Security Update

My name is Dave Muscato; I am the Public Relations Director for American Atheists. I am at the Skepticon conference in Springfield, MO, although I am attending on my own “off-duty” this weekend and not in a working capacity for American Atheists.

 

Early Saturday morning, there was a security incident and I would like to clear up any misconceptions, explain where things stand, and tell you how Skepticon has resolved the situation.

 

About 4 AM on Saturday morning, another attendee of the conference made a graphic and direct verbal death threat to me while brandishing a semi-automatic pistol, which this person claimed was loaded. The incident occurred on E St Louis Street outside, away from conference property and neither in the conference hotel nor in the expo center. I was with a small group of people who were able to distract this person with conversation and diffuse things until we were able to return to the University Plaza hotel, where the person went to his room. I reported the incident immediately to hotel security and the Springfield police, and made statements on the record about what happened.

 

Skepticon organizers have been fully informed of all details of the incident, and all organizers and volunteers, as well as police and hotel security, have this person’s name and photograph. This person has agreed to leave the hotel and not return to Skepticon this year or in future years.

 

Skepticon organizers have been overwhelmingly supportive and competent. I was offered a security escort, which I appreciated, but felt was unnecessary and declined.

 

I still feel safe at Skepticon. I have been coming to Skepticon for four years now and intend to continue to donate and to return to Springfield for Skepticon 7.

 

I am not going to name the person involved in this incident at this time. Skepticon organizers and American Atheists have this person’s name and information. I will let them decide how to handle informing other event organizers about this situation.

 

What happens next depends on what American Atheists’ in-house counsel and the Springfield Police Department advise.

 

I would prefer not to discuss this incident further. I am OK. I thank everyone for their concern. I am extremely impressed and flattered with the outpouring of support from Skepticon organizers, other attendees, and speakers, as well as the support from the atheist community online.

 

I am here the rest of today but if I miss you, I will see you next year for Skepticon 7!

 

Sincerely,

Dave

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18 Comments

  1. I didn’t even know it was handled so well. I am glad you’re ok.

    Reply
  2. You should not protect anyone who makes death threats.

    Reply
    • You should not tell other people how to respond to threats.

      Hotel security and local law enforcement were notified and the incident is on record. The person is known, just not to you.

      Reply
    • Dale: I find it likely that you don’t know enough details about the case to give useful advice here. Supportive comments are a better idea.

      Dave: I’m so glad no one was hurt. That kind of fear is something no one should ever, ever have to experience. I am very disturbed by this. Let me know if I can do anything to help or entertain you while I’m here!

      Reply
      • Robby, it is fairly certain that violence, unattended always escalates. A person brandishing a lethal weapon is clearly capable of going beyond that action. Reporting that behavior to others more experienced in responding is a wise decision.

        Reply
    • How is he protecting the person? He turned it over to the authorities and gave a full statement. It was handled. If more people behaved with such forethought and class, our society would be much better for it. It was 4:00 AM and not at the conference, so it’s not everyone’s business to jump in and take sides like it’s a Jerry Springer show. He made a wise choice to stay out of it and let the organizations and the police handle it. Only they know what the real circumstances were. Every incident in our lives doesn’t need to be raked through social media. It was not only a wise choice personally, but especially professionally. Dave showed some real intelligence and character.

      Reply
  3. I agree; this incident was handled very well. However, the US is supposed to be a free country – that person had NO right to attack you, verbally or otherwise. I hope that the consequences that happen are what he deserves. Thank goodness you are safe, but please ALWAYS be careful!!

    Reply
  4. Holy, ever-loving crapfest. That’s scary as hell.

    I hope that this person’s name is eventually publicized. The idea that such a person might attend other conferences is not comforting.

    I think it’s fair to say that once you cross the line of actually waving a loaded gun at someone, you’ve lost your right to privacy. I certainly won’t feel bad if you decide to reveal the name.

    Reply
  5. I am very glad that no one was hurt, and I’m sure the unnamed person will have time to reflect on their actions whether charges are pressed or not..

    I hope that the mistakes of this individual do not impact the rights of future conference goers. Per Missouri statute 571.107(7) the unnamed person would be in violation of state law by being under the influence and handling a firearm.

    There are individuals who legally, responsibly carry firearms at secular events. It would be a shame to harass or not allow those people to come to future Skepticons because they choose to legally carry a firearm.

    Again, I’m very pleased to hear this threat was resolved without violence and look forward to meeting safely with my fellow heathens in the future.

    Reply
    • Kenny: This incident didn’t occur at the conference proper, so any discussion of how the conference should have handled it if it had will be tangential.

      Still, it’s worth noting that while carrying a concealed firearm with a license is legal, it is also legal for a conference to ban concealed firearms from its space. People who violate such a ban can be removed from the premises and may be fined, even if they have committed no criminal act.

      It’s also worth noting that all skeptic conferences in the U.S. should certainly have rules explicitly banning concealed firearms on conference grounds. It’s perfectly possible for someone to responsibly carry a concealed weapon, but to my knowledge no U.S. state requires adequate firearms safety training, so there is no general way for conferences to reliably determine which firearms-bearers are responsible and trustworthy. Whether it’s legal is beside the point, if the conference organizers are primarily concerned with ensuring their attendees’ safety and not just with enforcing local laws. Burning books, yodeling, and setting up a slip-’n’-side are similarly legal acts, but that doesn’t mean that conferences are obliged to let random attendees do those things in rooms or buildings they’ve reserved.

      Reply
  6. I agree with Dale.

    Reply
  7. You handle this situation very well Dave. I’m glad to hear no one was injured. Enjoy the rest of your trip.

    Reply
  8. I’m so glad you are OK and the police do their job. Springfield is a small backwards city, with many religious freaks and gun freaks. Sadly, the freaks come out at night around here, just like any other city. Despite the threat, I hope you still got to see a beautiful sunrise. There can be some awesome ones around here.

    Reply
  9. I think a prudent course would be to publish the name and photograph of the person involved.

    This is a safety issue.

    To keep the identity hidden would be irresponsible.

    Reply
  10. I am very glad that no one was hurt, and I’m sure the unnamed person will have time to reflect on their actions whether charges are pressed or not..

    I hope that the mistakes of this individual do not impact the rights of future conference goers. Per Missouri statute 571.107(7) the unnamed person would be in violation of state law by being under the influence and handling a firearm.

    There are individuals who legally, responsibly carry firearms at secular events. It would be a shame to harass or not allow those people to come to future Skepticons because they choose to legally carry a firearm.

    Again, I’m very pleased to hear this threat was resolved without violence and look forward to meeting safely with my fellow heathens in the future.

    Reply
  11. You were assaulted in front of witnesses and, if he touched you, you were also a victim of battery. This is a crime. At a minimum. it needs to be handled by Skepticon and you need to make a decision if criminal charges need to be filed. If this person comes out at 4 a.m. to threaten you, one can be fairly certain he has done it to other people and/or will do it in the future. Please don’t be like the Catholic Church & sweep criminality under the rug because of appearances. This person needs to realize that what he has done is a crime and he needs to stop. If he needs drug or alcohol abuse or anger management treatment, this might be the warning he will heed.

    Reply

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