Like many terrorists, Elliot Rodger picked a symbolic target when he singled out the Alpha Phi Sorority as the focus of his self-declared “War on Women.”
“I cannot kill every single female on earth, but I can deliver a devastating blow that will strike all of them to the core of their wicked hearts,” Rodger wrote in the 137-page manifesto that he sent to news outlets before he embarked on rampage that left seven people dead, including Rodger himself, “I will attack the very girls who represent everything I hate in the female gender: The hottest sorority of UCSB.” Ultimately, Rodgers failed to gain entry to the sorority house, but he explained his reasons for targeting it in detail.
The 9/11 hijackers attacked symbols of American economic and military power. Tim McVeigh bombed the Murrah Federal Building because it symbolized the federal government he hated. The Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram raided a physics exam to highlight their opposition to female literacy.
For Rodger, Alpha Phi represented female sexual autonomy, which he regarded as the root of all evil: “Women should not have the right to choose who to mate with. The choice should be made for them by civilized men of intelligence,” Rodger wrote in his manifesto. If women are allowed to continue to choose their mates, he asserted, society will continue to devolve, because women invariably choose stupid men. He explained in his manifesto that Alpha Phi was full of “blonde sluts” who were committing the sin of having sex with “unworthy” men.
The manifesto uses the phrase “war on women” repeatedly. Rodger also planned to kill men during his rampage, and he ended up killing more men than women, but he placed the ultimate blame squarely on women. “I hated all those obnoxious, boisterous men who were able to enjoy pleasurable sex lives with beautiful girls, but I hated the girl’s [sic] more because they chose those men instead of me. It was their choice,” Rodger wrote.
Terrorism has been defined as spectacular public violence designed to influence a vast audience at a distance via media exposure. The terrorist uses dramatic, symbolically potent violence to provoke maximum psychological impact from what, in military terms, may be a very small attack. That’s one reason terrorism is often favored by weaker groups against stronger adversaries. For example, anti-abortion terrorists don’t have the military might to end abortion by force. Instead, they hope that a handful of highly publicized attacks, like the shooting of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, will frighten off doctors and patients and demoralize pro-choice activists.
Like any terrorist, Rodger correctly surmised that his acts would garner tremendous media attention. In addition to sending a manifesto to the media, he also took to YouTube to create his own narrative of the crimes he was about to commit.
Rodger’s misogyny didn’t spring full-formed from his disturbed mind. As Amanda Marcotte points out in the American Prospect, Rodger was steeped in the misogynist ideology of Pick Up Artistry and the attendant PUA backlash. He was a regular contributor to a site called PUAhate.
Members of these subcultures do not generally advocate for violence and it would be unfair to blame them for Rodger’s crimes. However, PUAs promulgate the pseudoscientific ideas about love and sex that teach men they need to be more misogynist in order to command love and respect. According to PUA dogma, women are naturally attracted to “alpha” males, who demonstrate their alpha-tude by treating women and other men badly. Beta males are supposedly the nice guys who are systematically ignored by women simply for being nice. PUA’s promise their credulous audience that too they can partake in the sexual success of alpha males by imitating their callous and domineering behavior.
Of course, as Marcotte explains, enterprising PUA entrepreneurs often separate suckers from their money without improving their dating prospects. Sites like PUAhate.com, where Rodger was a regular poster, offer a home for failed artistes. The now-suspended PUAhate’s logo featured a blood spatter. Instead of reconsidering the core values of the PUA movement, PUA haters tend to redouble their hatred of women:
PUAhate members continue to subscribe, however, to the theory that women are inferior and forbidding monsters, pre-programmed to reject worthy betas in favor of supposedly awful alphas, and their main complaint against PUAs is that they mislead betas into thinking they can game the system. PUAhate, therefore, devolved into a pity session of misogynists explaining to each other how women are the source of all their misery, and the only solution to the problem was to start stripping women of all rights to sexual self-determination.
Rodger came to PUAhate with his own misogynist views, but he found validation for his beliefs within the community. “Reading posts on [PUAhate] only confirmed many of the theories about how wicked and degenerate women really are,” Rodger wrote.
Rodger is not the first explicitly misogynist terrorist. In 1989, Marc Lepine shot 14 women at an engineering school in Montreal, Quebec. Eyewitnesses said that Lepine accused his victims of being feminists before he opened fire and reported that he selectively targeted women. Amazingly, Lepine’s actions were initially dismissed by officials as those of an apolitical madman and the police suppressed his suicide note on the pretext that it might inspire “copycat crimes,” but Lepine’s political agenda was proven when the note was leaked to the press. It read in part:
“Would you note that if I commit suicide today it is not for economic reasons … but for political reasons,” it read. “Because I have decided to send the feminists, who have always ruined my life, to their Maker … I have decided to put an end to those viragos.”
In 2009, George Sodini opened fire in a women’s gym in Pennsylvania, killing three women and wounding nine others in a meticulously planned mass murder spree as revenge against the millions of desirable women who had failed to have sex with George Sodini. With an eye to influencing public discourse, Sodini left instructions that his misogynist ramblings be published posthumously.
Sodini was a dedicated Pickup Artist. Either unaware or indifferent to the fact that Sodini was the worst possible advertisement for their product, Pickup Artists used Sodini’s spree as a marketing tool to advertise PUA products, implying that if only Sodini had “Game,” he wouldn’t have been reduced to shooting strangers out of frustration. The PUA-industrial-complex jumped on the UCSB massacre with a similar marketing pitch.
Some have suggested it is pointless to attempt to attach any political meaning to Elliot Rodger’s rampage because they believe he was insane. Or because misogyny was just one issue that preoccupied this obvious crackpot. Indeed, Rodger’s parents confirmed that he had a history of mental illness. However, the fact that he was probably suffering from a mental illness doesn’t make him any less a terrorist. Acknowledging that Rodger was a terrorist in no way detracts from a discussion of our lax gun laws. (“I was now armed,” Rodger wrote of buying his first weapon, “Who’s the alpha male now, bitches?”) After all, a successful gun policy would be one that keeps guns out of the hands of terrorists and other dangerous people.
By any meaningful standard, Rodger planned and executed a terrorist attack. He orchestrated the violence for maximum symbolic impact and took steps to disseminate his message through the mass media. In many ways, he’s a classic example of what terrorism experts call a lone wolf or self-radicalized terrorist.
Rodger’s beliefs were extreme even relative to the most fevered corners of the Men’s Rights Movement. However, his views did not emerge from an ideological vacuum. Rodger’s views were a logical extension of misogynist philosophy that says that women need to be dominated and controlled for the good of society.
Attempting to shoot up a sorority house because you want to control women is just as political and just as terroristic as attempting to shoot up an abortion clinic.
In this new book, longtime organizers and movement educators Mariame Kaba and Kelly Hayes examine the political lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath, including the convergence of mass protest and mass formations of mutual aid. Let This Radicalize You answers the urgent question: What fuels and sustains activism and organizing when it feels like our worlds are collapsing?
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