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Chris Cantwell, Men’s Rights Activists, and right-wing fantasies of “defensive” violence

Chris Cantwell got a sympathetic hearing from Karen Straughan on YouTube after being charged with violence in the Charlottesville protests

By David Futrelle

Yesterday, “Crying Nazi” Chris Cantwell was booted off of Gab for making just a few too many threatening comments about leftists.

Having already been kicked off of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and even OKCupid, Cantwell’s Gab account was his last toehold in social media. And now that, at least temporarily, is gone.

The comments have been deleted, so it’s not clear exactly what Cantwell said that was measurably worse than any of the other horrific things he’s said on the site, which provides a weird sort of safe space for Nazis and other terrible people banned from Twitter.

According to antifascist organizer/researcher Emily Gorcenski, Cantwell had declared “that future shooters should be targeting leftists for murder,” adding that Cantwell’s wording in the posts was quite “specific, and it is evident that in the post he is implying *me* personally.”

Cantwell, in a blog post, admitted to writing some Gab posts on the Christchurch mosque attacks “which I hoped danced right up against the line of what is allowed on Gab.” While Cantwell hates Muslims as much as the next unhinged, gun-obsessed neo-Nazi, he has said more than once that he doesn’t “think shooting up houses of worship is a sound strategic move for White Nationalists.” In his now-deleted Gab comments, he says, he merely suggested that there were other people who “would make more worthy targets for people who saw no peaceful solution to their problems.”

In an email to Newsweek, he declared that it was “beyond ridiculous” that “anyone familiar with my thinking as of late” would think he was “egging on terrorism or assassinations.”

Gosh, how could anyone think that a guy who stockpiles guns, threatens journalists, who once openly admitted he’d thought about going on a murderous rampage against cops, who declared that the murder of Heather Heyer by a Nazi terrorist in Charlottesville was “justified,” and who talks constantly about how cool it would be if various people he hates got murdered would actually be endorsing terrorism in comments that apparently sounded a lot like direct threats?

But Cantwell, like many of those with violent impulses, likes to think of himself as the real victim — and to portray whatever violence he fantasizes about, or threatens, or even engages in, as purely defensive measures. In a 2017 podcastwith the ominous title “I Almost Committed a Hate Crime,” he declared that when he runs across a non-English speaking foreigner in the United States, he considers them

a fucking threat. You know? I feel like my country is being fucking invaded. That … I’m being outbred. That guy has probably fucking 12 kids at home.

Cantwell even tried to play the victim after a warrant was issued for his arrest after he was caught on video pepper-spraying antifacist counterprotesters at the Unite the Right march in Charlottesvile. In the video that earned him the “crying Nazi” nickname, Cantwell tearfully addressed police, saying that he wanted to turn himself in but was “afraid you’re going to kill me.” He tried to cast not only himself but all of the right-wing marchers in Charlottesville as the real victims. “We are trying to make this peaceful, we are trying to be law abiding,” he insisted. “Our enemies will not stop.”

Even before his turn towards outright fascism, Cantwell loved to talk about the righteousness of allegedly defensive violence. Back them though, he aimed his venom not at leftists, immigrants or Jews but at cops, declaring in one Facebook post that it would be “morally justified” for any driver to shoot and kill any police officer who pulled them over for a traffic stop.

Ironically, I learned about Cantwell’s recent misfortune as I was pondering the similar claims of victimhood regularly indulged in by many of those associated with a website Cantwell used to write for regularly, the men’s rights hate site A Voice for Men.

Back in its heyday, AVFM specialized in a kind of violent rhetoric that seemed calculated to scare opponents to the point of fearing for their own personal safety without quite crossing the line that could get AVFM sued for harassment or incitement. AVFM founder Paul Elam didn’t threaten anyone with violence directly, but he fantasized often, and in some detail, about doing violence to women. He liked to talk vaguely about “inflicting … pain” on his opponents, telling one critic that “I find you so pernicious and repugnant that the idea of fucking your shit up gives me an erection.”

The closest AVFM got to direct incitement was a manifesto it hosted on-site for several years urging men to firebomb courthouses and police stations to protest alleged unfairness in family courts; they took it down quietly, with no explanation or apology, shortly after the Boston Marathon bombing.

