Misogyny, Extremism, and Gun Violence
When a man with a long history of hatred and violence against women attacked a yoga studio in Tallahassee, Florida, Maura, a 21-year-old student, was one of two women who were fatally shot.
Maura was kind and positive, with a great sense of humor. Her death deeply affected those around her, both in her hometown of Atlanta and in Tallahassee, where she was a student at Florida State University. “It shakes the foundation of any community when something like this happens,” says Jeff, Maura’s father. “There’s a sense that reality is no longer the same.”
That she was killed by a self-described misogynist adds another layer of harm. “Hate-motivated violence is designed to sow fear and intimidation, certainly against the victim group, but also among society as a whole,” says Jeff.
“When there’s a hate crime, there’s more than one crime. Regardless of whether you’ve been personally touched by it, it’s a crime against all of us.”
Source: Jeffery Binkley in a conversation with Everytown for Gun Safety, September 7, 2021.
Far-right extremism is a growing threat in the United States. In recent years, white supremacist movements have seen a resurgence, while anti-government militias have become more active and conspiracy theories associated with violence have spread. Several recent mass shootings, an increase in extremist activity, and the January 2021 insurrection at the United States Capitol have drawn national attention to violent far-right extremism. With the rise of these threats, understanding the ideologies that motivate them is vital.
Increasingly, experts have identified misogyny as one such ideology that motivates violence and can be a component of far-right extremism. While misogyny and violence motivated by it are not confined to hate groups, it is a troubling part of them. In 2018, the Southern Poverty Law Center began identifying male supremacy as a hate ideology,1Southern Poverty Law Center, “2017: The Year in Hate and Extremism,” 2018 Spring Issue, February 11, 2018, https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2018/2017-year-hate-and-extremism; “Male Supremacy,” Southern Poverty Law Center, accessed April 30, 2021, https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/ideology/male-supremacy. and the Anti-Defamation League released an extensive report examining misogyny and extremism.2Anti-Defamation League, Center on Extremism, “When Women Are the Enemy: The intersection of misogyny and white supremacy,” July 2018, https://www.adl.org/resources/reports/when-women-are-the-enemy-the-intersection-of-misogyny-and-white-supremacy. In 2019, the Department of Homeland Security awarded a grant to fund research that aimed to understand the misogynistic incel movement,3Noelle Toumey Reetz, “Grant Will Fund Research Into Growing Male Supremacist Subculture Online,” Georgia State News Hub, June 26, 2019, https://news.gsu.edu/2019/06/26/federal-grant-will-fund-research-into-growing-male-supremacist-subculture-online/. and a year later, a US Secret Service report named online misogyny as a concerning source of radicalization for mass attackers.4US Department of Homeland Security, United States Secret Service, National Threat Assessment Center, “Mass Attacks in Public Spaces – 2019,” August 2020, https://www.secretservice.gov/sites/default/files/reports/2020-09/MAPS2019.pdf. Violent misogyny garnered the Biden’s administration’s attention as a growing threat, and in 2020, the president called for a national task force to study “the connection between [the online harassment of women], mass shootings, extremism, and violence against women.”5“The Biden Plan to End Our Gun Violence Epidemic,” Joe Biden for President: Official Campaign Website, accessed April 30, 2021, https://joebiden.com/gunsafety/.
In addition to motivating deadly and violent behavior on its own, misogyny in the US also has well-documented ties to other extremist movements, whose far-right supporters have both adopted misogynist attitudes and used hatred of women to recruit new supporters.6Helen Lewis, “To Learn About the Far Right, Start With the ‘Manosphere,’” The Atlantic, August 7, 2019, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2019/08/anti-feminism-gateway-far-right/595642/. Online subcultures that hold misogynistic views have been fast-growing and violent, presenting an imminent public safety threat. While parts of these communities have histories dating back decades, the internet has helped accelerate and radicalize these views.7Patrick Rafail and Isaac Freitas, “Grievance Articulation and Community Reactions in the Men’s Rights Movement Online,” Social Media + Society 5, no. 2 (April 1, 2019), https://doi.org/10.1177/2056305119841387.
From Isla Vista, California, to Tallahassee, Florida, multiple public attacks involving firearms have been carried out by people motivated by or who have expressed a hatred of women. These deadly attacks have a corrosive effect on public safety. Yet the frequent involvement of guns in these attacks is often overlooked. The ease of access to guns in the US, and their consequent use in acts of violence, makes them a weapon of choice for extremists generally, and misogynistic extremists are no different.
Access to guns enables violence motivated by misogyny.
What is Misogyny?
The term misogyny is used throughout this report to mean a hatred of or antipathy toward women. This attitude can be expressed in various ways, ranging from dehumanizing or objectifying women to explicit hostility toward women, including cisgender women, trans women, and gender non-conforming people who are targeted based on their gender.
The first section of this report examines the ties between misogyny and far-right extremism, and how their association leads to the radicalization of their respective adherents. The second section explains how this radicalization leads to deadly acts of violence, and the central role of firearms in these attacks. Lastly, the report notes the impact of these attacks on women and survivors, as well as the damaging impact of misogyny-driven violence on public safety.
