There is an update to this entry. You can find it here.
Update – 12 October
First, welcome to the Squid
Hoard Horde and Reddit fans who have been peaking my site statistics!
Second, I’ve been asked to summarize for those readers with severe attention impairments. Here goes:
In the act of shunning one of their own members, the cult-like fan club of a trivial reality cable television show mistakes their heretic with a distant relative. That relative happens to be Possummomma, of the blog “Atheist in a Minivan” who is also a well known blogger in the Atheist online community.
Using cult tactics, the members of the GDNNOP cult stalk Possummomma online, and attempt to “out” her phone number, address and medical history, all while denying that they are doing anything wrong and while suppressing any contrary evidence.
Thanks! Carry on! Calladus
One of my favorite blogs went dark this week. The following is my attempt to explain what happened, and it is also a rant about the cult-like rabid fan-club that is responsible.
The author of one of my favorite blogs was raised as a Roman Catholic and started her journey toward Atheism sometime before 2004. Before her de-conversion to Atheism she tried hard to be a “good Christian”, and even wrote about it in an earlier online journal. But she came to a point where she couldn’t stomach the hypocrisy, couldn’t resolve biblical contradictions, and finally she came to doubt her religion.
She finally “came out” as an Atheist in 2005, and on Saturday, August 19, 2006 she started a brand new blog called, “Atheist in a Minivan”. In this no-frills blog using a canned layout from Blogger she started writing about her life and the lives of her husband and four children under the pseudonym, “Possummomma”.
Possummomma knows what it is like to be Catholic, and pointed out when and where Catholics were wrong. She also spoke out against “Quiverfull” families. She has always stuck up for children – I think that at least some of the attacks that P-momma has endured is due in part to her willingness to stick her neck out for the welfare and happiness of children.
On top of that, she isn’t well. P-momma has a chronic autoimmune disease called SLE that was until recently a death sentence. Although there still is no cure for SLE its symptoms can be treated, and life can be extended. But the symtoms can be terrible and are triggered by environmental stresses like infection, hormones, stress, and sunlight. Even necessary medications may trigger an SLE outbreak.
Her disease traps her. Even the sunlight through the windows of her home caused SLE symptoms, so she was often imprisoned inside her darkened bedroom.
Writing, and making friends on the Internet became her escape.
And she’s a good writer. She’s passionate about her children and about the mistreatment of children. She’s passionate about religious abuses. Her own experience with religion taught her that in following religious rules she acted in ways that hurt herself and her family. In a way, by teaching her children to think for themselves P-momma seemed to be atoning for the religious damage she did to herself and to others. And we were all lucky enough to read along as she did this.
Possummomma made a lot of friends through her writing. And we slowly found out that she was reluctant to talk about her disease and how she was forced to live. One of her online friends realized she was often trapped inside her bedroom cave and decided to do something about it. Berlzebub researched SLE and found out that it is UV radiation that aggravates the symptoms. He took the initiative to research UV blocking film for windows, and when he found out how much it cost he realized he couldn’t afford to help – at least not by himself.
So he spread the word to P-momma’s readers and they came through! But there was a small irony – Berlzebub collected too much money. It wasn’t his fault, he knew that the price to professionally install film on all of P-momma’s windows would be several thousand dollars. What he didn’t realize was that 3M, the company that makes this film, would help with the effort. A gentleman from 3M also volunteered to install the film for free.
Finally the film was installed and the balance of the money collected was sent to P-momma as a gift. As one of the donators said,
Nobody donated money because P-Momma ‘needed’ it. Whether she needed the money was never in discussion. They all did it because they WANTED to help. How and how much is totally up to the people involved.
But Possummomma did us proud. She spent a small fraction of the money on UV blocking items that would be useful to her, and then sent the rest of the money on to a family that needed it more.
It’s really no wonder why so many people care for her. What is amazing is how she attracted so many hateful and crazy people.
A taste of Crazy:
Her outspokenness toward Quiverfull families and her thoughts about raising freethinking children brought her to the attention of some real religious nuts. Possummomma and her family were attacked online via email, comments and in blogs, and they were stalked in real life.
