ConCarolinas, happening in Charlotte, NC from June 1-3, has become another battleground in sff’s culture wars since announcing John Ringo as an Author Special Guest on April 9. Ringo is well-known for sharing his social and political views in a frank and provocative way. His selection as a special guest has caused other writers in ConCarolina’s orbit to rethink their participation, whether by actually dropping out, or publicly explaining their reasons for remaining on the program.
John Ringo defined the controversy from his viewpoint in a response on Facebook on April 12.
An ‘issue’ has been raised at ConCarolinas, not by members of the con but by some of the other invited guests and attendees. It is the usual SJW sort of thing. I am a bad person with bad opinions and I need to shunned from society.
(Though they appear to have missed various of the usual ad hominems. They hit the regular ‘racist’, ‘misogynist’, ‘homophobic’ etc but seemed to have overlooked ‘xenophobic’, ‘transphobic’ and ‘Islamophobic.’ Just an oversight I’m sure they will correct.)
I am discussing this with the ConCommittee. However. It is currently between myself and the concom and I would prefer to keep it there for the time being. While I appreciate shows of support, try not to respond to this in kind. Just let me work the issue.
Were ConCarolinas the usual and standard ‘SJWCon’ I would not have accepted their invitation. But they’ve never had to deal with something like this so it’s a learning curve. Let them find their path, please.
Afrofuturist author Gerald L. Coleman provided the most thorough explanation for opposing Ringo’s appearance in an April 12 Facebook post:
Seeing as people are beginning to draw lines and to share what they think is an appropriate response to the current situation at ConCarolinas, I think it would be illuminating, especially to the demographic of people who are not the target of the Special Guest in question, to understand why a person who would be a target (and often is) would decide not to go in response. I had not planned on sharing this but I think it’s important. Here is my letter withdrawing from ConCarolinas:
I heard a lot of good things about ConCarolinas from the same people, but the decision to have someone like Ringo as a Special Guest has forced me to reconsider that assessment. ([Redacted] was in one of the fraught discussions online where she was attacked by people trying to defend both Ringo and the invitation. I’m not sure [redacted] will be attending either). Here’s a link to one of his vile diatribes, which includes this passage:
“The first point that has to be recognized as historically valid: White males have dominated the planet’s art, music, culture, politics and wars for centuries and often deliberately at the expense of non-European, non-white, etcetera. This is historically unquestionable and unassailable.”
Now, is what follows a right and just evisceration of that behavior? No. He’s defending the agenda of the Sad Puppies and their toxic ilk. And using the pejorative term “SJW” or Social Justice Warrior as a derogatory insult as he attempts to attack the efforts to diversify publishing and fandom and make them more inclusive.
This is the guy you, and by you I mean the Con, have invited to be a Special Guest.
People of color in general and black folks in particular, who are members of the geek/nerd fandom community, including authors, often have difficulty finding conventions that are safe places for us to revel in our shared love of all things geek. Often we are given the impression, sometimes unconsciously, many times consciously, that we are not welcome – that it is not our space, and we don’t belong. So, it becomes vitally important for our sanity, our safety, and our well-being to be very selective in choosing which Cons we will attend.
To spend time, energy, and a not insignificant amount of money to attend a Con that doesn’t take our sanity, safety, and well-being seriously, by inviting a toxic voice who rails against our inclusion – and who is defended by members of the Con, it’s guests, and perspective attendees, is not only a bad investment but a bad idea in general.
I have been to Cons (Boskone, recently) where I was welcomed warmly and felt accepted and included. I’ve also been to Cons where a fellow Panelist told me discrimination against black authors was a figment of my imagination. I’ll be returning to one and not the other.
Who we give a platform to is incredibly important. Given the times we live in, the current state of our political affairs, and the general climate for people of color in general and black folks in particular, it says a lot that ConCarolinas is giving a platform to someone like Ringo. I can’t support that and am unwilling to subject myself to him or his fans who are in agreement with his toxic beliefs.
