Courtney (CJ) Werleman is an extraordinarily deceitful, vindictive, unethical, galling, attention seeking, spiteful charlatan masquerading as an expert.
He is an Australian writer & social commentator who deliberately misrepresents the arguments of others for the purposes of erecting a strawman that he can then pummel relentlessly. CJ’s charming tactics include ascribing positions to his opponents that they do not hold, attributing arguments to them that they they’ve never made and holding them partially responsible for the actions of murderers.
When a man named Craig Stephen Hicks callously murdered 3 young Muslim neighbours in Chapel Hill earlier this year, reports speculated that the motive for the attack may be linked to Hicks’ atheism, or more specifically, his anti-theism. However reports by the Chapel Hill Police Department suggested that the murders were more likely to have been committed over a parking dispute rather than any bigotry he harboured towards Muslims. These accusations of anti-Muslim prejudice ignored that Hicks had defended the right of Muslims to build the infamous Park 51 mosque – also known as the Ground Zero Mosque. He had also, in respect to conspiracy theories surrounding Barak Obama’s religious beliefs, declared his support for a Muslim president. Likewise, dismissing a parking dispute as the motivation also overlooks the fact that Hicks was known to be generally aggressive and frequently argued with virtually all of his neighbours over domestic issues, even going so far as to brandish a gun in two previous confrontations.
Werleman, apparently oblivious to these presumably important details, cynically and immediately used these horrendous murders as a means to attack his perceived nemesis; neuroscientist Sam Harris. He had decided in an instant, that this act of multiple-murder was not a neighbourly dispute which escalated to violence, but was instead a hate crime against Muslims inspired directly by the writings of Sam Harris and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins:
This fatuous and revolting conduct was repeated once again by Werleman when the implausibly named Dylann Storm Roof entered an Episcopal Church in South Carolina and sat through a Bible study session with 12 African American Christians before drawing a firearm and shooting nine of them dead.
Perhaps, by his own logic, the thundering mass of material Werleman has produced and/or circulated denouncing ‘new atheists’ as genocidal maniacs, racists, white supremacists and anti-Muslim bigots should be held aloft as evidence of his accountability for the murders of, for example, atheist bloggers in Bangladesh. Perhaps we should consider the photo of Mr Storm Roof burning an American flag and accuse Werleman of complicity on the grounds of his diatribes against historic and present U.S governments and his propensity to label them as the world’s biggest terrorists. Maybe we could posit that Werleman’s books such as God Hates You, Hate Him Back may have had a causal role in a young impressionable man proclaiming “Y’all want something to pray about, I’ll give you something to pray about” before blowing holes in two Methodist pastors and a flock of pious Christians.
But to do so would be incredibly crass, intellectually dishonest, highly unprincipled and downright irresponsible.
Harris has spoken of his intense frustration with characters like Reza Aslan, Glenn Greenwald and CJ Werleman et al making these wildly mendacious accusations about him and his work and has desperately explained the threat this unscrupulous conduct poses to himself and others around him:
“In saying or writing or otherwise publishing the opinion that I have blood on my hands and then backing that up with conscious misrepresentations of my views about Islam; that is a dangerous thing to do…it is dangerous for me, it’s not dangerous for (them) and they know it. It increases the risk to me and my family from religious lunatics in the Muslim community.”
“(They) know that some number of people among their readers are proper lunatics, goons and madmen who are organised entirely around this variable of Islam and its importance to their lives and the future of humanity. And if you tell them, as Aslan and Greenwald repeatedly have, whether in their own words or by circulating the lies of others; that I want to nuke the Muslim world, or that I want to round Muslims up for torture, or that I’m a genocidal fascist maniac or that I want to profile dark skinned people at airports, or that I want to kill people for thought crimes, or that I have blood on my hands for the murders of three beautiful young people in North Carolina…this is dangerous. I’ve asked them to stop it and I’m asking them to stop it again. I’m about to release a book on Islam with Maajid Nawaz. Maajid has serious security concerns. He is my co-author. Telling millions of people that I have incited hatred against Muslims that lead to the deaths of these poor people in North Carolina is totally unethical…there is no view that I have ever published that I am hiding from. I’ve written about torture and profiling, but none of my views reduce to anything that could be the basis of hatred of whole groups of people and it’s very difficult, in fact it may just be impossible, to counter these lies once they are in circulation.”
