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The Sad Truth About Robert Cohen
Do honesty and character count in an activist?
by Jeff Nelson
VegSource Interactive, Inc.

February 11, 2002

Up until now, I have been unable to share publicly the full reasons that I -- as an individual seeking to live an ethical life, as the owner of VegSource, and as the chair-elect of the Board of Directors of EarthSave International -- cannot in good conscience be associated with Robert Cohen.

What occurred and what has come to light in the past month or so in relation to Mr. Cohen has greatly affected my view of him.

This article is not about some personal, private issue between Mr. Cohen and me. Nor is it about a feud between Mr. Cohen and Stephen Walsh, EarthSave, and the other people and vegetarian organizations on the receiving end of conduct by Mr. Cohen that I consider verbally abusive, dishonest and threatening.

It is about the question of whether vegetarians and vegans should give a free pass to someone who adopts the "activist" label but conducts himself in such a way that were he not an "activist," everyone would roundly condemn and shun him.

The question I am posing here is this: Is the harmony of some movement and achieving the ends of some cause so important that you would accept or overlook contemptible behavior that you would otherwise reject in your personal life? Do you have two standards of conduct to measure people, one for those whose reprehensible conduct you turn a blind eye to because they are "on my side" in the desire to promote vegetarianism, and another where character and fair, honest treatment of others determine whether someone deserves your respect?

To the core of my being, I absolutely do not believe in having two disparate standards for the conduct of others. Further, if one has knowledge and fails to object to serious misconduct, one is complicit in that misconduct and the damage it causes.

This is why below, I will relate a number of specific incidents involving individuals and organizations in which Mr. Cohen has exhibited a disturbing pattern of harassment and threats. I relate these out of concern for the emotional and personal well-being of anyone who may come in contact with Mr. Cohen. In all earnestness, Mr. Cohen should come with a serious warning label; this article lays out a number of reasons why.

Why Am I Speaking Now?

My own recent interaction with Mr. Cohen, which led to his decision on January 22, 2002, to move his websites off of my server, was originally triggered by Mr. Cohen's irrational and abusive behavior toward EarthSave founder, John Robbins. Because Mr. Robbins was loath to have any of this publicly aired, I didn't share any details of my own interaction with Mr. Cohen as it would have meant divulging the underlying situation with Mr. Robbins. He preferred to keep the matter private, feeling that that neither the good of the community nor the good of the planet would be served by a public airing.

However, things have changed. A large number of people and organizations (detailed below) have come forth telling of Mr. Cohen's repeated dishonesty and malicious behavior. In addition, Mr. Cohen has decided to unfairly malign Dr. Stephen Walsh, to attack me personally, and he has threatened to try to harm the reputation of EarthSave International.

Therefore, with some reluctance Mr. Robbins agreed to allow me to relate his exchange with Mr. Cohen, which then permits me to discuss my own communications as part of a larger discussion of Mr. Cohen's serious misconduct. I greatly appreciate Mr. Robbins' allowing me to share publicly his exchange with Mr. Cohen, despite his reservations about doing so, because I believe that to sweep conduct like this under the rug is to condone and therefore permit behavior that is in violation of basic moral and ethical standards. I don't think the movement towards a more compassionate world is served by allowing such behavior to continue unprotested.

Normally I don't share copies of private e-mail correspondence or publish them. I consider it a breach of etiquette. However, because Mr. Cohen has repeatedly mischaracterized and distorted what took place between him and Mr. Robbins, and because he has distorted his interactions with me claiming he was "kicked off" my server, I see no other way to show what actually happened than to present the interactions - the unedited e-mails - themselves.

I do this because by seeing the actual exchanges, the reader is free to form her own conclusion rather than being forced to rely on someone else's characterizations -- or mischaracterizations.

Robert Cohen and John Robbins

Robert Cohen, who refers to himself as the NotMilkMan, is the author of "Milk: The Deadly Poison" and "Milk: From A to Z." He operates the site NotMilk.com as well as a Yahoogroups free email list, where he sends out a daily column. According to bio information in his book, Mr. Cohen's background includes having taken science courses at a college in Long Island, and working in real estate.

