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Might is Right: Inside the Gilroy shooter’s borrowed manifesto

By David Futrelle

Like the Christchurch shooter, like Elliot Rodger, like countless other mass killers, the shooter who took three young lives at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California yesterday seems to have left behind a manifesto.

But it’s not his manifesto; it’s borrowed from a pseudonymous 19th century paean to “survival of the fittest.” Before launching his assault at the food festival, alleged shooter Santino William Legan posted a message on his Instagram account urging everyone to “Read ‘Might Is Right’ by Ragnar Redbeard.”

The book in question, first published in 1890, is an over-the-top, sometimes comically so, explication of the simple, and simplistic, idea encapsulated in its title; it’s been in and out of print for more than a century and is now readily available on the internet for free. The prose is ponderous and purple — “Redbeard” specializes in the sort of bombastic rhetoric that has an irresistible allure for many on the far right — but the ideas are easy enough to understand. It’s basically Nietzsche for Dummies.

The victor gets the gold and the land every time. He, also, gets the fairest maidens, the glory tributes. And — why should it be otherwise? Why should the delights of life go to failures and cowards? Why should the spoils of battle belong to the unwarlike?That would be insanity, utterly unnatural and immoral.

Imagine that stretched out over, say, 180 pages, with heaping helpings of racism and antisemitism on the side, and you’ve got Might is Right. Alongside its glorification of the powerful, the book is filled with snide asides about the “simian disposition” of “the Negro” and regular rants about the “usurious Jew.” (Redbeard is also pretty virulently anti-Christian, but mainly because Jesus was a Jew who liked to talk about the meek inheriting the earth.)

Naturally, the book has become a favorite of many in the manosphere and (of course) on the alt-right. It’s gotten shoutouts everywhere from the MGTOW subreddit (where one commenter hailed it as “the most important book out there”) to Incels.co (where it was described as “the most blackpilled and inflamatory book ever”); you can find it being recommended both by the old-school racists of the Vanguard News Network and by the relatively newfangled reactionaries of the Red Pill and DarkEnlightenment subreddits, not to mention 4chan’s /pol/. Before his recent (alleged) conversion to Orthodox Christianity, our old friend fiend Roosh V wrote a largely appreciative “review” of it.

It’s not clear where Legan ran across the book; it could have been almost anywhere. A better question might be: what exactly is it about this 129-year-old book that would appeal to a 19-year-old like Legan? And the answer to that, I think, is relatively straightforward: if you strip away the purple prose and the sometimes archaic references, what Redbeard preaches isn’t that terribly different from the contemporary ideologies of the manosphere and the alt-right.

Nowhere is that clearer — to me at least — than in the final chapter, in which Redbeard takes on the so-called “woman question” and delivers answers that would not seem out of place in Reddit’s the Red Pill.

As he sees it, women are naturally attracted to the most macho of men, those who can both take and deliver a punch, quite literally, as

fighting is the method whereby the most fitted to propagate conclusively prove the fact. …

Women instinctively admire soldiers, athletes, kings, nobles, and fighting-men generally, above all other kinds of suitors — and rightly so.

Nothing so lowers a lover in a virile maiden’s estimation, than for him to be ‘whipped’ in a personal encounter with a rival. …

Young women have an instinctive detestation for the ‘good young man that died’ kind of adorer, and they positively abhor the pale coward … Strength, energy-of-character, ferocity, and courage, she admires in her possible husband, above all other qualities combined. Even to be carried-off by force, is not repugnant to her feelings, if the ‘bold bad man’ is in other respects acceptable.

She pines to be ‘wooed and won,’ … she likes to feel that she has been mastered, conquered, taken possession of—that the man who has stormed her heart is in all respects, a man among men.

Nature, in other words, is an unending battle of Alpha Chads vs obsequious Beta soyboys — and Chad always wins, even if (perhaps especially if) he skips past romance and resorts to brute force to win his fair lady.

