(Blogger’s Note: Before anyone misinterprets this post, I am not defending John Ventre’s racist rant, only his right to make it. That is a real but sometimes overlooked distinction. If we begin to limit free speech by labeling it as “hate speech,” and deny a person the right to make a racist rant, how long will it be before someone else decides that he or she doesn’t think we should be talking about UFOs and a government cover up of the information because that is an attack on the government that could be helping our enemies ((whoever that might be and, BTW, an allegation slung by some skeptics), so such speech should be banned… or how long will it be before someone proposes that those who engage in what others might consider as hate speech should be arrested? Free speech allows us to say anything we wish and free speech allows me to disagree with things you might say… Yes, there are often consequences, but when we begin to label parts of free speech as something else, we open the door to censorship.)
Back on The Newsroom, Will McAvoy, the anchor of the fictional News Night, declared that he had a mission to civilize. He got the idea from Don Quixote, a somewhat delusional old knight with a similar mission. I always thought this was a good idea, especially with all the nastiness that has been going around in various circles, including the UFO community. I have never figured out why it is wrong to disagree with some people. If I express an opinion that is counter to what they believe, their tactic is to demand and to attack. It never seems to cross their minds that I have the right to my opinion, the right to express that opinion and they have the right to challenge that opinion with facts but not with nastiness, personal attacks or bullying.
A case on point here is the John Ventre fiasco that started when he posted a racist rant to Facebook triggered by some article or program description that appeared on a Netflix site or a review of a program available on Netflix. A number of people objected to the rant, and Jan Harzan, the executive director of MUFON made it worse by suggesting those who objected were haters. That caused a few to reject MUFON and Harzan finally, belatedly, fired Ventre from his positions in MUFON.
Ventre told me that the trouble had expanded beyond his MUFON associations and that some were sending emails or messages to his various contacts which were affecting his financial situation in a negative fashion. He thought that was dirty pool, and there is something to be said for that. I did a little checking and found that his claim was not far off the mark. He had been cut from the list of speakers on the alien cruise, for example, because, what he told me, was they were afraid others might not attend or other speakers might quit.
So now we drop into an argument about the First Amendment and how far we’re allowed to go with free speech, which, or course, sounds somewhat counter intuitive. Ventre was free to post his rant, whether the information and statements to which he was objecting were accurate or not (which means some have suggested it was a “fake” news post). But he must accept the consequences of such a rant, knowing that it will offend some portion of the population. I found it offensive, and don’t mind saying as much. But that is the point where I stop.
In the world of the UFO (and in many other worlds) that is not the stopping point. There were those who felt it necessary to contact others and suggest that Ventre should not be employed by them or invited to speak to their organizations because of these racist views. Frankly, that is going too far. If those organizations learned of his bigoted view and terminated their association with him because they found his words offensive, that is one thing. But contacting them as a way of harming Ventre because you disagreed with him, that is something else.
Why do I say that?
The first thing that comes to mind is that one of those who found a home on the UFO lecture circuit had spent six years in prison for child molestation. There wasn’t a message from the man that I cared to hear because of that, but I would never think to contact his sponsors or those who invited him to speak because of his conviction. I wouldn’t attempt to get them to cancel his appearance. I just would not attend and if he was there, I would not interact with him. My choice.
Others, though, go out of their way to cause trouble for those whose beliefs don’t match with theirs. A case on point is Philip Klass. Years ago, I had suggested that Klass had done just that… he had called or written employers suggesting, for example, Dr. James McDonald, had used Navy funds to research UFOs. The allegation wasn’t exactly true, but the Navy cancelled a number of McDonald’s contracts for that reason. You can read the whole posting here:
The other thing that I learned during this admittedly short investigation was that one of those might not have been overly offended by Ventre’s rant, but saw this as an opportunity for some payback. Ventre had attacked him and his friend for some time and now was the chance to get even.
Would I have taken the chance?
I like to think, “No.” I have had a couple of chances and in one of them, I did take the opportunity. In others, it just seemed to be pilling on. So, the answer is that I have done it in the past, but in the world today, I think I would just ignore it and move on. The best example for today is that I haven’t published the name of the pedophile here… most know who it is and the point is now moot anyway.
Ventre suffered the consequences for what he had said (posted) and he has lost the positions of importance that he held in MUFON. An organization cannot stand the sort of bigoty expressed in the rant. Society should be quick to condemn that bigoty. Free speech doesn’t mean that you can say anything without consequence, but it should not result in others using it to damage an individual. That sort of thing inhibits free speech. Besides, he, or she, can do that all by his or herself by simply saying or posting those sorts of things.
We all have choices to make and if we are offended by a point of view, then we are not required to any attend lectures given by those with that offending point of view. We are not required to share the stage, the venue, a book byline or even talk with that individual, but we should not call their business partners and contacts and should not attempt to get their invitations to speak cancelled because that smacks of suppression of free speech. Disagree with their investigation methods, argue for a rational point of view on the cases, dislike their opinions but do not suggest that their rants are a reason to interfere with their lives.
Yes, I know that I haven’t made the point as well as I might. I am suggesting a little civility in our interactions with others. I am suggesting that we don’t have to resort to dirty tricks and the get even mentality. I am suggesting that Ventre might have suffered enough for an ill-advised rant that seemed to expose his bigoty. I am suggesting there has been enough of a consequence for his rant without most of us using it as an excuse for revenge, and yes, I know for a fact that this happened.