While both situations can certainly happen, and I am sure they have happened, I do not think that either happens as often as people think. The idea of rampant Authenticity Police is something that maybe has even achieved urban legend status among SCAdians.
It is also something that has given the nice people who pursue historical accuracy a very bad rap.
I think the desire to make a newbie feel welcome and comfortable is foremost in the minds of many members of the SCA when they offer these well intended warnings. The unfortunate result, however, can sometimes lead to anxiety over things that should never have have even occurred to them. A recent conversation with someone who has been to many Pennsics, as well as quite a few other events, over the years made me realize how much these Authenticity Police stories can affect people. It actually can make people fear attending something if they do not have what they perceive as the "right garb" lest they be judged.
I think I have mentioned before that at my very first event someone told me I should not wear a white belt (when indeed, my belt was actually a medieval girdle, in cream, with a wide black border sprinkled with pink flowers). While this person was not giving critique of my actual garb (rather she was correcting what she saw as my lack of understanding about SCA conventions), the idea is the similar. Her delivery was a bit off and I was already insecure about being there and my sewing skills and it bothered me. In retrospect, I think she was trying to be helpful, the delivery plus my insecurity just made the whole experience not sit well. That being said, I have never actually been approached about my garb, its quality or its lack of authenticity.
I cannot actually even think of a story anyone has told me where they personally got raked over the coals for what they were wearing. It is always so-and-so knows someone who knew someone who had a baroness who when she was a newbie got lit-up by the Period Police at her first event. (I am definitely not saying this has never happened. I am sure that somewhere, sadly, it has. It may even not have been intentionally mean when it happened, but I can certainly see how it could come off in that manner. The fact is though, that these things can happen in any club, hobby or other social activity and when they do take place we need to learn to not take it personally and just move on.)
Telling these tales of ill-treatment by those who choose to strive for perfection of an art not only adds to a understandable newcomers anxiety, but can also create this aura of unapproachability around those who strive for a greater level of authenticity. That is not fair either party as it deprives the artisan of an outlet with whom they can share their skills and knowledge and it also deprives the newcomer of an excellent resource.
I was surprised this week to learn from one of my forums that are are actually people in the SCA who view all masters of their art (both Laurels and those who have not yet been recognized for their efforts) in the same light. Some people see those on a quest for greater accuracy as individuals incapable of kindly sharing what they know and who would look for an opportunity to bring another down.
I do not know know which scenario is more detrimental to the Society, but there has to be a way to rectify it for everyone.
Personally, I am going to stop telling the "watch out for the zealots" horror stories. I will say instead (what I have already stated in this blog) that it is always fine to approach someone and ask to know more about what they are doing, they may even love you for it. I will also remind people that it takes all kinds to make up any social group and to try to understand unasked for advice in the light it may have been given. Someone might see a new person and want to help them with info overload, not remembering what it is like to be new and unsure. It happens and should not be taken as personal criticism.
And I will remind myself to try not to blow some persons brain up and talk for four hours with what is possibly way more than they wanted to know at the time. ;-)