Elam’s colleagues at AVFM were not always quite so subtle in their rhetoric as he is; longtime AVFMer Jack Barnes once falsely accused me of doxing him and told me that if anything happened to his family he would drive directly to my apartment for “a face to face in person discussion” that would end up with him “stomping a mud hole in your fucking ass.”

But like Cantwell, those at AVFM liked to portray themselves as the victims — casting the violence they “warned” their opponents of as fundamentally defensive in nature. In Elam’s infamous post about what he called “Bash a Violent Bitch Month,” for example, the violent beatdown of this hypothetical “bitch” he described in such loving detail was presented as a justifiable defense against her violence.

The direct threats against me from Barnes were cast as a sort of hypothetical future revenge if something happened to his kids as a result of something he — falsely, and without an iota of evidence — accused me of doing. (I’ve taken entirely non-hypothetical steps to protect myself.)

I started thinking about the habit of Elam and others associated with his site’s tendency to project their own violent fantasies onto their opponents a couple of nights ago, after YouTube’s algorithms decided I needed to rewatch a Vice News video from 2014 profiling some of the antifeminist women associated with AVFM.

Watching the video I was struck again by how eager the AVFM crew — male and female — were to portray themselves as the innocent victims of feminist violence. Well, hypothetical violence, at least. While no feminists ever raised a hand to them, AVFM spent many years loudly proclaiming that, well, they probably would — and soon — talking about this hypothetical violence towards them at a time when AVFM and those associated with it were themselves pumping out violent and threatening rhetoric on a daily basis.

In the Vice video, longtime AVFM ally Karen Straughan — the YouTube blabber known as Girl Writes What — asserted that the popular (and I should say, completely accurate) perception of Men’s Rights activists as rape apologists made “the idea of violence against us … palatable.”

And she made clear how much she relished the role of hypothetical martyr, showing the Vice reporters a logo she’d come up with for her gang of so-called Honey Badgers, pointing out that it was in the shape of “a target with a Honey Badger head so that the feminists would know where to point the gun.”

Back in those days, AVFM boss Elam was even more eager than Straughan to claim the hypothetical victim mantle, talking again and again about what he saw as the imminent threat of violence against him and his crew.

In one 2012 rant on the subject, Elam falsely accused a number of feminist writers — among them Jessica Valenti, Amanda Marcotte, and me — of “encourag[ing] violence” against MRAs like him, “feeding … a steady diet of histrionic distortions, irrational fear and calculated misrepresentations of the men’s movement” to “already violence prone [feminist] ideologues.”

“Physical violence against the MRM [Men’s Rights Movement] on the streets is on the way,” he declared, suggesting that Straughan herself could well be a target.

Let’s just repeat that for emphasis:

Physical violence against the MRM on the streets is on the way

It’s been more than six years since Elam made that prediction, and the wave of anti-Men’s Rights street violence has not materialized. And it seems unlikely that it ever will. After a few minutes in the mainstream media spotlight in 2014, the Men’s Rights movement has largely faded from view as new and even more alarming misogynistic movements — from the incels to the alt-right — have arisen, taking many of the worst ideas from the Men’s Rightsers and somehow making them even worse.

And while MRAs themselves largely kept to rhetorical rather than real world violence, those who followed them — and who in many cases took inspiration from them — were not quite so circumspect. Incels not only fantasize about going on shooting rampages; several have actually gone and done it. And there has been a veritable orgy of alt-right violence over the past few years — from the street violence of groups like the Proud Boys to horrendous mass murders like the Christchurch shootings only a few days ago.

A Voice for Men has been connected, at least indirectly, to some of the worst of this violence — but we’re not talking about anything as indirect as six degrees of separation.

Elliot Rodger, who killed six people in cold blood and would have killed many more had he gained access tot he sorority that was his main intended target, was a reader of PUAhate, a site whose most famous moderator was regular AVFM contributor “Aaron Sleazy.

Former AVFM “social media director” Janet Bloomfield — aka Judgy Bitch, real name Andrea Hardie — went on to be a regular guest on Ethan Ralph’s so-called Killstream; in 2017 an editor at Ralph’s website The Ralph Retort murdered his father — stabbing him to death in the heat of an argument over far-right conspiracy theories.

