Does the Muskogee Atheist Community Exist?

There are a lot of stories out there like this one:

On Monday, Matt Wilbourn, the founder of the Muskogee Atheist Community in Oklahoma, made a $100 donation in his organization’s name to the Murrow Indian Children’s Home. Later that day, his phone rang.

“I received a phone call an hour later from the lady who accepted my donation earlier telling me that her director asked her to call me and tell me that my donation was not accepted,” Wilbourn wrote on a Go Fund Me page. “She went on to say that they are funded by the American Baptist Churches Association and accepting a donation from atheists would go against everything they believe in.”

“I emailed the director and even told her that I’m raising the amount to $250. I’m awaiting her response,” he added.

I’d like to take a good look at this story when I get the time, but for now, I was looking for help.  All the stories (which seem to have begun with a blog post from our “friendly” atheist) speak of this group – the Muskogee Atheist Community.  Yet no story, nor Mehta’s blog, ever link to the “Muskogee Atheist Community.”  So I googled ” Muskogee Atheist Community” in search of its web page.  Of course, you’ll get page after page referring to this story, but when I restrict the search for something prior to June 1, 2016, I still can’t find its web page.  So then I search FaceBook and can’t find it there either. The Muskogee Atheist Community doesn’t seem to have a FB page.

Right now, I don’t see any evidence that the Muskogee Atheist Community actually exists outside this story.  Then again, I’m the type who will lose my glasses and find them sitting on my face, so I could be overlooking something obvious.  If anyone can find the web page or FB page or even a twitter account for this group, can you please post the link in the comments section?  Thanks.

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46 Responses to Does the Muskogee Atheist Community Exist?

  1. TFBW says:

    http://www.muskogeeatheistcommunity.com/ is a place-holder “under construction” page at time of writing. Domain was registered anonymously on 24-Aug-2016, so any actual connection is unverifiable. The gofundme page is the earliest reference I can find, dated 22-Aug-2016. Stories say it was “founded” by the guy and his wife, but if it’s anything more than a name invented over a dinner-table conversation, I can’t see it. Proceeds from the gofundme went straight into his wife’s personal bank account (so they say on the gofundme updates), and the amount actually raised was $28,280. I’m not sure how anyone plans to verify that the money is passed on in accordance with the pledge (to donate to the pro-atheist Camp Quest Oklahoma, given the original charity’s refusal to accept the funds), unless the recipient makes a press release about it. I’m not sure that anyone cares where the money goes in any case, since this is clearly motivated by a desire to publicly claim the moral high ground rather than any actual concern for anyone in need (or else donations would have been made privately and without fanfare).

  2. Dhay says:

    The Christian Examiner, presumably accessing the Home’s side first, says:

    Last week, the children’s home was offered a $100 donation from atheist Matt Wilbourn. He requested the children’s home, which publicizes its donations in an annual fundraising program, list the donation as given “In Honor of the Muskogee Atheist Community.”

    http://www.christianexaminer.com/article/atheists-troll-christian-childrens-home-facebook-page-force-it-to-shut-down/51008.htm

    That is, the donation was from an individual (or the Home understood it to be so), not from a named club, formal group or organisation.

    In Britain, it’s common to ask for donations to named charities in lieu of flowers at a funeral; their websites and donation forms usually allow you to identify the deceased who asked for the donations, via an “In Honour of [name]” section; if you guys have the same custom, Wilbourn will have announced the death of “the Muskogee Atheist Community”.

    Note that “which publicizes its donations in an annual fundraising program”; it might be that Wilbourn, a Native American himself, was giving to a charity for Native American children from genuine charitable intentions, but it might also be that he saw an opportunity to spend $100 on using the charity’s annual fundraising program to advertise atheism.

    What I haven’t spotted — correct me and link if you find otherwise — is anything that says that Wilbourn has at any time offered to donate — $100, $250, $5,000 or $5,106.47 — other than with the condition that it be listed as “In Honor of the Muskogee Atheist Community.”

    Whatever Wilbourn’s initial intention, he went immediately to the Press to deliberately and cynically milk this for all it’s worth: to get maximum negative publicity for the charity and to cause it maximum harm; and to get maximum publicity for atheists and atheism.

  3. Michael says:

    Wow. Thanks guys. So far we have this:

    Aug 22: Matt Wilbourn sets up his GoFundMe page.

    Aug 23: Hemant Mehta writes a blog post after talking to Matt entitled “An Oklahoma Charity Rejected an Atheist’s Donation, So He’s Raising More Until They Say Yes”

    Aug 24: Someone registers a domain for the Muskogee Atheist Community and its web page is under construction as of 9/2/2016. Also, Mehta’s basic narrative gets repeated by several blogs and web pages and the story goes viral among the atheists.

    So it sure looks like this was a stunt to help create the “Muskogee Atheist Community.”

    The fact there is no FB page for the group is very telling. As we all know, it costs no money and about 5 min of your time to set one up. People even set them up for their pets.

    Now we have the situation where the first web appearance of this “group” was with the story itself, where even the domain for the “group” was not registered until after Matt talked to Mehta.

    Given the donation was made contingent upon the children’s home honoring the “Muskogee Atheist Community,” I think it highly relevant to determine whether the “group” actually existed.

  4. Michael says:

    What I haven’t spotted — correct me and link if you find otherwise — is anything that says that Wilbourn has at any time offered to donate — $100, $250, $5,000 or $5,106.47 — other than with the condition that it be listed as “In Honor of the Muskogee Atheist Community.”

    Wilbourn orginally taunted, “Everyone has their price.” But when the $28K did not cause the children’s home to change it’s stance, and after the viral nature of the story was past its peak, and after the atheist community shut down the children’s home FB page with their vitrioloic rhetoric, he finally removed the contingency by offering to donate anonymously by making it very public we was planning on sending $5, 106.47.

  5. TFBW says:

    This site, linked from Mehta’s Patheos blog, seems to be the earliest news source. It is dated 23-Aug-2016 with an update the following day that includes a statement from the charity in question.

    I don’t do FB or Twitter: there may be something on those sources which relates to the gofundme. He must have promoted it somewhere.

