When the news broke on November 2, that a male shooter had killed two women at a yoga studio in Tallahassee, Florida, George Sodini immediately came to my mind. A middle-aged White man who shot and killed three women at a fitness class in Pennsylvania in 2009, Sodini had angrily lamented going years without sexual intercourse and blamed all “30 million…desirable single women” that he estimated existed in the United States for rejecting him. Another attack on women in an exercise class made it seem likely to me that this latest shooter was also motivated by a desire to punish “desirable” women.
And indeed, less than 24 hours after the Tallahassee attack, reporting by BuzzFeed News confirmed that the shooter, Scott Beierle, a 40-year-old White man, had both a long track record of inappropriate behavior towards women, and an internet history littered with threats of misogynistic violence. Beierle had twice been arrested for assaulting multiple women; was the subject of complaints from women who served with him in the Army; and in 2017, after being hired as a substitute teacher by Volusia County Schools in Florida, was accused by girls in his eighth-grade language arts class of staring at them inappropriately. After a parent complained, Beierle was simply relocated to another school, from which he was fired in May for touching a female middle school student “below the bra line,” according to a district report. A roommate of Beierle’s while he was in graduate school at Florida State University recalled, “We compared him to Ted Bundy back then. …It was the way he lurked and followed girls.”
In 2014, Beierle posted a series of angrily misogynistic online videos to YouTube, and over the last few months posted a number of original songs to SoundCloud, many with lyrics denouncing women. In one video, entitled “The Rebirth of my Misogynism,” Beierle listed the names of girls and women, dating back to his eighth-grade classmates, whom he blamed for his hatred of women, and warned, “I believe in karma. What comes around goes around, and those that engage in treachery ultimately will be the victims of it.” In his songs, Beierle sang about grabbing women’s butts, accused women (whom he referred to as “sluts” and “whores”) of “treachery” and “lying,” and fantasized about killing and raping women.
In another video, posted in 2014, Beierle compared his adolescent self to Elliot Rodger, who that year had killed six men and women during an attempt to “slaughter” women at “the hottest sorority house” at the University of California, Santa Barbara. (Thwarted by his failure to gain entry to the sorority building, Rodger instead opened fire on bystanders.) In a series of videos and a manifesto of over 100 pages that Rodger posted online before the massacre, he made clear the symbolism of his intended target, explaining that he had selected the sorority because it was filled with “the very girls who represent everything I hate in the female gender.” Rodger portrayed himself as victim of “injustice,” seeking “retribution” against women for their crimes—i.e. not going out with or having sex with him. That same year, Beierle similarly cast himself as a victim of “treachery.”
Rodger had participated in online forums for “incels”—a term used by a growing online community of men who self-identify as “involuntarily celibate,” and who compose one segment of the larger sphere of male supremacist communities online. In one of Rodger’s forum posts, he issued a rallying cry: “One day incels will realize their true strength and numbers, and will overthrow this oppressive feminist system.” He continued, “Start envisioning a world where WOMEN FEAR YOU.” While there haven’t yet been any reports of Beierle’s activity in such forums, in recent years, other incel forum participants have used the phrases “going Sodini” or “going ER” admiringly, glorifying these mass killers as heroes, and in 2015, another mass shooter, Christopher Sean Harper-Mercer, who killed nine people at a community college in Oregon, also referenced Rodger, writing in a journal-manifesto that mass shooters like Rodger “stand with the gods.” Several years later, in April 2018, mass murderer Alek Minassian left a Facebook post specifically referencing Rodger and his “Incel Rebellion” before driving his van into a crowd of people on a Toronto sidewalk, killing 10.