And then there’s Cantwell himself — who, as a former contributor to AVFM, has zero degrees of separation from the site. Cantwell wasn’t yet a Nazi when he wrote for AVFM back in 2014, but he was certainly a raging asshole, and by that point he had already started justifying murder on supposedly political grounds — his Facebook post on the morality of killing traffic cops came in 2012. And in March 2014, while he was a contributor to AVFM, he penned a defense of violent revolution in which he pur forward a “proposal” for

free men and women to forcefully defend themselves against agents of the State. To kill government agents who would otherwise use force against them, until their jobs simply become so dangerous that they seek other lines of work.

This was the guy that AVFM decided to embrace at the same time Karen Straughan was joking about putting a target on the Honey Badger logo “so that the feminists would know where to point the gun.”

Despite all of his violent rhetoric, Cantwell hasn’t murdered anyone. But he did show up to Charlottesville with a small armory of guns which he proudly displayed to the Vice camera crew covering the right-wing march. Luckily, he didn’t make use of any of these weapons during the actual protests, but he did take pepper spray, and ultimately pled guilty to two counts of assault and battery for using that spray on two antifascist protesters. Despite the plea, I’m sure he’d still insist he was the innocent victim here.

Ironically, for all her alleged fear of hypothetical feminist violence against Men’s Rights activists, Straughan was still fond enough of her former ATFM colleague, and apparently so unbothered by his embrace of violent fascism, that she offered him a sympathetic hearing in a 2017 YouTube interview shortly before he turned himself in after being charged with violence in the Charlottesville protests.

Birds of a feather, I guess.

H/T — Though I’ve been following Cantwell for years, I learned a good deal about his background from the SPLC’s profile of him, and drew a lot on it for this post.

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tim gueguen
3 years ago

Reading about Cantwell here reminded me of Milton William Cooper. Bill Cooper was a conspiracy monger who got a lot of attention from the fringe and fringe watchers in the late ’80s and ’90s for his theories that crossed the Illuminati with UFOs and alien invasion paranoia. He eventually denounced much of what he wrote, and became increasingly connected to the militia and anti-tax crowds. He became a fugitive after he stopped paying taxes in 1998, and was shot and killed in November of 2001 by Apache County, Arizona deputies after wounding one of them. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the names frequently discussed here gets killed by law enforcement.

Jane Done
Jane Done
3 years ago

As I’ve said countless times, the loudest whiners are the most coddled, privileged brats.

I used to work at a warehouse that paid piecework. These three guys, one of them probably over 375lbs, could easily lift their own bodyweight with a single hand, yet every single day they came whining and crying to the office about how haaard their week had been and how they deserved a break, they deserved the easy work. Meanwhile, I, a woman, weighing in at a measly 150, with less than a tenth of the testosterone of all three of those men combined (testosterone being a PERFORMANCE ENHANCING STEROID) did my due diligence and took the heavy, brutal, demanding work day in and day out without saying a single word.

Some days I even stayed late to finish the jobs that were so difficult that they, in their self-entitled, infantile rage, walked out.

Then one day I found out that those dudes were making over $100,000 a year. I was being paid less than half that.

The loudest whiners are the most coddled, privileged brats.

Helix_luco
Helix_luco
3 years ago

I’m surprised crying Nazi cantwell is so agressive towards law enforcement. I thought that in general, police and military had been pretty well infiltrated by white supremacists?

Moggie
Moggie
3 years ago

And while MRAs themselves largely kept to rhetorical rather than real world violence…

Well, I don’t know about that. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of them have a history of domestic violence.

Bananananana dakry: Short-Haired, Fat, and Deranged
Bananananana dakry: Short-Haired, Fat, and Deranged
3 years ago

@Moggie

The Venn diagram of MRA/ alt-right garbage people and domestic violence perps has a hell of a lot of overlap, I suspect.

Knitting Cat Lady
Knitting Cat Lady
3 years ago

In my experience the people with the most kids are fundagelical Christians like the Duggars.