  6. Hemant Mehta says:

    This is Hemant. The Muskogee Atheist Community is a private Facebook group (which I’ve seen for myself). It’s not a 501(c)(3) or Meetup group, which is why you can’t find it online.

  7. Billy Squibs says:

    It would have been preferable if the original donation was freely offered and graciously accepted but, Hemant, I think you are now clearly backing a cause that looks very much like a petty attempt at manufacturing controversy and outrage. All of this obviously plays well with a subset of the atheist community but for what it’s worth, to an outsider like myself, it all looks pretty silly.

    Still, let’s say that I’m wrong and this isn’t an attempt to score some points. Rather, it is a genuine offer of aid to those who need it and there is no underlying motive. I can only hope that the $5,106.47 will be split into a number of payments. Otherwise, the claim that this is an anonymous donation is disingenuous and a clear attempt at provocation.

  8. TFBW says:

    There may well have been genuine intent to offer aid here, but it was entirely subordinate to the desire for public recognition.

  9. Dhay says:

    As everybody here seems to have well realised, a donation of $5,000 could have come from anyone (assuming no tell-tale “In Honor of the Muskogee Atheist Community” dedication), but a well-publicised $5,106.47 can only have come from the MAC.

    Dupes of the week have been those well-meaning Christians who have given money to that GoFundMe for the needs of children in care, only to find the lion’s share (c. $19,673 after taxes and GoFundMe fees of c. $3,500 and $5,106 to the Home) earmarked to support an atheist youth camp; should the Home refuse the $5,106 — it has, see last section below — as was always predictable, it’ll be — it is –– the nearly $25,000 nett whole that goes to the atheist Camp Quest. Any Christian wanting to donate to the Home should have donated money direct to the Home, not to a private individual, and certainly not to Camp Quest.

    But I suspect most Christians will see this as the nasty publicity stunt it always was; if atheists want a better reputation among the Christian majority, they need to restrain the few (I’m sure) really nasty ones from sabotaging the reputation of the others.

    *

    But there’s plenty of really nasty atheists out there:

    MUSKOGEE, Oklahoma (Christian Examiner) – The Murrow Indian Children’s Home in Muskogee, Okla., under fire for politely refusing to accept and publicize a $100 donation from an atheist, has been forced to shut down its Facebook page after hundreds of atheists posted vitriolic and anti-Christian comments on it.

    Many of the comments, obscene in nature, cannot be reprinted by Christian Examiner.

    http://www.christianexaminer.com/article/atheists-troll-christian-childrens-home-facebook-page-force-it-to-shut-down/51008.htm

    “Hundreds”, “vitriolic”, “obscene”.

    Let’s put that in perspective, shall we: The Richard Dawkins Foundation mailbox currently contains a mere thirteen mails in its Mailbox’s “Hate Mail” section; if you know where to look you can find, off-menu, another 60 “Ugly” mails; all 66 are dated 2013/14, which tells those who have watched what happens when a new version of the RDF website succeeds the previous, that these were all (or perhaps just very nearly all) archived mails from the predecessor site, and were received over many years.

    On the face of it, the RDF website hasn’t received a single new “Hate” or “Ugly” mail (or at most a very few, it’s hard to tell precisely) in the years since it was last revamped. Perhaps they’re just not adding them, nowadays, so let’s look at a period when they definitely were adding them:

    There’s another thirteen of them in the nineteen months from 12 January 2011 to 20 August 2012; that works out at just one “ugly”mail for each one-and-a-half months. Not exactly flooding in, were they.

    https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2014/12/05/i-need-evidence-2/#comment-6786

    Compare “hundreds” (in a few days) with Dawkins’ one each one-and-a-half months. Shocking, isn’t it, what a large number of appallingly behaved atheists flood out of the woodwork, compared to the few Christians who sent badly behaved mails to Dawkins over many months. (And were they actually Christians — do read the rest of my analysis, linked above.)

    *

    The updates to the GoFundMe page are interesting: the fourth and final (so far) — click the obvious links to view them — concludes:

    … it is with a very small amount of reluctance that I will now announce that we are donating all of the money to CampQuest Oklahoma.

    https://www.gofundme.com/2zc57tpg

    But that’s not all; atheists are self-supposed to be paragons of rationality, so you really wouldn’t expect a charity which had turned down a donation to be accused of greed:

    I’m sure it comes as no shock to anyone in the world that religious greed has prevailed once again.

    Go figure what rationality there is in that.

  10. Kevin says:

    Organized atheist groups very often have their primary goal being the undermining of Christianity, so the charity was well within its acceptable behavior to decline money from a group that could very well oppose them – at least until such point as the charity could research the atheist group and see what they are about.

    The only real losers in this episode are atheists. It appears to be nothing but a win-win publicity stunt for Wilbourn, and the behavior of the atheist community in reaction to Wilbourn going public has been sickening. Shame on those atheists who have participated and proven once again why they are considered nothing but religion haters.

  11. Doug says:

    On the GoFundMe site, the first “update” says:

    The remaining $5,000 will be anonymously donated to the Murrow Indian Children’s Home. If they find out that I’ve said this and they know that it’s me anonymously donating it and they still won’t accept it, we will donate it to a local church who will then donate it to them. We’ve had support from churches all over this nation today and I’m sure that one of them would be glad to donate the money to Murrow and I trust that they will.

    While, simultaneously, the Christian Examiner claims

    He requested the children’s home, which publicizes its donations in an annual fundraising program, list the donation as given “In Honor of the Muskogee Atheist Community.”

    Could it be that Wilbourn never actually attempted to make an “anonymous” donation? It certainly has that smell about it. Could it be that Wilbourn never actually attempted to make a donation through a local church? Or were his (unpublicized, and certainly not “anonymous”) stipulations a little hard to take?

  12. Michael says:

    This is Hemant. The Muskogee Atheist Community is a private Facebook group (which I’ve seen for myself). It’s not a 501(c)(3) or Meetup group, which is why you can’t find it online.

    On Facebook, this is called a Secret Group -it’s a group that is purposely hidden from the world. Try to see things from our perspective. The only evidence that a “Muskogee Atheist Community” exists is your claim to have seen this secret group. But that leads to an obvious question. Since only members of secret groups can see the secret group, are you a member of the Muskogee Atheist Community? If not, how did you see it for yourself?