When I was a kid I knew how unwelcoming the world in general was going to be to me. But I always thought that fellow geeks/nerds who loved the same things I did like Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who, comic books, and science fiction and fantasy would be different. That because they consumed content that talked about justice, equality, exploration, tolerance, acceptance, being kind and never cowardly, that I wouldn’t have to face that same toxicity in the ranks of the fandom. Sadly, that wasn’t and isn’t true. The same prejudices, biases, and toxicity exists in fandom and I have to navigate it.
I was excited to be accepted as a Guest for ConCarolinas. Imagine my disappointment when Ringo was invited as a special guest.
I won’t be attending. Please remove me as a Guest for the Con.
Coleman later posted a screencap of the ConCarolinas committee answer —
— which he described in these terms:
Here is ConCarolinas response to legitimate criticism and concern from black folks and women over their invitation to a “Special Guest” author whom we find deeply problematic (he’d start by calling me an “SJW” and go on to rant about the supremacy of white men in all things: see comments for attribution) and whom women in particular see as deeply misogynist (just Google John Ringo misogyny). Somehow they’ve managed to confuse resisting bias and toxicity with hatred. Several of us guests have withdrawn from our invitation over it. ConCarolinas? They apparently think we are engaging in hatred and they have no obligation to curate their guest list. So anyone can be a Guest? Anyone? And if “their passion for Science Fiction and Fantasy” happens to mean that people of color and women aren’t welcome? What then? The mind boggles …
It’s no longer possible to trace the full extent of the protests, as ConCarolinas has deleted some entries from their Facebook page which contained relevant comments, and at least one fan has restricted her FB remarks after being attacked by trolls.
Stephy Hamrick’s Facebook post from April 10 is perhaps the earliest example still accessible:
Just letting y’all know that I don’t feel safe attending with you bringing John Ringo there. He and his fans have such a long history of open misogyny that I can’t trust that I and other women will be safe with them there.
The next day, Stuart Jaffe wrote on FB:
I will not be at ConCarolinas this year. Y’all probably know why. If you don’t, I’m not getting into it on FB. That kind of conversation only goes in one direction on FB.
By April 12, the discussion had gone viral.
Jason Graves of Prospective Press wrote:
Choosing division over community isn’t a choice I expected from ConCarolinas. Prospective Press supports and welcomes diverse voices—voices of color, voices of gender, voices of inclusion, and voices of identity—and always has. When people CHOOSE to be hateful, they are no longer welcome at our table—inclusivity is based on mutual respect.
Madison Metricula Roberts said she was pulling out of the con:
I regret that I am no longer attending or performing at ConCarolinas. I wish the event, guests, attendees, and volunteers well!
While I have confidence in ConCarolina’s commitment to safety at the event, I still have concerns about comfort, safety, and response of the con in light of recent events.
And in a further comment on the same post Roberts said:
I want to be clear that I understand CC is in a difficult position, and it’s run by people I like. That said, I feel like they were unprepared for the backlash in booking a controversial guest who is known for cultivating or emboldening a subset of fandom that is not just politically conservative (that’s not the issue) but anti-inclusion. I am confident in CC’s harassment policy and security, but my gamergate-style anxiety is through the roof in spite of my rational assessment of the thing.
Other authors have felt pressured to drop out, or justify why they are not.
David B. Coe is still going:
Why I will be attending ConCarolinas:
- I made a commitment to the convention. Indeed, I signed an agreement saying I would attend. That agreement gives me no veto power over the people they may or may not invite. In short, I feel that I have a professional obligation to go. Others feel differently, and that is their right. But I have to do what feels right to me.
- I don’t believe in ceding ground to racism, misogyny, or bullying in any form. I don’t live in the Carolinas, but I have considered ConCarolinas my “home” con for years now. It is just about my favorite con to attend. Many of my closest friends in the business are usually there. I love it. And I will be damned if I will allow that convention and that community to be ruined for me by the presence of one guest.