John Robbins, for those who may not know, is author of several books including, "Diet for A New America," (which has sold 1.8 million copies in various languages) and the recently released bestseller "The Food Revolution." Mr. Robbins is probably the person most responsible for inspiring people in the U.S. to shift toward a plant-based diet. The only son of the founder of the Baskin-Robbins ice cream empire, John Robbins was groomed to follow in his father's footsteps, but chose to walk away from Baskin-Robbins and the immense wealth it represented to "...pursue the deeper American Dream...the dream of a society at peace with its conscience because it respects and lives in harmony with all life forms. A dream of a society that is truly healthy, practicing a wise and compassionate stewardship of a balanced ecosystem." In 1989 Mr. Robbins founded EarthSave International, a non-profit organization that works to educate and inspire people to shift toward a plant-based diet.

In January, 2002, John Robbins contacted Robert Cohen about an article Mr. Robbins wrote that Mr. Cohen had reprinted on his (Cohen's) websites. Mr. Robbins requested that Mr. Cohen remove the article and replace it with a link to the same article on Mr. Robbins' own site.

I have some expertise on the ways of the Internet. I own and run what Jupiter/Media Metrix (and every other ranking service) ranks as the most popular food website. I have myself on several occasions made the same kind of request to others that Mr. Robbins made to Mr. Cohen, and have had the request made of me. Everyone has always complied right away, as I have. When you write an article, you'd rather have someone put a link to it than have them just copy it and put it on their own site.

In response to Mr. Robbins' benign and reasonable request, Mr. Cohen generated a series of insulting, abusive and sick e-mails to him. Mr. Cohen did remove Mr. Robbins' article from one of his sites, but refused to remove it from his two commercial soymilk-maker selling sites. (Mr. Cohen has of late been attempting to sell soymilk makers on the Internet. Having Mr. Robbins' article on the selling website, along with a photo of John Robbins, gave the appearance to some that Mr. Robbins was endorsing Mr. Cohen's products. He does not.)

  • Click here to open a new browser and view the full correspondence just referred to between Mr. Robbins and Mr. Cohen.

Cohen Leaves VegSource

Having been made aware of the situation, and because four or five days had passed since their interaction and Mr. Cohen had still not removed the article from his two commercial sites, I decided to contact Mr. Cohen myself and ask him to remove them. After all, I know both men and host websites for both. So I thought I could expedite things.

I believe I did this in a respectful way, and because I have provided what amounts to $1300 a year of free web hosting for Mr. Cohen over the years, Mr. Cohen would find it difficult to say in honesty that I had some sort of financial motivation in making the request, as he had intimated was the motive of Mr. Robbins (who, by the way, received no financial compensation for the article in question, nor for any of the articles he writes).

Even after seeing his abusive treatment of Mr. Robbins, I was surprised by Mr. Cohen's reaction. He turned the exchange from a discussion of posting someone else's article into a rant that Mr. Robbins was "unsupportive" of Mr. Cohen and had a "hidden agenda" that was "an anti-Robert Cohen agenda." Perhaps before he realized that I had actually seen their e-mail exchange, he asserted that he had never been disrespectful to Mr. Robbins in the exchange, but that in fact Mr. Robbins had treated him horribly.

Mr. Cohen claimed he had a legal right to reprint any article he wanted, even when the author specifically asked him not to. After a protracted exchange in which I attempted to reason with him, I told him I was very uncomfortable with his position on copyright material, and the fact that Mr. Cohen seemed to be operating without a conscience when it came to another writer's legal rights.

I told Mr. Cohen that I would not allow anyone to do what he was doing, regardless of the individuals involved. I said that if he were hell-bent on keeping John Robbins' article on his sites when Mr. Robbins had asked him to remove them, that he should look to find hosting elsewhere for his sites. I urged him to take 24 hours to think about it. I hoped he might cool down and consider that he was actually in the wrong, and that removing the articles would be the right and easy thing to do.

However, he fired back a response within minutes, indicating he would remove his sites from my server rather than remove John Robbins' article from his commercial websites.

  • Click here to open a new browser and view the full correspondence just referred to between Mr. Cohen and myself.

Then he began telling others that he had been "kicked off" VegSource and that I had "destroyed" files that belonged to him. Both of these assertions were false; Mr. Cohen elected to leave, and no files of his were destroyed. (Mr. Cohen's webmaster wrote to me that he had full copies of Mr. Cohen's sites in question and that after Mr. Cohen moved his sites, we could delete the files.)

