This is the second part of a three-part story, about a small cabal of dishonest people, who destroyed all democratic legitimacy within Atheist Alliance International (AAI). In the first part of the story, the video interviews given and the documents written by those directly involved, described how they went about Getting The Cabal Together. In brief, during 2017 this small cabal:
- suspended the AAI Bylaws without telling the rest of the Board or the Affiliate Member groups
- awarded uncompetitive no-tender contracts from AAI to their own children
- became the first AAI Board that ever refused to publish annual financial accounts to the AAI Affiliate Member groups (those accounts are still missing today)
- went on to spend years falsely pretending to be the democratic representatives of many atheist groups worldwide (including at the United Nations) when in fact they had never received a single vote from a single AAI Affiliate Member group
- also went on to spend years repeatedly lying about all of this wrongdoing
In this part of the story, more video interviews given and more documents written by those directly involved, will demonstrate how the cabal planned and executed a coup. They unlawfully expelled a large number of AAI Affiliate Member groups without consultation; they dishonestly manipulated the electorate by adding groups to the voter roll who were not entitled to vote; and then they illegitimately changed the Bylaws to give themselves full personal control of the organisation and all of its assets.
The Unprecedented Crisis Caused By The 2017 Board
The first part of this story included a quote from an AAI Affiliate Member group, requesting that the mandatory 2017 Annual General Meeting (AGM) should be arranged by the AAI Board. In declining to do so, the 2017 Board became the first Directors in the history of the alliance that refused to arrange the AGM that the AAI Bylaws required them to organise. A full copy of those AAI Bylaws is available at the bottom of this page. That document describes how Directors should be elected to the AAI Board by the Affiliate Member groups at an AGM. Specifically, the 2017 AGM should have been the forum at which a Board of Directors acquired a mandate to act on behalf of AAI during 2018. However, since no 2017 AGM took place and there were no elections, on 1st January 2018 there effectively was no AAI Board. There wasn’t a single Director who had any mandate to do anything at all on behalf of AAI. It remained the case that no person within the cabal consisting of Howard Burman, Bill Flavell and John Richards had ever received even a single vote from a single AAI Affiliate Member group.
This was an unprecedented crisis for AAI. No other AAI Board had ever created such a disastrous situation for the alliance. In response, a number of the AAI Affiliate Member groups got together in an effort to rectify the calamitous situation that the 2017 Board had left the alliance in. For example, the Freedom From Religion Foundation and Atheist Ireland documented a series of proposals for how the alliance could be democratically reconstituted, and they discussed with the remnant 2017 Board how these proposals could be put to the Affiliate Member groups for a vote. These discussions continued throughout January, February and March of 2018. The detailed interactions took place over conference calls, emails and by exchanging extensive documentation.
The first set of documentation was sent to Howard Burman by email on 24th January 2018. The remnant 2017 Board then replied to these proposals from the Freedom From Religion Foundation and Atheist Ireland, by uploading the documents into an online file. This was to allow all parties to collaboratively edit the proposed sequence of events for arranging a vote by all AAI Affiliate Member groups.
The remnant 2017 Board continued playing along with these discussions into March of 2018, but this was just a dishonest ruse. In fact, the cabal was not at all interested in the democratic reconstitution of AAI. Instead, they had already decided to unlawfully expel those AAI Affiliate Member groups who preferred such a democratic approach, and instead take personal control of the organisation. That is, while they were maintaining a pretence towards the Freedom From Religion Foundation and Atheist Ireland that they were working towards re-establishing AAI by a democratic vote of all the Affiliate Member groups, in fact they were at the same time making plans to illegitimately change the Bylaws in order to give their own cabal full control of AAI. The cabal was secretly planning a coup.
The Secret Plans For A Coup By Proxy
The AAI Bylaws described a strict timetable of events that was required in order to arrange an AGM vote, which was necessary to make any changes to those Bylaws. In summary:
- all Affiliate Member groups had to be notified of the AGM at least 12 weeks prior to the meeting
- any motion to change the Bylaws had to be received by the Secretary at least 8 weeks prior to the AGM
- the motion to change the Bylaws had to be sent to all Affiliate Member groups at least 6 weeks prior to the AGM
- any proposed amendments to motions had to be received at least 5 weeks prior to the AGM
- the final motion to change the Bylaws along with any amendments and the roll of voters, had to be sent to all Affiliate Member groups at least 4 weeks prior to the AGM
The cabal had no intention of doing this because their proposed anti-democratic changes to the Bylaws, giving themselves personal control of AAI, would never have won support from a majority of Affiliate Member groups. Instead, they decided to arrange what they called a “Director’s AGM”, at which no AAI Affiliate Member groups would attend to debate and vote on motions. A “Director’s AGM” is a pure contrivance that the cabal invented out of thin air, at which they would meet only with each other and record proxy votes that they had illegitimately gathered. This was totally outside of the AAI Bylaws, but as John Richards has explained, that didn’t matter to the cabal because they had secretly suspended the Bylaws.