Posters to incel forums, such as Reddit’s r/Incels, which grew quickly to 40,000 subscribers from 2016 to November 2017, frequently complain about women, included rants suggesting that women who wear yoga pants in public deserve to be sexually assaulted. In 2017, Reddit banned its r/Incels forum for violating a new policy against content that “encourages, glorifies, incites or calls for violence or physical harm against an individual or group of people.” But other members of the male supremacist community, including some within the pickup artist (PUA) community (which promises to teach men how to seduce women through tactics that often amount to sexual coercion and assault) have defended incel attacks as a justifiable response to feminist/progressive society preventing men from easy access to women’s bodies, as I wrote for The Public Eye after Minassian’s attack in April. (One of the forums where Rodger posted actively, PUAHate (since renamed SlutHate), was geared toward men who failed to achieve the sexual access to women that PUA forums promised.)
Following a week in which White men in acts of antisemitic and White supremacist violence killed 11 people at a synagogue and two Black patrons at a supermarket (after an unsuccessful attempt to attack a predominantly Black church), the targeting of a yoga studio in comparison might seem, as local law enforcement described the attack, “senseless” and “random.” But all these attacks are related to the mobilization of male supremacy, White supremacy, and antisemitism that has accelerated over the past few years. While sometimes described primarily as a racist movement, the White nationalist “Alt Right” has in fact mobilized around three themes: racism, antisemitism, and misogyny. Its brand of misogyny has been distinctively virulent compared to the patriarchal sexism of prior White supremacist and neonazi movements, as Matthew Lyons notes. And as my prior article, “Mobilizing Misogyny,” discusses, early Alt Right personalities such as Milo Yiannopoulos and Mike Cernovich rose to fame through misogynist writings and the #GamerGate harassment campaign, fanning reactive outrage to increasing diversity in the video game industry.
Beierle’s online presence reveals these intersections of male and White supremacy: through posts denouncing women in interracial relationships as traitors to “their blood,” railing against Muslims and immigrants, and using anti-LGBTQ language.
Beierle, like Sodini, Rodger, and Harper-Mercer before him, killed himself after his attack. (Minassian, now facing trial, shouted “kill me” when confronted by police after his vehicular attack.) In an article analyzing school shootings by White men and boys, sociologists Rachel Kalish and Michael Kimmel argue that “the culture of hegemonic masculinity in the U.S. creates a sense of aggrieved entitlement conducive to violence,” and perpetrators seeking to kill themselves after acts of mass violence forms part of their “enactment of masculinity.” We can see this aggrieved entitlement in the rhetoric of incel and PUA commenters, where bloggers and commenters defend murderers like Sodini or Rodger by arguing that, to some men “celibacy is walking death, and anything is justified in avoiding that miserable fate,” or that “sexual access to attractive females” is a basic need (along with food, shelter, clothing) that men shouldn’t be denied.
As countless mass shootings have made clear, the perpetrators of these acts are almost entirely men, who typically have a history of violence against women. Those histories are rarely addressed with the gravity they deserve. Further, survivors of gender-based violence face significant challenges and intimidation in considering whether to press charges, rarely receiving support from authorities. For example, a woman whom Beierle groped at Florida State University in 2012 didn’t press charges, understandably fearing the prospect of a court trial. Even after Beierle’s 2016 assault against a woman was caught on security video, prosecutors dismissed a charge of sexual battery under a six-month agreement with Beierle to avoid repeat offenses and adhere to a psychologist’s guidance. His inappropriate behavior at the first school where he taught in 2017 was largely overlooked allowing him to target other female students elsewhere.
Movements like #MeToo have worked to both create the space and support for survivors to speak out against perpetrators of sexual harassment and violence, and to push law enforcement to do better when these charges are brought. But at the same time, the rhetoric and policy decisions of the Trump administration, the growth of the White nationalist Alt Right, and long history of White male supremacy in U.S. politics and culture have contributed to a climate of demonization of women, people of color, LGBTQ, immigrants, Muslim, and Jewish people. The heightened right-wing fearmongering and acts of violence leading up to the midterm elections (including undetonated mail bombs sent to prominent Democrats) are fueled by the same, increasingly violent ideologies and coalitions. Recognizing the connections between these attacks is a necessary starting point to determining how to stop them.