- I believe (ME — this does not mean that I condemn any of my colleagues for thinking differently) that we on the Left have a responsibility to be tolerant, and I believe tolerance cuts many ways. If I saw that a con had invited a progressive author to attend, and that in response to this the attending conservative writers withdrew from the con, I would be appalled by their actions. I cannot in good conscience do what I would fault others for doing.
- I believe that for every voice at a convention that is inclined to attack those who would advocate for social justice and for the most vulnerable in our society and in fandom, there should be ten voices present who will defend those people and those principles. I wish to be one of that latter group of voices.
I understand that people I consider friends will see my intention to attend the convention as a betrayal. I am deeply, deeply sorry for that. To those who have withdrawn, I respect your decisions. I hope that you can bring yourselves to respect mine.
S.H. Roddy was far more emphatic in “Bad Decisions, Social Justice, and the ConCarolinas Kerfluffle” at Creepy Author Girl, explaining “Why my attendance at ConCarolinas is more important than my absence.”
Yeah, so everyone has heard the nonsense going down over ConCarolinas, right? If not, let me catch you up in three sentences:
- The ConComm invited John Ringo to be a special guest and he accepted.
- THE WORLD EXPLODED – meaning the mostly-liberal, mostly-welcoming regular ConCarolinas crowd freaked the absolute fuck out over this guy’s historical behavior and some not-so-far-fetched hypotheticals stemming from it.
- Some people got pissed and others withdrew from the con.
…Keeping this in mind, I’ll be going into ConCarolinas weekend wary, but professional. This is my career, damn it, and I refuse to give anyone enough power over me to make me walk away from a chance to further myself professionally and spend time with my friends. Neither this man nor his followers have any sort of pull or control over me. So what if there’s a chance there could be an altercation? I’m willing to take that chance, because to me, my presence and my ability to stand up for myself and the people I care about will be more effective than walking away. Why? Because I don’t have the same social pull as the man the con world is currently rallying against. Because my actual VOICE and my ACTIONS will speak louder than my absence.
Which brings me to my next point:
A very dear friend of mine felt so emotionally threatened over this announcement that she has withdrawn her attendance. I completely understand her decision, because this wouldn’t be her first racism rodeo, were it to happen.
Her action was based on previous personal experiences with this person. It’s not arbitrary or unjustified.
I support her decision, because she’s doing what she feels is best for her. I will always be there to support her, no matter what, because I love her. Do I wish the situation were different and she was still going to be there with me? Yes. Absolutely. I would love for any resolution which would guarantee her a seat beside me. But that isn’t the case, and it’s her decision to make.
Which brings me to my third point:
Someone else made the statement yesterday that basically amounted to “you can’t be everybody’s friend and if you’re not resigning in solidarity, then you’re not an ally.”
That pissed me right the hell off.
See, I’m usually pretty quiet on political and social issues. I’m not a political creature. If I were, I’d be in politics. I’m a freaking writer. I use words to entertain people. Well, mostly myself, but anyone else who happens to come along can enjoy them, too. I’m also not the type to use my books as a sociopolitical platform. That isn’t what I do.
Do I have opinions? Oh, yeah. Loads of ‘em. But I choose to conduct myself in a more or less professional manner because my opinions should have absolutely no bearing on my book sales.
So a fellow author piping up and telling me I’m suddenly not good enough because I’m not pissed off enough? Yeah, no. Bullshit.
Gail Z. Martin made a similar statement:
Please do not presume to tell me that I am not an ally or not genuine in support of a cause just because I do not hop-to every time someone gets upset about something.
I will decide which battles I fight and how I fight them. I will not be ally-shamed and manipulated into actions that violate my own judgment. Telling me I dare not make my own decisions or I’m somehow not pure enough by someone else’s arbitrary standards is bullshit.
I have been an ally and fighting some of these battles since before some of you were born, in times and places where there were serious consequences like losing a job, getting expelled or cutting ties with communities and family.
