PenguiCon 2024 Postmortem or How Not to Handle Cyberstalking

Well, this is going to be awkward, and looong.

Many of you reading this know all too well my wife and I, as well as our family and friends’ network, have been the all-consuming fixation of a small but clinically obsessed cult of criminal cyberstalkers for the better part of the last six years. I’ve written previously on this blog about their efforts to deplatform me from social media, review bomb my work, etc. Since then, their campaign has drastically expanded to identity theft and impersonation, financial fraud, doxxing, physical stalking, trespassing, vandalism, death threats, bomb/mass shooting threats, and the SWATTing of our home fifty times and counting.

For several years now, one of our stalkers’ favorite attack vectors has been to focus on conventions I’m appearing at for panels, readings, presentations, etc, and deluge attendees and fellow presenters with harassment, threats, defamation, impersonations, anything to intimidate and disrupt. The goal of course is to poison the well among my professional community. Ultimately, they’re hoping to be so disruptive and threatening that organizers simply throw up their hands and stop booking me for conventions, cutting off a vitally important avenue for networking, promotion, sales, and outreach that help maintain and elevate my career as an author. Destroying my professional reputation and ending my writing career has been their most important goal from the very beginning of this campaign.

In early 2022, I attended one such convention where this kind of disruptive harassment was employed. One of the organizers of that convention also had a planning role with another nearby regional convention, PenguiCon. I’d never heard of it before but was intrigued by its mix of sci-fi lit and maker/builder tracks. This organizer, whose name is withheld out of respect for their privacy, heard all about my tale of woe and invited me to participate on the spot out of solidarity and as a big “Fuck you” to the cult harassing our community for their own twisted amusements.

A couple of months later, PenguiCon 2022 came around and I was only too glad to participate. I put together a pair of presentations on future space propulsion tech and the improbability of Mars terraforming respectively that were well attended and received.

For their part, our stalkers went through their usual repertoire of social media and email harassment, but they were blunted because the Con sent an email explaining the situation which largely calmed confusion and fears among other participants.

However, one of them also brought a significant escalation, calling the local PD to lodge a bomb threat against the convention hotel as a distraction to allow them to shoot me during one of these presentations. This call prompted the police to coordinate with the hotel and convention staff to quietly run a bomb-sniffing dog around the property. The search came up empty, as they always do.

This fake bomb threat is what finally brought the cult stalking us to the attention of the FBI, which has to follow up on all such domestic terrorism threats. Since then, our stalkers have made further bomb threats against half a dozen public venues in three different states, including against Patti LaBelle’s Dec 10th 2022 concert in our home of Milwaukee.

Now we can fast forward to this year, specifically February. I didn’t apply to attend PenguiCon in 2023 because my wife and I were traveling internationally too close to the convention to make it work logistically. So, I was surprised and happy to receive an email from the person who’d invited me in 2022 asking about scheduling for 2024. The surprise quickly turned to confusion when they asked if I’d submitted a panel suggestion Alien Crabs and Dragonpox: How STDs are depicted in SFF and why we need more sex-positive representation.”

Reader, I had not. I’m all for sex positivity, but no I didn’t want to run a panel on space herpes.

What had actually happened was a member of the stalking cult had impersonated me to abuse the convention’s unsecured panel suggestion form. I politely declined to run their panel but offered to do another presentation of my own choosing. My counteroffer was quickly accepted and a presentation “Why not Venus?” about terraforming our closest planetary neighbor was put on the official schedule. I booked my room and set to work researching, preparing, and practicing the presentation, an intermittent process which took a total of about two weeks.

Again, I need to reiterate the organizers of this convention were not only aware of the cult stalking us, but had previous experience identifying, confronting, and mitigating their criminal harassment to the benefit of all involved. I therefore approached the coming convention confident any stalker attacks would be properly wrangled, which is why what happened next caught me so completely off guard.