The full live and unedited video interview from which this extract is taken, is available here.
John Richards went on to explain within the comments on his YouTube channel, how this bogus “Director’s AGM” was arranged. That full discussion is available here and the relevant extracts are quoted below:
John Richards: It was a Director’s AGM.
Question: What is a Director’s AGM? Does it mean that only Directors attend the AGM?
John Richards: Yes, as you’d expect from the literal meanings of the words, only Directors attended.Comment discussion under a John Richards YouTube video from 25th July 2022
So the coup involved the cabal totally ignoring the AAI Bylaws, while all of the AAI Affiliate Member groups (including those working on democratic reconstitution proposals) were anticipating adherence to those Bylaws. Since the cabal had suspended the Bylaws in secret, the AAI Affiliate Member groups were still waiting on notifications according to the timetable in the Bylaws, while the cabal were following a very different plan that nobody else knew about. According to the cabal’s plan for a “Director’s AGM”, there would be no schedule of notifications and invitations sent to all Affiliate Member groups, just “a gathering of the existing Board”.
The plan for the coup was to canvass only those people that the cabal suspected might be willing to go along with their corrupt plan. Contrary to the requirement to publish proposed Bylaw changes towards all Affiliate Member groups, the cabal kept their alternative anti-democratic proposals secret from all those groups that favoured a democratic approach. Instead, they unlawfully expelled the Affiliate Member groups that preferred democratic structures, and they only involved those who they thought might go along with their coup. We know this because on one occasion, they guessed wrong and contacted an Affiliate Member group that preferred adherence to the Bylaws. Specifically, one particular Affiliate Member group responded to the cabal’s canvassing as follows:
“Do you have a draft document of your proposed new bylaws? Also, I met with Michael Nugent and Jane Donnelly from Atheist Ireland. They tell me that they have an alternate proposal, less centralised. We would like to see both if possible before we decide which to support.”Email from AAI Affiliate Member group to remnant 2017 Board on 26th March 2018
The alternative proposal from the Freedom From Religion Foundation and Atheist Ireland was not put to the “Director’s AGM” arranged by the cabal. In fact, those two organisations were never even informed that this meeting was taking place, or that the cabal had constructed their own anti-democratic changes to the Bylaws. The cabal did not facilitate AAI Affiliate Member groups in comparing the alternative approaches, as had been requested. Of course, if they had thought there was any chance that their anti-democratic approach would have attracted any support, the cabal would have been eager to arrange a debate about the contrasting proposals. However, they studiously avoided any discussion about alternative proposals that differed from their own.
The coup required that the cabal would first hand-pick those who would be permitted to vote, and then present only one proposal to these carefully selected groups, as a fait accompli. There would be no debate about alternative proposals, as explicitly requested by AAI Affiliate Member groups. The cabal would manipulate the electorate by unlawfully excluding those who would support more democratic approaches; by seeking out any groups willing to go along with their corrupt plan; by arbitrarily allocating voting rights to those compliant groups, even when they were not entitled to vote; and then by collecting proxy votes from them in order to illegitimately impose their anti-democratic new Bylaws at their “Director’s AGM”. This was not a democratic vote among all the AAI Affiliate Member groups. This was a coup.
Recording The Minutes Of A Coup
A full copy of the minutes from the “Director’s AGM” on 20th May 2018, is provided at the bottom of this page. The extract below describes how the cabal’s new anti-democratic Bylaws were imposed. In fact, only one AAI Affiliate Member group attended the meeting, and that group voted against the cabal. All of the reported votes in favour of the new anti-democratic Bylaws were by purportedly given as proxies to Howard Burman.
The manipulation of the electorate can be seen both in the AAI Affiliate groups that were not informed about this “Director’s AGM” (and were therefore unlawfully excluded from the vote) and also in the proxy voters that were illegitimately added to the voting roll.