  13. SteveK says:

    Apparently the money was for an advertisement, not just a simple donation to the home (see below).

    Was this another religious liberty shakedown attempt? Step 1: find a religious target, Step 2: ask them to do something you suspect they probably won’t because of their religious beliefs, Step 3: call the media to begin the shakedown process of “cave into our demands or suffer”. Google Reviews for the Murrow Home are now filled with bad reviews by people that have never done business with them. Social Justice Warriors are on the march.

    “To accept money for an advertisement which would indicate ‘In Honor of the Muskogee Atheist Community’ in the advertisement, would be contrary to those Biblical principles upon which we at Murrow stand,” the statement read. “We are Christians, believing in God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.”

    The statement went on to say that the situation had nothing to do with money and everything to do with honoring the organization’s religious beliefs. The mention of an “advertisement” raises questions as to whether the home’s opposition to the donation was rooted in being forced to then advertise the atheist organization.

    “Mr. Wilbourn asked that his donation be noted in the ad, “’In Honor of the Muskogee Atheist Community,'” the statement continued. “Murrow cannot Honor the atheist non-belief in God our father, and honor God our father under our biblical principles. Those two positions are totally opposite of each other.”

    Suorce: http://newsok.com/article/5516178

  14. Doug says:

    …funny how atheists are crawling out of the woodwork (and over themselves) to denounce a charity for “not thinking of the children” when not a single one of those atheists spared a thought for those children in their entire lives until two weeks ago (and even then, it isn’t clear that their concern was for the children).

  15. SteveK says:

    Take my money and bake me a cake – or else!
    Take my money and promote my group – or else!

  16. Michael says:

    This children’s charity has been around helping and thinking of the children for 100 years. And keep in mind this is hard work. Dealing with families so broken by neglect and abuse is hard. The biological parents suffer, the children suffer, and the foster parents suffer. This charity has been doing this hard work quietly and likely on the shoulders of volunteers and a few employees who are not getting rich off it (to say the least).

    Now, the charity wasn’t trying to pick a fight or provoke anyone. I’m sure it’s a small group of people who have things more important to tend to -the children and families – than someone’s culture war. But along comes the activist atheist internet community………

  17. Kevin says:

    Hemant, are you going to acknowledge how vile the atheist community is acting in this case, or are you going to defend them?

  18. TFBW says:

    He chose sides on day one when he started helping to raise an angry Internet mob. That’s “friendly” by atheist standards, I gather. Feel the friendship.

  19. TFBW says:

    Sorry, I should say “by New Atheist standards”. Musn’t tar all atheists with the militant activist brush — just the ones who are militant activists.

  20. SteveK says:

    Good work has been going on for decades, and now donations will be reduced because this has been broadcast via loudspeaker to the public. The caring thing to do would be to say nothing, to move on and donate your money to another charity – keep this out of the news so that the children would not suffer due to lack of funds. That’s the reason you wanted to give money, right, to help the children?

  21. Michael says:

    Hemant Mehta claims to have seen the secret FB group. But I’m still having a hard time figuring out how. According to FB’s information about secret groups:

    Who can see the group’s name?
    Current and former members

    Who can see what members post in the group?
    Only current members

    Who can find the group in search?
    Current and former members

    Who can see stories about the group on Facebook (ex: News Feed and search)?
    Only current members

  22. Dhay says:

    Michael > Hemant Mehta claims to have seen the secret FB group.

    I’m having a hard time figuring out why a secret group deliberately hiding even it’s existence, should take out an advertisment publicising that secret group deliberately hiding even it’s existence. Something smells indeed.

    Here’s a snippet from a Red Dirt Report article, reporting that the Murrow Indian Children’s Home staff considered that what they had refused was not a money as a donation (which Wilbourn keeps referring to it as) but “money for an advert”:

    The charity issued a press release Wednesday afternoon that reaffirmed their rejection of Wilbourn’s donation, even as the GoFundMe had reached into the thousands:

    “To accept money for an advertisement which would indicate ‘In Honor of the Muskogee Atheist Community’ in the advertisement, would be contrary to those Biblical principles upon which we at Murrow stand. … … The charity’s press release goes on to say: “Mr. Wilbourn asked that his donation be noted in the ad, ‘In Honor of the Muskogee Atheist Community.’”

    http://www.reddirtreport.com/prairie-opinions/muskogee-children%E2%80%99s-charity-refuses-28280-donation-local-atheist-group

    Also note that phrase, “even as the GoFundMe had reached into the thousands”; I’ll have more to add on that topic.

  23. Dhay says:

    “Friendly Atheist” Hemant Mehta has blogged:

    One of this site’s readers, Jonathan, was really frustrated that the Murrow Indian Children’s Home in Oklahoma was refusing to accept any donations from atheists. …

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2016/09/02/an-atheist-found-a-way-to-give-money-to-the-charity-that-refuses-donations-from-the-godless/

    Jonathan was “really frustrated”? Jonathan is easily frustrated. Jonathan should get a life.

    Odd that Jonathan should be really frustrated now, at this particular Home, when he probably never was concerned about it and its children (and families) before. I rather think it’s the frustration a teenager with a spray can gets upon seeing an unvandalised bus-stop.

    So Jonathan wanted to see if there was a way around the charity’s ban while still letting them know atheists cared about the children at the Home.

    I think he figured it out.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2016/09/02/an-atheist-found-a-way-to-give-money-to-the-charity-that-refuses-donations-from-the-godless/

    Below, Mehta reproduces the confirmation of receipt of $6.66 that Jonathan received from “The Murrow Children’s Indian Home”. No, Mehta, it doesn’t “let them know atheists care about the children”, and quite obviously not: it says “Up yours, Christian staff”.

    (The confirmation should, of course, say, “Murrow Indian Children’s Home”; which raises the question of whether Jonathan is a successful donor or a bad forger.)

    Let’s assume he did donate. Wowee, big guy, you’ve really got one over on the Home, haven’t you, “666”, unmistakable; and Mehta’s right there giving Jonathan an arena to strut his stuff in front of like-minded readers, while Mehta applauds and cheerleads.

    I’d like to point out that Jonathan and Mehta are two people who Peter Boghossian would claim don’t belong on the kid’s table.

