Baen Books publisher Toni Weisskopf has been removed as one of the convention’s GoHs. Weisskopf has attempted to back away from any responsibility for moderating the violent and hostile content of some of the forums on the Baen Books website. It is alleged that some conversations on these forums (called “Baen’s Bar”) have apparently been rivaling those on the former extreme-right haven Parler in that they were serving as the platform for long discussions involving the advocation of political violence, and have been running essentially without supervision.
Weisskopf, in a public statement, has said that the Bar has been suspended while investigations are underway, and that Baen Books does not tolerate speech condoning hate or violence. She, however, also said that Baen was not interested in the censorship of lawful speech. which implies that she believes there is a line beyond which she will not go. Exactly where she thinks that line is appears to be a question of open debate.
Just so we’re clear, the freedom of speech afforded to U.S. citizens by the First Amendment of the U.S. constitution does not protect incitement to violence, nor calls to violently overthrow the government. Both situations were apparently present in the Baen’s Bar forums.
Enough of the SF community appears to be having none of it, such that the administrators of DisCon III, the 2021 World Science Fiction Convention, is censuring the publisher by removing her as Guest of Honor (“Update on Editor Guest of Honor” ).
They published the following statement in explanation:
DisCon III condemns the violent and hostile content found within Baen Books’ forums. We also cannot condone the fact such content was enabled and allowed to ferment for so long. We want to make it clear abusive behavior is not, and will not be, tolerated at DisCon III. Such behavior goes entirely against our already established policies concerning inclusivity and creating a welcoming environment for our members, which can be found here: https://discon3.org/about/inclusion/.
We knew simply saying those words with no actions to back them up would be unacceptable. Too often, we have seen individuals and organizations say they are on the right side of issues yet do nothing to act on those words. We knew we had to take a hard look at our own position and take action based on our established policies.
As a result, after discussion with her, we have notified Toni Weisskopf we are removing her as a Guest of Honor for DisCon III.
We know this decision was not as quick as some of you would have wanted, and we understand your frustration. Our committee’s leadership was always in full agreement that there was a fundamental difference between the values Worldcon strives to uphold and the values allowed to be espoused on the forums-in-question.
In the entire eighty-plus year history of our community, no Worldcon has ever removed someone as a Guest of Honor. To remove a Guest of Honor was an unprecedented decision that needed discussion, consideration, and consensus. Those mechanisms sometimes do not move as fast as some would want, and we thank the community for its patience.
We also want to let everyone know that we are not planning on adding additional individuals to our Guest of Honor list.
We wish to thank you all for taking the time and energy to send us your feedback. Many of you have strong opinions on this issue, and we want everyone to know all your voices were heard and considered when rendering our decision. We will always welcome your feedback, questions, suggestions, and concerns, and we will continue to listen, reflect and act to ensure our members feel welcome at DisCon III.
The sudden closure of the entirety of the Baen’s Bar forums is seen by some as the loss, temporary or otherwise, of a very important resource. In particular, the 1632Tech, 1632Sluch and UniverseSlush conferances have been hailed as a tremendous resource for beginning and seasoned writers alike. The conferences have produced millions of published words, paid at SFWA professional rates, and have produced at least one Nebula nominated author (Karl English). Over 150 authors have made their first sales through the conferences, with several becoming New York Times and Amazon Best Sellers.
The contents of only some of the conferences were in question, but all the conferences are currently closed for operations by Baen Books.