Where the woman is more or less constantly pregnant and the older kids, mostly the daughters, are doing the actual parenting of the brood.

And it has been shown time and time again that as the standard of living and level of education of the WOMEN increases, the birthrate goes down.

First generation immigrants might have more kids, but second generation immigrants tend to have a birth rate close to the ‘native’ population.

Kat, ambassador of the feminist government in exile
Kat, ambassador of the feminist government in exile
3 years ago

@David F.

Physical violence against the MRM on the streets is on the way

It’s been more than six years since Elam made that prediction, and the wave of anti-Men’s Rights street violence has not materialized.

Three points:

First, Mr. Elam said the violence against the men’s rights movement is “on the way.” He didn’t specify when. It could still happen. Any moment now.

Second, 2 Peter 3:8 says, “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” Could not the same thing be said of Mr. Elam’s predictions about the men’s rights movement?

Third — what’s that? Look over there!

Cat Mara
Cat Mara
3 years ago

BTW, Emily Gorcenski’s site, First Vigil, is an excellent resource. It tracks the fashy and fashy-adjacent, what groups they belong to, and what crimes they’ve been charged with and where. She was also instrumental in putting real names to a lot of the ugly faces at Charlottesville when the transcripts of their Discord chats got leaked– and their was much schadenfreude to be had to hear these scumbags who dealt for so long in fear and intimidation of their victims bleat about “doxxing” when that was their stock-in-trade. In at least one case, one of the scumbags in question turned out to be a member of the US armed forces (albeit not for much longer) which was extremely disturbing.

Otrame
Otrame
3 years ago

@Helix-Luxo

While there are certainly some white supremecists in the military 1) they keep their damned mouths shut if they know what is good for them or they aren’t in the military very long; and 2) a large percentage of people in the military are PoC.

The image of the military is a bunch of good ol’ boys from Appalachia, but there are far more homies from the hood and the barrio than most people seem to think.

Diego Duarte
Diego Duarte
3 years ago

It’s always been a not so secret wish of mine to have the privilege of running either into Alex Jones or Cantwell in a darkened alley. Won’t say more so as to not run afoul of comments policy.

But it really doesn’t surprise me that this guy got a slap on the wrist. I can’t be the only one noticing that the reporting on White supremacists caught among the police force and the military keeps on increasing, right? Not to mention that whole suicide, where a handcuffed woman managed to shoot herself in the mouth, whilst in the back of a police car.

They are certainly emboldened by the current political climate, and don’t seem like they are going to back down any time soon.

Susan
Susan
3 years ago

From the Council on Foreign Relations Website

Federal agencies categorize race into five groups—white, black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, and Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander. Ethnicity, which the government considers distinct from race, is divided into two categories: Hispanic or Latino, and not Hispanic or Latino. Among enlisted recruits, 43 percent of men and 56 percent of women are Hispanic or a racial minority. Female recruits are consistently more diverse than the civilian population; they are also more diverse than male recruits.

Non-Hispanic white population of US 61.3% per Wikipedia, so the military is more diverse than US population but not by that much. I think the bigger difference is that you’re generally more integrated if you are in the military. There are plenty of nearly-all-white or nearly-all-black towns in MS where I live, but there are no nearly-all-white or black military bases or aircraft carriers.

Bakunin
Bakunin
3 years ago

The military was pretty strict about keeping white supremacists out. Unfortunately their standards were relaxed with the recruiting push for Iraq/Afghanistan

Onager
Onager
3 years ago

If I was in his local police force I’d imagine I’d be quite focused on making sure he didn’t have access to guns. I don’t know what his local laws are but I’d usually work on a general assumption that if I was known to be heavily armed and made highly visible online threats to kill police officers that I’d be getting a less than gentle early morning visit from some of those law enforcement professionals. Granted he’d love an excuse to play the victim but it is a public safety issue.

@Helix_luco

I’m surprised crying Nazi cantwell is so agressive towards law enforcement. I thought that in general, police and military had been pretty well infiltrated by white supremacists?

As with the Bill Cooper example, these types often come out of the other side of loving the police/army into more of a paranoid militia mindset where they’re prepared to take on all branches of the oppressive state in a battle for their freedom (to be an awful person usually).