Misogyny, Extremism, and Online Radicalization
Misogynist attitudes and far-right extremism heavily overlap. Far-right extremists are often radicalized in online spaces where antipathy towards women runs rampant. In these online fora, people broadly believe that men are an oppressed class. This fora forms a loosely connected online community that its members, as well as journalists and researchers, refer to as the “manosphere.”8Debbie Ging, “Alphas, Betas, and Incels: Theorizing the masculinities of the manosphere,” Men and Masculinities 22, no. 4 (October 1, 2019): 638–57, https://doi.org/10.1177/1097184X17706401. Participants bond through shared misogynist attitudes and anxiety over their place in society. Each community within the manosphere is different. The behaviors and identities of members of different communities can vary, as can each community’s general feelings toward women, modern society, and violence. However, the communities in the manosphere are rooted in their shared ideas about men and masculinity, and a shared anxiety over men’s perceived losses in social status, providing a potent basis for potential radicalization.
Communities in the manosphere, which are active on message boards and websites across the internet, include groups like “Pick-Up Artists” (PUAs), who attempt to seduce women through manipulation;9Sirin Kale, “50 Years of Pickup Artists: Why is the toxic skill still so in demand?” The Guardian, November 5, 2019, http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/nov/05/pickup-artists-teaching-men-approach-women-industry-street-harassment. “Men’s Rights Activists” (MRAs), who believe men suffer from gender discrimination more than women;10Jeff Sharlet, “What Kind of Man Joins the Men’s Rights Movement?” GQ, accessed June 9, 2021, https://www.gq.com/story/mens-rights-activism-the-red-pill. “Men Going Their Own Way” (MGTOW), comprised of men who have cut women out of their lives in response to feminism;11Laura Bates, “Men Going Their Own Way: The rise of a toxic male separatist movement,” The Guardian, August 26, 2020, http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2020/aug/26/men-going-their-own-way-the-toxic-male-separatist-movement-that-is-now-mainstream. and “incels”—shorthand for “involuntary celibate.” The incel label, initially created to refer to a community of people who had difficulty entering romantic relationships, has become increasingly widespread and now refers to a community almost entirely composed of men radicalized into blaming women and society for that difficulty.12Roberta Liggett O’Malley, Karen Holt, and Thomas J. Holt, “An Exploration of the Involuntary Celibate (Incel) Subculture Online,” Journal of Interpersonal Violence,(September 24, 2020), https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260520959625; Megan Kelly, Alex DiBranco, and Julia R. DeCook, “Misogynist Incels and Male Supremacism,” New America, February 18, 2021, http://newamerica.org/political-reform/reports/misogynist-incels-and-male-supremacism; Stephane J. Baele, Lewys Brace, and Travis G. Coan, “From ‘Incel’ to ‘Saint’: Analyzing the violent worldview behind the 2018 Toronto attack,” Terrorism and Political Violence, (August 2, 2019): 1–25, https://doi.org/10.1080/09546553.2019.1638256.
The Path to Radicalization
Men initially join online spaces in the “manosphere,” like “Pick-Up Artist” groups or “Men’s Rights Activists” in search of connection, friends, or advice on how to talk to women. Loneliness, disaffection, and anti-feminism are often motivators in joining this space.
Misogyny & Racism
While their intentions may be innocuous, users quickly find a shared culture of racism and misogyny. The far-right also sees the manosphere as a prime recruiting space. Misogyny is an effective initial outreach mechanism.
Exposure to extreme ideals radicalizes them, forming a connection between the manosphere and the far-right. Individuals previously part of less extreme misogynistic movements, like Pick-Up Artists, may wind up involved in more extreme groups, like “incel” groups, or even adopt other views from other extremist movements altogether, like white supremacist extremism.
Guns & Violence
In these more radical spaces, discussions of violence is common. Individuals fantasize about violent action and worship violent attackers. The ease of access to guns makes them a common tool of these groups, both as a part of actualized attacks and in the discussions of future violence.
As a collection of disaffected young men who believe their own status is threatened by others, the manosphere reinforces the idea that men are socially and individually disadvantaged. These spaces commonly embrace dangerous solutions to this perceived problem, ranging from dehumanizing and objectifying women to carrying out deadly acts of terrorism as revenge. The entitlement and contempt these young men learn in these online spaces mean that their interactions with women often carry a threatening undercurrent: Women who assert their autonomy risk violent retribution.
Having embraced the radicalizing message of misogyny that blames a class of people (women) for their own perceived loss of social status, these aggrieved men are primed to accept the ideology of white supremacy, which, analogously, claims communities of color and Jewish people are conspiring to strip white people of their social status. This hateful continuum makes misogynistic groups attractive prospects for recruitment into the far-right.13Robin Mamié, Manoel Horta Ribeiro, and Robert West, “Are Anti-Feminist Communities Gateways to the Far Right? Evidence from Reddit and YouTube,” ArXiv:2102.12837 [Cs], May 12, 2021. http://arxiv.org/abs/2102.12837. See also: Helen Lewis, “To Learn About the Far Right,”https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2019/08/anti-feminism-gateway-far-right/595642/; David Futrelle, “The ‘Alt-right’ Is Fueled by Toxic Masculinity — and Vice Versa,” NBC News, April 1, 2019, https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/alt-right-fueled-toxic-masculinity-vice-versa-ncna989031. For example, a prominent neo-Nazi decided he would no longer post women’s writing or radio shows on his website in hopes of attracting young men looking for a space with a male-focused ideology.14Anti-Defamation League, Center on Extremism, “When Women Are the Enemy.” White supremacists also commonly use anti-feminism to introduce young men to further extremist beliefs.15Helen Lewis, “To Learn About the Far Right;” Anti-Defamation League, Center on Extremism, “When Women Are the Enemy.”