Unlawfully Expelling Members
In relation to those excluded, it is informative to look at the AAI Secular World magazine from Q4 2017. A full copy of that magazine is available at the bottom of this page. The membership list from that issue is illustrated below.
These are the AAI Affiliate Member groups that were improperly denied an AGM in 2017 and were waiting for the the remnant 2017 Board to finally arrange that meeting. All of these atheist groups should have been invited to a General Meeting in 2018, according to the strict timetable described in the Bylaws. Clearly, they were not. In fact, even though the Freedom From Religion Foundation and Atheist Ireland were at the relevant time in 2018 talking directly to the remnant 2017 Board about proposals to reconstitute AAI, during those discussions the cabal kept their plans for the “Director’s AGM” secret from those and other Affiliate Member groups.
However, at one point shortly after the “Director’s AGM”, the mask slipped. A friend of the cabal who they later appointed to the AAI Advisory Council, posted the following comment on his social media page:
“AAI told Atheist Ireland and the Freedom From Religion Foundation to take their corporate bullying and blackballing elsewhere. Yes, AAI practically said ‘take a hike’ and terminated their memberships.”Social media comment from a member of the AAI Advisory Council
There can be absolutely no doubt that the cabal deliberately and unlawfully excluded valid AAI Affiliate Member groups, firstly from this vote, and then subsequently from membership of the alliance. This was done without any consultation with the AAI Affiliate Member groups involved, and represented an appalling betrayal of democratic legitimacy. Perpetrating this coup was an outrageous way for an unelected cabal to treat those atheist groups who had spent decades building the alliance.
Illegitimately Adding Proxies To The Voting Roll
At the time of the 2018 “Director’s AGM”, the following organisations were either AAI Associate Members (which are not entitled to vote) or else not members of AAI at all:
- Mindful Meditation of Secular Buddhism
- Atheist Society of Nigeria
- Guatemala Humanists
- Iranian Atheists and Agnostics
- Atheist Union of Greece
These organisations were illegitimately added to the voter roll so that they could provide their proxies to Howard Burman and the rest of the cabal. They were not entitled to vote, and for this reason the manipulated electorate was actually short of a quorum (Bylaw 87 describes a quorum as constituting at least 5 valid Affiliate Member groups). In fact, we know exactly how this manipulation of the electorate illegitimately added proxies to the voting roll, as one of the atheist groups involved has described the communications they received from the cabal.
“On 11th April 2018, the President of AAI sent us an email asking how many members we had and if we could pay a $1 membership fee.”Atheist Union of Greece
Fotis Frangopoulos provided proxy votes to Howard Burman on behalf of the Atheist Union of Greece. After the “Director’s AGM”, Fotis Frangopoulos was then co-opted onto the purported AAI Board and went on to spend years falsely pretending to be representative of atheist groups worldwide. This was despite the fact that he had never received a single vote from a single AAI Affiliate Member group; and despite the fact that he was expelled by the Atheist Union of Greece. Fotis Frangopoulos is still illegitimately presenting himself as an Officer of AAI today.
The Bylaws of AAI describe an extremely onerous process for becoming an Affiliate Member group of the alliance. This involves an extensive set of application forms and other documentation being examined by a valid AAI Board, with a full Board meeting then voting on a formal minuted Resolution. None of this happened in the case of the 5 groups listed above. Instead, the cabal offered the Atheist Union of Greece an Affiliate Membership for $1, just a few weeks before the secret “Director’s AGM”. This offer was not available to all atheist groups, and was only made to those hand-picked by the cabal.
There can be absolutely no doubt that the cabal deliberately and illegitimately added invalid proxy votes to the voting roll. This was an appalling betrayal of democratic legitimacy.
The Most Anti-Democratic Bylaws Imaginable
A full set of the new Bylaws illegitimately imposed by the cabal on 20th May 2018, are available here. In comparing these new illegitimate Bylaws to the previous version available at the bottom of this page, it can be seen that the cabal made the following changes:
- they removed the requirement that Bylaws could only be changed by the Affiliate Member groups at an AGM, and instead gave themselves the power to change the Bylaws unilaterally
- they removed the requirement that new members of the Board had to be elected by Affiliate Member groups at an AGM, and instead gave themselves the power to appoint Directors unilaterally
- they removed the requirement to arrange AGMs, so that there was no longer any forum in which the AAI Affiliate Member groups could hold the Board accountable
- they removed the requirement on the Board to publish annual financial accounts, so that the Affiliate Member groups that had funded AAI through their subscriptions, could no longer see how their money was being spent
Removing the requirement to publish annual accounts towards the AAI Affiliate Member groups, was an absolutely shocking instance of financial mismanagement. The publication of detailed financial accounts to the membership, is a vital requirement of the governance structure in any nonprofit. In the short extract from a video interview below, Bill Flavell offers yet another puerile excuse for this serious wrongdoing.