Additionally, shortly after the exchange above I e-mailed the internet service provider (ISP) that hosts Mr. Cohen's selling sites and informed them that Mr. Robbins did not give permission to feature his articles on the sites. Within hours, Mr. Robbins' articles disappeared from Mr. Cohen's commercial sites.

So in a nutshell, Mr. Cohen took an angry, self-righteous stand for the right to disregard a
legitimate request from a well-respected vegan leader, and to post Mr. Robbins articles on his (Cohen's) web site even when asked repeatedly and politely to remove them. And within hours of taking the same stand with me, the articles were removed anyway, and Mr. Cohen forfeited his free hosting from and his association with VegSource. Mr. Cohen's actions were confounding, irrational and self-destructive.

Cohen and Dr. Walsh

Mr. Cohen has a reputation with many for playing loose with the scientific facts. From time to time others have attempted to point out and encourage him to correct specific misstatements or obvious errors. These individuals, including an expert whom we host at VegSource (in addition to Dr. Walsh), were angrily rebuffed.

Stephen Walsh holds a PhD in Process Systems Engineering from Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine in the UK, and specializes in data analysis and mathematical modeling. He is a serious scholar, and a genuine advocate for a vegan way of life. He has been a vegan for over 8 years, has helped start several vegan housing co-ops, and has organized three summer camps for vegans in the UK. He published his first vegan article about 6 years ago,"Vegans and the environment," in The Vegan magazine. After 10 months on the UK Vegan Society council he was elected vice chair. Dr. Walsh's advice is sought by some leading vegan nutritionists and bestselling authors. After leaving a lecturing position at Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine where he lectured in process systems engineering, in 1997 he went to work as a senior systems engineer for a European paint company.

I first became acquainted with Dr. Walsh when he wrote me a letter complimentary of VegSource, in which he made some observations about an article I had written looking at studies of calcium and dairy. I felt his comments had merit, and I invited him to write an article which we published. We have published five of his articles, some of which also appear on the UK Vegan Society website.

In the spring of 2001, when he learned that Mr. Cohen was going to speak in England, Dr. Walsh wrote to Mr. Cohen. Dr. Walsh stated his opinion that Mr. Cohen had serious misinformation on his NotMilk site, citing specific claims he considered most egregious. Dr. Walsh expressed his desire to be permitted to debate Mr. Cohen during his visit.

In reply, Mr. Cohen accepted the debate offer, encouraging Dr. Walsh to bring along others to debate him as well.

  • Click here to open a new browser and view Cohen's acceptance of this debate proposal.

Despite attempts to engage Mr. Cohen in the promised debate, Mr. Cohen did not debate Dr. Walsh at the event.

In December of 2001, Dr. Walsh wrote to Mr. Cohen in an effort to get him to correct or remove an article in which he had seriously misrepresented a study, according to Dr. Walsh. Around the same time, Dr. Walsh asked if I would publish an "Open Letter to Robert Cohen," in which Dr. Walsh would bring public attention to Cohen's inaccurate work. Dr. Walsh advised Mr. Cohen that he planned to take the matter of Cohen's fundamentally flawed scientific analysis public, should Mr. Cohen again ignore and rebuff him. Mr. Cohen's only response was to tell Mr. Walsh: "I hope nothing is lost in the translation when I tell you to go and have carnal relations with yourself."

As I was copied on the exchange between Dr. Walsh and Mr. Cohen, I said I was open to publishing Walsh's open letter if it came to that.

Per my agreement in December with Dr. Walsh, we very recently published the open letter on VegSource, which appears here. Before doing so, I repeatedly emailed Mr. Cohen offering to publish any response he might wish to make, but he declined.

Once the open letter was published, Mr. Cohen's reaction to having public attention focused on whether or not his work was reliable was to attempt to destroy Dr. Walsh's reputation. Rather than responding in a civil manner to Dr. Walsh's criticisms, he impugned Walsh's character, claiming in articles he published and distributed that Dr. Walsh was an "infiltrator" and a "destroyer," characterizing Dr. Walsh's attempt to engage in the promised debate as "stalking."

Mr. Cohen compared Dr. Walsh to famous traitors of history such as Brutus, Judas, and Benedict Arnold, and using innuendo and outlandish falsehoods, he asserted that Dr. Walsh is being paid to work "full-time" to promote a "dangerous and deceitful agenda" to destroy the vegetarian movement.

