Saturday, November 13, 2010

Bullsh¡t Revisited:
A year later, a "curious" post about ATEK and the infamous "death threat"

Should I click PUBLISH POST or not...? Okay. I guess I will.

This morning someone named "dose" left a comment on my post about the G20 forum not reaching much consensus. His comment was not about the G20 but about ATEK, the Association of Teachers of English in Korea. He asked if I knew ATEK and he provided a link to a post that made some pointed accusations about the once-controversial organization and its former leadership.

[UPDATE: That entire blog, which consisted of just that one post, seems to have been removed just a few hours after me reporting about it; I did save it as an identifiable webarchive, however, for anyone who would like to see it.]

I'm reprinting the letter (in the same JPG form in which it's posted at the original site), though this does not indicate endorsement for its contents (which include some borderline racist and misogynist comments, along with possibly hurtful comments about people I have no reason to suspect are bad people). Click to enlarge:

Well, I told "dose," I had referred to APEC, not ATEK, but yes, I am quite familiar with this teachers' organization. In fact, I'm well aware of the accusations about Tony Hellmann mentioned above, and at one point some people were accusing me of being behind them (see the comments here; Tony Hellmann, with whom I corresponded by email about this, was kind enough to step in and say he had no reason to believe I was involved in any way.)

What's more noteworthy to me about the "curious" post is that its author, who claims to have been a "founding member" of ATEK, clearly accuses ATEK itself of having engineered the infamous "ATEK death threat" that was the hot topic in the anglophone K-blogosphere one year ago. If you're not familiar with this story, go read about it here and here.

Here's the gist of the threat from the Korea Herald:
"I have organized the KEK (Kill White in Korea). This group of people is about 200 in anywhere in Korea," the e-mail read. "We will gonna start to kill and hit White (expletives) english spectrum from this Chirstmas. Don`t make a fuss in there, just get out."
From the get-go, I have gone on record questioning whether the death threat against English teachers was legitimate (see here, here, here, here, here, and here), though I did specifically say I did not think it was from any of the ATEK leadership. Other bloggers had also expressed their skepticism.

Nevertheless, depsite all the doubts, ATEK associates went overboard to publicize this threat, couching it as an indictment of Korean racism and bigotry aimed at them. They and their associates even went on Canadian national radio to tell about the death threat (you can listen here).

So now this post by "curious," dated just yesterday and presented as a JPG file so that it can't be cataloged in Google searches, is coming out and saying that the death threat was "fabricated" and ATEK "made up the stories." Quite a shocker, if it's true.

In fact, as I pursued this last year and earlier this year, I was eventually told privately by two people associated with the case that the email was sent from the United States, but I never went public with this information, since I was hoping to see more substantial evidence that would allow us to skewer the case.

Now that this "curious" post is out there (and I have no idea whatsoever who "curious" or "dose" is), I wonder if we should revisit the whole thing. I still firmly believe that no AES member, and probably no native Korean, sent the death threat. I still hold out the possibility that it was sent by a rogue ATEK member or some sh¡t-stirrer in the anglophone K-blogosphere without ATEK leadership's knowledge. But if these accusations are true, this is some serious sh¡t.

That would mean the law was broken with false reporting of a hate crime. A hoax was perpetuated in the national media of several countries — particularly the ROK, Canada, and the US — and trust may have irreparably been broken. Those involved would owe a lot of people some major apologies: the English-teaching community they would have been trying to frighten, AES which they would have falsely accused of attempted murder, the larger Korean society that was indicted for promoting such violent hatred, etc.

God, do I ever hope it wasn't ATEK leadership. Or at the very least, I hope (if true) it was past ATEK leadership so that the present organization can come clean, put this behind us, and move on. It is now full of people like Roboseyo who I could never imagine capable of involvement in such caustic nonsense, folks who realize mistakes were made in the past and are trying to move forward with that knowledge.


  1. To me, this just looks like trolling. Whoever wrote this is seems to be looking to cause trouble between various groups -- epsecially ATEK and foreigners in Korea on F visas.

    Just as you suspect a non-Korean of the death threat, I have the feeling this is from outside of ATEK (and most likely outside of the F visa community). It could even be the same person who was behind the death threat... but this is all guesswork.

    Personally, I feel the ensuing debate, sleuthing, and guesswork in these situations is pointless... and potentially harmful. Yes, I have put forward my guess, but I'll add this little disclaimer here: it doesn't mean much.

    My guess is probably as good or bad as anyone's, but I'd like to shift the emphasis of my comment a little. I want to focus on the effects of this more than the causes.

