A collage of images taken from the film.
A collage of images taken from the film. 

He Murdered 5 People. But Before Then, He Made a Movie About It.

On Dec. 27, 2021, a minor figure in the ‘manosphere’ went on a targeted killing spree across Denver. VICE News has learned before he was killed, he made a movie outlining his plans. Now, his friends are selling it.

Less than two weeks after her boyfriend killed five people in cold blood, Anne received a package from the grave.

It came from the man she’d spent the last year with, Lyndon McLeod. Inside it were the rights to Sanction—a three-volume book series McLeod wrote under a pseudonym that graphically details a killing spree carried out by a character who shares his name—and a 47-minute movie he shot and edited in his final days. The film, titled “War Horse,” contains footage that appears to tell the story of McLeod planning and carrying out the attack. The package also contained the books and movie on an SD card, and a note telling Anne she should use them to make money.


The postmark shows the package was sent Dec. 27, 2021, the same day McLeod, in a cold and calculated manner, killed five people and injured two others in locations around Denver, including a police officer, who managed to shoot back and kill him. 

“I looked at the UPS man like I saw a ghost, because I saw his name on it and he never shipped anything under his real name,” said Anne, who wants to remain anonymous due to her relationship with a mass murderer.  

Now, after struggling to decide whether to post the film online, those closest to the mass murderer have made it available on his website, charging $10 to rent it and $30 to own it. 

"It's disturbing,” said Al Cardenas, whose sister was killed in the massacre. “It is disturbing to me that someone is trying to continue whatever message he may have had or promote what he did or what his belief system was for profit or for glory. I think it’s sick."

The murders were a chilling ritual of bringing fiction into reality: Two of the characters killed in Sanction shared the same name as two of the victims in McLeod’s real-life spree. One of them was even killed in a way that bore a striking resemblance to what happened on the page.

Thanks to the books, McLeod was a minor figure among the “manosphere”—a loose collective of online misogynists, self-help hucksters, men’s rights activists, incels, and the like. The novels earned McLeod invites to right-wing podcasts and tweets from far-right online personalities. 

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A still taken from War Horse.

The books were a red flag that went ignored, but there were many more. McLeod was known to local and even federal police. VICE News has identified at least three times in the two years leading up to the massacre that police were contacted about McLeod. At one point, a year and a half earlier, death threats McLeod made were so extreme that, according to McLeod and sources, FBI agents visited him at his house. The FBI said it had “no comment” when asked about the visit, saying the investigation is ongoing. 

VICE News spoke with over half a dozen people closely involved with McLeod, including past girlfriends, roommates, co-workers, and fans of his writing. Police had been called several times to his home for domestic violence. Others called the police on him because they thought he was dangerous, warning that his behavior was becoming more extreme and begging them to intervene. 

Many of these contacts said they were not at all surprised, and that if any of the warnings had been heeded, perhaps the killing spree could have been prevented.

"I felt that he needed help,” said Amanda Knight, a roommate of McLeod’s in a Louisiana home in 2020 who told police she was worried he could become violent. “All I wanted to happen was for a wellness officer to see that he needed help and to take him to a hospital. And they didn't fucking do it. They just dismissed us.”


Not all fiction becomes reality

Jeremy Costilow and his partner were killed by McLeod in the fictional realm.

In reality, he barely escaped with his life.

About eight years ago, Costilow was McLeod’s tattoo artist. The two became involved in a business that eventually failed, and McLeod never got over it. In his books he wrote that Costilow had “betrayed” him,  spending thousands of words of prose outlining his contempt for him. 

On the night of the murders, Costilow, his wife, their three-month-old daughter, and a friend were having a quiet evening at Costilow’s apartment, when McLeod, a large, muscular, tattooed man, showed up at the door dressed as a delivery driver. Costilow’s wife answered, but she found it odd that a delivery driver had come to their entrance—strangers always had trouble finding this particular door. Suspicious, she didn’t allow McLeod into the home and told him Costilow wasn’t home, although he was sitting unaware in the next room. 

