This is the third and final part of the 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, video interviews given and 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 the second part of the story, video interviews given and documents written by those directly involved, described how The Cabal Planned Their Coup. Those involved were Bill Flavell, Fotis Frangopoulos, Howard Burman and John Richards. In brief, during 2018 this small cabal:
- unlawfully expelled at least 14 AAI Affiliate Member groups without any consultation, for demonstrably dishonest reasons
- illegitimately added groups sympathetic with their narrative to the AAI voting roll, which had no entitlement to vote
- illicitly imposed radically anti-democratic new Bylaws, giving themselves full personal control of AAI
- went on to spend years repeatedly lying about all of this wrongdoing
In this final part of the story, more video interviews given and more documents written by those directly involved, will demonstrate how the cabal continues to corrupt AAI, up to and including the recent months of 2022.
The Cabal Are Challenged Internally On Ethical Governance
Previous parts of this story described how the cabal deliberately kept much of their unethical behaviour secret from the rest of the AAI Board. However like most other jurisdictions, California imposes a duty of “reasonable inquiry” on the Directors comprising the Board of any nonprofit. AAI was registered as a nonprofit in California, and consistent with Californian law, some diligent people at AAI made internal inquiries towards the cabal about their management of the AAI finances. The response of the cabal towards other Directors on their so-called AAI Board, was utterly appalling.
For Howard Burman to state that “dealing with financial matters” is the exclusive purview only of the cabal within the so-called AAI Board, is entirely antithetical to the most basic principles of good governance. For any Director on any Board to inform any other Director that considerations around the finances are “our job, not yours”, is little short of corruption. It is an absolute legal requirement upon every Director on the Board of a nonprofit, to make reasonable inquiries about how the finances of the organisation are being managed.
These very proper inquiries were being made by Shirley Rivera, who is the Founder of Atheístas De Puerto Rico. She is also the Spokesperson for the Latin American International Coalition of Atheists, which comprises atheist groups from seven different Latin American countries. There were many very good reasons for Shirley Rivera to make reasonable inquiries about how the AAI finances were being managed. The cabal in control of AAI had declined to produce audited accounts and had failed to file any financial statements in California for the previous three consecutive years. Consequently, the Attorney General of California first suspended, and then revoked, the status of AAI as a nonprofit.
Earlier parts of this story described how the cabal consisting of Howard Burman, Bill Flavell and John Richards, became the first ever AAI Directors that refused to publish annual financial accounts towards Affiliate Member groups. This was explicitly contrary to their obligations under the Bylaws. Subsequently, they illegitimately changed those Bylaws to remove the provisions that required them to publish annual accounts. As a direct result of the cabal removing all financial accountability, AAI lost their status as a nonprofit, and their status remains revoked at the time of writing. Financial accounts for several years also still remain missing today, and have never been published to the AAI Affiliate Member groups.
This financial mismanagement is consistent with a persistent theme of financial delinquency, which was established when the cabal became involved with AAI. Another pronounced theme that has been established by the cabal over a prolonged period, is anti-democratic behaviour. Both the financial mismanagement of AAI, and also the anti-democratic behaviour of the cabal, were to continue into 2021 and 2022.
Continuing To Manipulate The Electorate
Before the cabal became involved with AAI, atheist groups could apply for either voting membership (Affiliates) or else non-voting membership (Associates). At the time when they applied to join the alliance, atheist groups would decide which subscription fee they wished to pay, commensurate with the category of membership they preferred. A full copy of the Bylaws describing these categories and processes is available at the bottom of this page.
One of the new anti-democratic Bylaws introduced by the cabal, which they still apply today, allows them to first accept the subscription fees from an atheist group, and then decide later (before each vote) which group will receive a ballot and which will not. This decision is made by the cabal behind closed doors, without the relevant atheist groups being consulted during the process. The decision is based on arbitrary and subjective criteria. For example, the new Bylaw 18 imposed by the cabal provides that groups permitted to vote are those that have “bylaws, a constitution, or a similar document”. There is no definition of what qualifies as a “similar document”.