  24. Michael says:

    I’m having a hard time figuring out why a secret group deliberately hiding even it’s existence, should take out an advertisment publicising that secret group deliberately hiding even it’s existence. Something smells indeed.

    Indeed. The atheist group hides its very existence from the world, yet wants the children’s charity to publicly honor it? It makes no sense. It get’s even more weird when Mehta tells us in one of his blog posts that Wilbourn expected the group to reimburse his donation from the group’s funds. A secret FB group has funds? The smell is getting worse.

    Here’s a snippet from a Red Dirt Report article,

    Notice the misinformation. The news article describes a secret FB group as a “local atheist group.”

  25. Dhay says:

    I became very familiar, some years back, with the following interaction type: a subordinate would ask to allowed to do something that contravened the standard operating procedure rules; I would assess the request, and when appropriate decide that there was no good reason to ignore the rules in this particular case and refuse the request. The classic response was, “But it’s such a small matter, why are you making such a fuss/big deal about it.” Actually, I never ever had made a fuss, I simply said, “No”; I made a justifiable decision that was within my power and duty to make, and then moved on with my duties: the person who was making the big fuss, those outraged howls over “such a small matter”, was the boundaries-pushing subordinate.

    So it has been with the Murrow Indian Children’s Home: it made the decision to say “No” to Matt Wilbourn’s attempt to push at its boundaries, then acted with dignity and the courage of their convictions in simply continuing to say “No”, and in ignoring … in ignoring Wilbourn’s massive freak-out.

    And Wilbourn’s head-games; Unfriendly Atheist Hemant Mehta blogged:

    It was almost a mind game: How much cash could atheists raise for a Baptist charity before the employees finally said, okay, okay, we’ll take your dirty heathen money?

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2016/08/23/an-oklahoma-charity-rejected-an-atheists-donation-so-hes-raising-more-until-they-say-yes/

    No, Mehta, not “almost”, but “only”; have you (or Wilbourn) never dealt with professional people with ethics and integrity; the Home’s manager was never ever going to accept any amount of money to publicise an atheist group, least of all one which had proved so instantly hostile and sheer nasty; perhaps your hope (and Wilbourn’s hope, and the hope of your readers) that the Home might be successfully bribed to abandon its ethics and integrity is a projection of your (and Wilbourn’s, and your readers’) own lack of ethics and integrity — you would abandon your integrity, for a sufficient sum, so the Home might likewise be persuaded.

    But no, the Home said “No”, said as little as practicable to the Press, got on with its own business, and quietly ignored the fuss, even closing down its FaceBook page to stop the outraged howls and obscenities there which Wilburn and Mehta were busy rabble-rousing — the mind-games being played were in practice being played on Mehta’s atheist readers — which Wilburn and Mehta were busy rabble-rousing to encourage; but no, the Home said “No”, and there was never the slightest chance it was ever going to compromise its integrity.

    That GoFundMe money, ostensibly raised on behalf of the Home, was never ever destined for the Home; this was reasonably foreseeable, indeed predictable, indeed an obvious certainty; and this raises questions as to the ethics and integrity of the Wilbourns (and Mehta, too, in my opinion.)

  26. Michael says:

    Dhay:

    I became very familiar, some years back, with the following interaction type: a subordinate would ask to allowed to do something that contravened the standard operating procedure rules; I would assess the request, and when appropriate decide that there was no good reason to ignore the rules in this particular case and refuse the request. The classic response was, “But it’s such a small matter, why are you making such a fuss/big deal about it.” Actually, I never ever had made a fuss, I simply said, “No”; I made a justifiable decision that was within my power and duty to make, and then moved on with my duties: the person who was making the big fuss, those outraged howls over “such a small matter”, was the boundaries-pushing subordinate.

    So it has been with the Murrow Indian Children’s Home: it made the decision to say “No” to Matt Wilbourn’s attempt to push at its boundaries, then acted with dignity and the courage of their convictions in simply continuing to say “No”, and in ignoring … in ignoring Wilbourn’s massive freak-out.

    And Wilbourn’s head-games; Unfriendly Atheist Hemant Mehta blogged:

    It was almost a mind game: How much cash could atheists raise for a Baptist charity before the employees finally said, okay, okay, we’ll take your dirty heathen money?

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2016/08/23/an-oklahoma-charity-rejected-an-atheists-donation-so-hes-raising-more-until-they-say-yes/

    No, Mehta, not “almost”, but “only”; have you (or Wilbourn) never dealt with professional people with ethics and integrity; the Home’s manager was never ever going to accept any amount of money to publicise an atheist group, least of all one which had proved so instantly hostile and sheer nasty; perhaps your hope (and Wilbourn’s hope, and the hope of your readers) that the Home might be successfully bribed to abandon its ethics and integrity is a projection of your (and Wilbourn’s, and your readers’) own lack of ethics and integrity — you would abandon your integrity, for a sufficient sum, so the Home might likewise be persuaded.

    But no, the Home said “No”, said as little as practicable to the Press, got on with its own business, and quietly ignored the fuss, even closing down its FaceBook page to stop the outraged howls and obscenities there which Wilburn and Mehta were busy rabble-rousing — the mind-games being played were in practice being played on Mehta’s atheist readers — which Wilburn and Mehta were busy rabble-rousing to encourage; but no, the Home said “No”, and there was never the slightest chance it was ever going to compromise its integrity.

    That GoFundMe money, ostensibly raised on behalf of the Home, was never ever destined for the Home; this was reasonably foreseeable, indeed predictable, indeed an obvious certainty; and this raises questions as to the ethics and integrity of the Wilbourns (and Mehta, too, in my opinion.)

    Excellent analysis.

  27. Dhay says:

    I thought I’d do a timeline, so far as I can piece it together: it’s complicated by time zone differences (presumably successfully avoided by looking mid-afternoon to ensure Britain and the USA are on the same day/date) and all the GoFundMe info being dated “N days ago”, which yielded the rather startling result that Hemant Mehta was announcing important matters on his blog which were not announced officially via GoFundMe Updates until next day.

    But the GoFundMe start date calculates right, by subtraction, as being the same Tuesday 23 August that Mehta reported for its start date in his blog; so I have to assume that the Update dates are likewise correct, and that Mehta was indeed receiving information before the general public; and, reversing that, that Matt Wilbourn was indeed making his public announcements the day after he informed Mehta privately. Is that last ethical? For either?