Change a few words in Redbeard’s text and you basically have a post on the Red Pill subreddit. Everything new in Red Pill ideology is actually quite old. Indeed, Redbeard even refers to sexual “market value,” an idea that many modern pickup artists think they came up with.

It’s impossible to know — at least given the scant information we now have — what in particular about Rebeard’s book most appealed to Legan, or how exactly the book may have played a role in inspiring his killings.

If he was trying to become the Redbeardian “man among men” that women instinctively hunger for (allegedly), I’m not sure than gunning down a six-year-old is going to earn him the posthumous adoration he may have wanted. It seems more likely he was hoping to garner the admiration of incels and others who are impressed by mass murderers. He may have been less interested in Redbeard’s specific ideas than in the amoral almost-nihilism that permeates the book.

We don’t know. We may never know. An alienated young man read read a really shitty book he (almost certainly) found on the internet and liked it so much he decided to make it the “message” behind his mass shooting. Now three innocents are dead, and so is the shooter himself, gunned down by police shortly after starting his rampage, and the biggest clue we have right now as to his motives is a terrible book from more than a century ago. Ideas have consequences; very bad ideas have very bad consequences.

Send tips to dfutrelle at gmail dot com.

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Crip Dyke
Crip Dyke
2 years ago

You can’t create a law that someone of bad intent won’t break.

???

No dumping biological waste on the surfaces of exoplanets without a permit.

Not that your actual point isn’t well taken, but this was one of the laws I drafted for a statutory interpretation and drafting class. I submit that even if my prof had submitted it to the provincial legislature and gotten it passed that we wouldn’t have any violators during the lifetime of British Columbia as a political jurisdiction.

Violet the Vile, Moonbat Screech Junky
Violet the Vile, Moonbat Screech Junky
2 years ago

@Mabret

Hahaha!

Damn I wish this site had a like button. I would like that so hard

Big Titty Demon
Big Titty Demon
2 years ago

@Mabret

That’s the hardest I’ve laughed on WHTM. Genius. <3

Citerior Motive
Citerior Motive
2 years ago

I would guess he assumed that ‘virile’ simply meant ‘youthful’, as that’s a sense in which it is frequently applied to men.

Hambeast
Hambeast
2 years ago

Actually, I rather like the idea of a virile maiden.

Cat Mara
Cat Mara
2 years ago

@Mabret: Ƿhy ‌ſtop at ðe lonȝ “‌ſ”, for‌ſooþ? It ƿere clear to all, in mine oƿn opinion, that nauȝht but ðe ba‌ſe‌ſt villainie hað attended ðe ‌ſpeakers of ðe Enȝlisc tunȝ ‌ſince ðis bu‌ſine‌ſs ƿiþ “th” for good “þorn” & “eð”, “double you” for “ƿynn” & “g” for “yoȝh”! Haue ðe burȝhers of Iceland, ƿho yet vse ðe‌ſe letters, ‌ſuffered ‌ſuch calamities? I think not!

Cat Mara
Cat Mara
2 years ago

@Citerior Motive: A bit like the way people think “nubile” means “hot” when all it really meant in Latin was “of marriagable age”…

Mabret the Virile Maiden
Mabret the Virile Maiden
2 years ago

@Cat Mara:

I applaude thee and curtſey to thee for thyne own greatere commitmente to the pureſt Forme of the Englyshe Tongue; howbeit I grieue ſorelie, that I can not purſue it ſo fullie, for ſith. 50. yeeres hath my Printere diſcarded his ſortes Wynne and Ethe, and ſith. 200. yeeres his Ioghes. By God his Grace, my Printer may haue Thornes hoarded awaie in ſome cloſette or Tronke. I ſhall ſpeake withe hym on the matter.

Cat Mara
Cat Mara
2 years ago

@Mabret: I fully intend to switch to runes for maximum linguistic purity, once I figure out how to load a standing stone into my laser printer…

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

once I figure out how to load a standing stone into my laser printer…

Since Old English orthography was apparently quite variable, you could try scanning the runic inscription from several different Angles?