    When this kind of anonymous (and dubious) muck-raking appears, it is tempting to get sucked in. I suggest you (and I mean anyone) check your yourself if you find you're getting all upset, engaging in prolonged debates, and spending a lot of time analysing and thinking about what it all means.

    I know I've found myself agonising about something I read, then reading, researching, and writing lengthy comments only to realise later what little difference it made. All that happened was that I participated in a pointless debate over a questionable issue with insufficient information on which to base my responses.

    This is just such a case. The original source is very suspicious, the facts are unverifiable, and the content is inflammatory. It all boils down to this: some faceless internet troll said something nasty.

    Unfortunately, publicising any of this kind of thing (including the original death threat) only serves the ends of the nut-job troll(s) who started it.

  2. Schplook, you make a lot of very good points. It could all be b.s., it could all be true, or even (and I must admit, this had not yet occurred to me), "curious" could have been the same one behind the original death threat (though that's a bit too long of a long con, in my book).

    Ultimately, however, I decided to write a post on this for two reasons. First, it gave me adequate cover to say something I'd been hoping for a chance to say for sometime, which is that a couple of actual people whose identity I can verify have told me the death threat was sent from the US.

    Second, I think this whole thing should serve as a cautionary tale. I believe it was wrong, considering the reasonable doubts about the death threat, to run with it in international news media (on CBC and CNN). That only serves to harden stances and, well, scare away good people from the profession and attract the bad instead, which then makes things worse, image-wise. Don't shit where you eat, as the saying goes. Of course, there are times when you need to drop a load, but there was by no means the due diligence in this case to go on CBC and make the claim that English teachers were living with a reasonable fear of being stabbed to death on the streets of Seoul.

  3. To paraphrase my original comment: do not feed the trolls.

    By the way, if you want to write 'shit', then just write 'shit'.

    If you're gonna frickin' swear, then don't be such a flipping posse -- just feckin' say it for frak's sake! Cheese 'n' rice! [Hot Fuzz reference]

    Better yet, get yourself a nice thesaurus and use some excellent words, such as this one (my new favourite): sterca (n.) and stercoraceous (adj.).

    Some more for you (to use... I'm not saying these are words to describe you):

    excrement, dung, egesta, ejecta, ejectamenta, excreta, feculence, ordure, cow pies, cowplop, droppings, feces , fertilizer, guano, manure, meadow muffin, night soil, poop, jobbies, stool, evacuation.

    Sorry that this comment is stercoraceous.

  4. Kushibo, if you have evidence of where the death threats came from I wish you would report it to the police. The cyber crimes unit in Gimhae was never able to find where it came from and Google refused to give us more information about the sender.

    I assure that the threats were quite real and were not manufactured by anyone in our ranks. That's a consipracy theory that doesn't merit a response, but here's one anyway. The easiest way to debunk this is to ask, "who does it serve?"

    Since my name and photo were posted everywhere in conjunction with some hoorbily false allegations and these threats I feel I have the most authority to say, "why would I do that to myself?" I still live with the possibility that some potential employer will see that and give me a second thought. It's illogical to think that this was an inside job.

    ~Greg Dolezal
    Former ATEK President

  5. A few things here:

    The person who wrote the email about Tony and myself was certainly not a founding member of ATEK and I am certain this person was never a officer of the association at all judging from the tone and absolute ignorance of what our internal dialogs were like at that time. I should know, I was the first non-founder to take to a national office (March 2009 just after the offical launch).

    I'm oh so honored to be called clever by this person of ill-repute, but I'll gladly call that a lie too if it means that I can say categorically that the entire letter is false.

    This kind of filth shouldn't be encouraged by being re-printed. Calling Koreans who date or marry expats whores or gold-diggers is way out of line.

    It's true that it was my idea to start bringing in Koreans to the association. The original bylaws and mission statement made no mention of ATEK being a group for expats. It occured to me that the best way to make inroads and gain respect was to be inclusive rather than exclusive. With Korean English teachers are partners there is no way for anyone to say the association is anti-Korea. Furthermore, the English teachers of any background have a host of common issue that are more easily solved if we work together. Expat English teachers benefit from the language, cultural, and work experience of Korean teachers and there is a chance to work together to create a better understanding while improving the quality of education as partners.

    I didn't install a Korean woman as president. It was her idea and the members voted to elect her. I fully support her. Tom, Jae-Hee, and I all have our different agendas. I believe Jae-Hee will be a great leader and make her own way just as I made mine.