The full live and unedited video interview from which this extract is taken, is available here.
Whereas Bylaw 47 states that “the Board is required to submit” annual accounts to an AGM, of course this does not require (and it has never been the practice) that the accounts could only be circulated to members while there is an AGM actually in progress. The full set of documentation comprising the annual financial accounts was typically shared with the membership in advance of the meeting itself. In this video clip, Bill Flavell explained that because the cabal had changed the Bylaws to cancel all AGMs altogether, it “didn’t make sense” to continue sending annual financial accounts to the Affiliate Member groups, because there was no AGM during which to deliver the accounts. The premise of his argument is that the only mechanism by which financial accounts can possibly be distributed to Affiliate Member groups is by sharing them during an AGM, such that without AGMs “there was no point” in bothering with the publication of financial accounts at all. The position of Bill Flavell is that the cabal stopped publishing annual financial accounts towards Affiliate Member groups, because nobody within the cabal could think of any other mechanism to get the documents to the membership, outside of an AGM.
The AAI annual financial accounts for several of these years are still missing to this day. It is incredibly juvenile, and unbefitting the seriousness of an international Board of Directors that retains status at the United Nations and the Council of Europe, to argue that “there was no point” in having any financial accountability for the cabal, because all democratic accountability had already been removed by the cabal.
Years Of Lies To Cover Up The Coup
The fact that a large number of AAI Affiliate Member groups should have been invited to a 2018 General Meeting, but instead were improperly kept in the dark and excluded by the cabal, is not in dispute. Bill Flavell has already admitted this, but the reason he gives for doing so is a transparent lie.
“We did take responsibility for failing to send invitations to 14 organisations … This is not because we were certain all these organisations should have been invited. It was because we could not confirm whether or not these organisations had been invoiced ….”Email from Bill Flavell on 29th June 2022
Bill Flavell claims that his cabal didn’t know which Affiliate Member groups had been invoiced by his remnant 2017 Board, and which had not. He then claims that whenever he was in doubt about that issue, he shouldn’t have bothered asking the relevant Affiliate Member group about it, but that it was better to just unilaterally exclude them without any consultation. If this were true, it would be a story of an unelected cabal with no mandate from anyone, unilaterally expelling at least 14 Affiliate Member groups from AAI, because the cabal couldn’t recall which groups they had invoiced and which groups they had not invoiced. If Bill Flavell’s story were true, it would be a shocking scandal. Moreover, if this were true; then when it quickly became apparent that these 14 organisations had not declined to pay any invoices, and so were still valid Affiliate Member groups of AAI; then Bill Flavell would have immediately declared the “Director’s AGM” null and void and facilitated a legitimate General Meeting, this time including all AAI Affiliate Member groups.
None of this happened, because it simply was not true that the 14 Affiliate Member groups were improperly excluded due to invoicing confusion. That was just a lie. Bill Flavell and the rest of the cabal were not in the least confused about which groups they would exclude from AAI and which groups they would include. The improper and dishonest exclusion of at least 14 national atheist groups was entirely deliberate, well-planned and carefully calculated. As John Richards has described in detail within the video extract above, according to the cabal’s plan for a “Director’s AGM”, there would be no invitations to Affiliate Member groups, just “a gathering of the existing Board” at which proxy votes would be counted.
The list of those groups who were informed about the “Director’s AGM” and asked to provide proxy votes, was not constructed based on the remnant 2017 Board’s best understanding of which group had paid a membership subscription invoice and which had not. In fact, where one group who would vote for their corrupt plan had not paid any membership subscription, that group was contacted and offered a $1 membership subscription just a couple of weeks before the “Director’s AGM”. Conversely, where other AAI Affiliate Members were at that time already in frequent and direct communications with the remnant 2017 Board, the cabal dishonestly kept the “Director’s AGM” secret from them and said nothing at all about membership subscriptions or invoicing.