Werleman’s lack of intelligence allows him to miss the tragic irony in issuing accusations of culpability in the direction of ‘new atheists’ over the Charleston shooting. So called ‘new atheists’ have argued explicitly and repeatedly that beliefs are engines which drive behaviour and that dangerous beliefs – such as racist or religious beliefs – can produce dangerous, violent behaviour. Dylann Roof is a perfect example of this theory in practice, yet characters like Werleman have been in constant and resolute opposition to this rather obvious observation – albeit only when the perpetrators are Muslim. However, since this killer was a white supremacist rather than an Islamic fundamentalist, CJ has no trouble at all in attributing his behaviour to a consequence of dangerous ideological beliefs. Amusingly, Werleman is so preoccupied with hurling blame at ‘new atheists’ that he is completely oblivious to the fact that he actually agrees with them in this case.
When not accusing ‘New Atheists’ of complicity in murder, Werleman avidly engages in intellectual theft. In 2014 he was exposed as a serial plagiarist, an indictment that he responded to with all the professionalism and maturity of a 6 year old caught with his hand in the cookie jar. His reaction was to dramatically downplay the issue and to lash out at Sam Harris again by accusing him of the same behaviour. The charges of approximately twenty counts of plagiarism against Werleman were upheld and his articles were removed from AlterNet, a website to which he was a regular contributor. Werleman’s fabricated charges against Harris, on the other hand, were not. Rather, they were completely and utterly debunked.
This hostility towards Sam Harris is easily explained: Harris is well known and successful, and Werleman isn’t. Dan Arel is an award-winning journalist, best-selling author as well as a previous associate and admirer of Werleman. Arel describes him on his website as a “mentor”, “someone I looked up to” and a “friend”. His expression of utter disappointment in Werleman and a dejected reluctance to initially accept the truth of his friend’s unethical behaviour makes for quite uneasy reading. Nevertheless, Arel acknowledged the overwhelming evidence against his former colleague and divulged his opinion on the origins of Werleman’s animosity towards Harris:
Werleman has admitted to a previous agenda of anti-theism before he came to reject ‘new atheism’ and embarked on an altogether different trajectory. This apparent conversion occurred for reasons unknown, although the bio on his website credits it to an epithany (sic). In recent developments, the ever dependable Stephen Knight at Godless Spellchecker has uncovered a number of hateful tweets made by Werleman in his anti-theism days that essentially amount to a string of ‘Paki jokes’ directed towards Arabs and Muslims.
The former racism and anti-Muslim bigotry displayed by Werleman gives us a clue as to the motive of any genuine animosity towards ‘new atheists’; he is battling a projection of his former self. Since he blames anti-theism for the repellent views he held towards Muslims as people, he lacks the imagination to acknowledge that anybody else could possibly be motivated by anything other than bigotry and prejudice.
However, I believe his opposition to ‘new atheism’ or his anti-anti-theism, if you will, to be far more cynical than that. His vendetta against Harris seems to stem from an email exchange between the two, prompted by Werleman posting a libellous article about Harris and referring to him as the ‘Pat Robertson of atheism’. He responded to Harris’s objections with a series of comments and an article that alternate between outright criticism and borderline sycophancy:
“Mate, the piece wasn’t about you. My only other mention of you was in criticizing what I perceive to be your myopic view on the roots of terrorism.”
“You have liberated millions of minds, and I count myself as one of your fans.”
Subsequently Werleman switched gears, burying any adoration he had for Harris, and began a malicious smear campaign against him and virtually every other high profile anti-theist you could name. It is my opinion that Werleman changed his rhetoric, if not his tactics, for the purposes of sliding into a niche he spotted in the market. For an atheist author who initially attempted to put across the arguments of Dawkins and Harris in more accessible language, the gradual awareness of a complete inability to compete with them on an intellectual or rhetorical level resulted in a desperate search for a new identity: He would use his “razor sharp wit” coupled with the “cross-examination skills of many of your favorite television trial lawyers” (his words, not mine) to argue against these leading lights of ‘new atheism’. This would be a perfectly legitimate position to adopt were it not for the underhanded, unprincipled and obtuse manner in which Werleman feels obligated to conduct himself.
This devastating blog by an unknown author meticulously details myriad examples of Werleman’s fraudulent, duplicitous behaviour and describes his rise to Z-list semi-stardom in the following manner:
“This is a case of a somewhat narcissistic opportunist who exploited a relatively new situation in the world of journalism in order to win himself a position he hadn’t earned and wasn’t qualified for.”
Nevertheless, I can’t help feeling slightly sorry for Werleman. Not since Mo Ansar’s public decimation have I seen anyone so completely exposed as vicious and unprincipled fraud. But then Werleman’s downfall is entirely of his own making. And you’ve got to hand it to him: when he shoots himself in the foot, he uses a cannon so big it takes his whole leg off.*
*This turn of phrase was originally used by Charlie Brooker in his 2006 Guardian column about George Galloway.