The ideologies of misogyny and white supremacy also overlap. Essential to many strains of white supremacist or far-right ideology is a dehumanization of women, ranging from violent hatred to a belief that women are only suited to be housewives and mothers to white families.16Anti-Defamation League, Center on Extremism, “When Women Are the Enemy.” At the core of modern white supremacist extremism is the “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory, which posits that Jewish people are conspiring to “replace” the white population of the US and Europe with people of color through immigration and demographic change.17“‘The Great Replacement:’ An Explainer,” Anti-Defamation League, accessed July 20, 2021, https://bit.ly/3rnNdcS; Nellie Bowles, “‘Replacement Theory,’ a Racist, Sexist Doctrine, Spreads in Far-Right Circles,” New York Times, March 18, 2019, https://nyti.ms/2Zf1hIg. As such, one key white supremacist strategy is to combat demographic change by encouraging white women to have white children. In advocating for white women to have children only with white men, white supremacists embrace misogyny and dismiss women’s rights and dominion over their own bodies, demanding that they abandon personal or professional aspirations in favor of having as many offspring as possible and serving as homemakers.18Anti-Defamation League, Center on Extremism, “When Women Are the Enemy;” Nellie Bowles, “‘Replacement Theory.’”
Members of the far-right take advantage of the naturally close relationship between misogyny and white supremacy to spread their own ideas, inundating these spaces with both misogynistic and racist attitudes. The result is that white supremacy and misogyny are core features of many right-wing extremist movements. In addition to these attitudes being common in online spaces, they’re also observable in many attackers whose violence was motivated by hate.
- The 21-year-old man who shot 46 people, killing 23, at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, subscribed to the “Great Replacement” theory, including opposing interracial couples.19John Eligon, “The El Paso Screed, and the Racist Doctrine Behind It,” August 7, 2019, https://nyti.ms/3raDRBr; Yasmeen Abutaleb, “What’s Inside the Hate-Filled Manifesto Linked to the Alleged El Paso Shooter,” Washington Post, August 4, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/08/04/whats-inside-hate-filled-manifesto-linked-el-paso-shooter/.
- The 19-year-old man who attacked a synagogue in Poway, California, leaving one person dead and three wounded, blamed Jewish people for promoting feminism.20“Poway Attack Illustrates Danger Right-Wing Extremists Pose to Jews, Muslims,” Anti-Defamation League, May 2, 2019, https://bit.ly/3z33hn2.
- The 21-year-old man who shot and killed nine Black worshippers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, stated during the shooting that he “had to do it” because “you rape our women.”21Lisa Wade, “How ‘Benevolent Sexism’ Drove Dylann Roof’s Racist Massacre,” Washington Post, June 21, 2015, https://wapo.st/3rPatkp.
Incels and Extremism
While white supremacy and misogyny are common in far-right and manosphere communities generally, one subculture in particular takes these attitudes to the extreme. Self-proclaimed incels, and those who sympathize with them, have been largely responsible for the most violent and radical acts associated with the manosphere.
Incels view society as being structured around a rigid hierarchy of attractiveness, with incels constituting the least attractive tier.22Baele et al., “From ‘Incel’ to ‘Saint.’” They view themselves and others as existing within subcategories based on their race, and have specific, racist terms for certain ethnicities, viewing these subcategories as a characteristic of attractiveness.
Core to the incel worldview is the belief that people are unable to move from one tier of desirability to another; consequently, a self-identified incel sees himself as existing at the bottom of the social hierarchy, unable to improve his circumstances. With no hope of change or betterment, someone who agrees with this worldview may feel isolated and powerless, leading to despair that provides a foundation for extreme action. An incel who has been radicalized into blaming women or people of other races for their hopelessness may then use violence against these groups to express this.23Baele et al., “From ‘Incel’ to ‘Saint.’”
The Role of Firearms in Acts of Violent Misogyny
“The future prospect of the Men’s Movement raising enough money to exercise some influence in America is unlikely. But there is one remaining source of power in which men still have a near monopoly—firearms.”Written and posted by the man who shot Judge Esther Salas’ family on a men’s rights website years before the shooting.24Matt Stieb and Chas Danner, “Everything We Know About the Shooting at a Federal Judge’s Home in New Jersey,” accessed June 29, 2021, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/07/shooting-at-judge-esther-salass-nj-home-what-we-know.html.
For groups of radicalized men who see violence as a means to make their rage visible, firearms are easily accessible and impactful tools. Guns can, and have, turned years of hate into deadly acts of mass violence. For example, the self-identified incel who killed six people and wounded 14 others in a rampage in Isla Vista, California, had been involved in a series of public assaults before the shooting, but it was his purchase of a handgun that he said was his “first act of preparation” for his planned attacks.25Rebecca Solnit, “One Year After the Isla Vista Massacre, A Father’s Gun Control Mission Is Personal,” The Guardian, May 23, 2015, https://bit.ly/3hPAkFF.