    Looks like Wilbourn and Mehta have been as close as two crossed fingers throughout.

    22 August: $100 given, rejected, upped to $250 on phone/email, rejected, $100 returned by next post.

    23 August: Wilbourn goes straight to the media, likewise to Hemant Mehta to get hostile publicity for the Murrow Indian Children’s Home. Wilbourn starts up a GoFundMe explicitly for the Home (without its permission or consent – is that ethical?), and for the Home only, repeat, only, with a mere $1,000 target. Mehta’s blog reports $625 collected for Home so far. (Mehta’s ***Update*** at the top reports the 24th.)

    24 August: Mehta reports $11,500 (and counting) has been given for the Home; Mehta (not Wilbourn) announces that “if the religious charity continues to reject the money, it will all go to Camp Quest. You can donate right here.” Mehta’s “Update:” says “Matt tells me he’s giving the charity until 7:00p tonight to accept the money or Camp Quest will get all of it.” (So up until this point there’s nothing to tell donors that they are not still donating solely to the Home.)

    25 August: Mehta reports the GoFundMe has now collected $21,255, then $21,610, then $24,000. Wilburn publishes GoFundMe Update1 saying now only $5,000 will go to the Home, the rest will go to Camp Quest Oklahoma, and collections of donations will continue with an explicit no top limit.

    26 August:

    27 August: Wilburn publishes GoFundMe Update1 saying now it’ll be $5,106.47 to Home. The rest of the money (after taxes and collection fees) will go to Camp Quest Oklahoma.

    28 August:

    29 August:

    30 August: Update 2 updates Update 1 with administrative details – it’ll be the wife’s personal bank account used to hold the money, and two cheques will be made out.

    31 August:

    01 September: Mehta blogs that all monies raised, $25,667.80, after GoFundMe’s take, will now be donated to Camp Quest Oklahoma.

    02 September: Wilburn publishes Update 4, saying ” … Therefore, it is with a very small amount of reluctance that I will now announce that we are donating all of the money to CampQuest Oklahoma.

    Correct me if you think I have got the dates wrong, and say why. This will be the basis of a later response on ethics, honesty, integrity and hypocrisy.

  28. Dhay says:

    Correction of myself ref Update numbers (only):

    25 August: Update 1
    27 August: Update 2 (had Update 1)
    30 August: Update 3 updates Update 2 (had Update 2 updates Update 1)
    02 September: Update 4

  29. TFBW says:

    When I look at the GoFundMe page, I see “Created August 22, 2016”. I don’t know what time zone that’s expressed in, or whether the output is adjusted for the time zone of my browser.

  30. Doug says:

    @Dhay,
    You write:

    Wilbourn starts up a GoFundMe explicitly for the Home

    Is this the case? There is no clue on the GoFundMe page…

  31. Dhay says:

    TFBW > “Created August 22, 2016″

    Thanks. That’s strange, and I don’t know what to make of it for certain. If correct, it means that Matt Wilbourn was lightning fast in his over-reaction, and created the GoFundMe on the very same day the $100, then $250, were refused; which is certainly not to his credit.

    On the other hand, if I count back from today using the N in “Raised by 1,268 people in N days” (N increments each day, of course, provided you remember to refresh the browser window), I reach 23 August. But, conceivably it refers to intervening days 00:00-23:59 fully completed, ignoring fractions, pushing creation back to 22 August and dating each GoFundMe Update a day earlier than shown in my Timeline above.

    Doug > Is this the case? There is no clue on the GoFundMe page…

    NORMAN, Okla. – The GoFundMe page for the Muskogee Atheist Community has surpassed $28,000 of an original $1,000 goal. The fundraiser was launched on Aug. 22 by Matt Wilbourn, founder of the group, with the goal of donating the funds to the Murrow Indian Children’s Home, described on their website as a 501(c)3 nonprofit residential facility exclusively for American Indian children who are in out-of-home placement due to abuse or neglect.

    http://www.reddirtreport.com/prairie-opinions/muskogee-children%E2%80%99s-charity-refuses-28280-donation-local-atheist-group

    That’s dated 26 August. Then there’s Hemant Mehta’s 23 August blog post, which specifically mentions the GoFundMe $1,000 target:

    Would the Baptist group reject a donation of $625 because it came from atheists? How about $1,000? At what point would …

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2016/08/23/an-oklahoma-charity-rejected-an-atheists-donation-so-hes-raising-more-until-they-say-yes/

    And the 24 August update in that same first 23 August post says:

    ***Update***: The charity is still refusing to accept the atheist group’s money on principle. That’s $11,500 (and counting) …

    And near the bottom of the 24 August blog post Mehta reiterates:

    Just to reiterate, this charity that says it cares for “American Indian children that are in out-of-home placement as a result of abuse and neglect” are refusing to accept $11,500 (and counting) …

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2016/08/24/a-religious-charity-in-oklahoma-says-itll-reject-all-money-raised-by-a-local-atheist-on-principle/

    It’s possible Red Dirt reporter might have got it wrong, reporting a few days after the GoFundMe creation, but Mehta’s contemporaneous messages ‘from the horse’s mouth’ look clear enough: initially, the GoFundMe was solely for the Murrow Indian Children’s Home.

  32. Doug says:

    @Dhay,
    But the following are quite different things:
    1. Setting up a GoFundMe which explicitly claims funds are going to a certain charity.
    2. Setting up a GoFundMe page which looks (as at present) like funds are going to MAC, while externally making the representations you catalog.

  33. Dhay says:

    @Doug,
    The GoFundMe currently tells us it was set up by “Matt Wilbourn on behalf of Keli Wilbourn FORT GIBSON, OK”, so the immediate recipient was clearly (not MAC but) Keli Wilbourn; and sure enough, it’s her personal bank account that the nett monies collected ended up in.

    I may be missing some subtlety in what you are saying. While the original text of the GoFundMe’s home page is now missing — is that ethical? — it appears clear that initially, the GoFundMe was solely on behalf of the Murrow Indian Children’s Home.