When Possummomma posted an essay written by her oldest daughter, it attracted the attention of some very venomous Christians in the comments. One of the people who commented was a Baptist preacher named William. William later stalked P-momma’s children and P-momma was forced to call the authorities.
And this wasn’t the last time. There was an incident that shook the Possum parents badly. Possummomma almost went offline then. I know what happened, and I won’t say anything more without Possummomma’s permission.
The latest incident involved a preacher by the name of Tom and his wife Nancy. This couple had Quiverfull tendencies – they have six children and Nancy was pregnant with the seventh at the time. Tom created a website that used the “Atheist in a Minivan” blog as an example to his congregation.
It was obvious that Tom and Nancy were more than a little eccentric, and it very quickly became obvious that they justified some forms of child abuse through their religion. Nancy said that the whole family practiced “fasting” for their sins and in order to curry God’s favor. Fasting, as an adult, is a mostly harmless practice if done in moderation. But Nancy said that fasting was required for all of her children, including her two youngest – aged 2 and 4 years old. This is obviously a dangerous practice.
Tom also made it clear that he would not “spare the rod” in disciplining his children. This, together with their comments about fasting, led Possummomma to voice her concerns to the authorities. We don’t know exactly what happened after that, all the authorities have said is that they’ve placed some conditions on Tom and Nancy.
The Cult of the Gosselins:
But the incident that knocked “Atheist in a Minivan” offline, the incident that caused Possummomma to go dark, had nothing to do with anything that P-momma said or did. What put P-momma offline was the rabid fan club of a cable reality show on TLC.
The reality show is called “Jon & Kate plus 8“, and it details the life of Jon and Kate Gosselin and their 8 children. The reason why the Gosselins are famous is due to Kate’s infertility problems. Jon and Kate relied on fertility treatments in order to have children. Kate’s first pregnancy resulted in twins. But Kate wanted another child, so the family again went back to fertility treatments. Her next pregnancy resulted in the birth of six more children!
There was really no way that Jon and Kate could afford to raise 8 children, so they’ve turned their life into a reality show by putting themselves and their children on display to make ends meet. The result is sort of like a mixture of “Big Brother” and the Jackson Five, except no one can sing or dance and nobody gets voted out of the house.
Reactions to the Gosselins are polarized. One blog, called “Gosselins without pity” took issue to the Gosselin philosophy that “God will provide”. This conviction is based upon the prosperity gospel which encourages the faithful that they will be given the means to prosper if they – through faith – leap blindly toward their goals without consideration of possible consequences. Although that blog started out nobly it sometimes misses the mark and becomes a “things I don’t like about the Gosselins” blog.
On the other side exists a blog called “Gosselins do not need our pity” (GDNNOP) which consists of the aforementioned rabid fan club of Jon and Kate and family. This blog tends to treat the Gosselin reality show like a religion, and anyone who doesn’t show proper respect gets slammed – hard.
So how did Possummomma get involved with the GDNNOP fans?
It was pure unlucky happenstance. A relative of P-momma is a fan of the Gosselins. She went by the name Penn-mommy. Why she chose that name, I don’t know. She also may have exaggerated her relationship to the Gosselins – but that is hearsay to me and I don’t know for sure.
What I do know is that Penn-mommy is a somewhat distant relation to Possummomma, and that Penn-mommy’s son Jason came down with appendicitis in September. He didn’t get treatment in time, and he died on October 2nd. Possummomma’s extended family came together for a brief period in Bakersfield, and while there Jason’s brother William borrowed Possummomma’s wireless account to post online. In trying to deal with his grief, he posted his brother’s photograph and a brief tribute site. In posting the photo, William used Possummomma’s Picasa account.
But Possummomma was dealing with her own family’s problems at the same time. In a terrible coincidence Possum #3 had also come down with appendicitis, and by September 24th, she had her appendix removed. (I’ve communicated with Possummomma, and P3 is doing well.)
