Rafu Staff Report
Actor and civil rights activist George Takei said that a May 24 article in The Observer — “George Takei’s Accuser Has Changed His Story of Drugging and Assault” — has brought an end to a long ordeal.
Last November, former model Scott Brunton told The Hollywood Reporter that in 1981, when he was 24, he was drugged and groped by Takei at the actor’s condo. The story went viral and Takei found himself being mentioned in articles about the #MeToo movement and Hollywood figures who faced career-ending accusations of sexual misconduct, such as Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Bill Cosby and Louis C.K. An outspoken opponent of the president, he has been trolled by Trump’s supporters, including Donald Trump Jr.
Takei has said that he doesn’t remember Brunton and denied that such an incident happened.
While the allegation didn’t stop him from working — Takei recently had a successful run in the musical “Allegiance” at the Aratani Theatre — it damaged his reputation and cost him support from some fans and sponsors.
The Observer article by Shane Snow was prefaced with this: “A fabricated coffee meeting. Key facts withheld or walked back. A ‘great party story’ about a sexual assault — which the accuser now says may not have actually happened. What happens when an activist’s legacy is tarnished by the story of an old friend who later says it could have all been a misunderstanding? And how do we process such an anomaly in an era of overdue social justice?”
Takei posted the following message on Facebook and Twitter on May 25: “As many of you know, this has been a very difficult period for myself and my husband Brad as we have dealt with the impact of these accusations, but we are happy to see that this nightmare is finally drawing to a close.
“As I stated before, I do not remember Mr. Brunton or any of the events he described from 40 years ago, but I do understand that this was part of a very important national conversation that we as a society must have, painful as it might be.
“It is in that spirit that I want folks to know, despite what he has put us through, I do not bear Mr. Brunton any ill will, and I wish him peace. Brad and I are especially grateful for the many fans who stood by me throughout this ordeal. Your support kept us going, and we are so immensely thankful for you.”
Snow, who had written a book that included Takei’s advocacy for Asian Americans and the LGBT community, said that when the Hollywood Reporter story broke, “My publisher and I waited for the inevitable flood of #MeToo accusations against Takei, as they had with other accused sexual predators. But none came. And then, as I obsessively read each new story, I noticed eyebrow-raising conflicting details in Brunton’s interviews.
“Most prominently, Brunton didn’t appear to mention being drugged until two days after the THR story, following Takei’s public denial. And then, in a CNN interview, he confusingly didn’t recount any groping.
For months, Snow interviewed Brunton, people close to Takei (including “Star Trek” co-star Walter Koenig), medical experts and legal experts in sex offenses.
In an interview with Snow, Brunton said he initially believed he had simply been drunk during the alleged encounter, but after reading about sex crimes involving date-rape drugs, concluded that his drink had been spiked. When Snow provided two toxicologists with Brunton’s account, without mentioning any names, both immediately ruled out a spiked drink.
As to whether he was groped, Brunton gave different accounts to different publications. According to Snow, when he asked Brunton, “Did he touch your genitals?,” Brunton “confessed that he did not remember any touching.”
In all of his accounts, Snow said, Brunton acknowledged that “when he told Takei that he did not want to have sex, the actor backed off and let him leave.”
Former Senior Deputy District Attorney Ambrosio Rodriguez, who has prosecuted rapists and molesters, was given the details of the alleged encounter — again, without any names. “The crucial detail in the context of a consensual date with two adults who are drinking, he said, is that when the man who made the advance was denied consent, he backed off,” Snow wrote.
Snow quoted Brunton as saying that he told the story to friends over the years as an amusing anecdote — “a great party story” — rather than a life-changing trauma. The episode was “not painful” and “didn’t scar me,” Brunton told Snow.
Brunton, who said he became angry with Takei in 2017 when reading about the actor’s criticism of Spacey over similar allegations, told Snow that he doesn’t regard Takei as a criminal or an abuser, but just wants an apology “for taking advantage of our friendship.”
Regarding the conflicting accounts, neuroscientist and memory researcher Dr. Donna Bridge of Northwestern University told Snow, “Our memory is not built to remember precise details over long periods of time. We fill in the details … Our memories change when we recall them to fit the person’s worldview and mesh with experiences that happened after the event.”