Mr. Cohen presented his character assassination of Dr. Walsh to his readers, and then pointed to it as the reason he refused to respond to the specific criticisms of his own work.

  • Click here to open a new browser and read excerpts from some of Mr. Cohen's defamatory statements about Dr. Walsh.

In response to Mr. Cohen's hysteria and libelous charges against Dr. Walsh, the UK Vegan Society released a formal statement on the issue.

The UK Vegan Society is the world's first vegan organization. It was created in 1944 by Elsie Shrigley and Donald Watson, who coined the term and created the vegan philosophy, despite opposition at the time from prominent vegetarians unwilling to even consider adopting a diet free of all animal products. In short, the UK Vegan Society is not "vegan lite" or some Johnny-come-lately activist group that shoots from the hip; they're the real deal.

The release from the UK Vegan Society last week stated that as longtime associates of Walsh and as witnesses to the actual events in question, Cohen was lying and libeling Walsh when making the outlandish charges.

Their statement is unequivocal and categorical:

STATEMENT FROM THE UK VEGAN SOCIETY

6 February, 2002

Robert Cohen, author of the publication "Milk - the deadly poison," seems to have slipped from exaggeration, to poetic license, to libel.

Since Mr. Cohen's visit to London last year, he has consistently refused to address valid criticisms of his claims from Dr Stephen Walsh. Mr. Cohen's claims unfortunately are often based on a selective and biased reading of research papers. Inaccurate and untrue claims are of no help to either serious debate or the advancement of veganism.

Dr. Walsh's measured critiques at the meetings here and through correspondence have been met with incomprehension and abuse from Mr. Cohen, culminating in the bizarre and libellous statements that Dr. Walsh is an 'infiltrator' and 'stalked' Mr. Cohen and his family.

These statements are untrue. Members of the governing Council of the Vegan Society were present at Mr. Cohen's talks and can fully endorse Dr. Walsh's account as entirely accurate.

Until Mr. Cohen and his campaign 'Not Milk' cease to make unsubstantiated and fanciful claims, cooperation with respected bodies such as the Vegan Society will sadly not be possible.

RICK SAVAGE
Chief Executive
rick.savage@vegansociety.com

The Vegan Society
Donald Watson house
7 Battle Road St.
Leonards on Sea East
Sussex TN37 7AA UK
Tel: 0845 45 88244
Fax: 01424 717064
www.vegansociety.com

Perhaps a most telling indicator of Mr. Cohen's loss of a sense of reality or ethical behavior is the fact that he published his first malicious and vindictive libel of Dr. Walsh under a photograph of Gandhi, and ended the article by extolling himself because he (Cohen) placed the greatest value on ahimsa -- harmlessness.

Cohen Attacks Nelson

At VegSource we pride ourselves in presenting a variety of viewpoints on vegetarian matters, and just as we hosted Mr. Cohen's sites and he was part of the VegSource "family," Dr. Walsh is also part of that family as he contributes articles, advice, and useful material to us. So we let our experts have their say.

Last year we published an article on VegSource by one of our experts, William Harris MD, wherein Dr. Harris was critical of certain claims of the raw food movement. At the same time, one of our experts is Doug Graham DC, who has written extensively on raw foods, and hosts our Raw Foods discussion board. The article led to a respectful exchange of opinions between Dr. Graham and Dr. Harris, which I believe was to the benefit of all involved.

In contrast, when I contacted Mr. Cohen in late January and showed him Dr. Walsh's open letter, saying I wanted to publish it but get his rebuttal or comments first, Mr. Cohen responded explosively, threatening to "expose" me, if I permitted Walsh the same public voice on VegSource that I had permitted Mr. Cohen on several occasions.

  • Click here to open a new browser and read the full exchange between Mr. Cohen and me relating to Dr. Walsh's open letter.

After Mr. Cohen responded to Dr. Walsh's open letter with his defamatory ad hominem attack on Dr. Walsh, I removed Mr. Cohen's libelous article from Mr. Cohen's NotMilk website. I informed Mr. Cohen and his webmaster, Dave Reitz, that as the ISP for Mr. Cohen I had done this because publishing libel violated our terms of service. I also informed them that I had changed the password for the NotMilk site, as I didn't want Mr. Cohen to put the defamatory article back up or otherwise further violate our terms of service.

