Unanswered questions about Robert Spencer and the Pro-Cologne conference
(Note: be sure to see the update to this entry, posted this morning, where I tie everything together as far as it can be done given present knowledge.)
What I am going to pursue in this entry—a close analysis of the recent Johnson-Spencer dispute—is of zero importance in the larger scheme of things. Readers should not feel they need to read it unless they have a particular curiosity in the subject. If you consider it trivial and irrelevant and not worth your or anyone’s time, ignore it. For me, there are questions and puzzles here that need to be explored and explained.
At the outset, the main questions I am addressing are: (1) was Robert Spencer telling the truth when he denied that he had accepted an invitation to speak at the Pro-Koln (Pro-Cologne) anti-Islamization conference in Cologne, Germany on May 9? And (2) was I justified in stating that Spencer, while fighting off Charles Johnson’s charges that the Pro-Koln leaders are Nazis, nevertheless pulled out of the conference because he was intimidated by Johnson’s attack?
Let’s start at the beginning. On Friday, April 24, at 8:38 a.m. PDT, Charles Johnson posted an entry in which he linked the Pro-Koln announcement (quoted at the end of this entry) which had been posted that same day at the Pro-Koln site, saying Robert Spencer was going to be speaking at the conference. In that same entry, Johnson posted the now famous doctored photo of Markus Beisicht of Pro-Koln shaking hands with Filip Dewinter in front of a group of hooded “Nazis” (who were in fact members of a radical leftist, anti-fascist group).
On April 24, 4:07 p.m., Spencer replied to Johnson’s charge:
The background is this: I was invited to speak in Cologne, Germany, by the group Pro-Koln. Johnson, who sees neo-Nazis hiding under his bed and behind the shrubbery, showed himself in top form, and immediately decided that this group must be neo-Nazi as well—despite the fact that real neo-Nazis despise and repudiate them for their pro-Israel stance. Stacy McCain wrote sensibly about this today.Here I have to get ahead of myself and point out that Spencer’s statement is disingenuous and unfair to Johnson. Johnson didn’t jump the gun when he said that Spencer had confirmed that he would be attending. Johnson had simply linked to the conference site which announced excitedly and proudly that Robert Spencer, one of the world’s best known Islam critics, was going to address the conference.
Spencer’s next reference to whether he had accepted the invitation was on Saturday April 25, 5:28 a.m. He wrote:
I have not committed to speak in Cologne.In an undated update to that same post he wrote:
FIFTH UPDATE: Just to be completely clear: contrary to Johnson’s claims, I will not be attending this conference in Cologne.Finally, he wrote on April 26 at 12:49 a.m.:
Meanwhile, I am not going to the Cologne conference, contrary to Johnson’s claims; still, however, he is trying to defame me with it.So, sometime between April 25 at 5:28 a.m. and April 26 at 12:49 a.m. Spencer went from not being committed to going to the conference, to definitely not going.
Now from one point of view, when we consider his initial statement of April 24, that he had received the invitation and was looking into the group to decide whether or not to go, his not giving a reason for not going (once he had decided not to go) seems normal and not requiring any further explanation. He was under no obligation to give a reason. he had said he was thinking about it, and others had jumped the gun on him, and then he decided not to go. Nothing suspicious about that.
Yet, as I’ve already pointed out, Pro-Koln had said that he had accepted their invitation, a fact he had never, and has never, acknowledged. Second, given the controversy about the nature of the conference, and given that he had been stoutly defending the organizers from the charge of being Nazis, wasn’t it incumbent on him, once he had decided not to go, to say WHY he wasn’t going?
Here is more of Spencer’s post of April 26, 12:49 a.m.:
Meanwhile, I am not going to the Cologne conference, contrary to Johnson’s claims; still, however, he is trying to defame me with it. From here is the claim that I am “defending” Manfred Rouhs of Pro-Koln, whom Johnson claims is a Nazi, because I posted his pro-Israel statement here. (You know you’re in Johnson’s Bizarro world when posting a pro-Israel statement gets you accused of being a Nazi.) Rouhs, says Johnson, is a Nazi who sells Nazi literature at his website—and therefore I must be a crypto-Nazi, right? (Buckley’s sage advice to Gore Vidal comes to mind at this point.)So in his post of April 26 at 12:49 a.m., Spencer is defending Manfred Rouhs from the charge of being a Nazi, even as he is announcing that he will not be attending the conference with which Rouhs is associated, but is also not saying why he will not be attending it.