It is no coincidence that so many public attacks perpetrated by misogynists involve guns.26Jennifer Mascia, “In the Years Since the Isla Vista Shooting, the Incel Subculture Continues to Inspire Gunmen,” The Trace, May 23, 2019, https://www.thetrace.org/2019/05/incel-anti-women-gun-violence-isla-vista-shooting/. Research has found that among the many reasons people purchase firearms, a sense of empowerment is one that particularly resonates with men, who tend to find greater feelings of empowerment from gun ownership.27F Carson Mencken and Paul Froese, “Gun Culture in Action,” Social Problems 66, no. 1 (February 1, 2019): 3–27, https://doi.org/10.1093/socpro/spx040. Firearms can provide or re-instill a feeling of power, and are even explicitly marketed as doing so.28Jonathan M. Metzl, “What Guns Mean: The symbolic lives of firearms,” Palgrave Communications 5, no. 1 (April 2, 2019): 1–5, https://doi.org/10.1057/s41599-019-0240-y. Additionally, surveys of young men have found that perceived threats to masculinity and social status are associated with both attraction to firearms and fantasies about mass murder.29Maria N. Scaptura and Kaitlin M. Boyle, “Masculinity Threat, ‘Incel’ Traits, and Violent Fantasies Among Heterosexual Men in the United States,” Feminist Criminology 15, no. 3 (July 1, 2020): 278–98, https://doi.org/10.1177/1557085119896415; Maria N. Scaptura and Kaitlin M. Boyle, “Protecting Manhood: Race, Class, and Masculinity in Men’s Attraction to Guns and Aggression,” Men and Masculinities, June 16, 2021, https://doi.org/10.1177/1097184X211023545. A socially isolated and frustrated person may see acquiring guns and preparing for a mass killing as a way to gain recognition or take vengeance, and the online communities in which they participate foster this line of thinking.
“My first act of preparation was the purchase [of] my first handgun … After I picked up the handgun, I brought it back to my room and felt a new sense of power. I was now armed.”Written by the Isla Vista attacker before his rampage.30Rebecca Solnit, “One Year After the Isla Vista Massacre, A Father’s Gun Control Mission Is Personal,” The Guardian, May 23, 2015, https://bit.ly/3hPAkFF.
Extremists also admire violent attackers and recognize that past mass shooters were able to instill fear in the people they resented. While most people in these spaces are not actively planning a mass killing, the online celebration of past killers and reinforcement of aggressive fantasies contributes to an online culture that encourages violence.31Scaptura et al., “Masculinity Threat, ‘Incel’ Traits;” Taisto Witt, “‘If I Cannot Have It, I Will Do Everything I Can to Destroy It,’ the Canonization of Elliot Rodger: ‘Incel’ Masculinities, Secular Sainthood, and Justifications of Ideological Violence,” Social Identities 26, no. 5 (September 2, 2020): 675–89, https://doi.org/10.1080/13504630.2020.1787132. This attitude is so widespread that several fora in the manosphere have been banned by popular online platform Reddit, and also suspended by the .ME domain registry for encouraging violence against women.32Christine Hauser, “Reddit Bans ‘Incel’ Group for Inciting Violence Against Women,” New York Times, November 9, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/09/technology/incels-reddit-banned.html; Adi Robertson, “Reddit Has Broadened Its Anti-Harassment Rules and Banned a Major Incel Forum,” The Verge, September 30, 2019, https://www.theverge.com/2019/9/30/20891920/reddit-harassment-bullying-threats-new-policy-change-rules-subreddits; Matt Binder, “Incels.Me, a Major Hub for Hate Speech and Misogyny, Suspended by .ME Registry,” Mashable, November 20, 2018, https://mashable.com/article/incels-me-domain-suspended-by-registry.
Isla Vista, California, Tragedy
In May 2014, a 22-year-old self-identified incel fatally stabbed his two roommates and another man in his apartment.1Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, “Isla Vista Mass Murder, May 23, 2014, Investigative Summary,” February 18, 2015, https://bit.ly/3wKtANt; Caitlin Dewey, “Inside the ‘Manosphere’ That Inspired Santa Barbara Shooter Elliot Rodger,” Washington Post, accessed July 22, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2014/05/27/inside-the-manosphere-that-inspired-santa-barbara-shooter-elliot-rodger/. He then drove with his guns and knives to the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Alpha Phi sorority house—a target he chose because it was the “hottest sorority” at the school and “represented everything I hate about the female gender,” he said.2Kate Mather and Matt Stevens, “UCSB Sorority Targeted by Isla Vista Shooting Suspect Urges Privacy,” Los Angeles Times, May 25, 2014, https://lat.ms/3kEtmF2. He shot three women, two fatally, from outside as he was unable to enter the house. He then shot and killed another person in town and hit multiple people with his car. After exchanging gunfire with law enforcement, he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. In the end, his rampage left six people dead and 14 wounded.3Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, “Isla Vista Mass Murder;” Nicky Woolf. “Chilling Report Details How Elliot Rodger Executed Murderous Rampage,” The Guardian, February 20, 2015, https://bit.ly/2YBP1lT.
Through the attacker’s manifesto and videos he had posted online, his motive for the attack became clear. His hatred of women drove him to carry out what he called a “Day of Retribution.” His posts showed that he was as young as 17 when he was fantasizing about “punishing” the “popular kids and young couples for the crime of having a better life than me.”4Alan Duke. “Timeline to ‘Retribution’: Isla Vista attacks planned over years,” CNN, May 27, 2014. https://cnn.it/2NNJSRL. In documenting incidents of his own violent behavior, he described how enraged and jealous he felt and how it brought him closer to seeking vengeance.5Alan Duke, “Timeline to ‘Retribution.’”