Working within the system for change is just as valid (and usually a whole lot more effective, albeit requiring patience) as just saying ‘f***-it, let’s burn the whole thing down’. You have no idea what conversations happen behind the scenes in private to advance causes, conversations that often yield results because of friendships built between people who don’t always agree on everything or walk in lockstep.
So do what your conscience demands. But don’t you dare attempt to shame others or judge the sincerity of their convictions because they didn’t make the same choice.
This is a manifesto, not a debate. Civil comments are welcome, but I’m in no mood to be f***ed around with, and if you piss me off I’ll block your ass.
Two other writers who posted justifications for why they still are going to ConCarolinas are Michael G. Williams and Faith Hunter:
Michael G. Williams wrote:
ConCarolinas’ choice to invite John Ringo is an affront to many people of color and women who were planning to attend. Ringo writes works containing unabashed aggression towards marginalized populations(1), then says in interviews he largely does not see what his characters do or say as “particularly controversial, crazy, evil, or illogical,”(2) though he does say in that same interview that he excludes “some of the stuff” in his novel “Ghost” from that.
I’ve seen a lot of conflicting opinions between other guests who feel the only right choice for themselves is to withdraw and those who say they want to go as a voice for the opposition rather than cede the platform to Ringo. I sympathize with both sides.
ConCarolinas had to know the situation they would create when they made this choice. No matter how apolitical they may declare an event to be, inviting an overtly political writer whose statements about writing and conventions are overtly political to attend a convention to discuss their writing is to create a political event. Speculative fiction in general is inherently and fundamentally political to begin with. Ringo’s is quite explicitly so.
As people have spoken out, Ringo’s fans have shown up to harass them.(3) The convention has remained silent on this obvious, observable behavior. I am forced to wonder what it will be like to be surrounded by these same fans, people who clearly are willing to go looking for a fight, who clearly are searching (of their own volition or at another’s direction) for any mention of Ringo so they can harass those who object.
All these – the invitation, the trolls, the silence – have made it impossible to feel good about participating, but at the moment I still plan to participate for two reasons:
– If I can use the privilege I enjoy as a white man to attend in greater safety and comfort than others in order to be a voice for a more humane view, to some degree I feel I should try. I’m the smallest of the small-fries. If I withdraw, no one notices. If I go, maybe I get a word in edge-wise.
– There are very few loudly queer guests at ConCarolinas. If there’s no presence by the two or three of us who always lobby for a Queer Fandom panel, who put ourselves out there as queer people who can be approached safely by attendees, and who make sure there is an unmistakeable queer voice in the proceedings, then queer fans may be left out to dry. I feel I have some degree of responsibility to be there for them, with them.
But as I say, this has made it VERY difficult to do so without tremendous reservation and regret. I am ready to walk into a tense situation on behalf of friends who no longer feel welcome. I am ready to be there to make sure my own community’s members do not feel targeted or harassed. But I can’t necessarily recommend anyone else do the same. I think already-marginalized people who are going should do some research into Ringo, observe the behavior of his fans, and carefully consider their choices. A number of guests have withdrawn. More may do so. I share their concerns and objections. We should not all lay down our dignity and our sense of safety because another guest has “Special” in their announcement, and the way the convention treats those who withdraw or feel threatened will certainly be remembered.
(3) See, for instance, Faith Naff’s experience of having to lock a post because trolls showed up within minutes.
Faith Hunter said:
I have spent the last three days in a quandary over the ConCarolinas controversy and how to address it. I am keeping it simple. I have this to say.
ConCarolinas is my local convention.
I’ve attended it for over a decade.
I’ve met many friends and fans through the con.
I’ve signed a contract to attend the convention.
I will honor this commitment.
I will be attending the convention, where I plan to make my voice and views heard on panels. That’s how I’m choosing to deal with this. I understand there are others who feel they cannot attend, and I respect that decision. The convention has an explicit anti-harassment policy which all attendees must adhere to, and while I am there I will do my best to make sure that no one feels insulted, afraid, put down, or abused.