This oddity, combined with the fact that Pro-Koln evidently had a communication from Spencer confirming his attendance, makes Spencer’s denials that he had accepted the invitation look fishy to say the least, and calls out for explanation.
But there’s more. Not only did Pro Koln at least believe that Spencer had accepted, but, as I now realize, Johnson himself, at Sunday morning, April 26, at 8:58 a.m., asked exactly the question I asked: If the people running this conference are A-OK, as Spencer has been strongly arguing, WHY did he decide not to go? And WHY did he give no reason for not going?
Here’s what Johnson wrote:
“If they’re such wonderful people, and their ties to neo-Nazis are all lies, what’s the problem? Why wouldn’t Spencer talk at their little hatefest?”I must say it’s an odd experience to find myself asking the same question that the uber-smearer Charles Johnson has been asking. Maybe Pamela Geller is right and I am the moral equivalent of Johnson after all.
Seriously, in this instance, Johnson for once is on to something.
To repeat, since the Pro-Koln announcement of Spencer’s speech was posted on the 24th, WHY did Spencer, starting with his April 24, 4:07 p.m. post, not come right out and say that the announcement was mistaken or at least premature and explain how this misunderstanding had come about? All he said was that he had been invited and was thinking about it. He didn’t explain how it happened that Pro Koln was under the impression that he had accepted and had announced publicly that he had accepted. This is amazing. Here he was, claiming that Johnson was spreading a false story that he, Spencer, had committed to speak at the conference, yet he didn’t deal with the fact that the conference organization itself has said that he had agreed to speak.
In Johnson’s April 26 8:58 a.m. post, in which he reported that Spencer had said he wasn’t attending, Johnson re-linked the Pro Koln April 24 announcement about Spencer’s speech, which was still online and had not been altered (even though Spencer had been stating publicly since the 24th that he had not accepted the invitation). Here again is the question Johnson asked:
“If they’re such wonderful people, and their ties to neo-Nazis are all lies, what’s the problem? Why wouldn’t Spencer talk at their little hatefest?”That’s a question Spencer needs to answer, and, you would think, he would want to answer, yes? But a search of of Jihad Watch’s main page shows that Spencer has not referenced Johnson since his post of April 26 at 12:49 a.m., several hours before Johnson asked the question.
Here, then is Johnson’s post of April 26 at 8:58 a.m., along with the text of the Pro-Koln announcment of Spencer speech. There are two errors that stands out in Johnson’s post. In his headline, he says, “Pro Koln Organizers Say Spencer and Geller Confirmed in Writing.” In fact, there’s nothing in the Pro-Koln announcement about any confirmation in writing. It just says that Spencer will be speaking. Second, the Pro-Koln statement says nothing about Geller attending.
Spencer Changes Story, But Still Defends Pro Koln—Update: Pro Koln Organizers Say Spencer and Geller Confirmed in WritingHere is the Pro Koln announcement about Spencer:
Robert Spencer on 9 Mai in Koln May in CologneIn conclusion, we have no explanation of Spencer’s exceedingly odd behavior. He spent days defending Pro-Koln, then decided not to go to their conference anyway. I supposed in an earlier post that Spencer had pulled out of the conference because he was intimidated by Johnson’s attack, even as he was defending himself from it.
However, here is a possible explanation that is more favorable to Spencer. Spencer was not intimidated by Johnson. Instead, in looking into the Pro Koln group he found out something negative about one or more of its leaders, but he didn’t want to go public with this information and harm the group, because he felt that overall they are doing good work. So he simply said, “I’m not going,” with no further reason why.
However, this theory still doesn’t explain why, starting on Friday and continuing up to this moment, he never acknowledged that Pro Koln itself had announced that he had agreed to speak at their conference.