In this way, the cabal can still manipulate the electorate by deciding who can vote and who cannot. Just like AAI Affiliate Member groups who supported democratic structures were improperly excluded from the very first AAI vote that the cabal arranged, atheist groups who disagree with the cabal continue to be excluded from votes today. For example, in 2021 the Humanist Union of Greece was excluded from voting and had submitted a formal complaint to Fotis Frangopoulos on that issue. This was not an isolated case.
These anti-democratic Bylaws, which allowed for the continued manipulation of the electorate, provided the context in which the most recent so-called elections within AAI took place during May of 2022.
Continued Anti-Democratic Behaviour In 2022
Howard Burman planned to stand down from AAI during 2022, such that he was not a candidate in the so-called AAI election during May. The implication of this under normal circumstances would have been that the Affiliate Member groups would elect a new Board at the AGM, and then those new Directors would make appointments to Officer positions, to include a new President. With the cabal still in control of AAI during 2022 though, normal circumstances did not apply. Instead, the cabal yet again fixed the democratic process in advance. They started transitioning David Orenstein, as their preferred candidate, into the purported role of AAI President at least 4 months before the supposed vote.
It is explicitly anti-democratic for any outgoing AAI Board to play any role whatsoever in who the new President should be. It should be entirely the function of the AAI Affiliate Member groups to decide who should be the Directors on the new Board, and then it should be entirely the function of that new Board to appoint the new Officers. Even those Bylaws written by the cabal themselves, describe a process whereby a vote by the members selects a new Board with a mandate to appoint a new President, while an ongoing Board has no role or mandate within this process whatsoever.
The internal AAI messages illustrated here were also released by Shirley Rivera, who behaved honourably throughout these events. She initially tried to address the misconduct of the cabal through proper internal channels. Only when it became clear that the cabal would not adhere to any reasonable governance standards, did she then step away from AAI and make the wrongdoing public. One point at which any Director might conclude that it will be impossible to ensure ethical behaviour by the rest of their Board, is when the other Directors absolutely know that what they’re doing is wrong, but they insist on doing it anyway.
In the message below, it is clear that the cabal know that it is wrong for them to pick their preferred candidates in advance of a vote among Affiliate Member groups, and then “transition” those people into Officer roles. However, their attitude when they discuss this issue is not to stop their wrongdoing immediately. Instead, their reaction is merely to suggest that their wrongdoing should not be recorded in the meeting minutes.
In the screenshot above, Fotis Frangopoulos has circulated the minutes from an early 2022 meeting of the supposed AAI Board, both to the rest of the so-called AAI Board and also to David Orenstein. The minutes include a table describing who the new AAI Board members will be, and who will be appointed to each Officer position. It is absolutely not the role of the cabal to pick the new Board, or to pick the new Officers. In fact, this would be explicitly contrary to even those Bylaws that were written by the cabal themselves. Even according to those Bylaws, the group who selects the new President must seek a fresh mandate from the members in order to do so. It is clear from their own words that the purported outgoing 2022 AAI Board aware that these choices must be made based on a new democratic mandate, and cannot be made by themselves. However, rather than decide to stop arranging matters for their preferred candidates, they instead simply decide that they shouldn’t record what they are doing in the meeting minutes. Why would they have sought to remove these details from the minutes, unless they knew what they were doing was entirely wrong?
With respect to the screenshot above, it should also be noted that David Orenstein not only attended multiple meetings of the purported AAI Board during the first half of 2022, but he was also sent the minutes of those meetings afterwards. This took place while he was not a Director of AAI, and in advance of any vote for a new purported Board of AAI. No other candidate was offered such advantages, and there would be much more special treatment afforded to David Orenstein subsequently.
If There Was No Wrongdoing Then Why Lie?
Notwithstanding the fact that multiple sets of meeting minutes written by the cabal had described David Orenstein as the next President of AAI; and notwithstanding the fact that David Orenstein had attended several of those meetings; and notwithstanding the fact that the minutes were emailed to him after those meetings; when he was asked about this, he lied.