Two Mondays ago, just hours after putting the finishing touches on my presentation, the same person who had booked me was tasked by the PenguiCon board to inform me I’d been disinvited from the convention because the cult stalking my family had sufficiently harassed and threatened other attendees through social media and other vectors to the point I learned later a Guest of Honor was forced to withdraw out of concern for their safety.

To any con runners reading this, I cannot stress this next bit enough. DO. NOT. DO. THIS. Excluding the targets of criminal stalking and harassment harms only the victims and helps only the criminals. No one is protected by this decision. No one is made “safe.” Not only does it reward and validate criminal behavior by achieving their strategic goals, it encourages escalation and expansion, endangering attendees and presenters at the next convention on the calendar, your own convention the following year, and every convention thereafter because you’ve taught them to escalate until they get what they want.

You do not appease terrorists, especially not at the expense of their victims, because then their targets only multiply. Many high-profile conventions over the last several years, including GenCon, WorldCon, and others have successfully and repeatedly handled our stalking situation with compassion and professionalism. This was the first time in our experience a convention failed to even make the attempt.

A flurry of texts, emails, and phone calls ensued as I tried to get a clearer picture of what had happened. One phone conversation was had with assurances my concerns and experience dealing with this situation would be presented to the board. This is also not how to handle the situation, as a game of telephone is never preferable to direct communication, no matter how well-intentioned participants may be.

This was immediately confirmed when a board member whose identity will remain confidential emailed their response which included:

While we appreciate the time and effort you have spent in planning your attendance at Penguicon this year, we must consider the threats of physical violence that have been made to our attendees this year in the context of prior events, in which the public was put under threat in a way that, while initially no fault of your own, involved your incitement using violent rhetoric ahead of and during the event itself.

I found this explanation very curious, as I can state with absolute certainty I neither incited anyone nor used violent rhetoric ahead of the event, during the event, or indeed after the event. When pressed for examples of my “violent rhetoric,” yet another board member responded and unwittingly made a simply staggering admission:

When we say that you use violent rhetoric, we can simply refer back to the feedback form from 2022, where you called all of us ‘ret*rds’ for having a mask mandate.  In terms of incitement, the fact that you engage with your stalkers on social media is, in my mind, dangerous and fuels their desire to be bold and violent.

Allow me to paraphrase my own reply to this extraordinary claim. I did not at any time call members of the PenguiCon board or anyone else a “ret*rd” for enforcing a mask mandate. Not at their convention or any of the other conventions I’ve attended since 2020 wherever one was called for. I don’t believe mask mandates are unnecessary, I participate in them without comment or complaint, and I don’t use that word for anyone.

I sent no message of any kind. Their 2022 feedback form was targeted by a stalker impersonating me, exactly as they did later when they submitted the “space herpes” panel through another unsecured contact form in February of this year before I was invited. The board members were successfully duped, again, despite having examples of the same vulnerability being exploited.

Secondly, this is not a simple group of trolls. Ignoring them does not make them go away. Indeed, it has been our long experience after nearly six years ignoring them is what makes them double down and become more bold and violent. The old chatroom axiom “don’t feed the trolls” does not apply to this cult. Pushing back against their incessant online defamation and harassment does not “goad them into action.” They are already sufficient goaded by their clinical obsession. Instead, it is the only way to defend my professional and personal online reputation from their slander and threats.

All of this was explained to the PenguiCon board via email in detail several days before the start of the convention. There was, and has been, no further communication. Not even acknowledgement their decision had been unduly prejudiced by the mistaken belief I had attacked and insulted the board in the aftermath of the 2022 event.

And then, while not intending to, the board made matters even worse:



This is a screengrab from PenguiCon’s official Facebook group page, taken by one of the criminals stalking my family and posted on one of their many Twitter sockpuppets (this one impersonates my little brother’s name and likeness without his consent).