  34. Doug says:

    @Dhay,
    Yes: it does boil down to the original text/presentation of the GoFundMe page. I’m sure that I’m not the only one who would be upset to discover that funds I had sent to a GoFundMe page ostensibly created toward a given charity would be re-routed somewhere else. With that in mind, unless given evidence to the contrary, I’m betting that Wilbourn did not make the GoFundMe explicit with respect to its charity target.

  35. Dhay says:

    Looking around for evidence of what that original, now changed, GoFundMe page said, I found that the Murray Home incident already has a substantial entry on the Camp Quest Wiki page:

    … Wilbourn then offered the Home $250 which they refused again. Then Wilbourn set up a GoFundMe site asking for donations for the Home, within two days over $28,000 was raised …

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camp_Quest#Murrow_Indian_Children.27s_Home_donation

    Do read that subsection now, these pages tend to be edited often.

    Note that this Camp Quest page entry tells us the GoFundMe was set up “asking for donations for the Home”. Not asking for donations to “the Home and …”, not asking for donations to anything else whatsoever.

    *

    The subsection concludes by telling us that for Camp Quest Oklahoma, $25,667.80 was an embarrassment of riches:

    Oklahoma’s Camp Quest director, Cindy Cooper issued a statement detailing what they planned on doing with the funds. Five-thousand dollars will go to Camp Quest national. The remaining money will be used [by Camp Quest Oklahoma for various purposes].

    And that, I suppose, is why the Wiki Camp Quest (national) page’s ‘Murrow Indian Children’s Home donation’ subsection is there at all. Part of the monies from a GoFundMe set up “asking for donations for the Home”, as the subsection explicitly puts it, have been diverted to Camp Quest (national); and I don’t suppose they can be comfortable with the ethics of that.

    Not that Camp Quest (national) has had sufficient scruples and integrity to refuse the money. Any more than Camp Quest Oklahoma had.

  36. Dhay says:

    Although the original wording of the Wilbourns’ GoFundMe page has now been replaced by other text, so it’s not accessible, we do have a number of sources all saying and none contradicting what the Red Dirt Report reported, nobody has reported here what it definitively did say, so I’ll be guided by:

    NORMAN, Okla. – The GoFundMe page for the Muskogee Atheist Community has surpassed $28,000 of an original $1,000 goal. The fundraiser was launched on Aug. 22 by Matt Wilbourn, founder of the group, with the goal of donating the funds to the Murrow Indian Children’s Home, described on their website as a 501(c)3 nonprofit residential facility exclusively for American Indian children who are in out-of-home placement due to abuse or neglect.

    http://www.reddirtreport.com/prairie-opinions/muskogee-children%E2%80%99s-charity-refuses-28280-donation-local-atheist-group

    Looks like the GoFundMe originally started out as being for the sole benefit of the Murrow Indian Children’s Home. And the stated target was a mere $1,000.

    Let’s compare and contrast this Wilbourns’ GoFundMe with a similar one which also raised funds for a childrens’ home: as discussed recently in these threads, the BiZoHa “World’s First Atheist Orphanage” started a GoFundMe to raise its $5,798 goal; “FULLY FUNDED! BiZoHa Orphanage reached it’s campaign goal in 29 Hours” says its page; as with the Wilbourns’ GoFundMe, the donations poured in rapidly. All of the solicited donations went to the BiZoHa Orphanage, as promised.

    https://www.gofundme.com/atheismOrphanage

    I said above that I’d have more to add about the Wilbourns’ GoFundMe. Keep in mind throughout that absolutely none of any money raised by the GoFundMe was going to reach the Home, there was never any realistic likelihood that it would or could, hence any and all money raised by it was inevitably — not perhaps, but inevitably — destined to not get to the Home.

    The Wilbourns’ GoFundMe originally started out as being for the sole benefit of the Murrow Indian Children’s Home. And the stated target was a mere $1,000. The Wilbourns started a GoFundMe to raise $1,000 for the Murrow Indian Children’s Home, knowing with a certainty that must have been near-total that not a cent raised would reach the Home; in short, under false pretences, fraudulently. Does anyone wish to claim that the Wilbourns acted ethically, honestly and had integrity in raising $1,000 for the Home, while knowing with near-certainty that not a cent would actually reach the Home?

    But the fund-raising didn’t stop at $1,000. And the question arises, why didn’t it. The disregard for ethics, the dishonesty, the lack of integrity got worse.

    By Update 1 of Wilbourn’s GoFundMe, it’s obvious that more than $5,000 must already have been received: the Wilbourns had declared they were raising $1,000 for the Murrow Indian Children’s Home, repeat, for the Murrow Indian Children’s Home, but now had $5,000 or more, all up until then donated expressly to go to the Home. Yet the money would never go to the Home, and the Wilbourns knew that from the start. Does anyone wish to claim that the Wilbourns acted ethically, honestly and had integrity in raising $5,000 or more for the Home while knowing with near-certainty that not a cent would actually reach the Home?

    Update 1 also tells us that the amount to be donated to the Home would from then on be capped at $5,000. So even if the Home had decided to accept $5,000 at that point, other monies donated for the Home would have been withheld and diverted. Is it ethical and honest to withhold monies donated for the Home to another purpose. Where’s the integrity in that.

    We are going to give all but $5,000 of the money to Camp Quest Oklahoma. … We will continue to let the GoFundMe account rise until it stops.

    So, from the time of Update 1 onwards, the Wilbourns’ GoFundMe page was no longer raising a single cent for the Home, and every dollar and cent raised thereafter — and that fund-raising was to be open-ended (“until it stops”) – was for Camp Quest Oklahoma. Is that ethical? Indeed, is it fraud?

    It makes a lie of any claim (such as Mehta’s) that $28,280 was raised for the Home. It wasn’t: Update 1 tells us that every cent raised after the first $5,000 was earmarked by the Wilbourns for CampQuest Oklahoma, and only for Camp Quest Oklahoma.

    Now, I would have thought that any ethical person raising $1,000 for the Murrow Indian Children’s Home would have closed it to further donations once they knew the $1,000 target had been reached – instead of which, the Wilbourns continued to collect donations from a GoFundMe linked to in presumably numerous blogs (including Hemant Mehta’s), press articles, tweets etc etc, with accompanying text saying the link is for donating to the Murrow Indian Children’s Home; except now, it’s actually collecting solely for Camp Quest Oklahoma.