I also advised Mr. Cohen and his webmaster they should move much more quickly in transferring Mr. Cohen's sites to another host, as it had been weeks since Mr. Cohen had promised to go, and there was no indication he had moved to do so yet.

  • Click here to open a new browser and read my email giving notice that I had removed the article and changed Mr. Cohen's FTP password.

Although Mr. Cohen had been informed he had lost his site privileges for cause, and despite his webmaster's writing me back and confirming that he had received this message, the following day Mr. Cohen chose to put out a defamatory series of columns onto his Yahoogroups list. At first he claimed that his website had been "hacked" by some unknown individual.

Upon seeing Mr. Cohen's e-mail column and realizing that he had invented another false drama to cast himself as a victim by claiming he had been "hacked," I decided to immediately terminate his service completely, and make his front page no longer viewable. I made the front of his site come to a page explaining that his web service had been terminated, and linking to an article on VegSource explaining why. The article stated that Mr. Cohen was lying to his Yahoogroup readers by reporting having been "hacked," and stated that his service had now been completely terminated for his misconduct.

To continue misleading his readers, Mr. Cohen immediately put out another e-mail on his Yahoogroups list saying he now "knew the identity of the hacker"-- and it was me, Jeff Nelson. (In the US, hacking is a felony.)

Cohen Harasses EarthSave Members

In my position as a board member and member of the Executive Committee of the EarthSave Board of Directors, it's come to my attention that Mr. Cohen has engaged repeatedly in reprehensible conduct toward EarthSave members, chapter leaders and others.

Sometime back, Mr. Cohen called the EarthSave Louisville chapter and offered to speak for free. ES Louisville agreed and scheduled Mr. Cohen to speak on Monday, February 11, 2002. About two weeks ago, shortly after the publication on VegSource of Dr. Walsh's open letter to Mr. Cohen, the Executive Director of EarthSave Louisville received a disturbing e-mail written by Mr. Cohen.

The rambling e-mail was intended as an attack on Dr. Walsh and on me personally. For some reason, Mr. Cohen felt impelled to try to draw EarthSave Louisville into the matter of Dr. Walsh's public criticisms of Mr. Cohen's work.

In the e-mail Mr. Cohen also alluded in a cruel manner to John Robbins, stating that Mr. Robbins had been "horrible" and "abusive" to Mr. Cohen, and calling Mr. Robbins a "false hero." This, despite the fact that the only communication between Mr. Robbins and Mr. Cohen was the exchange cited earlier, in which Mr. Cohen was malicious and abusive towards Mr. Robbins. Mr. Cohen also invoked Howard Lyman's name and insinuated that Mr. Lyman had been badmouthing the EarthSave board to Mr. Cohen.

Mr. Cohen claimed to have inside knowledge of the EarthSave International board, and intimated that he could make trouble for EarthSave by divulging the "truth" about actions taken by Mr. Lyman.

This was particularly interesting because Mr. Cohen is not now and never has been on the EarthSave International board. He had long pestered a few of us on the board to invite him to join. However, whenever his name was suggested, another board member and I, who both have for some time had serious reservations about Mr. Cohen, told other board members we would resign if he ever was permitted to join the board. Subsequently it was agreed that he would be given a meaningless title of "Special Advisor" that he could put on his resume, but with no actual role attached to it, in order to stop his further pestering.

But back to EarthSave Louisville. On Tuesday, February 5, 2002, the ES Louisville board sent Mr. Cohen an e-mail thanking him but telling him they were canceling his talk because his recent e-mail had disturbed them. They also strenuously disagreed with Mr. Cohen's offensive characterizations of Mr. Robbins.

After receiving this e-mail, Mr. Cohen telephoned the executive director of ES Louisville and berated her for 10 minutes, saying he planned to expose EarthSave and the fact that, according to Mr. Cohen, Howard Lyman resigned from the ESI board because Mr. Lyman felt that EarthSave is run by vile people. Mr. Cohen told the ES Louisville leader he planned to use his Yahoogroups e-mail list to "expose the truth" about EarthSave, about Mr. Lyman's opinions, and about John Robbins. Mr. Cohen told her he planned to make it his goal to let the public know EarthSave is a bad group with a bad heart.