To be clear, the only person who was ‘removed’ from PenguiCon this year was me, and here this admin publicly accused me of being personally responsible for the threats and harassment other attendees and presenters were subjected to. This is not only incredibly dishonest, but the people ACTUALLY responsible for the harassment of everyone were only too eager to weaponize it to publicly use against my professional reputation. But it doesn’t end there:



These are screengrabs of FB DMs between one of our stalkers and a member of the PenguiCon board itself. The stalker “Daniel” approached the board member through DMs feigning concern for the convention in order to trick the board member into divulging non-public information. As you can see in the first screengrab, this account was only just then approved. They had no previous interaction with this board member, who naively accepted the message request and proceeded to cough up sensitive information to a person they failed to vet in any way.

“Daniel,” immediately shared these screengrabs with the rest of their cult on web forums created specifically for the purpose of planning, coordinating, and celebrating their harassment of my entire family. This “private” conversation where a board member repeatedly accused me of responsibility or at minimum “association” with the bomb threat from 2022 was then shared and reshared across the spectrum of the cults’ various social media accounts, trying to create the false narrative that I, not they, were to blame for their terrorism.

I wanted to handle this privately, I really did. Both to try and salvage the relationships and to help everyone involved avoid embarrassment. But between the PenguiCon board ceasing all communication with me, and these libelous statements being made public by our stalkers as a result of poor OpSec on the part of at least one board member, I’ve been forced to present the facts and refute the false narrative being presented by both our stalkers AND the PenguiCon board itself, even if accidentally.

I want to reiterate that all of this was a known issue that PenguiCon had prior experience with and had handled professionally and competently the last time around. Which is why I find the results and fallout from this year, which again I didn’t even sign up to appear at initially, so incomprehensible. I realize this means my chance of appearing at future PenguiCons now hover near absolute zero, and I’m genuinely upset about that. They have a great con with a unique blend of creators and builders from diverse disciplines that encourages conversation and cross pollination. And as someone who’s hand sold thousands of books, their co-op style bookstore for attending authors should be a model for conventions everywhere.

But for everything they do well, the way they handled cyberstalking, especially for a convention focused on sci-fi and tech, needs to be held out as an example of what not to do for other con runners and boards. Our situation is an extreme example, but when you’re working with guests who are quasi-public figures or even celebrities like authors, artists, and actors can be, you need awareness of the potential for cyberstalkers and have policies and procedures in place.

Policies which do not include victim-blaming their targets and rewarding their criminal behavior.

Comments (6 Responses )

  1. Jon Davis - 05/06/2024 - 10:57 am #

    This will not end well. All they did was give the stalkers permission to go after other people now and then what, the con won’t invite them the next time? They hit someone with an even bigger reach and it’s going to kill that con as people stop even trying to go.

  2. Jim Vander - 05/06/2024 - 5:55 pm #

    For them to stop communicating with you shows a lack of professionalism. At least they could have said “our bad we’ll have you back next year.” To make matters worse they have insinuated you are responsible for bomb threats to someone they don’t even know. Clearly something needs to change here. Ultimately a clear statement needs to be put out by the board. New attendees reading about this are going to be turned off which is bad for everyone. Terroristic threats should never be bowed to.

  3. Heywood J. - 05/11/2024 - 7:05 pm #

    This has happened for years. The wokies used it as a standard tactic against anyone non-woke. They were advised that if they didn’t stand up to it, it would only get worse, and now it has.
    I’m sad to hear they’ve escalated to that level. Hopefully a skilled investigator can actually track down what at this point is blatant terrorism.

    • Patrick S. Tomlinson - 05/13/2024 - 3:03 pm #

      I’m not sure who the “wokies” are supposed to refer to, but no, this has not been a “standard tactic” against those perceived as conservative. There’s a difference between protesting against someone’s appearance based on the danger and threat they present to marginalized and disadvantaged communities within fandom and con goers, and what has been done to us which is to create that threat and danger, and then falsely blame us for it.


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