At the same time, the shooter lived an active life online expressing his hatred of women. Through YouTube videos, forum posts—including on sites in the “manosphere”—and his manifesto, he expressed deeply misogynistic,6Jay Caspian Kang, “The Online Life of Elliot Rodger,” The New Yorker, May 28, 2014, https://bit.ly/388fCdq. racist,7Josh Glasstetter, “Elliot Rodger, Isla Vista Shooting Suspect, Posted Racist Messages on Misogynistic Website,” Southern Poverty Law Center, May 24, 2014, https://bit.ly/2Zj0vtx. and violent views.8Alan Duke, “Timeline to ‘Retribution.’” He also documented all his steps leading up to the attack. In September 2012, he visited a gun range to train with what he said would “be the main weapons I use as vengeance against my enemies.”9Alan Duke, “Timeline to ‘Retribution.’” Three months later, he purchased his first firearm and in the ensuing months spent thousands of dollars on firearms and ammunition. Shortly before the shooting, he purchased more firearms and again visited gun ranges.10Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, “Isla Vista Investigative Summary;” Joseph Serna, “Elliot Rodger Meticulously Planned Isla Vista Rampage, Report Says,” Los Angeles Times, February 19, 2015, https://lat.ms/2ZiIWtI.
It was during this period that the shooter’s mother found some of his hateful YouTube videos and contacted authorities. Law enforcement officers were dispatched to his apartment to conduct a welfare check. After interviewing him, they determined there was not enough cause to search his home or place him on an involuntary mental health hold.11Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, “Isla Vista Investigative Summary;” Philip Rucker and Robert Costa, “In Elliot Rodger, Authorities in California Saw Warning Signs But Didn’t See a Tipping Point,” Washington Post, May 25, 2014, https://wapo.st/3dAsCtn. In response to this tragedy, California passed its own Extreme Risk Law in 2014.
Misogyny in the US long predates the tragedy in Isla Vista, California. But the visible, cruel motivation for the attack was a watershed moment for violent misogyny, and turned the previously little-known incel movement into an internationally acknowledged terrorist threat.33Justin Ling, “Incels Are Radicalized and Dangerous. But Are They Terrorists?,” Foreign Policy, June 2, 2020, https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/06/02/incels-toronto-attack-terrorism-ideological-violence/. For the online communities that nurtured and shared the perpetrator’s beliefs, the attack represented the first time their grievances had been recognized. Posts celebrating this newfound recognition were shared in more extreme parts of the manosphere, and many in these communities hoped this violent act would be replicated.34Haley Branston-Potts and Richard Winton, “How Elliot Rodger Went from Misfit Mass Murderer to ‘Saint’ for Group of Misogynists — and Suspected Toronto Killer,” Los Angeles Times, April 26, 2018, https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-elliot-rodger-incel-20180426-story.html.
Veronika was a bright and confident 19-year-old freshman at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). A dedicated student and an avid athlete, she lit up the room with humor and warmth. Veronika was one of three women shot by the Isla Vista attacker after he was unable to enter a sorority.
“Every time I read or hear of an incel murderer or plot, I know that the crime was inspired by the person who murdered my niece,” says Jane, Veronika’s aunt. “Knowing he is their hero makes me sick.”
Jane fears that as long as the intersection of hate and violence goes unaddressed, other families will have to endure its tragic outcomes. “The more I have learned over the years from cases in the news, the more I believe getting guns out of the hands of these young men is so important.”
Source: Jane Weiss in a communication with Everytown for Gun Safety, September 1, 2021.
The shooting in Isla Vista has had a continuing impact on extremism domestically and internationally,35Bruce Hoffman, Jacob Ware, and Ezra Shapiro, “Assessing the Threat of Incel Violence; ” “Elliot Rodger: How Misogynist Killer Became ‘Incel Hero,’” BBC News, April 25, 2018, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-43892189. and the scope of violence perpetrated by extremists with misogynist views has grown since then. While the manosphere subculture is relatively young, its subscribers have increasingly shown a willingness to commit violence. This violence often manifests as mass, public attacks—making the issue an urgent threat. Everytown has identified at least six public shootings in the US connected to this subculture since the tragedy in Isla Vista, with several attackers drawing direct inspiration from the 2014 tragedy.
Everytown has identified at least six public shootings in the US connected to this subculture since the tragedy in Isla Vista, with several attackers drawing direct inspiration from the 2014 tragedy.
A 26-year-old man shot 18 people, killing nine, at Umpqua Community College in 2015. The shooter wrote a manifesto that expressed his resentment to the world for his lack of romantic success and admiration for the Isla Vista attacker.12Oregon State Police, “Umpqua Community College Shooting Records,” accessed July 15, 2021, https://bit.ly/3wJ4qi0; Rick Anderson, “‘Here I Am, 26, with No Friends, No Job, No Girlfriend’: Shooter’s Manifesto Offers Clues to 2015 Oregon College Rampage,” Los Angeles Times, September 24, 2017, https://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-school-shootings-2017-story.html.
Aztec, New Mexico
A 21-year-old man shot and killed two students at Aztec High School in 2017. In addition to being an avid user of white supremacist websites, repeatedly posting racist rants and threats of violence, he also used the name of the Isla Vista attacker in multiple online personas and commended him in posts.13Brandon Zadrozny and Ben Collins, “New Mexico School Shooter Had Secret Life on Pro-Trump White-Supremacy Sites,” Daily Beast, December 15, 2017, accessed June 11, 2021, https://www.thedailybeast.com/new-mexico-school-shooter-had-secret-life-on-pro-trump-white-supremacy-sites. See also: Gregory Richter and Ariana Richter, “The Incel Killer and the Threat to the Campus Community,” Security Magazine, March 12, 2019, https://www.securitymagazine.com/articles/89962-the-incel-killer-and-the-threat-to-the-campus-community.
