Ten years after Elevatorgate | What we should learn from our past mistakes

Ten years after Elevatorgate | What we should learn from our past mistakes

You are a proud atheist in the emerging New Atheist movement attending one of the most impactful and energized conferences in your community. In June of 2011, you are in Dublin, Ireland, attending the World Atheist Convention, an event celebrating atheism, science advocacy, and secularism with some of the most famous freethinkers of the time. You enjoy the attendees and speakers so much that you stay up in conversation at the hotel bar until four in the morning. You see an attractive speaker retiring for the night, and you follow them to an elevator to ask them if they would like to join you for a cup of coffee. The speaker declines. You then go to your hotel room, alone. Afterward, the speaker that you were attracted to goes online to decry what you did. The speaker, and other extremists, denounce the New Atheist movement, a healthy and growing movement, as sexist. What you did becomes a catalyst for extremists to infiltrate and destroy the New Atheist movement.  


This is not a hypothetical scenario; this happened. Starting in the early 2010s, extremist infiltrators painted the New Atheist movement as sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, and “islamophobic.” Much of the success of these infiltrators was fueled by feminist Rebecca Watson declining a polite request for “coffee” in an elevator. Now, ten years after “Elevatorgate,” the New Atheist movement has lost influence and has become a ghost of its former self. 


A few weeks after the incident, Watson uploaded a video on YouTube describing what happened, stating:


 “… All of you except for the one man who didn’t grasp, I think, what I was saying on the panel, because, at the bar later that night — actually at four in the morning, we were at the hotel bar, four a.m. I said, I’ve had enough guys, I’m exhausted, going to bed, so I walked to the elevator, and a man got on the elevator with me and said, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting, and I would like to talk more, would you like to come to my hotel room for coffee?” Um, just a word to the wise here, guys, don’t do that. I don’t really know how else to explain that this makes me incredibly uncomfortable, but I’ll lay it out that I was a single woman, you know, in a foreign country, at four a.m., in a hotel elevator with you, just you. I, don’t invite me back to your hotel room right after I’ve finished talking about how it creeps me out and makes me uncomfortable when men sexualize me in that manner.”


The idea that the New Atheist movement was systemically sexist is a blatant lie. No one denies that individual acts of sexual harassment occurred in the atheist community. Regarding Elevatorgate, it is wrong for someone to continue to express sexual interest in you after you have made it clear that you are not sexually interested in them. However, the person interested in Watson immediately accepted her denial, did not continue to express interest in her, and proceeded to his hotel room alone. Sexism was not at fault; instead, at most, maybe he misunderstood what she said. Claims like the ones these infiltrators have made over the years only hinder our community, a community that so many of us fought to develop. If anything, these infiltrators downplayed the problems of real systemic sexism that still exists in other parts of the world, as explained by Richard Dawkins in a sarcastic response to Watson, in what became known as the “Dear Muslima letter:.’’


Dear Muslima

Stop whining, will you? Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and . . . yawn . . . don’t tell me yet again, I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and you can’t leave the house without a male relative. Your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.

Only this week I heard of one; she calls herself Skep” chick,” and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He invited her back to his room for coffee. Of course, she said no, and of course, he didn’t lay a finger on her, but even so . . .

And you, Muslima, think you have misogyny to complain about! For goodness sake, grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.



To Richard’s point, he’s right! To add to his remarks, atheist circles downplayed the injustices of the Islamic world. Many of the extremist infiltrators have silenced or critiqued criticism of Islam by non-woke atheists. Those extremist infiltrators, those who called themselves atheists and secularists, defended religion in the name of their new religion: Critical Social Justice. I know this because I have seen it myself. The topic of Islam was not the only topic affected by the extremist infiltrators. After their success in taking over the movement five years later, several groups of atheists, the majority of the movement’s supporters, men and women alike, were seen as pariahs at atheist conferences.


  • Bill Maher type Liberals
  • Secular Libertarians and Conservatives
  • Ex Muslims
  • Those accused of harassment without evidence
  • Anyone who questioned the Atheism+ narrative (criticism was constantly conflated with harassment and ‘cyberstalking’)
  • Women who disagreed with radical feminists (they were charged with ‘parroting misogynistic thought’ and ‘internalized misogyny’)


In a short span of five years, from 2011 to 2016, movement employees, executives, and board members allowed extremists into their organizations to guide them to see the “sexism” that they did not know existed in their organizations. In 2012, extremist infiltrators pressured several atheist movement leaders to condemn the many ordinary atheists who didn’t believe in the false narrative of systemic sexism in the movement, disguised as “Hate Directed at Women.” People like Watson and other infiltrators wore special goggles to see alleged hatred that normal people could not notice. The atheist movement paid the price in 2016 at the second Reason Rally, where instead of 30,000 atheists in the rain like the first Rally four years prior, we likely had only between five hundred to almost a few thousand, all because of weakness; wokeness in the atheist movement that began with Elevatorgate. 


Unlike other organizations who tolerated such infiltration and subversion of the movement, Atheists for Liberty will not make the same mistake. It is because of the weakening of the movement that Atheists for Liberty exist in the first place! 


Over the past eight years, I have seen:

  • Millions of dollars once belonging to world-renowned atheist organizations were lost.
  • Conferences, some once having numbers in the hundreds, if not thousands, dead.
  • Some of the most horrific and superstitious belief systems defended in the name of wokeness
  • Organizers of events facing real harassment because they dared to have “politically incorrect” speakers, speakers who were seen as ordinary, non-sexist, New Atheist types just a few years prior
  • The movement’s professionalism fade away in the name of this infiltration
  • Ex Muslims disregarded by movement organizers in the United States
  • A friend’s life, once respected as a bold, national figure in the movement, is destroyed by false allegations lobbed against him. He nearly committed suicide.


And as of 2021, I am only 23…


Ten years ago, we allowed an ideology to consume a movement that could have changed the world.


Elevatorgate was one of the Borg-like origin points of modern wokeness. It is only together that we can rebuild what was lost and ensure that silly events like this one never hinder atheist activism again. This is what I am going to dedicate my life to.


Photo Credits: World Atheist Convention Dublin 3rd – 5th June 2011