The full live and unedited video interview from which this extract is taken, is available here.
Every single word of this was a lie. When David Orenstein claimed that he only attended one Board meeting while not a member of the Board, he was lying. When David Orenstein said that the Presidency of AAI was “never” mentioned to him before the purported AGM in May 2022, he was lying. As early as February 2022, he was introduced to the so-called AAI Board as the next President of AAI, which has been confirmed by others who attended the meeting.
“David Orenstein was presented to the February 2022 AAI Board Meeting as the ‘Future President’ of AAI”.Shirley Rivera, who attended the February 2022 meeting
In fact, from the extract of the meeting minutes illustrated below, which were emailed to David Orenstein following a meeting that he attended, it seems that the cabal had pre-appointed quite a few roles. It turned out that the cabal were talented election forecasters indeed, as all of these people were successfully “elected”. Perhaps the cabal were surprised and shocked when they discovered that 100% of their preferred candidates were all appointed to the roles that had been associated with them, 4 months before the “election” even took place? This was an uncanny “election” forecasting ability to be sure, which was demonstrated by those who themselves wrote Bylaws describing how they would have no role whatsoever in making these selections.
The reason why it was necessary to lie about the cabal “transitioning” David Orenstein into the role of AAI President, at least 4 months before the vote took place, was because they all knew this was entirely wrong, and so they had to cover it up. If there was any benign explanation whatsoever for these meeting minutes, then the cabal wouldn’t have been telling each other not to record this information in the minutes, and David Orenstein wouldn’t have lied about it. This same consciousness of guilt, might also help explain why the others listed in the table above have refused to answer any questions at all about their so-called election.
The same corrupt election process that “transitioned” David Orenstein into the purported role of AAI President, also gave us the others who are currently claiming roles on the AAI Board today. None of these positions are legitimate, not least because of the dishonest manipulation of the electorate, and the other anti-democratic behaviours that have continued unabated within AAI since 2017.
Continued Improper Exclusions From Voting Rolls
Whereas the Humanist Union of Greece had already complained about being excluded from the vote in 2021 and had believed the issue to be then resolved, the same thing happened with respect to the 2022 vote. In the email below, the Humanist Union of Greece made it clear that the entire so-called AAI Board from May 2022, “lacks legal credibility” due to the improper manipulation of the electorate.
In fact if anything, the manipulation of the electorate by the cabal was getting worse. On 22nd May 2022, when David Orenstein announced himself as a new Director of AAI the day before the purported AGM, the Latin American International Coalition of Atheists issued a statement, which is available in full at the bottom of this page. The statement was signed by national atheist groups in 7 Latin American countries and includes the following comments.
“For consecutive years, your organisation has lacked transparency and democracy in its elections and practices …
… the IRS removed exemptions for your organisation for about two years for not complying with filing, and your Board decided not to inform donors.”Extract from Latin American International Coalition of Atheists statement
The statement goes on to outline other serious wrongdoing, with respect to both anti-democratic behaviour and financial mismanagement. The details described are absolutely astounding. As a result, all members of the Latin American International Coalition of Atheists “immediately dissociated” themselves from AAI. At this point, multiple national atheist groups in Europe; multiple national atheist groups in North America; and multiple national atheist groups in Latin America; had all independently decided that the financial mismanagement and anti-democratic behaviour within AAI was totally unacceptable.
There was then an urgent onus on those who were claiming to be the new Directors on the supposed May 2022 AAI Board to explain the details of this purported election, since overwhelming evidence demonstrated that it was deeply compromised. At the time of writing, despite many requests, they have still not published the roll of voters to indicate which groups were provided with a ballot and which were not. Conversely, this basic information was published by every AAI Board before the cabal got involved, as was required within Bylaw 76.
The Most Anti-Democratic Election Process Imaginable
Before describing the travesty of a so-called election process conducted by the cabal in 2022, it is instructive to consider how such processes were managed before the cabal became involved. Previous AGMs, including the election processes, were often recorded with the full audio distributed to all Affiliate Member groups afterwards. The audio extract below includes the process of electing Directors to the AAI Board during the 2016 AGM.