Howard Lyman is a long-time friend of mine, by the way, whom I spoke with as recently as two weeks ago (shortly after our own website was hacked, and we moved to a new server and contacted the FBI -- which is what a person does after they've actually been hacked). I know he is not a gossip and does not malign people. That Mr. Cohen would invoke his name and try to drag him into a public feud is truly sad. It's also a typical Cohen non sequitur: When there is an issue about Mr. Cohen's conduct or veracity, he changes the subject -- and asks people to e-mail me about Mr. Lyman. This is an entirely typical attempt at distracting people from the real issue.

Cohen Behavior Damages EarthSave Reputation

Mr. Cohen's fraudulent claims have been directly harmful to EarthSave. For instance, while Mr. Cohen was staying with EarthSave International board chair John Borders and his wife Cindy, Mr. Cohen told the Borders about three families whose children had been cured of type-I diabetes. He claimed these families had revealed to him that this miracle had been performed by removing all dairy from their diet.

Mr. Cohen asked if the Borders had any friends whose children suffer with type-I diabetes. Mr. Borders said yes, so Mr. Cohen asked him to telephone their friends so he (Cohen) could speak to them. Mr. Cohen told these parents to come hear his talk, that he had incredible information on how they could cure their child of diabetes by removing dairy. These vulnerable parents readily hung on Mr. Cohen's every word as he described how they could transform their kids' lives, because as loving parents they would of course do anything to help their children.

The parents asked Mr. Cohen if he could give them the names and numbers of the three families whose children had been cured, so they could speak directly with the other parents about their experiences. Mr. Cohen agreed.

After repeated unsuccessful attempts by the Borders' friends to get the names from Cohen, John Borders called Mr. Cohen himself. Mr. Cohen told Mr. Borders that he couldn't give out the names because all of the parents had refused to let their names be released. In other words, three sets of parents whose kids had been cured of diabetes refused to share their names or experiences with parents of other children who have this disease; they would only talk to Robert Cohen.

Understandably, the Borders' friends concluded that Mr. Cohen had simply made it all up. This was quite embarrassing to the Borders, because these were not close friends but acquaintances, and it appeared that Mr. Cohen (and by extension the Borders) had wasted their time.

Mr. Borders felt it also reflected badly on EarthSave in the eyes of those parents, since EarthSave had sponsored Mr. Cohen's talk. And it seems to me remarkably cruel and insensitive of Mr. Cohen to raise the hopes of people desperate to help their sick children, only to dash them when his story looked like it was simply invented.

Cohen Abuses EarthSave Portland Members

Though Mr. Cohen has become known for inaccurate information and (in the case above) apparent fabrication, it was only after I became aware of his history of unscrupulous and abusive behavior that I realized I could no longer stand by in silence and implicitly condone his conduct.

Very recently I learned that Mr. Cohen was abusive to Carol Merrick, the chair of the EarthSave Portland chapter, and demeaning to several EarthSave members. ES Portland helped to co-sponsor a raw food conference last June where Mr. Cohen spoke. He decided to leave the conference early, and publicly pressured chapter volunteers to buy 40 his books which had not sold.

Shortly after the incident Mrs. Merrick wrote Mr. Cohen, thanking him for coming to Portland and for speaking, then addressed the chapter's complaint. In a respectful way, she wrote of her "serious displeasure with the pressure you placed upon some of our volunteers at an inopportune time. You demanded cash for the full quantity of your books in spite of the agreement between you and our Treasurer, whereby you were to take back any remaining books beyond the quantity we chose to keep for our inventory. You made your demands in front of many other people, putting our volunteers on the spot. This would have been best dealt with by finding out who was the appropriate person to speak to and taking them on the side to discuss it."

Mrs. Merrick also noted she'd been informed Mr. Cohen had taken books belonging to EarthSave Portland for which he never paid.

Said Mrs. Merrick, "Mr. Cohen's response to this letter was to leave a nasty, insulting, hurtful message on our voice mail which was directed to me, since as chair, I signed the letter."

She was shocked to get this personally berating message from Mr. Cohen. The Portland core group members subsequently listened to Mr. Cohen's message at a group meeting. They decided they want nothing more to do with him.