In fact, the cabal continued to lie and lie about their “Director’s AGM” for years. In another short extract below from same video interview described above, Bill Flavell lies repeatedly about how the secret “Director’s AGM” was arranged.
Every single word of this is a knowing and deliberate lie. During this interview, Bill Flavell knew that the invites to the “Director’s AGM” were not issued according to the timetable in the Bylaws; and he knew that the attendees were not selected based on which groups had paid membership subscriptions on the date that the notifications would have been issued; and he knew that there were not 10 Affiliate Member groups who had voted for his anti-democratic Bylaws.
In fact, as John Richards has described in the video extract above, the cabal had deliberately suspended the Bylaws in secret, in order to arrange the “Director’s AGM” in 2018. The cabal paid no attention whatsoever to the schedule of notifications in the Bylaws. As John Richards has explained, the explicit intention of this “Director’s AGM” was that the Affiliate Member groups were not all invited to attend. Instead, it was always intended to be just “a gathering of the existing Board” at which proxy votes could be counted. For Bill Flavell to then pretend that he and the rest of the cabal were at all times making best efforts to adhere to the timetable in the Bylaws, and at all times endeavouring to invite all valid Affiliate Member groups to the meeting, is profoundly dishonest.
Fotis Frangopoulos also lied repeatedly to cover up his part in this wrongdoing. A full copy of an email that he sent to AAI Affiliate Members on 5th May 2021, is available at the bottom of this page. The quote below is extracted from that email:
“We migrated from the old membership system to the new one in November 2017. The old system gave a list of affiliates and we invited to the 2018 AGM all the affiliates that were shown as active on the old system and who had paid any fees due since then. We have come to realise this may have excluded some affiliates from the 2018 AGM who might have wished to attend …”Email from Fotis Frangopoulos to AAI Affiliate Members from 5th May 2021
This is just nakedly dishonest. Fotis Frangopoulos knew when he wrote this, that the process of determining which AAI Affiliate Member groups could participate in the “Director’s AGM” by proxy, was not based on an old membership system from 2017. He knew this because he personally was able to provide proxy votes to the meeting based on a $1 membership subscription that he personally arranged just a couple of weeks before the meeting. He knew when he wrote this email to all AAI Affiliate Member groups, that an old membership system from 2017 didn’t stop him from participating in the 2018 “vote” on behalf of the Atheist Union of Greece, and that an old system needn’t have prevented any other Affiliate Member group from similarly participating either. Those who were excluded from the meeting were not excluded because of an old membership system. They were excluded because the cabal didn’t want them to be able to vote.
The formal public statements on these issues from those purporting to speak on behalf of AAI, have been a firehose of lies. Many more lies in relation to this coup also remain on the AAI web site today. There would be no reason to maintain any of these transparent fabrications, unless there was some serious wrongdoing to cover up. What the cabal are still eager to cover up today, is that the anti-democratic Bylaws they imposed in May 2018, and everything else they have done at AAI since, have all been entirely invalid and illegitimate. That’s why they lied then, and that’s why they’re still lying today.
A Coda On Democratic Mandates
Both in the first part of this story and in the details above, the cabal can be seen offering sophomoric excuses for the most serious wrongdoing, and then expecting everyone else to carry on as if everything has been adequately explained. Another example of this was Bill Flavell’s response when asked why he didn’t submit himself for election at the “Director’s AGM”. That is, since he wasn’t elected in 2017, why didn’t he seek election in 2018, and how could he justify continuing to act as if he was a Director of AAI for many years without ever seeking a democratic mandate?
“I joined the Board in May 2017 and Howard joined in November 2017, so we both should have been subject to election at the next AGM … we simply overlooked that requirement. It was an oversight.”Email from Bill Flavell on 10th July 2022
The fact that Bill Flavell acted as an Officer of AAI for many years, without ever acquiring any democratic mandate (even though he was falsely claiming in public statements to have been elected) was a mere “oversight”. Bill Flavell remains an Officer of AAI today and he doesn’t seem to believe that any further explanation is required. It is unknown whether he will bother seeking any actual votes to retain his purportedly democratically elected position in the future, or whether he will “simply overlook that requirement” and carry on regardless.
The details of further anti-democratic behaviour will comprise the third and final part of this story, when The Cabal And The Coup Continue. Right up to and including recent months in 2022, there will be more documentary and video evidence demonstrating the same themes of lying; of financial misconduct; and of anti-democratic behaviour; all repeated by the same people and others.