Drungarios
Drungarios
3 years ago

So as someone who works in government security, there are actually a set of specific questions in the security questionnaire designed to weed out hate groups, militias, and terrorist groups. A positive answer to *any* of those questions leads to an automatic denial of clearance, and therefore ineligibility to serve in the military in any meaningful way. Furthermore, the adjudicators who grant clearances are trained to look for anything that looks even vaguely suspicious in that area.

Chris Oakley
Chris Oakley
3 years ago

The funny thing is, if Cantrell ever did find himself facing armed confrontation with a feminist he’d probably scream and run like he was on fire

Curious_Diversions
Curious_Diversions
3 years ago

Damn it, Straughan! You can’t just appropriate the honey badger!

Jennifer
3 years ago

“The comments have been deleted, so it’s not clear exactly what Cantwell said ….”

In response to the Christchurch massacre, he said that instead of murdering people in houses of worship, alt-righters should kill leftists:

“I’m pretty sure it would be against the rules for me to say that would be mass shooters should find left wing activists and gun them down instead of random people in mosques and synagogues. So I won’t do that. I just really want these people to shut the f**k up, and that seems like the most obvious and enjoyable way of accomplishing this goal. If you killed the 50 loudest Leftists in the United States, especially if you didn’t get caught, and continued killing, these people would shut their stupid f**king a**hole mouths, and that would save a lot of lives. All of these people should be in prison for the crimes they’ve committed in full view of the public over the last few years.”

He sounds nice. Can’t imagine why he’s had such difficulty finding a woman to date him.

Lumipuna (nee Arctic Ape)
Lumipuna (nee Arctic Ape)
3 years ago

If you killed the 50 loudest Leftists in the United States, especially if you didn’t get caught, and continued killing,

That’s hilarious to hear from the totally not criminal mastermind who couldn’t avoid the crushing claws of law enforcement after macing a couple antifa activists.

AEB
AEB
3 years ago

Anglosphere conservatism in 2019 is nothing more than an online hate movement against blacks, Latinos, Muslims, Jews, transsexuals, Millennials, feminists and journalists, among others.

EverythingIsRidiculous
EverythingIsRidiculous
3 years ago

A true weak chickenshit coward.

Cat Mara
Cat Mara
3 years ago

There is a new podcast that started recently called “I Don’t Speak German” that has been doing deep dives into the alt-right and its various personalities (sic). They’ve done a two-part episodes on Cantwell. I’ve made it through the first part so far; it’s nauseating stuff.

Scanisaurus
Scanisaurus
3 years ago

I don’t want to sidetrack too much, but seeing all their fantasies on display have reminded me of something I’ve thought about for a while. I’m not sure if maybe I’m just reading too much into things, but seeing the rise of the alt-right, neo-nazis and incels have made me realize how messed up a great deal of Fantasy is, because things we would rightfully condemn as blatant misogyny and racist propaganda is both common and accepted in the fantasy genre as long as you change the stereotypes to non-human monsters.

Just take the whole “the monsters/orcs/trolls/demons are coming for our women” trope, because if you think about it, a race that looks nothing like humans being attracted to human women and depending on females of a different species to procreate makes zero biological sense, and for it to make sense you basically have to ignore all female biology and think of women as mysterious birthing machines, and there are so many more disgusting parallells to the alt-right rhetoric around race and women’s bodies.

Like, alt-right people are literally saying “they are coming for our women”, claim that the immigrants are trying to out-breed them and treat women’s bodies as a resource that needs to be strictly guarded or else “the enemy” will rape them and make them breed more enemies, and the suggestion that “the enemy” are human beings themselves is considered about on par with treating literal animals as human.

And what bothers me the most is that this trope isn’t confined to edgelord anime, fetish fanfiction or old dated stories written by out of touch old men, but even Dragon Age, a franchise that was created by a gay man and has prided itself in being inclusive and progressive with several lgbtq characters, people of all skin colors and strong women, has this trope in the form of Broodmothers, women who have been captured by darkspawn (orc-like monsters) and forcibly mutated into hideous giant monsters birthing tons of more darkspawn. And to add to the problems, the Broodmothers are stated to have been defiled forever and the only way to release them is through death, which feels pretty disgusting considering in many conservative circles, survivors are still told that they are better off dead than being “defiled”.