A 40-year-old man shot six women, two fatally, at a yoga studio in 2018. The shooter held a deep-set hatred of women. He had expressed violent fantasies toward women for most of his life and had sexually harassed and assaulted multiple women in the past. He also wrote songs and essays about his hatred of women, people of color, Jewish people, and LGBTQ people.14Tallahassee Police Department, “TPD Update on Hot Yoga Shooting,” February 12, 2019, https://bit.ly/3wT7I2p; Steve Hendrix, “He Always Hated Women. Then He Decided to Kill Them,” Washington Post, June 7, 2019, https://wapo.st/2YDHEKR. He identified with the Isla Vista attacker and expressed views commonly held by incels.15Mihir Zaveri, Julia Jacobs, and Sarah Mervosh, “Gunman in Yoga Studio Shooting Recorded Misogynistic Videos and Faced Battery Charges,” New York Times, November 3, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/03/us/yoga-studio-shooting-florida.html;Brett Barrouquere, “Florida Man Who Killed Two Women at Yoga Studio Spoke of ‘Incel’ Hero Elliot Rodger in Online Video,” Southern Poverty Law Center, November 3, 2018. https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2018/11/03/florida-man-who-killed-two-women-yoga-studio-spoke-incel-hero-elliot-rodger-online-video.
A 22-year-old man opened fire on a courthouse in 2019. Responding law enforcement shot and killed him before he could shoot anyone else. On social media, he had shared far-right and incel memes and showed an interest in ghost guns and gun rights.16Dana Branham and Cassandra Jaramillo, “What We Know about Brian Clyde, the Gunman Who Opened Fire at the Federal Courthouse in Downtown Dallas,” Dallas Morning News, June 18, 2019, accessed June 30, 2021, https://www.dallasnews.com/news/2019/06/18/what-we-know-about-brian-clyde-the-gunman-who-opened-fire-at-the-federal-courthouse-in-downtown-dallas/; Kelly Weill and Justin Glawe, “Dallas Federal Building Shooter Posted Far-Right Memes About Nazis and Confederacy,” Daily Beast, June 17, 2019, https://www.thedailybeast.com/dallas-federal-building-shooter-posted-far-right-memes-about-nazis-and-confederacy.
North Brunswick, New Jersey
A 72-year-old self-described “anti-feminist” targeted federal Judge Esther Salas at her family home in 2020. The shooter shot and killed her son and wounded her husband. The shooter had a history of vicious online misogyny and had brought a lawsuit assigned to Judge Salas challenging the constitutionality of a male-only draft.17Nicole Hong, Mihir Zaveri, and William K. Rashbaum, “Inside the Violent and Misogynistic World of Roy Den Hollander,” New York Times, July 26, 2020, https://nyti.ms/36OHUK6; Tracey Tully, “Judge Whose Son Was Killed by Misogynistic Lawyer Speaks Out,” New York Times, August 3, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/03/nyregion/esther-salas-roy-den-hollander.html.
A 20-year-old man shot and wounded three people at the Westgate Entertainment District in 2020. He told investigators that he was specifically targeting people in relationships and that he considered himself an incel.18Erica Stapleton, “Dark Side: The Westgate Shooting,” KPNX, February 18, 2021, https://www.12news.com/article/news/crime/dark-side-the-westgate-shooting/75-b32e4c67-ac2e-4c60-b98b-af3f28890ed7.
Six other cases were identified where incels were planning an attack, but were stopped before committing them.
Westchester County, New York
A 33-year-old self-professed member of the incel community was charged in state and federal courts in 2020 after repeatedly harassing and threatening a couple, whom he knew from college, and their friends. The man evoked the Isla Vista attacker in threatening messages and told police he “identified with [the attacker’s] ideology and manifesto.” He also stated in a Twitter post “women have done nothing but spit in my face. Soon I’ll be getting a gun.”19Adam Rawnsley and Seamus Hughes, “FBI’s Terror Hunters Turn to a Different Threat: Incels,” Daily Beast, September 9, 2020, https://bit.ly/3l0Nkdt; Keith Griffith, “FBI Terror Taskforce Busts Incel Who Called Himself ‘Big Man,’ ‘Sent Rape and Death Threats to Long Island Couple He Met in College’ and Proclaimed ‘It Should Be Illegal for a Woman to Say No,’” Daily Mail, September 10, 2020, https://bit.ly/3BMefj8.
A 33-year-old man was arrested in April 2020 after sending violent threats over social media to teenage girls and women who had declined his sexual advances for years. He was an avid promoter of the incel ideology and viewed the Isla Vista attacker as a victim. In April 2021, he was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to two counts of cyberstalking.20US Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, “Covina Man Arrested on Federal Charge Alleging He Cyberstalked and Threatened Violence Against Teenage Girls via Social Media,” press release, April 21, 2020, https://bit.ly/3rEwkuX; US Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, “Covina Man Sentenced to 18 Months in Prison for Cyberstalking,” press release, April 14, 2021, https://bit.ly/373trKr; Leah Simpson, “California Man, 33, Who ‘Promoted Incel Ideology’ and Called 2014 UC Santa Barbara Mass Shooter a ‘Victim’, Threatened to Harm or Kill Teenage Girls When They Refused His Online Sexual Advances, Authorities Say,” Daily Mail, April 22, 2020, https://bit.ly/2VcZN2L.