Edited to add — Y’all, I am asking you to please not call names or bring confrontation into the comments. I have been as non confrontational as possible. I’d like you to let it lie.
Seanan McGuire is one of 2018 ConCarolina’s Guests of Honor, therefore one of the faces of this year’s con, more so than any of the special guests. Attempts have been made to embroil her in the controversy, however, she has yet to make any comment.
Then, if you haven’t had enough, Fail. Fandom. Anon. is devoting a thread to arguments about the issue.
But things are by no means one-sided. John Ringo has received hundreds of expressions of support on his posts, and from his friends and colleagues.
One of them, Sarah A. Hoyt, even took the opportunity to relitigate the Sad Puppies controversy:
Sarah A. Hoyt You know, John Ringo is being stigmatized for a very distant correlation with Sad Puppies. A movement led by a man the state dept classifies as Latin, and which included a female ditto.
BUT minorities are offended that John supported this “racist” (Yep, we only supported writers who belonged to the human race. That’s how racist we are) movement, and feel they have to leave cons where he’s invited.
You know what, these aren’t the crazy years. The crazy years were semi-understandable. These are the running-down-the-street-with-underwear-on-head-singing-I’m-a-little-teapot years.
Stephanie Souders argues that Ringo’s conduct at Dragon Con should allay any fears:
He has never started fights at DC. Never. And the same goes for his fans, among whom I count myself.
— Stephanie Souders (@TheRightGeek) April 14, 2018
Conservatives have just as much right to participate in the fandom as any leftist. Full stop. If you can't handle that, you have some growing up to do.
— Stephanie Souders (@TheRightGeek) April 14, 2018
John Ringo subsequently wrote a second response:
Here’s pretty much my take on the whole thing:
I spent four years ready 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, to go wheels up anywhere in the world in 18 hours for the purposes of going head to head with Soviet tanks in a war sure to end with nuclear fire.
I was willing to do so to support a simple word: Liberty.
A major part of that liberty was the right to freedom of expression. That ten thousand voices may be heard.
There was no such freedom in the Soviet Union. Freedom of expression is anathema to Marxism.
In this day and age, the SJWs, thought children of that evil empire, attack the right to freedom of expression at every turn.
I shall not be silent. I shall not be quelled. If facing down T-72s did not quell me, my current detractors (just the latest of many) stand little chance.
They have their right to free speech. They can say what they will, even if the attacks are petty, false and irrelevent. That is part and parcel of the freedom of speech.
They have that right due, in great part, to myself and my brothers and sisters in arms going back not just to our revolution, but to the battles at Marathon, Salamis and Thermopylae. This is a war that has gone on for two thousand years and will not end in victory to either side any time soon.
Let ten thousand voices be heard.
Let freedom ring.
In a comment on the same post he also said:
I do not bow to the social justice mobs? I speak my own truth? I judge a person not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character? And by that judgement, I find most SJWs (not your type, the type that ‘bans’ authors for their words) to be contemptible?
Meanwhile, ConCarolinas con chair Jada Hope has pulled the Ringo announcement from their FaceBook page, taking all comments with it. Hope also has gone to the FB walls of some people who’ve made negative posts saying “You’ve made yourself quite clear. If you have further concerns they may be sent to email@example.com” in an attempt to stem the flow of public complaints.
And the committee’s latest social media (April 13) was a tweet linking to the con’s anti-harassment policy which says in part —
…ConCarolinas reserves the right to deny membership to any individual who has practiced harassment or bullying either at other conventions or on social media sites.
ConCarolinas is an apolitical, non-religious organization. Discussions in panels and on our social media are to remain polite. Trolling will not be tolerated….
— in effect, brandishing the antiharassment policy at con members who criticize the Ringo choice in social media, implying their memberships are at risk.