Before the cabal became involved, the process of conducting elections to the AAI Board, consistent with the requirements in the Bylaws, was as follows:
- profiles of candidates were circulated to all Affiliate Member groups in advance of the AGM
- all Affiliate Member groups had an opportunity to question candidates during the AGM
- after this interview, the candidates all dropped off the call and there was an opportunity for all Affiliate Member groups to discuss various candidates
- there was then a secret ballot when all votes were sent to an independent Returning Officer
- the independent Returning Officer could not be a candidate in the election being administered
- the independent Returning Officer would count the votes and announce the results
These arrangements were not in any way remarkable, but involved merely the most basic election integrity processes. However, according to the anti-democratic Bylaws that had been introduced by the cabal, the following would be the process if someone from an Affiliate Member group wished to become say the Secretary of AAI:
- the prospective candidate who wished to become Secretary would submit their personal profile for “authentication checks” to be carried out by the current Secretary
- only if the candidate who wished to become Secretary was permitted to participate by the current Secretary, would their name be included on the ballot
- all votes would be submitted in advance of the AGM and there would be no opportunity to question candidates
- all votes would be sent to the current Secretary, so that there would be no secret ballot
- the current Secretary would count the votes and announce the result of their own election
When concerns were expressed about this anti-democratic process in advance of the recent so-called election, David Orenstein responded as follows:
“I can assure you that the current Board will not be involved whatsoever in accessing or counting the votes, which as you rightly note is an ethical lapse in the past.”Email from David Orenstein from 25th April 2022
As it turned out though, the then purported Board did indeed access and count the votes in their own elections. Not long after this, David Orenstein resigned on 11th June 2022.
The Top Job That Nobody Wants
After David Orenstein resigned, Nina Sankari as the then purported Vice President, took over. She lasted less than a week before she also resigned, citing the “disastrous legal status” of AAI. A full copy of her resignation statement is available at the bottom of this page. Brian Kernick then became the next person to begin signing his emails as “President of AAI”. He was the fourth purported President of AAI in less than a month.
At the time of writing, Brian Kernick has been acting as the purported President of AAI for almost three months. In this time, he has not said or written a single word in public about any of these issues, despite being asked many times to comment. Indeed, since supposedly becoming the President of AAI he has not said or written a single word in public on any issue at all. Like the famous thought experiment about a tree falling in a forest, we might wonder if anyone can detect whether anything has really happened, when Brian Kernick is appointed to a leadership role in an organisation.
The Secret Ballot As An Important Feature Of Election Integrity
For their so-called elections of May 2022, the cabal declined to facilitate a secret ballot. Instead, they insisted that all votes had to be sent to Fotis Frangopoulos, who was also an incumbent candidate in the “election”. Fotis Frangopoulos then counted the votes and reported on the result of his own “election”, and did the same for the rest of the cabal.
After the appointment of Brian Kernick, the cabal then went one step further. On 11th July 2022, Bill Flavell unilaterally decided to share information on his social media page indicating how specific groups had voted.
It is difficult to tell which is worse; that votes in the election had to be sent to an incumbent candidate in the election; that an incumbent candidate counted the votes in his own election and announced the supposed results; that this incumbent candidate obviously then shared the full content of all those votes with the rest of the cabal; or that other people in the cabal then decided to share all of those details online.
One of the changes to the AAI Bylaws that the cabal illegitimately imposed in 2018, was to remove the role of the independent Returning Officer. This role represents a fundamental part of any basic set of governance standards, in terms of protecting election processes from undue interference. On top of all the other problems with the democratic legitimacy of AAI, the deep and profound compromise of the recent so-called election in May 2022, leaves all those currently claiming roles in the organisation in an entirely untenable position. Still now in 2022, we are seeing that the problems associated with the anti-democratic changes made by the cabal in 2018, are continuing to persist. Still now in 2022, we are seeing the cabal identify people who will accept roles as supposed Directors of AAI, without seeking any accountability for years of serious wrongdoing by the cabal. Still now in 2022, there are a handful of people who will sell their integrity by covering up years of appalling behaviour, for the cheap price of having their picture on the AAI website with a bogus job title beside it.
