribly disappointed at what his organization has become. Which saddens me something terrible. The JREF helped cement the ideas that I had already started to feel about the physical world and also exposed me to the whole world of skeptical organizations.

    • Ditto. This site simply would not exist were it not for Randi. I wonder sometimes if this sort of irony pains DJ.

  7. Does the study have to published through JREF? Could it just be published somewhere else, preferably Open Access, with just a thank for the JREF money in the acknowledgments?

    • No. The JREF has to publish it. Or WTinc has to give them their money back.

    • The original contract is vague on this point. It states that JREF is responsible for publication and promotion. It doesn’t say what to do if the JREF refuses to do so. In the past, DJ has used any vagueness in the original contract to twist to his own ends (for example to cut funding partway from the original $10,000 that was promised), so it’s understandable why the current board members of WT would be worried about publishing on their own.

      By the way, I am no longer a board member with WT so none of this is an official statement from WT.

  8. Mr. Grothe I’d like you meet Ms. Streisand, she has an interesting effect she’d like to talk to you about.

  9. DJ Grothe is the man I hold second-most personally responsible for my loss of respect for James Randi. The fact that Randi “condones” in any way Grothe’s well-documented support of lies, petty childish vindictiveness, and online harassment against his perceived “enemies” tarnishes Randi’s reputation more than Uri Geller, Sylvia Browne, or Stanislaw Burzynski combined could in their wildest dreams.

  10. Hey, remember when skeptics agreed that using libel suits to shut down criticism & commentary was a bad thing? Simon Singh, British Chiropractic Association, ringing any bells? No? Maybe it’s a false memory, then.

    • Not to mention Uri Geller suing Randi and CSICOP.

      (BTW, if you are hyperskeptical of Wikipedia, follow the links in that article.)

  11. And to think that Grothe is speaking on secular ethics at the Midwest Philosophy Colloquium. How rich. How offensive.

    • Wouldn’t it be delicious if, during the Q&A portion of his talk, someone asked him about the ethics of withholding publication of potentially life-saving vaccination research because of a petty personal disagreement about an offensive joke?

  12. IANAL, but this is BS.

    If DJ doesn’t want to publish the results, because he is having a hissy fit, publish them and then let JREF publish them later too, if JREF wants to. What is important is getting them published.

    What “damages” to DJ has this story caused? No one thought it was a serious threat, it was obviously a bad joke in poor taste that was said to cause distress of a sexual nature. It was sexual harassment, but without a legally protected relationship between the parties,DJ’s sexual harassment isn’t legally actionable.

    It isn’t like DJ had a pristine and pure reputation about bad sexual jokes before this, so what “damage” does a story about a bad sexual joke (if it is maliciously false and known to be false?) have on his reputation?

    Sexual harassment is a big deal in the skeptical community now, so any lawsuit about it will be seen as a SLAPP lawsuit and Popehat would very likely find pro bono legal representation.

    Give JREF a deadline, that if the results are not scheduled to be published, they will be published elsewhere, under an open access model so JREF can publish them too.

  13. If he’s holding up publishing the paper then it tells me he doesn’t care about the findings. Why the head of a skeptic organization wouldn’t care about the anti vax movement just baffles me. He should be chomping at the bit to get this info out there, not using it to pursue personal vendettas As much as I respect James Randi and everything he’s done for the skeptic movement (he and Carl Sagan are the reasons I’m a skeptic), the JREF has done nothing but disappoint me the more I learn about it and those involved.

    @Rebecca. Yep, Phil Plait is currently a shining light of goodness in the dark void of jerks, sexists, and objectivists currently infesting both the skeptical and atheist movements. But, it wasn’t that long ago when The Bad Astronomer blog had a “I can’t believe how anybody could be so stupid as to not know this” tone that I found pretty off putting. He also had a tendency to demonstrate how fans of speculative fiction can be some of the most pedantic and annoying people in literature (No, that movie about space sorcerers didn’t get the science right. Get over it). Of course, he’s admitted to his own failings and has worked hard to improve, which is more than I can say for a lot of the skeptical leadership.

  14. Who wrote the email that’s being quoted above? It’s not in lawyerese or from DJ. Who is it?

    • If you’re asking who *sent* the email, it was sent by now-former board member Matt Lowry.

      If you’re asking who *wrote* the email, it was written by Matt and DJ together.

  15. Cool. Thanks.

    • NP. Thanks for pointing out the lack of clarity. I edited to reflect that.