A 29-year-old neo-Nazi was arrested in May 2020, when he purchased firearms from undercover federal agents—including a handgun and shotgun with obliterated serial numbers, and an assault-style ghost gun equipped with a silencer and a high-capacity magazine—with the intent of using them for a racial civil war or racial holy war. In addition to writing frequent anti-Semitic and racist social media posts, the man wrote about wanting to “go on a spree after my enemies til the authorities take me out … Sometimes I’ve considered forming a well trained incel hit squad.” He pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm with obliterated serial numbers and was sentenced to 57 months in federal prison in 2021.21Jake Offenhartz, “Alleged Neo-Nazi ‘Incel’ Arrested in Queens Weapons Sting,” Gothamist, May 13, 2020, https://bit.ly/3x2NVO4; US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, “Two Queens Men Charged After Buying Three Illegally Defaced Firearms and Two Assault Rifles,” press release, May 13, 2020, https://bit.ly/3l0tHlM; US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, “Queens Man Pleads Guilty to Purchasing Illegally Defaced Firearm,” press release, January 22, 2021, https://bit.ly/3rCxnLQ; US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, “Queens Man Sentenced to 57 Months’ Imprisonment for Purchasing Illegally Defaced Firearm,” press release, July 13, 2021, https://bit.ly/3l6solq.
A 23-year-old man was arrested after he was wounded trying to make explosives in 2020. He had been building a bomb with the intention of targeting “hot cheerleaders” because of his sexual frustration. In a note he wrote, recovered by law enforcement, he stated he would be “heroic” and “make a statement like [the Isla Vista attacker].” In July 2021, he was sentenced to seven years in federal prison for possessing and manufacturing an unregistered explosive device.22“Man’s Hand Blown Off; Note References Violence Against Women,” Associated Press, June 6, 2020, https://bit.ly/2VdKnvk; US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia, “Richlands Man Sentenced to Prison Time for Possessing and Manufacturing an Unregistered Explosives,” press release, July 21, 2021, https://bit.ly/3rAdLba.
New York, New York
In April 2021, a 19-year-old self-described incel was arrested on federal charges after he allegedly videotaped himself approaching women sitting outside a restaurant in Manhattan and telling them he was going to detonate a bomb. The man had previously been arrested several times for harassing others, often while recording or livestreaming, and for multiple assaults involving pepper spray. In one video, he yelled at women saying he had “incel rage” and supported the Isla Vista attacker.23Larry Neumeister, “‘Incel’ Teen Held Without Bail on Federal Bomb Threat Charge,” Associated Press, April 14, 2021, https://bit.ly/2Ve6QIH; US Attorney’s Southern District of New York, “New York City Man Arrested for Carrying Out Hoax Bomb Threat at Manhattan Restaurant,” press release, April 14, 2021, https://bit.ly/2Wj46dm.
A 21-year-old man who planned a mass shooting targeting women at a local university was arrested in July 2021. The self-professed incel frequently posted on incel fora and wrote a manifesto in which he said he would “slaughter” women “out of hatred, jealousy, and revenge.” He also imitated the Isla Vista attacker by spraying women and couples with a water gun filled with orange juice, an act the 2014 attacker had also carried out. In a search of the Hillsboro man’s home and car, police recovered a firearm equipped with a bump stock, a homemade ghost gun modified to be fully automatic, multiple loaded magazines, ammunition, and body armor. He was charged with attempting to commit a hate crime and illegally possessing a machine gun.24US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio, “Highland County Man Charged with Attempted Hate Crime Related to Plot to Conduct Mass Shooting of Women, Illegal Possession of Machine Gun,” press release, July 21, 2021, https://bit.ly/2Vit3VJ; Alexa Helwig, “Investigators Claim Man Accused of Plotting Mass Shooting Made ‘Ghost Gun’,” WKRC, July 23, 2021, https://bit.ly/3728VKe.
While the above summary contains only attacks and attempted attacks with clear connections to the manosphere or extremism, many of whom were inspired by the Isla Vista attacker, there have also been multiple public attacks in the US that involved misogyny more generally.
These shootings have had the unmistakable impact of terrorizing women and survivors, and have contributed to the crisis of misogyny and violence against women.
A 35-year-old man shot and killed 23 people and wounded at least 20 more in an attack on Luby’s Cafeteria in 1991. Most of the people killed were women, and survivors of the shooting noticed that he seemed to target women in particular. He had harbored a severe hostility toward women, including referring to them as “female vipers” over whom he would “prevail.”25Don Terry, “Portrait of Texas Killer: Impatient and Troubled,” New York Times, October 18, 1991, https://nyti.ms/3rv9427; Kyle Blankenship, “25 Years Later: Memories of Luby’s Shooting Fade but Don’t Die,” Killeen Daily Herald, October 15, 2016, https://bit.ly/2V4sDST.
Collier Township, Pennsylvania
A 48-year-old man shot 12 women, three fatally, in 2009. He had written often about his resentment over not having a girlfriend or being sexually active, and had posted misogynistic and racist rants on an online blog.26“George Sodini’s Blog: Full Text By Alleged Gym Shooter,” ABC News, August 5, 2009, https://abcn.ws/3kI0EDa.