Vegetarian Organizations Defamed by Cohen

Mr. Cohen had spoken at EarthSave Seattle's Taste of Health event before, but last year he called me to say he had been cancelled from speaking there. Mr. Cohen took it personally, and began badmouthing ES Seattle leaders. He told me that he'd learned ES Seattle had caved in to pressure from sponsors with dairy ties to prevent him from speaking. He said the EarthSave Seattle leadership was very cowardly for not standing up for him, and for valuing dairy money rather than having Mr. Cohen there to speak the "truth."

His report got a number of us on the EarthSave International board very concerned. EarthSave is meant to be about message, not money, and it would be totally against our philosophy for an EarthSave chapter to censor a speaker in exchange for money from a sponsor.

However, it became apparent after conferring with the ES leaders responsible for booking speakers for the event that this was untrue.

Mr. Cohen invented a nasty conspiracy theory in an attmept to discredit the Boston Vegetarian Society (BVS) last year, when they turned him down. He called the head organizer repeatedly to try to get a speaking slot at the event. However, because he had spoken there two years before, they elected not to invite him so they could bring in some new speakers. He reacted with hostility. After viewing the list of BVS sponsors of the event, he called the head organizer and accused BVS of being "sponsored by the dairy industry!" He objected to Bread and Circus, Harvest Coop, and Annie's Homegrown being at the festival (the festival is about 90% vegan and B&C only brings produce). He accused BVS of being influenced by these companies to ban him from their festival.

Of course, this was total nonsense. But that didn't stop him from badmouthing BVS, and insisting it was the real reason they didn't want him to speak.

The same thing happened this year with the International Vegetarian Union, which is holding its World Congress in Scotland this summer. Mr. Cohen had spoken at the last Congress in Toronto in 2000 but was not invited this year. When it was explained to Mr. Cohen that this year they were trying to have fewer North America/Europe and more speakers from developing countries, and a better male/female balance, as well as give others who didn't speak in Toronto a chance to speak, Mr. Cohen rejected the explanation, and has made several disparaging remarks about IVU since.

The list is growing of EarthSave chapters, vegetarian organizations, and other people who are telling of times they were made to suffer Mr. Cohen's bullying ire if he doesn't get his way. It is my hope that as a result of this article those people who have had this kind of unfortunate experience will have the solace of realizing they are not alone. And other groups who might be inclined to invite him will be forewarned.

Abusing Old Friends

Another example is a good friend of ours for several years who is the former chairperson of EarthSave Los Angeles. This woman has been for many years a dedicated activist who has set up and promoted vegan lectures given by many vegan doctors and authors, and who has worked very closely with Howard Lyman for over a decade.

Like many of us, this woman was bizarrely attacked by Cohen in e-mails a few weeks ago. She worked on getting celebrities to appear at a Not Milk press conference four years ago. Woody Harrelson agreed to appear but then had to cancel a week prior, because he had an unexpected court date -- which is public record, by the way. Four years later suddenly Mr. Cohen has insinuated that this fine lady had "sabotaged" his press conference by talking Mr. Harrelson out of appearing. When pressed for proof or evidence to support his accusation, Mr. Cohen vaguely referred to "agents" who had told him this. Our friend was shocked by these weird accusations, which she said were completely imagined.

Cohen's Inaccuracies and Abusive Behavior: Does It Matter?

Mr. Cohen is a colorful and interesting character, and certainly anyone can make mistakes when presenting info or writing articles. But when you keep putting out questionable information after people have objected to it and have detailed very explicitly why it's bad -- and you don't care, don't give a legitimate response, and keep presenting it -- that passes from being simply a "mistake" and turns into an ethical problem. And when story after story pours in of abusive behavior, the picture becomes still more disturbing.

For some years my wife, Sabrina, and I have hosted six of Mr. Cohen's sites for free. We agreed after he called me repeatedly and had his wife call and ask me, to let him come speak at our VegSource eVent this past September, along with a number of highly respected veg doctors and experts.

I also agreed to give Mr. Cohen a discussion board on VegSource after he called and asked if he could have one (he then misleadingly told readers on his Yahoogroups list that we had "invited" him).

I've always had mixed feelings about Mr. Cohen. Maybe if one or two people complained, you'd chalk it up to isolated incidents. But when you have a variety of unrelated people relating essentially the same experiences, and more coming out of the woodwork over time, it becomes clear that there is a problem. I don't know if it's getting worse recently, or if it is simply that people are talking and finding out that other people have had the same awful types of experiences with Mr. Cohen that they've had.