Listen again to Markus Beisicht’s evident joy that a world-known and respected Islam critic was going to speak at his organization’s conference:
“I am very pleased that Robert Spencer is such a designated Religious Studies and Islam critic his participation in our anti-Islamisierungskongress has pledged. This shows that we are on the international scene and arrived in the focus of world public.”Are we to suppose that Beisicht simply imagined that Spencer had accepted the invitation to the conference, when in reality he hadn’t done any such thing? That’s impossible to believe. Spencer has to come clean.
To nail this down: given Pro Koln’s proud announcement that Spencer had confirmed that he was attending the conference, Spencer’s bland statement that he had merely been invited and was still pondering whether to attend, with no acknowledgment of Pro Koln’s announcement that he was attending, leads to the conclusion that he was flat-out lying. But why would he tell such a palpable, instantly discoverable (and discovered by Johnson) lie?
One theory is that Spencer is a narcissist (an observation many people have made about him), and that he constructs reality so as to fit whatever his narcissistic needs in the moment may be. If admitting that he has accepted an invitation does not serve his needs, he makes up another reality of his own, in which he has not accepted the invitation. And so powerful is his narcissism that the flat-out lie doesn’t bother his conscience in the slightest.
I know that this sounds strange, as well as very negative toward Spencer, and that it will re-activate the charge that I am carrying out a personal vendetta against him. Fine. I’m not attached to the theory. But does anyone have a better theory to explain Spencer’s bizarre behavior?
While I find the narcissism theory plausible, it is not necessary. The narcissism theory explains how Spencer thought he could get away with the obvious lie that he had not agreed to attend the conference, but it doesn’t deal with the factual question of whether he did lie. So let’s leave aside speculation about Spencer’s psychology for the moment and reduce the issue to the basics.
Here again are the key data:
(a) Pro-Koln’s announcement that Spencer had accepted its invitation to speak at the conference;
Looked at together, these facts make it a virtual certainty that Spencer did indeed accept the invitation, and therefore that he lied, at least twice, when he said that he had not accepted it.
So that answers, as far as is possible given our present knowledge, the first of the two questions I asked at the beginning of this article: “(1) was Robert Spencer telling the truth when he denied that he had accepted an invitation to speak at the Pro-Koln (Pro-Cologne) anti-Islamization conference in Cologne, Germany on May 9?”
As for the second question, whether Spencer in changing his mind about attending the conference was submitting to Johnson’s intimidation, or (my alternative theory), whether he had on his own found negative information about Pro-Koln that he did not want to publicize for fear of damaging an organization he otherwise respected, this question cannot be answered with the same certainty as the first question, as it involves Spencer’s motives and thought processes. However, given the virtual certainty, tantamount to a fact, that Spencer began dishonestly denying his acceptance of Pro-Koln’s invitation as soon as he was attacked by Johnson on April 24, it would appear that the desire to maintain a good faith relationship with Pro-Koln was NOT a concern of Spencer’s. This realization weakens the alternative theory that Spencer’s motive for his puzzling failure to give the reason for his withdrawal was a desire to protect Pro-Koln. It makes it more likely that the motive for his non-explanation was the desire, not to protect Pro Koln, but to protect himself. And what was he protecting himself from? From the truth that Johnson’s attack had indeed intimidated him and that that was the reason he decided to withdraw from the conference.
This answers in the affirmative the second question that I asked at the beginning of this article:; “was I justified in stating that Spencer, while fighting off Charles Johnson’s charges that the Pro-Koln leaders are Nazis, nevertheless pulled out of the conference because he was intimidated by Johnson’s attack?” However, unlike my answer to the first question, I do not regard my answer to the second question as a virtual certainty. I regard it as reasonably likely and as the most plausible of any explanation. Remember again the startling fact, or at least the virtual certainty, that from the moment Johnson began attacking Pro Koln and Spencer’s attendance at the Pro-Koln conference, Spencer began dishonestly denying that he had accepted Pro Koln’s invitation. Why would he do that, other than that he was intimidated by Johnson or felt that there was something true in Johnson’s charges even though he himself was energetically rebutting those charges? I underscore once again Spencer’s remarkable behavior, that at the very moment that he began defending Pro-Koln from Johnson’s “Nazi” charges, he also began dishonestly denying that he had accepted Pro-Koln’s invitation. The only reasonable explanation I can see for this behavior is that it was Johnson’s attack itself that made Spencer back away from Pro Koln.