Her suspicion likely saved them all. 

Ten minutes later, McLeod returned. This time, he began smashing the door with a sledgehammer and fired shots into the home through the door and walls. The family and friend managed to escape through a side door and ran across the street before taking refuge in a nearby tattoo parlor. McLeod eventually got inside the apartment and shot some of their belongings, but by this time the family had escaped. 


Photos seen by VICE News show bullet holes not far from the baby’s crib. He also set the family van on fire, Costilow said. 

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Costilow's home afetr the attack. Photo courtesy Jeremy Costilow.

“In his book, he said he was going to kill the owner of a tattoo shop,” Costilow said, before quoting a passage from memory. The passage describes McLeod breaking into Costilow’s apartment, shooting a woman inside because she was “too loud,” and killing everyone in the place, including Costilow, who dies mid-laugh while tattooing a customer. 

In the real world, by the time McLeod shot up Costilow’s apartment, he had already killed two people: Alicia Cardenas, 44, who was also named in the books, and Alyssa Gunn-Maldonado, 35. In the next hour, he would go on to kill another three people: Michael Swinyard, 67, whose murder was also covered in graphic detail in Sanction; Danny Scofield, 38; and Sarah Steck, 28. Costilow knew three of them personally from the Denver tattoo community. 

“They're all great people, man,” Costilow said of the victims. GoFundMe pages have been set up for all five of the victims.  

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Costilow's home afetr the attack. Photo courtesy Jeremy Costilow.

Costilow said he didn’t find out that McLeod had written in graphic detail about killing him and his friends until after he stormed his home. He knew McLeod had written a book and even liked a post he made about it on social media, but he never knew what was inside the pages.

"If I knew it was him, if somebody had warned me and someone was tearing into my house, I would have shot him in the house,” Costilow said. “I wouldn't have enjoyed that, but I would have killed him.”


A history of domestic violence

Anne and McLeod began dating in January 2021 and he moved in. McLeod had been living with Knight and another fan turned friend and had just been kicked out of the Louisiana home because the roommates said he was becoming “unhinged.” 

“He was becoming demanding, louder, agitated, and furious about his book,” said Knight. “When it used to be laughs and jokes and philosophising, it now became like another personality started to develop, like Lyndon McLeod (the character) started to come out, and you couldn't stop it. He couldn't stop it.”

Anne said McLeod told her he was depressed after being kicked out of his old place (he was living in a small apartment in Denver at that time.) So she encouraged him to turn to art, and the idea for War Horse was born. It was initially conceived as a podcast about the importance of horses in the formation of mankind, and was to be his first major project following the novels, Anne said. He wanted a video to go along with the podcast, so the couple filmed shots occasionally throughout the year as they traveled around. 

But Anne said everything changed on Nov. 18, 2021, the day she flew to Salt Lake City to be by McLeod’s side as he underwent a medical procedure, the details of which she refused to disclose. In Salt Lake City, Anne said they got into a fight over the procedure and McLeod hit her. 

According to Anne, this was the first time he was abusive toward her in their nearly yearlong relationship. 


“He definitely was different [in Salt Lake City], but I don't know the reason behind that. I don't know if something happened in Denver,” Anne said, referencing a trip he’d made to shoot something for his movie. "I don't know if it was because of our fight. I don't know if it's because of what we were there to do.” 

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A still taken from an interview McLeod did several years before the killing. Photo submitted.

Salt Lake City was the last time she saw him. In Salt Lake, the two decided to take some time apart. Anne, the main breadwinner in the relationship, headed back to their home while he took her van and his motorcycle back to Denver to finish shooting the film. He also borrowed $20,000 from her, telling her it was a prop for the film. While they initially stayed in touch and talked about him coming home, he eventually stopped responding to her texts. 

“This part is hard for me because I go over and over it in my head, asking, ‘Was there something I missed?’” she said. “At what point was he up to something?” 

She was suspicious about McLeod’s silence but wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. It wasn’t until she noticed that McLeod had made a crypto payment of about $3,700 from their account to an account tied to a Denver number that she realized he was actively stealing from her. (VICE News called the number Anne provided but did not get any response.)