      • Elyse, sorry, still confused. Matt Lowry resigned from which board? (And I’m not clear if Matt’s resignation was related to the issues in this post. If he wants to keep that private, that’s fine.) Part of the confusion is that if Matt and DJ composed that email together, that implies collaboration, so I can’t figure it out.

        • Lowry was a member of the WTinc board. He and DJ composed the email together to ensure Lowry accurately communicated DJ’s concerns.

          • It’s been awhile since I regularly followed Matt’s blog, but what I’ve seen from him on Facebook has generally been pretty positive with respect to the anti-harassment fight and whatnot. I hope he’s just being a messenger here, because I’d really hate to lose respect for yet another skeptic guy I admired–and one of the few I’ve actually met and talked with in person.

          • Thanks, Elyse. I’ve seen Matt speak twice at TAM and have also spoken briefly with him in person. He seemed awesome, so I’m relieved.

  16. I just read the comment that DJ professes to be worried that JREF supporters will freak out about if he cooperates with WTinc on the vaccine project (which JREF has already spent $5k) because of this story about a bad rape joke from someone who was drunk while DJ was drunk from years ago.

    All I can say is WTF?

    If DJ’s reputation and credibility in JREF is so vulnerable, and the continued viability of JREF is so contingent on DJ’s reputation not being “damaged” by a story that he told a bad rape joke while drunk to someone else who was drunk (and which was still recognized as a bad joke at the time), and that DJ must show such disapproval of the offending person and organization the person is associated with (WTinc), so as to destroy the organization (WTinc), then JREF has serious managerial problems, and likely does not have long-term viability as an organization.

    My suggestion is for WTinc to consider going out of business. That is why corporations are incorporated, so as to limit liability to the corporation and not to the shareholders. IANAL, but an organization held hostage under a death threat from DJ may be too limited in what it can do to remain a viable organization. Take it through bankruptcy (I have no idea what assets/debts it has, likely little of either) and start up a new organization. The major “asset” may be the data collected on the vaccine project. It would be bad for anti-vaccine group to buy up that data, and quashing it, so structuring it the right way and maybe publishing it first is how to do it. Dividing it into “raw data”, “analyzed data”, and “publishable report”. “Good will” of the employees is probably one of the big assets, but that is only worth something if the employees are made happy.

    If WTinc no longer exists, then it can’t be a target of a lawsuit. That doesn’t protect Pixlee, but I have a very hard time believing that DJ would ever sue him over this story, and that any such lawsuit would produce any damages. A lawsuit and trial would be worse for DJ’s reputation than leaving this obscure blog post about a bad joke between two drunks at a drunken party. I have a very hard time believing that any lawyer would take DJ’s case on contingency, where pro bono defense for Pixlee is probably easy to get.

  17. Now the part I’m confused about is DJ’s threats to sue over “’defamatory’ blog posts on one of our websites [that] could be demonstrably harmful to DJ and Thomas during their adoption process.” This coming from a guy who:
    1. On a post where Rebecca criticized Lawrence Krauss’ defense of a billionaire who got a slap on the wrist for raping underage girls, DJ was motivated to comment that he thought the age of consent should be lowered.
    2. Failed to ban from TAM a guy who Twitter-threatened to assault Rebecca at the last TAM in which she spoke.
    3. Defended a guy who threatened to kick Greta Christina in the cunt.
    4. Described a woman’s account of being raped at a conference as her “recounting sexual exploits.”
    I came up with these in about a minute. There are tons more. Could DJ sue himself for defamation?

    • That’s a decent list, but hardly a greatest hits for DJ Grothe. He also:
      5. Lied about there being no reports of harassment at TAM (especially galling now that we know this was after he knew about Ben Radford assaulting Karen Stollznow and handled the harassment of Ashley Paramore)
      6. Gaslighted Ashley Miller regarding her TAM harassment report
      7. Ignored and dismissed Karen Stollznow’s reports of harassment, apparently siding with Radford
      8. Dismissed the backchannel reports about Michael Shermer as “distasteful locker room banter”
      9. Had the gall to blame Rebecca Watson and other “controversialist bloggers” for causing the decline in female attendance at TAM
      10. Recently promoted that video that effectively called a rape victim stupid and irresponsible, while dismissing the recent spate of harassment and assault complaints as sex-negativity by “scolds” with “distemper.”

Add Comment Register



Leave a Reply