4/28/09 11:55 a.m.
This morning, April 28, at 8:06 a.m., Robert Spencer posted again on the Pro-Koln issue. For the first time in the four days since Pro-Koln announced that he was attending their conference, he mentions that announcement. He also points out that Charles Johnson is doing a sack dance over his withdrawal:
He is claiming that I am not going to speak at the Cologne conference because of this witless farrago. Actually, if I were in the habit of being led around by this self-important lying puffball, I would be busy denouncing every prominent conservative (he has so far denounced Beck, Coulter, Hannity, Limbaugh, Palin, Jindal, and counting) and inveighing against the evils of creationism.This is pathetic, and does nothing to address the mysteries raised by Spencer’s own behavior which I’ve explored at length in this thread and for which I’ve provided reasoned explanations. For example, since, as Spencer now says, Pro-Koln’s statement that he would be attending the conference was not true, why did he not say so four days ago, three days ago, two days ago? Why did he completely ignore, until now, Pro-Koln’s announcement, which made his denial that he had committed to go to the conference seem like an outright lie? Why did he not even care about the appearance that he was lying? And, by the way, he has still not cleared up that appearance.
Second, if as Spencer insists, the reason he withdrew had nothing to do with Johnson’s attack, then why did he withdraw? He doesn’t say. Instead, he airily pronounces, “In reality, I am not going to Cologne for reasons that are not of public concern.” After four days of this issue tearing up the blogosphere, that’s all he has to say about it! Does he not realize that his lengthy defense of Pro-Koln, combined with his unexplained withdrawal from the Pro-Koln conference, looks, at the least, strange and leads to legitimate questions?
Thus, as as been the case from the start, Spencer seems to have (and this is the most charitable view of it) some mental block that prevents him from realizing the obvious puzzles and suspicions that have been raised by his own behavior and that call out for explanation.
By the way, it was the same when I pointed out his contradictions and inconsistencies on the Muslim immigration issue. Instead of admitting the contradictions and seeking to resolve them, he would lash out at me.
Also, I see that on April 26 Pamela Geller posted a brief entry at her blog saying simply that she had been invited to the Pro Koln conference, had mulled it over, and had decided not to go, “for myriad reasons both personal and professional.” She doesn’t say what the professional reasons were. I take no interest in Geller’s reasons for going or not going to the conference, because she has not been addressing the issue at great length and raising all kinds of puzzles about her own behavior and digging herself into a hole as Spencer has been doing. Also, to my knowledge, Pro-Koln had not issued any statement saying that she had committed to attending the conference, as they did in the case of Spencer.
Hans writes from Europe:
I wanted to congratulate you on an excellent text on the whole Spencer/Pro Koln issue. I think it is conclusive in showing that Spencer indeed DID initially accept the invitation to come to Cologne, and later on backed off because he realized that these people are not reputable. [LA replies: I must jump in here immediately and say that we have no evidence that Spencer “realized that these people are not reputable.” To the contrary, Spencer effectively parried every one of Johnson’s charges. This is what makes Spencer’s withdrawal mysterious.]LA replies:
Whatever is true is true. If it turns out to be true that Pro-Koln is a Nazi-type organization, then Pro-Koln is a Nazi-type organization. I know nothing about Pro-Koln except what I’ve read about it in the Johnson-Spencer stand-off. The points Johnson made were successfully rebutted by Spencer. Spencer was only dealing with the issues and charges raised by Johnson. It is quite unfair of you to act as though Spencer is responsible for knowing everything about Pro-Koln that you claim to know, and that, because he doesn’t know the things that you know about, therefore he is being untruthful.LA continues:
Also, I regret the absence of accented letters in German words at this website. The site has a problem in handling special characters that I’ve been unable to fix, though there are some older entries that have special characters properly displayed.Hans replies:
Thanks for posting it and taking the time to reply to me.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at April 28, 2009 12:39 AM | Send