She said she decided to go to her local police, and reported the stolen van, and eventually, the domestic violence. She claimed officers gave her the runaround telling her they couldn’t report the stolen van because it had been taken in a different state, so she had to report the crime to police in Pleasant Grove, Utah. She said she did but the officer she spoke to didn't know whether to file it as a breach of trust or theft, and they ignored her allegations of domestic violence. However, Pleasant Grove police said the only police report they had on record from her was on Dec. 27 after the shooting.


Anne disputed the police account and said she's in the process of getting her police report.

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A clip from War Horse in which McLeod loads the van with weapons.

The ​​Denver Police Department told VICE News they had “no record of contact regarding the alleged auto theft or domestic assault that you described prior to the homicides/shootings in Denver. Additionally, DPD does not have jurisdiction to investigate alleged crimes that occur in other cities/states.” The FBI said they had “no comment as there is an ongoing investigation” regarding whether they were flagged about any of this. 

The next time she heard about McLeod was a phone call from a Denver detective on Dec. 27. When he asked if she knew a Jeremy Costilow, she knew something terrible had happened. 

“I started asking what happened, is (Lyndon) OK? He's like, ‘I don't know,’” she said. “I asked, ‘Did (Lyndon) hurt people?’”

“Yeah, he did,” the detective said.  

Do you have information about this case or similar ones? We’d love to hear from you. You can contact Mack Lamoureux securely on Wire at @mlamoureux, or by email at mack.lamoureux@vice.com.

McLeod had a history of domestic violence. Local media reported that from 2012 to 2016, authorities received at least 11 calls about a home McLeod lived in—four of them for domestic violence. 


In the mid-2010s McLeod started a three-year relationship with a co-worker. The woman, who spoke to VICE News on the condition of anonymity, said he was emotionally and physically abusive during this time and extremely volatile. 

"Super volatile, angry, throwing stuff, and very emotionally abusive,” she said of how he was back then.

Costilow said McLeod was “horrific” to women, and it was clear that he abused the people he dated.

“He was a dick to women, and he just didn't really like women at all. He didn't like women having any kind of say,” said Costilow. “He just did not think a woman should really even speak most of the time; he was just such an asshole.”

The manosphere works as a well-known pipeline to extremist groups, and hatred of women is an entry point for many extremists.

“He actually hated, openly hated women… I never experienced a man who openly showed that he held no respect whatsoever for women,” said Andre Thiele, a German onetime fan of McLeod who interacted with him online and who eventually was turned off by him in late 2020 because of his increasingly extremist views.  “And yet he was surrounded by women. He had women supporting him in every horrible situation that he created. He couldn't have made it one single month in his life without a whole bunch of women constantly supporting him with everything he needed.”


A ‘box from the grave’ 

Set to a distorted narrative about “Wild” Bill Anderson, a notorious Confederate militia leader; Arjuna, central character in the Hindi epic Mahabharata; and Ghengis Kahn, the notorious warlord—three warriors who have a deep connection to horses—War Horse splices together images of mythological symbols, McLeod’s art, and his own violent intentions. The 47-minute film, which VICE News has viewed, features countless quick cuts and no real narrative structure. 

The film shows McLeod in front of Costilow’s tattoo shop, loading weapons into the van he used for the real-life massacre, and running with a rifle toward the camera while wearing a black hockey mask (something the fictional version of McLeod in Sanction wears during his rampage). 

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McLeod looking at Costilow's tattoo shop in a clip from War Horse.

At one point, McLeod shows him in front of a business owned by a man who shared the same name as a character killed in the novels. While McLeod did not go to the workplace or the man’s home during his rampage, and it’s not clear if he intended to, Anne said the police told her that McLeod had enough ammunition to carry out far more killings than he actually did. 

Much of the film is close-up shots of his books’ artwork—and one biblical quote is featured repeatedly: “I have pursued mine enemies and destroyed them.” 