    HIV Testing:

    The Equal Checks For All campaign (ECFA) has been successful for serveral reasons. First of all it raised aweness of an important issue for all migrant workers. ATEK took the lead on this and faced criticism as well as ardent support. It was a good idea and remains a good idea. In fact, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) is set to issue a decisision in our favor. The critics who worried are campaign would lead to checks for F-visa holders were proven wrong. What we are seeing is a change in the guidelines based on the work of other organizations and lobbies who have followed our lead and spoken out on this issue. E2s and E1s are the next folks to see a change in immigration policy. Praising the recent changes makes perfect sense when looked at in this conext.

    Here's a concept right out of feminst theory that should keep you busy... "horizontal oppression". Essentially it means that hegemonic forces endeavor to keep various classes of workers fight with each other rahter than banding together to make life more equitable for everyone. ATEK refuses to play into their hands by attacking positive developments for other migrant workers.

    On more comment on the death threats...

    If you Kushibo see your name and face on a blog - your real name and real face - I hope you have more support than I got. This commentary is disgusting and beneath all of us. I had a genuine concern for the safety of teachers and myself. I love living in Korea and I know most Koreans would be equally disgusted by the violence and xenophobia of these threats. Rather than blaming the victim why don't you focus on how to improve communication and educate people to be more culturally aware....

    ~Greg Dolezal
    Former ATEK President

  6. Schplook wrote:
    By the way, if you want to write 'shit', then just write 'shit'.

    I already answered this, but my post seems to have disappeared. Greg also had two posts up, but my guess is he took one down himself (though the one that's not appearing was a good one I'd hoped to respond to).

    Anyway, there's a functional reason for writing things like sh¡t and fu¢k, and that is to avoid some readers' spam filters at work. For example, Sonagi, who was once one of my most frequent commenters, complained that a profanity filter at work prevented her from reading my blog.

    So while I can't control what pops up in the comments section (well, I can, but for profanity I choose not to), I can avoid using profanity myself, which will allow people working in such sensitive conditions to still peruse the main blog.

  7. Greg apparently wrote two posts but decided to leave up just the one, even though I thought both of them had some worthwhile points I'd like to address. But for now...

    Greg wrote:
    Kushibo, if you have evidence of where the death threats came from I wish you would report it to the police. The cyber crimes unit in Gimhae was never able to find where it came from and Google refused to give us more information about the sender.

    I do not have any direct evidence of who they came from. Last year I asked, as did others, for the release of certain pieces of header information to discern from what country the death threat came from. Since those requests went ignored — neither the information was released nor were the results of the suggested tests released — I do not have any information to provide.

    However, I was told by two different people that the email came from the United States. That would make 310 million suspects, which would probably overwhelm the Kimhae police. And while the email coming from America doesn't eliminate an AES member as a possibility, it certainly makes it much less likely.

    Indeed, there were so many glaring doubts about the origins of the email that I believed then (and still believe) that it was irresponsible to make such a federal case out of it in the national media of three different countries. South Korea, I could understand, but Canada (through CBC) and the US (through CNN)?

    Those media pieces were all about shaming the Korean authorities, and for anglophone listeners/readers, it did little more worsen the us-versus-them divide that plagues anglophone-Korean relations in the education field.

    I assure that the threats were quite real and were not manufactured by anyone in our ranks.

    I think it is clear in my post that I have serious doubts about the veracity of the letter, especially in regards to the death threat having been manufactured by ATEK leadership.

    That said, if it is a hoax by an anglophone trying to smear the AES (which I still believe is the most probable scenario), how would you konw if it weren't someone in the ATEK rank-and-file, a rogue member, so to speak?

    A lot of people have been very riled up by AES and its leader, and rhetoric like, "Oh, yeah, let's see if he likes it if we do this to him?" were not uncommon. Though I loathe AES and I think a serious effort should have been made long ago to get them officially designated as a hate group, at the same time I think AES was being used as a bogeyman and people were attributing a lot more power and influence to them than they actually had. In such an atmosphere, a "false flag" death threat of sorts would hardly be unusual.

  8. Continuing...

    That's a consipracy theory that doesn't merit a response, but here's one anyway. The easiest way to debunk this is to ask, "who does it serve?"

    Again, I am not saying it was ATEK leadership that was behind it, and any discussion of that possibility on my part was emphatically hypothetical.

    But who does it serve? Would a media-publicized death threat by an AES member serve anyone's interests at ATEK? Sure. I can think of loads of ways.

    Oh, wait. You mean the "curious" letter. Well, I don't know enough about the politics of ATEK to know who would benefit. As I noted, I don't like the misogynist and racist tone of some of the accusations; it seems the letter writer has a problem with F-series visa holders and possibly kyopo or KoKos, so I can imagine some group(s) it might serve. But like I said, I don't know.