It's a sad situation because Mr. Cohen is someone who has potential to really accomplish something, but his clear pattern of vindictive aggression in response to criticism, resorting to libel in defense of misleading claims, and propensity to become malicious and abusive when he doesn't get his way sabotage that potential. And after a while, the bad outweighs the good. He's gotten a free ride until now perhaps because nobody was comparing notes. Any one of these incidents should be a red flag; taken together they create an alarming pattern.

I am aware of several top vegan nutritionists, bestselling authors and experts who say they no longer plan to appear when Mr. Cohen will be speaking at an event, due to his misconduct and unreliable information. These people will ask if Mr. Cohen is going to be there, and if the answer is yes, they will find themselves unavailable to speak at the event. The circle of people Mr. Cohen is alienating appears to be growing.

For "the Good of the Movement"

Some people may say, "Look, Mr. Cohen is out trying to convince people to give up dairy. He's a colorful speaker and we should just overlook his problems because he's on our side in the movement. We need all the help we can get. We have to protect him despite his problems."

Do we?

And here is the deeper issue: Are we so desperate to convince others to become vegetarian that we don't care if someone advocating vegetarianism is a charlatan? Do we believe that those who claim they are "activists" should be given a free pass to act outside the boundaries of human decency? Must we keep quiet about abusive people whose moral and ethical principles run counter to our own, simply because they are "on our side" in some debate about food choices?

The way Sabrina and I have always seen it is that when you live by a certain code in your life, there should not be a separation between what your standards are for your friends and what your standards are for someone who's "on your team." Do you want your "team" to be composed of liars, slanderers, abusers and harassers?

Some might say that maintaining "harmony in the movement" is the highest aim. We disagree. Love, truth and justice are much higher aims than "hush-up harmony." In fact, it is only through those things that a true harmony can exist.

As for "the good of the movement," that term does not resonate with Sabrina and me. There are probably as many different "movements" in the vegetarian community as their are individuals, and one person's movement may not be the same as another person's. "The good of the movement" is also a term I'm not entirely comfortable with because I have too often seen the scoundrels out there try to hide behind it. I prefer "the good of the community" or "the good of the planet" or "the benefit of humanity." And I don't believe that being silent about Robert Cohen's conduct serves the good of any of us -- including, ultimately, Robert Cohen.

Joseph McCarthy used his patriotism as a weapon. People who spoke out against or criticized him were "un-American," they were "communist infiltrators." He destroyed people's lives with innuendo and character assassination.

Like McCarthy, when someone questions or criticizes Robert Cohen or his work -- suddenly they're also "infiltrators." Like McCarthy, Cohen bullies and brands innocent people, and uses lies to silence his critics. Like McCarthy, Mr. Cohen creates paranoia and tries to increase his own importance and influence by calling people traitors.

Like McCarthy, Mr. Cohen portrays himself in a heroic battle against "true evil." "True Evil Is Exposed" is actually the title of one of Mr. Cohen's libelous articles on Dr. Walsh.

When your vegetarian organization doesn't invite Mr. Cohen back, he may say you're on the take from the "dairy industry," conspiring with powerful corporate forces to prevent him from speaking "the truth" to your audience.

If you terminate his web services, you are a "hacker." If you ask him to remove your article from his site, you are "horrible" and "have an agenda." If you have valid scientific questions about his work and ask him to debate you on the subject, he will invite you to come to his talk, but then if you dare to voice your criticisms you are a "stalker."

A lot of what Joe McCarthy said and did turned out to be false, and the people he accused were not conspiring infiltrators. People were afraid to speak out against Joe McCarthy, because they were afraid they might get fingered as well, because they were afraid they might be labeled "unAmerican."

I realize that my family and I risk a further barrage of threats, lies, insults and defamation from Mr. Cohen, by telling this sad tale. But because I have become aware of many individuals who have experienced abuse from Mr. Cohen -- including several others I didn't mention here because they did not want to risk further ire from Mr. Cohen by letting me share their painful experiences with him -- I feel that someone has got to stand up to a bully.

Jeff Nelson


Jeff Nelson is President of VegSource Interactive.

Vegan Dietician Vesanto Melina Statment on Stephen Walsh
Response to Sue Aberle's letter claiming Mr. Cohen was cancelled from speaking at an EarthSave event by dairy industry pressure
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