In receiving their sinecures through an unethical process, everyone on the current so-called Board of AAI has been a direct personal beneficiary of the cabal’s corruption. Anyone who continues to give tacit support to all of that wrongdoing, by retaining their so-called Director roles while refusing to take any public steps whatsoever to remedy these issues, should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. The abject public silence from Brain Kernick, Steve Polgar, Ebuka Ikeorah, Stella Thomas, Kristina Hallmeier and Jamila Bey, in the face of demonstrable public wrongdoing, is utterly pathetic. The same can be said of the so-called AAI Advisory Council, who publicly claim to “support and advise” the purported AAI Board. Their ongoing failure to insist on the truth and on ethical behaviour, is compounded as every new comment from AAI is another lie to pile on top of those already promoted by Bill Flavell, Fotis Frangopoulous, Jason Sylvester and Tonoy Emroz Alam.
A Coda On The Current Illegitimate Bylaws Of AAI
Given the outrageous injustice of how the anti-democratic cabal unlawfully expelled at least 14 of the AAI Affiliate Member groups who helped build the alliance, it was to be expected that several of these organisations would seek some accountability. In that context, a 24th July 2021 letter from Atheist Ireland to the other AAI Affiliate Member groups, raised a number of issues with respect to the behaviour of the cabal. A full copy of that letter is available at the bottom of this page. One of the issues mentioned in this correspondence, relates to an anti-democratic provision that the cabal added to their new Bylaws, which still exists today. The final sentence of the current anti-democratic Bylaw 59 reads as follows:
“The Board shall take motions so passed into consideration but may use its discretion as to whether and how to act upon them.”Final sentence of the current anti-democratic Bylaw 59, as introduced by the cabal
That is, if all AAI Affiliate Member groups were to vote unanimously to adopt a specific policy position through a formal vote at a General Meeting, then the purported AAI Board could simply ignore that, or else implement precisely the opposite policy position.
The Atheist Ireland letter is reporting to the other AAI Affiliate Member groups about a meeting with the purported AAI Board, during which Atheist Ireland sought to resolve the ongoing crisis of democratic legitimacy at AAI. The letter recounts the following response, when Atheist Ireland asked the purported AAI Board for an explanation of the anti-democratic Bylaw 59.
“The board accepted that the AAI Secretary [Bill Flavell] said that the board does not allow members to decide on policy at AGMs, in case feminists took over AAI. The board said this was not the reason, and the Secretary [Bill Flavell] said that when he said feminists, he meant ‘woke’ people.”Quote from Atheist Ireland letter to all AAI Affiliate Member groups
If the AAI Affiliate Members wish to adopt a policy position that is feminist (for example, in opposition to religiously-inspired misogyny) then that is exactly what should happen, and it is absolutely not the role of Bill Flavell or anyone else in the cabal to frustrate such a democratic aspiration. Moreover, it is utterly astounding that Bill Flavell thinks the harm done by this anti-democratic Bylaw, is mitigated by stating that he intends to use it against “woke” people, instead of against “feminists”.
All democratic legitimacy has now been totally destroyed at AAI. This does not only relate to Fotis Frangopoulos and Bill Flavell, who still claim to be the Treasurer and Secretary of AAI respectively. In fact, the positions of all those currently purporting to comprise the AAI Board, are entirely untenable. All semblance of financial governance at AAI has also been abandoned, resulting in the status of AAI as a nonprofit still remaining revoked.
Democratic control of the organisation urgently needs to be returned to the valid AAI Affiliate Member groups, so that they can elect a competent and legitimate Board of Directors, strictly according to the valid democratic Bylaws. Other than more corruption, what possible reason could there be for refusing to take this step, and insisting instead that the status quo must continue?