    If the Wilbourns wanted to raise funds for Camp Quest Oklahoma, a charity not only different, but polarly different in ethos, he should have opened a GoFundMe page specifically for Camp Quest Oklahoma. Are the Wilbourns ethical? Are the Wilbourns honest?

    By Update 2, two days later, the total had risen to that $28,280, and the Wilbourns had decided to up the $5,000 to $5,106.47. (Notionally $5,000 + $100 originally intended donation + reimbursement of postage, but in practice an amount which, if it ever appeared on the Home’s accounts, could and would receive maximum publicity as, “The Home caved in and hypocritically accepted the money.”)

    Plainly, monies donated for the sole benefit of the Murrow Indian Children’s Home were diverted without warning – any warning came later, and might not have been noticed anyway by people clicking on eg Mehta’s GoFundMe link, labelled as enabling donors to donate to the Home:

    For now, the GoFundMe page [link provided] amount seems to go up every time you refresh the page. I realize some of you may balk at the fact that the money is going to a religious charity, but why would you say no to helping these children?

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2016/08/23/an-oklahoma-charity-rejected-an-atheists-donation-so-hes-raising-more-until-they-say-yes/

    I’d say that when monies have clearly been donated for one purpose, but are diverted to be used for another purpose, that’s deception; indeed, I’d call it corruption. In Britain, I would be putting the facts before the Charities Commissioner (who has oversight of charities and their operations); and having a chat with the Police.

    Then there’s the question of the ethics, honesty, and integrity of the Camp Quest Oklahoma management, a Camp which is, according to its home page, “dedicated to improving the human condition through rational inquiry, … …, ethics, …” and teaches the values of “… integrity, empathy, … …”. Good luck instilling those, when the Camp Quest Oklahoma management have such lousy ethics and lack of integrity that they have now accepted monies clearly intended – and with close links to the local atheist community, how could they not have known this – clearly intended by donors to fund the Murrow Indian Children’s Home solely, hence obtained, given and accepted dishonestly.

    Camp Quest Oklahoma has in turn donated $5,000 to the national Camp Quest. My comments about Camp Quest Oklahoma accepting this money from the Wilbourns applies equally to Camp Quest accepting money from Camp Quest Oklahoma.

    Looks like the ethical rot is endemic; it infects not just the Wilbourns, the Muskogee Atheist Community (whatever that might be), and Mehta, but also the wider atheist community, where Camp organisers teach by bad example.

  37. SteveK says:

    I’d say that when monies have clearly been donated for one purpose, but are diverted to be used for another purpose, that’s deception; indeed, I’d call it corruption.

    There are numerous people who donated to the Murrow Home via the Go Fund Me page, expecting that donation to go there. When they switched the intended recipient they should have returned the donation, or at the very least notified the donors and given them that option.

    Imagine giving money to the Red Cross only to have them inform you later that they gave your donation to Camp Quest.

  38. Dhay says:

    I note that the Unfriendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta, thinks that a Christian who briefly opened a parallel GoFundMe to raise funds for the Home was, as the blog post title puts it, “Out of Spite, a Christian is Fundraising for the Same Baptist Charity That Rejected Atheists’ Money.”

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2016/08/25/out-of-spite-a-christian-is-fundraising-for-the-same-baptist-charity-that-rejected-atheists-money/

    Whereas the Matt Wilbourn is a sqeaky clean mere kind-hearted lover of children with no ulterior motives or agenda whatsoever, by the look of Mehta’s account. Odd, that.

    But I think Mehta has acknowledged that Wilbourn is acting from spite, because: “***Update***: Atheists are now donating to his fundraiser. It’s like a quadruple spite happening right now. I can’t keep track anymore.”

  39. TFBW says:

    Mehta has some strange ideas about “spite”. File them with his strange ideas about “friendly”, I guess.

  40. Dhay says:

    In Britain there has been a very long-running BBC Radio series called The Archers, twelve minutes a day, six days a week. For the last two years it has been building up the tension with a domestic abuse story, culminating in the villain, Rob Titchener, putting a knife in his wife’s hand and saying, “The only way you’re leaving me is if you kill yourself”; well, he got stabbed himself when she protected her child from him, and this week she’s on trial.

    Sunday night, the trial’s first day, finished with the sound of our villain, voice breaking, explaining to the court how he really loves his wife and only ever acted for her benefit.

    There were stories going round — rather far-fetched, and I don’t find them online — that some listeners were so appalled, they threw their radios at the wall.

    Why mention this here? Well, Matt Wilbourn had a donation returned because Wilbourn pushed at the boundaries of the Murrow Home’s management. The Home made a decision, stuck to it, and maintained a dignified near-silence.

    We have been deafened by the sound of atheist radios hitting the wall.

    These are people whose ethos is Science and Rationality. Go figure.

  41. Billy Squibs says:

    The Archers! I’m guessing you’re a person of a certain age, Dhay.

  42. Dhay says:

    I observe that this incident went from nothing to nuclear lightning fast: the GoFundMe was started the same day, which indicates to me that going nuclear might not have been Plan B, but Plan A all along.

    I wonder whether Matt Wilbourn or a mate has tried this stunt on the Murrow Home before, so he knew what would happen, and had Plan A pre-planned. I don’t suppose I’m going to find out, but I do note that Wilbourn was quickly in touch with Hemant Mehta, and that the two of them seem to have been as close as two crossed fingers, constantly communicating throughout. I’ve even wondered if Mehta was not just cheerleading, but conducting, with Mehta the ideas man.

    Has Wilbourn pulled this sort of stunt before? Possibly not, but he will have read about similar incidents of refusal of donations on Mehta’s Poison Dwarf blog. Here’s a link to one of Michael’s blog posts, from 2013, commenting on one such incident where Mehta was gleefully involved in ‘spinning’ for all he was worth.

    https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2013/12/21/more-atheist-as-victim-drama/

    And Crude’s comment at the bottom (the 2nd response) indicates that that certainly wasn’t the first such occasion. That they should try again, varying the tactics, was very predictable. And cynical.