So, here’s where the weirdness happens. GDNNOP fans, who were already starting to be suspicious about Penn Mommy, started poking around to see what they could learn. William complained that some of their actions included calls to the hospital where his brother was being treated, and to the coroner to confirm Jason’s death. He accused the GDNNOP fans of attempting to impersonate family in order to get information. (Note: I get this info from the GDNNOP blog, I’ve found an example of William’s writing here.)
The crazed fans then added two plus two and got the USA National Debt as a result. Because they traced William to Possummomma’s IP address, it was “obvious” that Possummomma faked everything, including Penn-mommy, William, and Jason.
Guinevere, from GDNNOP explained that it was obvious that Penn Mommy and Possummomma are the same person. In fact, she seems to think that Penn mommy and her family are fictional, and that Possummomma is sock puppeting the whole deal, and even suggests that P-momma is faking her own condition with SLE, and that P3’s illness was faked. Why? Guinevere “would not guess” but then goes on to suggest that it is all some sort of money scam.
There are 35 comments to Guinevere’s post, all thanking several people involved for their great “sleuthing”, and condemning the “evil Possummomma / Penn-Mommy”. Yet when Possummomma’s friends tried to set the record straight they were blocked from commenting.
Supporters of GDNNOP started leaving nasty comments in the “Atheist in a Minivan” blog, and then started leaving nasty comments in Possummomma’s Picasa photo album. P-momma set her blog to “private” but wasn’t able to stop the nasty comments on Picasa without some drastic measures. Picasa and Blogger are both Google services, and one way to delete a Picasa account is by deleting your google account. When P-momma did that, she lost access to her own blog! (It’s a good thing that her co-bloggers still have access.)
Venomous Christians, threats, and stalkers. Enough was enough. Possummomma has been libeled and attacked online, and stalked in real life. This isn’t good for her family, or for herself. Stress aggravates the symptoms of SLE, and who needs that? This is one more drama, and P-momma just doesn’t have the energy to deal with it. She’s offline now, and the rabid Gosselin cult can high-five the fundamentalist preachers with a hearty, “Well Done!”
So what evidence does Guinevere talk about in her post? I’ll go through the bits that she’s numbered.
1. 5-year old daughter had an appendectomy. That would be P3. I saw the photographic evidence of P3 recovering in her hospital bed. I’m a big fan of P3 – she told me about her “Princess Piggy” when we were at the zoo.
Why didn’t Possummomma talk about the death of William in her blog? I dunno. I expect it would be for the same reason why I haven’t spoken of the recent death of my uncle-in-law, or the not so recent death of an aunt that I loved very much. I do so out of a respect for privacy, and because it really isn’t central to my blog. We each share what we want on our blogs, and leave out the parts that we think are uninteresting, or none of someone else’s business.
2. P-momma did call CPS on Tom and Nancy. She also corresponded to CPS via email afterward. She was nice enough to copy a few of us with the CPS response. None of us, including P-momma, knows what the final outcome was of that, we do know that there was something. There was at least enough to keep the investigation open.
3. The “Cease and Desist” spat. This one is really a stretch. Martin Wagner, of the Atheist Community of Austin, and blogger on The Atheist Experience website, wrote a post that totally demolished Yomin Postelnik’s article entitled “Logical Proof of the Existence of God, Why Atheism is Not Logically Sound”. Martin’s post, “Yomin Postelnik, poster-boy for arrogant theistic fractal wrongness“ made Yomin pretty upset. Yomin went through an amusing online meltdown and finally committed libel against Martin, and then had the temerity to send Martin a “Cease and Desist” letter! Martin created a blog to explain what was going on, and asked for some help. The online Atheist community was notified, and we passed it around among ourselves. Possummomma made a post about this too.
I wish Guinevere would explain why she thinks this means anything. Does she believe that Possummomma is sock puppeting Martin too? I’m interested because I’ve heard Martin speak on the Atheist Experience Podcast, and I’ve heard Possummomma speak too. Just how, exactly, does she get her voice to change?
Guinevere doesn’t enumerate all of her evidence. One thing I object to is her implication that Possummomma is faking SLE. I doubt that she’s faking because I recently had the chance to visit P-momma and her family as they toured the Fresno Zoo.
