On Friday night, a gunman killed six people in Isla Vista, California, and the suspected killer himself was found dead with a gunshot wound to his head.* Soon after police began investigating the crime, 22-year-old student Elliot Rodger emerged as the main suspect. Like many modern mass murders, this one left a robust digital trail, including a video Rodger recently posted to YouTube where he parks his BMW in front of a bank of palm trees and describes his plan to seek retribution from the women who have rejected him. Rodger calls himself the “perfect guy” and a “supreme gentleman” who’s been overlooked by women who prefer “obnoxious brutes.” Then he lays out his plans to “enter the hottest sorority house of [the University of California–Santa Barbara], and … slaughter every single spoiled, stuck-up blond slut I see inside there.” To “all those girls I’ve desired so much,” he says, “you will finally see that I am the superior one, the true alpha male.”
Rodger’s language is familiar to anyone who’s spent time exploring the Pick-Up Artist or Men’s Rights Activist communities. Rodger was a “Nice Guy,” a man who feels he is entitled to sex based on positive personality traits known only to him. (“I've wanted love, affection, adoration. You think I’m unworthy of it. That's a crime that can never be forgiven,” he said). He aspired to be an “Alpha," the most attractive, dominant man in his group, but felt he’s been wrongly dismissed as an inferior “Beta.” Pick-Up Artists, by the way, refer to women they would like to have sex with as their “targets.”
Rodger was also allegedly a member of PUAHate.com, a website for men who feel they’ve been tricked by the Pick-Up Artist pyramid scheme, which takes men’s money and promises to teach them how to have sex with women. (And not just any woman, but one who scores at least a 7 on the PUA decimal rating scale of female attractiveness.) PUA Hate is a community devoted to criticizing the Pick-Up Artist movement and “the scams, deception, and misleading marketing techniques used by dating gurus and the seduction community to deceive men and profit from them." It is not, however, interested in putting an end to the PUA community’s objectification of women; it simply complains that the tips and tricks don’t work.
When Katie J.M. Baker dipped into the site’s forums in 2012, she “failed to find one user who wondered whether women are unfairly targeted (as well as stereotyped, pigeonholed, and marketed) by the seduction community. Nope! On their predominately male, heterosexual planet it's the poor, gullible men who are the true victims.” It’s still “women in general,” she found, “who are the villains to these outcasts.” As one poster on PUA Hate puts it in his sign-off: “Women are a scam.”
I do not blame the Pick-Up Artist community (or its somehow even more deeply tortured counterpart, the Anti-Pick-Up-Artist community) for the deaths of seven people. The man who committed this horrific crime is responsible for this heinous act. But I was interested to see how these groups are reacting to the news. It is disturbing, if not surprising, that they are using these murders to reinforce their hatred of women and “Beta” men, and to cement their own status at the top of the pyramid.
When news of the shooting broke, PUA Hate members attempted to absolve themselves by critiquing Rodger’s sex appeal (“Short lower third and gay midface, with zero brow ridge,” one decided), ridiculing his mother’s looks, and scrambling to assert authority among themselves. (“Only high-T guys should be allowed to give advice here. Nich, can you add that as a rule?” one poster said). Another poster suggested that Rodger was such a Beta that no one would care if he’d murdered people. “Nobody gives a shit about some socially deprived, narrow-clavicle twink with a delusional sense of self. He's a poser,” he said. “Nothing will come of this, you sensationalist losers. Certainly not national coverage.”
The shooting, of course, made international news, and the forums that Rodger seems to have participated in quickly attempted to distance themselves from him by scrubbing his contributions. PUAHate.com shut down its forums “for maintenance” and rickrolled visitors. BodyBuilding.com, another site where Rodger allegedly posted, also deleted his contributions from its boards.
PUAs who were not immediately connected to Rodger were quick to capitalize on the news, suggesting that if Rodger had been a more devoted PUA protégé, they could have gotten him laid and prevented violence against women. A PUA site called Strategic Dating Coach—which sells DVDs on how to “turn a conversation with a woman sexual in no time flat”—commented on one of Rodger's YouTube videos, where he despairs about his dating life as he films a couple kissing in Santa Barbara. “THIS is why we do what we do,” Strategic Dating Coach weighed in. “TO PREVENT THIS SHIT!!! He should have gone to our website and got our personal dating coaching or purchased one of our products. IF ANYONE NEEDS HELP, CONTACT US! Don't ‘suffer injustice.’ ”
Members of Pick-Up Artist RooshV’s forums piled on. “Game saves lives,” one member said. “I'm trying to think of ways our enemies will come after us because of this, but if anything, we're the solution to this sort of murder rampage,” Roosh himself weighed in. “He is self-delusional and massively entitled, but exposing him to game may have saved lives.” The site’s reminder about its comment moderation in the wake of the shooting is all about how to avoid infiltration by members of PUA Hate, not rooting out hatred in its own ranks. (At least one contributor was making some sense when he wrote: “No amount of game could have helped.")
Why did seven people die in Santa Barbara last night? It would be wrong to pin the crime on Internet forums that indulge in self-hatred, then project it onto everyone else. But they’re certainly not the solution. Misogyny and violence against women are social problems as well as individual ones. The fact that these men see “game” as the remedy to all personal and social ills is perhaps the greatest indictment of the way they view the world.
* Correction, May 28, 2014: This post originally stated that the murders occurred in Santa Barbara; they occured in nearby Isla Vista.