    Since my name and photo were posted everywhere in conjunction with some hoorbily false allegations and these threats I feel I have the most authority to say, "why would I do that to myself?" I still live with the possibility that some potential employer will see that and give me a second thought. It's illogical to think that this was an inside job.

    Again, I think I made it clear in this post, and I certainly made it clear in posts from late last year and early this year, that even though I think the death threat was not really from AES and it was actually the work of an anglophone shit-stirrer, I didn't and don't think ATEK leadership was involved in this, especially you.

    And I noted that even if it was an anglophone, that doesn't make the threat any less stressful, nor does it negate the possibility of an attack. I wrote that if an English speaker is whacked-out enough to fake an AES death threat, they might feel compelled to act on their fake threat with real violence.

    You wrote in your now-gone comment that If I ever see my name and face on a blog — my "real name and real face" — you hope I get more support than you got.

    Well, setting aside my avatar is a real picture of myself (though a few decades ago), the fact is I have been there. And I got nearly zero support because (a) I didn't feel like publicly defending myself against false claims by laying out details of my life to a bunch of anonymous people hell-bent on harming me in the real world and (b) a lot of people wanted to believe bad stuff about me no matter what. My situation, I'm guessing, was probably a bit more like Tony Hellmann's, where people saw a case laid out and jumped to a guilty-until-proven-innocent stance. IOW, I think you probably got much more support and sympathy than I did. And even when I was airing my serious doubts that the death threat was sent by someone in AES, I still made clear I believed the threat to you certainly felt real.

    As for your other comments, including where you address my post about ATEK's positive stand on the elimination of mandatory HIV testing for sex workers, I'd love it if you reprinted that part in that post so I could respond to your thoughtful response.

    Among other things, I would address how, if ATEK wanted solidarity with people in other visa categories, it might have been more constructive to fight for automatic inclusion in South Korea's comprehensive AIDS treatment programs for those foreign workers who become HIV-positive while in Korea, instead of trying to dismantle all HIV testing regimens under the equal-testing-for-all framework.

  9. Hi,

    I wrote the Herald Article that you linked to. I am, and have been, somewhat puzzled by your insistence that the threat was unlikely to be sent by an AES member.
    As you no doubt know, AES posts can only be seen by members of the cafe. The threat was posted on AES three hours before the threat was sent. The threat also contained a graphic from that post. So what you're saying here is that, 5 months after the original accusations about Tony Hellman came out, the sender decided to blur out the identity of Tony Hellman in exactly the same way as the AES manager, on exactly the same day. It's hardly likely.
    Now maybe AES was set up by an ATEK member, or an AFEK member, or even a random sick troll. But if it was, that person was in all reasonable likelihood also an AES member.
    To add:
    -Greg's picture was not on the AES post, it was added.
    -We spoke to M2 (AES cafe host) who put up a clarification immediately, although he wouldn't say much more (because the situation between the Korea Herald and AES was bad).
    -I doubt it was him who sent out the threat, or that he sanctioned it. It just isn't what he does.
    -M2 blurred out the identity of TH, and said it was someone who had been in charge of ATEK (although ATEK wasn't named). In doing so, it could be argued that he identified several people, and at least one person identified that person as Greg Dolezal. In my view it's also pretty irresponsible, when you are in charge of a group that inevitably attracts racists, to make that sort of allegation without better proof than an anonymous tip-off. I've been to that site and made the same searches: nothing.
    Whatever you may think of them, and whatever their intentions, AES will attract racists, because their main public activity is expelling foreigners.


  10. khnotes, I don't have time for a lengthy reply worthy of your comment (and I appreciate the time you took to stop by), but it seems to me that (a) a non-member can view an AES site if the link is provided to him/her, and (b) anyone can join AES if they have a national ID number or they use someone else's.

    Here's a question I never saw answered: Did the supposed poster of the death threat ever write messages in Korean at the AES site prior to the death threat being made?

  11. The thing is, the question isn't really possible to answer for certain. There is nothing in the email that identifies with a specific member or poster, and no poster came in and said "guess what I just did." All AES posts are in Korean, by the way, I don't think I saw one that wasn't.
    I don't think (a) is the case, but even if it is, the timing makes the story yet taller.
    As for (b) I think they are fairly open door about membership, but you have to fill in a short questionnaire in Korean about the problems of English teachers to get membership. I think they will probably accept bad Korean (they took mine) but probably not anything really incoherent. It took a while for acceptance, so I assume it is vetted to some extent.



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