I’m not a doctor so I am not able to say if Possummomma does or does not have SLE. But I do know what it is like to live with someone who has a chronic illness. I know that there are good days and bad days, and that it is possible to “juggle” medication in order to have a good day. (But you pay for that, usually with a really bad day!)
I think P-momma may have done something like that, but she still spent the day in a wheelchair conserving her strength while her family enjoyed the zoo. She stayed out of the sun as much as she possibly could, and used UV blocking clothing and sunscreen. I can’t diagnose SLE, but I’m curious and observant – and what the sun did to P-momma’s skin that day scared me. I hate to think of the painful price she paid for that trip.
Guinevere also said:
Reading through this woman’s blog, she appears at times to be fairly normal. The subject of the blog, incidentally, is one that is certainly incongruous with the persona that Penn Mommy presented – this blogger is a fervent atheist (which made me a bit queasy, considering how many times PM and “William” entreated posters to pray for “Jason”). She appears to have issues with certain choices the Gosselins have made – possibly their religious devotion and the fact that they chose to have multiples. This may explain how she became involved in the Gosselin blogosphere and made the decision to create Penn Mommy.
Jon and Kate didn’t “choose” to have multiples. According to their appearance on Oprah Winfrey, after their first two children Kate wanted one more. Six more children were a shock!
Possummomma has rightly pointed out the hypocrisy involved when Christian parents are willing to second guess “God’s choice” for them and take fertility drugs when they are infertile. But when the mother is pregnant with too many children the same parents shudder at fetal reduction because it would be against “God’s Will”.
Possummomma’s rant on this subject was about a healthy woman who after conceiving three children normally, persuaded her doctor to give her fertility treatments. The result was another seven babies!
And that post was the only post that I found on the Atheist in a Minivan blog that mentioned the Gosselins in any way. I’ve read where Possummomma took apart the Duggars, and where she pointed out the problems with other Quiverfull parents – but the Gosselins are not Quiverfull. They’re merely some people who figured out a way to make a good living off of their situation by giving up some privacy. But for a Gosselin cultist, a passing “suck on that, Jon and Kate” is serious heresy.
Doubtlessly, we will be accused of being no better than those who have stalked and harassed the Gosselins.
No, you are worse. Because not only are you and your fellow fans guilty of stalking, but you are all guilty of gross negligence due to stupidity. The members of the GDNNOP cult have cloaked their crotchety pettiness behind a mangy merkin of supercilious righteousness, and when their wild accusations miss their mark and hit an innocent bystander no one feels anything but smug.
You think you feel “queasy” around “fervent atheists”? I assure you that regarding your cult, the feeling is mutual.
No, I don’t know if Possummomma will ever blog openly again. I’m a member of her private blog, but she hasn’t updated that recently, probably because in deleting her Google account, she deleted her own access to it.
Yes, I do talk to her via email, and I keep promising to talk to her via phone, but my life is busy enough that I don’t get much opportunity for either. (I seldom have time to talk to my own sister! – sigh -)
“Atheist in a Minivan” is set to private, and is currently controlled by her co-blogger Berlzebub. I don’t have access to that blog except through Google’s cache, which I used to create the hyperlinks above. Those links may disappear in the future, depending on whether her blog is retained or erased. I hope someone archives her blog, because there is a lot of good stuff in it!
I created a graphic to show my support for Possummomma. If you like the graphic, and want to use it to show your support you are welcome to copy it to your own blog. The image is of “Trichosurus vulpecula” also known as a “Brushtail Possum”. The image is CC licensed, and you can find the the Creative Commons license for it in my Public Picasa album.
I used an Australian possum because in Australia their proper name is “possum”, not “opossum” as it is here in America. And possum is closer to the wordplay on which Possummomma based her name. (Besides, the Aussie possums are cuter than ours!)
Lastly, if you’re a Gosselin cultist, and you want to comment here – please read my comment moderation policy in the sidebar to the right. Failure to follow that policy will not result in a successful post.