    Mehta and his readers can have been in no doubt what to expect from the Murrow Home; they’d seen similar doors knocked on before, and the knockers turned away each time; this time, they decided to knock with a sledgehammer.

    But were turned away yet again.

  43. Dhay says:

    I wondered where the figures of $100 and $1,000 came from; in this podcast Matt Wilbourn tell us: the form that Wilbourn filled in, which allowed the donation to be advertised as “In honour of…”, allowed for donations of “$100 to $1,000”.

    http://www.blogtalkradio.com/thethinkingatheist/2016/08/24/we-dont-want-your-atheist-money
    @04:45

    If you listen a few seconds longer, you find that the section as the bottom — the advert text — was intended, and Wilbourn understood it as being intended, as an “In memoriam..” or the largely equivalent “In honour of…”; Wilbourn knowingly attempted to pervert the purpose of the memorial text.

    By donating $100, Wilbourn was donating the minimum amount that would ensure that “Muskogee Atheist Community” was advertised (at the Pow-WOW?); any less, no advert: the figure of $1,000 was chosen for the GoFundMe target because it was the maximum amount that would ensure that “Muskogee Atheist Community” was advertised.

    As “frustrated” Mehta reader Jonathan has demonstrated — yes, I’ve experimented, so I know that the twisted order of the Home’s name in the acknowledgement is the Home’s blunder, confirming rather than contradicting that Jonathan managed to donate his petty $6.66 — it’s quite possible to donate whatsoever sum you want to the Home, via PayPal; you just don’t get to get yourself listed in the “In honour of…” adverts.

    What this tells me of is not a generous wish to give $100 or $250 or $1,000 to a charity, but a wish to give a donation of an amount which would ensure that “Muskogee Atheist Community” (and the link to Matt Wilbourn’s name as the contact) got advertised.

  44. Michael says:

    Dhay: If you listen a few seconds longer, you find that the section as the bottom — the advert text — was intended, and Wilbourn understood it as being intended, as an “In memoriam..” or the largely equivalent “In honour of…”; Wilbourn knowingly attempted to pervert the purpose of the memorial text.

    Nice catch. Yes, it sure does look like the activist was playing his game from the start. Notice how he chuckles when he says “She said God bless you.” It’s almost as if the activist recognizes the irony that he played her and she blessed him for it.

    I also noted that he donated $100 cash. Apparently, it was a crisp, brand new $100 bill as his photo of the returned money showed. It’s a little odd that a fulltime college student, working in a print shop, is carrying around crisp $100 bills and so easily parts with one.

    I notice some other things too. First, the staffer was a “young lady.” She is the one who called him back and was acting as “the middleman.” More importantly, she is the only one Matt talked to that day. After she tried to return the donation, Wilbourn said he needed to talk to his group first.

    But when did this happen? You would think it would be after work. Whenever it was, he was able to elicit their feedback in lightning speed. Because he contacted someone again and said, “Keep the $100, we’re actually raising it to $250.” BUt then listen at 7:42.

    He contacted an editor at a local news website, then he contacted the TV station. He emailed the director of the Home and explained “what had happened that morning“. It turns out he offered the $250 in the email and then threatened her by letting her know the email was being cc’d to the editor of the news site he contacted earlier. She never replied, probably because she didn’t see the email, given it must have been late afternoon or evening when he sent it. About the same time, he was probably busy setting up the GoFundme account as his group wanted him to do, as the original news report said he set it up Monday evening. It probably went live early on Tues, because by the time Mehta blogged about it on Tues, it already had $625.

    So Willbourn only talked to the “young lady” who came it to get flyers printed. Within hours of receiving her call, he collaborated with his secret atheist group, who came up with the idea to start the GoFundMe page. He contacted two news organizations and then sent an email to the director about his group’s $250 offer and let her know his email was being cc’d to a media person.

    There is no reason Wilbourn had to move so fast on this. There is no reason he had to contact the media. The best explanation for this odd behavior is that Wilbourn, an admitted activist, was engaged in activist street theater. In fact, at 10:22, he describes these events as “a success for the atheist community all over the world.”

  45. Dhay says:

    I am minded of the billboard posters that Sam Harris and his promoters wanted to put up — or claimed they wanted to put up, for I’m sure that it was a stunt to get free publicity — ahead of Harris’ January speaking tour of Australia. The posters were deliberately offensive, so offensive that they easily transgressed the Outdoor Media Association’s code of ethics — which states ads cannot include material that vilifies religion — and then transgressed some again.

    https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2015/11/14/richard-dawkins-makes-isis-stronger/#comment-10172

    What this has in common with the advertisement linking “Muskogee Atheist Community” to Matt Wilbourn is that in each case the publicist “attempted” to get published an advertisement which knowingly pushed boundaries too hard, such that the advert would be refused, then screamed blue murder to the press (and the peanut gallery) about how outrageously the publicist had been treated.

    It’s very manipulative and cynical: you get massive exposure, massive publicity (and the peanut gallery is up in arms and howling unfair play); and because you knew all along you were never realistically going to succeed in getting your adverts published, this massive publicity costs you very little; in the Wilbourn case, assuming the $100 on top from “MAC” that got donated to Camp Quest Oklahoma instead of to the Murrow Home was always intended for Camp Quest Oklahoma — for it was never going to go to the Home — it cost Wilbourn and co. not a cent.

  46. J. McHue says:

    Couple of things.

    #1: The Muskogee Atheist Community now has a Facebook page. Well, sort of. I created it to point out that the organization apparently doesn’t exist outside of this whole story. I strongly suspect that the only place it truly exists is between Matt Wilbourn’s ears.

    #2 – Excellent sleuthing and deducing by Dhay! It’s been both informative and very entertaining to read his comments, particularly the reasoning proposed regarding the dollar amounts selected for the donation and the GoFundMe account. All intended for publicity. It’s pretty clear Wilbourn came up with this under the idea that it was a win-win scenario for him. The Home — a Christian organization — accepts the donation and publishes the name of the alleged atheist community, which he (and very likely other atheists like Mehta) would have loudly bragged about. The Home doesn’t accept the donation, which is what happened, and the atheists put on their self-righteous facades of being offended in order to condemn the Christian organization (and all of Christianity along with it, of course — i.e. the “everyone has their price” bit).

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