Realizing the parallells has basically ruined the Dragon Age franchise for me (for while they aren’t in the sequels Broodmothers are still mentioned in codex entries and Bioware has showed no signs of retconning that lore), and I just feel that it’s pretty insane how readily the fandom will defend this trope and that whilst nearly everyone can agree that writing, say, a zombie virus that only turns black people into monsters, is blatantly racist, but creating a race of monsters that just kill men but can turn women’s bodies into monster factories is not seen as inherently misogynistic, and not seen as reinforcing rape myths like the idea that rape is just some biological urge and not about power and humiliating the victim and normalizing rape as a whole.

I really wish to clarify that I don’t think most of the writers using this trope intended for this to be the message of their work, and in many cases it was probably the result of taking the trope from older fantasy works without thinking through the implications, yet I still find it disconcerting that in Dragon Age’s case, apparently no one on the entire development team questioned this plotline while the game was made and I haven’t seen anyone else in the fandom ask them about it either.

Am I the only one worried by these parallels between these kinds of fantasy tropes and alt-right and incel rhetoric? We’ve already seen them appropriate both vikings, knights and lots of other fantasy imagery, would it bee too much of a stretch to be concerned that this other stuff I mentioned might further reinforce the misogyny in nerd and video game circles?

Nequam
Nequam
3 years ago

Am I the only one worried by these parallels between these kinds of fantasy tropes and alt-right and incel rhetoric?

Well, incels weren’t around when Norman Spinrad wrote The Iron Dream, but…

Weird (and tired of trumplings) Eddie
Weird (and tired of trumplings) Eddie
3 years ago

re: fantasy/misogyny tropism…

additionally, I remember reading some copy about the parallels between fantasy “orc trope” and Western anti-black racism, specifically talking about the LoTR trilogy. Another spoke of the squicky feeling they got from GoT scene where Danerys Targaryen took over leadership of the Unsullied army… watching a white, blond person (literally) buy an army of castrated brown men… and the idea that the only one who COULD lead the Unsullied WAS a white blonde person….

I’m not a GoT fan, having no TV, but I did see that scene on YooToob. I am a LoTR fan, the movies ticked a lot of emotional boxes I’d probably be better off leaving unchecked.

Something I got from Anita Sarkeesian, in the commentary for the “Tropes vs Women” vids she offers that All of our media has problematic content, even the media we love. That doesn’t mean we can’t consume it, it means we must be aware of the problematic elements, and openly call them out, and it means we must watch ourselves so we don’t love it FOR the problematic elements.

Scildfreja Unnyðnes
Scildfreja Unnyðnes
3 years ago

@Scanisaurus! All of that is true. I have two things to beep about on it.

First thing is that a lot of fantasy and mythology is pretty gosh darn racist. It’s heckin’ bad. Given that it’s rooted in Elder Days of Yore where society had greater tolerance for terrible things like that, it’s not really a surprise. It sort of makes me glad for modern editions of D&D, where you can *play* the Orcs and Goblins and stuff, and the tropes are getting turned on their heads more. It’s good.

Second thing, more serious I guess. Fascists and the right have always appropriated fantasy and myth. They have to. They always harken back to a golden age that never existed. The Nazis looked back to Germanic myth. Today’s fascists do the same, with a thick mix of Skyrim and comic book villains added in. Less extreme right wing groups will do this too, looking back to the golden age of the 50s where everyone had their house and their two kids and their picket fence (and the people who didn’t fit in knew to shut up and stay out of sight).

Left wing people aren’t immune to this either – they can harken back to hunter-gatherer societies and the conquered/enslaved/segregated societies that settler cultures displaced, holding myths of the noble savage as ideals that never were – erasing the people from those cultures who actually exist now, today in the process.

So it’s important to remember that it’s not just right wing people that do this, it’s dominant groups that do it. It’s awful, but it’s part of the lubricant that keeps their hate-machine running smoothly.

Teach the fascist to dream that he’s slaying the foes of Asgard and he won’t stop to think about the horror he’s committing.

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