A 59-year-old man shot 11 people, two fatally, at a movie theater in 2015. He had previously been accused of violence, including domestic violence, and had written online posts that were anti-Semitic, supportive of white supremacist groups, and hostile to the government as well as LGBTQ people. He was reportedly an anti-feminist and was “opposed to women having a say in anything.”27David Weigel, “TV Hosts Remember Alleged Lafayette Gunman as Anti-Tax, Anti-Feminist ‘Gadfly,’” Washington Post, July 24, 2015. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2015/07/24/tv-hosts-remember-alleged-lafayette-gunman-as-anti-tax-anti-feminist-gadfly/; Erik Ortiz, Tracy Connor, and Tom Winter, “Louisiana Theater Shooting: Gunman John Houser ‘Disturbed,’ Family Said in Docs,” NBC News, July 24, 2015. https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/lafayette-theater-shooting/louisiana-theater-shooting-gunman-john-houser-disturbed-family-said-docs-n397726.
A 24-year-old man threw a 5-year-old boy off a railing at the Mall of America in 2019. The man told investigators that he had been looking for someone to kill after being rejected by women in the mall for years.28Dara Sharif, “Rejection From Women Led Suspect to Throw 5-Year-Old Over Railing at Mall of America: Report,” The Root, April 15, 2019, https://bit.ly/3hUA4oD.
A 24-year-old man shot 26 people, killing nine, outside of a bar in 2019. The shooter had an obsession with guns and long history of threats and violence against women, including assaulting a girlfriend and keeping a list of female classmates he wanted to sexually assault. He was also part of a band known for lyrics describing explicit violence against women.29Constance Grady, “The Dayton, Ohio, Shooter Reportedly Kept a “Rape List” of Potential Victims,” Vox, August 5, 2019, https://bit.ly/3imlCVq; Julie Bosman, Kate Taylor, and Tim Arango, “A Common Trait Among Mass Killers: Hatred Toward Women,” New York Times, August 8, 2010, https://nyti.ms/3Bk4vwa; Ellie Hall, “The Dayton Shooter Was the Lead Singer of a ‘Pornogrind’ Metal Band,” BuzzFeed News, August 5, 2019, https://bit.ly/3wX1y1l.
A 21-year-old man shot nine people, killing eight, including six Asian women, in a series of shootings in spas around Atlanta in 2021. The shooter targeted establishments that he believed were temptations for a “sex addiction.”30Valerie Bauerlein and Cameron McWhirter, “Atlanta Shooting Suspect Told Police He Targeted Massage Parlors Because of Sex Addiction,” Wall Street Journal, March 17, 2021, https://on.wsj.com/3wWtMJA; Tim Craig et al., “Suspect Charged with Killing 8 in Atlanta-area Shootings that Targeted Asian-run Spas,” Washington Post, March 17, 2021, https://wapo.st/3wOeQNo.
These high profile examples make up just a small sample of misogyny-inspired gun violence. They don’t account for less publicized shootings or instances where the shooter’s motivation is unknown. Whatever form it takes, hate-motivated violence has a particularly pernicious and terroristic impact on the individuals and communities targeted.
Research shows that victims of hate crimes are more likely to experience psychological distress than victims of other crimes, and survivors of hate crimes experience heightened nervousness and feel less safe for a longer period of time than survivors of non-hate crimes.36Gregory M. Herek, J. Roy Gillis, and Jeanine C. Cogan, “Psychological Sequelae of Hate-Crime Victimization among Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Adults,” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 67, no. 6 (December 1999): 945-951; Jack McDevitt et al., “Consequences for Victims: A Comparison of Bias- and Non-Bias-Motivated Assaults,” American Behavioral Scientist 45, no. 4 (December 2001): 697-713. But to understand the true impact of hate-motivated violence, we must also consider the broader public impact. Violence that targets one individual can psychologically harm an entire shared identity group and send the message that all members of the targeted identity group are neither welcome nor safe. For attacks explicitly motivated by a hatred of women, a single tragedy is terrifying.
Chris was an intelligent, kind, and adventurous 20-year-old. He loved sports and traveling, and he played intramural basketball at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). When he was a sophomore, he was shot and killed during the Isla Vista tragedy.
His father, Richard, is now dedicated to understanding and preventing the kind of violence that killed his son. “It’s a cancer that there are people out there that are filled with frustration and anger because they can’t get what they think they’re entitled to,” he says. “They have this twisted view that women have some kind of obligation to them.”
“We have to fix this. As a society, as a culture, as a country. We have to fix it.”
Source: Richard Martinez in a conversation with Everytown for Gun Safety, August 26th, 2021.
Online misogynist communities are fast-growing and the impact of violent misogyny, combined with the unique harm of violence involving guns, makes addressing it an urgent issue. The deep connection between misogynist extremism and the growing far-right extremism movement makes it even more urgent. The racist views that are common in far-right spaces are also a key part of the grievances of many misogynist mass attackers. Understanding the connections between these movements is a crucial step in combating extremism.
Guns have an overwhelming presence in misogynistic mass attacks and, in addition to the incalculable human cost, these attacks have a much broader societal impact. As long as guns are easily accessible to those willing to act violently on their grievances, these attacks will continue to terrorize communities, survivors, and women. Directly acknowledging and addressing the intersection between misogyny and gun violence is essential to preventing further violence.
Everytown Research & Policy is a program of Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, an independent, non-partisan organization dedicated to understanding and reducing gun violence. Everytown Research & Policy works to do so by conducting methodologically rigorous research, supporting evidence-based policies, and communicating this knowledge to the American public.