Brunton told The Hollywood Reporter that he met Takei for coffee in Portland, Ore. during the actor’s 1994 book tour for his autobiography, “To the Stars.” But Brunton told Snow that there was no coffee meeting; when he called Takei at his hotel, the actor said they could chat at a signing event. Brunton did have a book signed, but claims that he “chickened out” and did not confront Takei about the incident.
Brunton told Snow that the signed copy is not proof of an assault, as some on social media have implied, but proof that Takei should remember him.
“What should you get for something like Brunton says Takei did?” Snow wrote. “For making too bold a move on a date who, it turned out, just wanted to be friends? What kind of sacrifice should be asked for when an accuser feels hurt but says it all could be a misunderstanding?
“Should your name go on lists alongside rapists and pedophiles? Should you lose your livelihood? Have your political voice muffled? Should the story of your human rights work be deleted from books? Should the accusation appear in your obituary?
“Brunton didn’t really want all that; he says he just wanted to spur an old friend to reach out and to say sorry for an unwanted situation. The rest of those things are on us to decide.”
In a May 25 interview with BuzzFeed News, Brunton accused Snow of twisting his words. He said that alleged inconsistencies were reflections of what various news organizations chose to print, not what he told them.
Brunton told The Huffington Post, “I’m not a liar. I am sticking to my story.”
When the allegation surfaced, there was controversy within the Japanese American community about how to respond. Seattle-based Densho removed from its website a video featuring Takei, while East West Players and the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center gave him the benefit of the doubt and proceeded with the L.A. production of “Allegiance.”
Densho said at the time, “We wish to be clear that this is not a judgment of guilt or innocence. For his part, George has denied the allegations … So we are not here to drag George through the mud. But neither will we contribute to the institutional silence that protects abusers by ignoring the statement of an alleged victim.”
Densho Executive Director Tom Ikeda told The Rafu on Friday, “We stand by our initial statement that the most important thing in any discussion of sexual assault is to support victims and survivors, which we continue to do. We do not have any additional comment on this issue as our goal remains the same: to foster a dialogue about the root causes of sexual violence and our responsibility, both individually and as a community, to break the silence that protects those who perpetuate it.”
On May 31, The Washington Post followed up on the Observer story with an opinion piece by human rights lawyer and writer Eric Berkowitz titled “The case against George Takei was always weak. Why were we so quick to believe it?”
“There was always a lot wrong with the Brunton story,” Berkowitz wrote. “Unlike Weinstein, C.K. or Spacey, Takei had never been known — even in whispers — for sexual misconduct. And Brunton’s tale didn’t quite hang together. He didn’t accuse Takei of drugging him until days after he first contacted the media …
“The remaining question is how this story took off at all. Certainly the #MeToo era has been marked by a willingness to believe, or at least take seriously, allegations of sexual misconduct, and Takei is hardly the only public figure accused to face instant condemnation. But he is so far one of the few whose accusations have crumbled, and under such slight pressure.
“The Weinstein story didn’t break until The New York Times interviewed dozens of people and obtained a statement from him; Bill O’Reilly and [Roy] Moore weren’t exposed until similarly thorough investigations were conducted. Why wasn’t Brunton’s flimsy accusation against Takei put to some proof when the accusers and accusations against so many others were so carefully scrutinized?
“One answer could lie in Takei’s sexuality and the long-standing belief that gay men are hard-wired for aggression. This toxic idea, the residue of more than a century of anti-gay discrimination, has not been fully purged from our social consciousness or our legal system. It’s impossible to say definitively that Takei was treated differently because he is gay, but it’s not unreasonable to think so …
“In the popular imagination, gay men are still sometimes reduced to what [Hastings College of the Law Professor Matthew] Coles calls ‘hypersexual beings’ — walking libidos incapable of emotional connection with others …
“The result is that we are too ready to believe that George Takei committed sexual assault and to assume that gay men are prone to it. We don’t know exactly why there was a rush to judgment against Takei — in the immediate wake of #MeToo, there were so many accusations being hurled, it was hard to keep track — but we can reflect on why so many of us are inclined to think the worst.”