Pedantic Speaker
Pedantic Speaker
2 years ago

“It’s basically Nietzsche for Dummies.”
“Imagine that stretched out over, say, 180 pages, with heaping helpings of racism and antisemitism on the side, and you’ve got Might is Right. Alongside its glorification of the powerful, the book is filled with snide asides about the “simian disposition” of “the Negro” and regular rants about the “usurious Jew.” (Redbeard is also pretty virulently anti-Christian, but mainly because Jesus was a Jew who liked to talk about the meek inheriting the earth.)”
Please do not slander a dead man.
Nietzsche actually hated anti-semitism and ethnonationalism with a passion. It was his Nazi-supporting sister who was the anti-semite and “Aryan”-supremacist.
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/germany/7018535/Criminal-manipulation-of-Nietzsche-by-sister-to-make-him-look-anti-Semitic.html

Personally, I am also at least 80% sure that Nietzsche was not obsessed with martial prowess like Redbeard was, and was more in favour of artistry.

Cat Mara
Cat Mara
2 years ago

@Lumipuna: Verily, I see what thou didst there ?.

I think it depends on which era one is talking about. Middle English was definitely a mess– the language was going through what is probably its most rapid change at that point, of which the Great Vowel Shift, whose effects are still seen in today’s spelling, was only a small part. Couple this with the language’s loss of prestige post-Conquest and dueling conventions depending on whether scribes were native- or Norman-taught (leading to things like though/ through/ enough), and the result was, as you say, variable (to say the least!). But Old English was a different matter: there were quite well-defined conventions then for writing the language and these represented the sounds of the language with a fidelity that hasn’t been seen in English since. The regional variations in spelling in the Old English corpus that we see most likely reflected actual local differences in pronunciation. I believe the consensus among linguists is that “Old English” was much more of a continuum of overlapping and mostly-but-not-quite-entirely mutually intelligible dialects than Modern English, to the point where, say, a Northumbrian would have had quite some difficulty understanding a Kentish speaker (and vice versa), much more so than, say, a US English and a UK English speaker today.

That’s enough language-nerding for one night (niȝt?) ?

Alan Robertshaw
2 years ago

@ cat mara

That’s enough language-nerding for one night (niȝt?) ?

Never! It ain’t over until someone recounts Caxton’s ‘egges’ vs ‘eyren’ story.

Feline
Feline
2 years ago

Never! It ain’t over until someone recounts Caxton’s ‘egges’ vs ‘eyren’ story.

Weird how I got that reference as I was reading it (being swedish, for those unaware). Just might be that I learned it here, though, since this is one of my avenues for learning oddities.

Yutolia the Laissez-Fairy Pronoun Boner
Yutolia the Laissez-Fairy Pronoun Boner
2 years ago

There is no such thing as enough language nerding!!

Braniac113
Braniac113
2 years ago

“Theeereeee once was a hero named Ragnar the Red….” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CU0M78oB0dA

Sorry, it’s the one thing that kept running through my mind every time I saw his name. Either someone at Bethesda went Deep Reference or it’s one of the funniest coincidences I’ve seen this week.

Especially as Ragnar’s braggadocio ends when his “ugly red head rolled around on the floor”.

Cat Mara
Cat Mara
2 years ago

Not language nerding, but historical/ genealogical nerding for a change: TIL that one of my distant relatives/ ancestors was apparently the first person in Ireland to be tortured on a rack! I’m sure he was thrilled to be afforded such an opportunity ?

Greebos left eye
Greebos left eye
2 years ago

Come for the misogyny, stay for the language nerdery. I knew there was a reason I kept coming back to this site despite the way it messes with my brain weasels.

Apropos of nothing: Northumbrians and Kentishmen still struggle to understand each other.

My internal language geek is jumping up and down shouting “Someone tell Caxton’s egges and eyren story”. While squealing loudly.

Also, Lumipuna: I groaned at that joke and yet it’s still making me giggle.

On the topic of the OP. I got nothing, except, it’s got to be a satire piece, surely no one can take that nonsense seriously, not even in 1896 can they?

Every mass shooting hurts, those poor people!

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