Matt Kriner, a senior research scholar at the Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, said the film is a departure from videos typically made in connection to mass murderers. Routinely the videos are made of the killings as they’re happening, not prior, and typically don’t have this level of production value. 


“I think this video and its monetization really indicates an intention to exploit the attacks in a premeditated manner,” said Kriner. “Whether it was McLeod himself or someone else, it's very clear that the video's production was meant to be an exploitation of the violent conduct that he engaged in. 

“Whereas individuals like (Christchurch shooter) Brenton Tarrant intended to use the video to promote it after the fact and spread around. This was meant to be a high production value that was meant to be promoted in a way that was different from what we've seen in the past.”

It also features medical photos from McLeod, who suffered a neck injury from a motorcycle crash in his mid-20s. (Multiple people told VICE News he had an opioid dependency because of it.)

Anne said the package McLeod sent her on the morning of the killings arrived on Jan. 3. In it was an SD card and a note that said: "This is an SD card, and it has the movies and books on it. You can use them to make money off your Sanction accounts." Anne believes he was telling her to use the film to recuperate the money he stole—out of the $20,000 taken, she only got $11,000 back.

"He sends it to me after he stole all this stuff from me and he says, 'Here, make money with this,'" she said. "As if I wouldn't have any kind of moral problem with it… It's like he didn't even think I would be hurt over this, and then he sends me this box from the grave."


Anne says she’s not the only person who has access to the film. She said in one of his notebooks he wrote that he’d sent the movie to a close friend who is also an online personality in the manosphere. 

Before the video was published, it was shared among a small group of McLeod's close followers. One follower posted it to a private YouTube link and it was shared among the cohort. Another follower uploaded the trailer to YouTube and cryptically asked viewers “what hidden clues” the film might contain. 

The film was put online after VICE News initially interviewed Anne. When reached for a response afterwards she said she discussed it with the people who were aware of the film and decided to post it because she “needed to pay my bills.”

“I really don't have much of a choice.”

Anne repeatedly said she didn't agree with McLeod's messages about violence.

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The website where War Horse is being sold.

When VICE News first spoke to Anne, she said she didn’t know if she should publish it and said she didn’t want to, out of respect for the victims. 

"I don't know what to think about this," Anne said in her earlier interviews. "Here I am with this book, and I don't know what to do with it. For the books, I want them out there eventually, but I just think everyone just needs a minute."  

"I don't even know how I feel about anything right now,” she said. “And I'm out a whole bunch of money. Everyone is saying you should put it out there so you can recoup your money, but let’s not act like there is not a moral problem with publishing that." 


It’s unknown how or if the money will be going to the victims and their families. Al Cardenas said that as far as he’s aware, the victims’ families have not received any funds, and he’s not sure they would accept any if they were offered. 

Nobody was surprised

It’s not like McLeod was unknown to the authorities. 

Amanda Knight was one of the roommates who kicked McLeod out in late 2020 (they lived together from April to December that year). She and the other roommate were fans of his writing, and she said their time living together was largely harmonious. But by the end, she was so worried that she contacted police to warn them. 

Knight reached out to Denver police and her local county in Louisiana sometime in late 2020. Among other things, McLeod told her he wanted to attack buildings with flamethrowers. Knight said she believed he wanted to start a war with his final actions and inspire people to take down the system. 

She said that his dwindling finances may have played a part in his increasingly dangerous tone. Multiple friends and former co-workers VICE News spoke with mentioned McLeod’s poor finances in recent years and said he might have been racking up wild credit card debt.

“That's when I started to see some things change,” she said. “I truly believe that I think that he was running out of money… and I think that is what led him to do it.”

She recalled the horror of reading about the mass shooting in Denver a year later. 


"I read it and I just immediately screamed and started crying, and I go, 'He fucking did it. He fucking did it.’ I tried to tell everybody. I can't believe this is happening and I just sat there and cried," Knight said. 

The other roommate who lived with Knight and McLeod in Louisiana did not want to be named, but they told VICE News, “I remember thinking when I heard the news, ‘Is it possible to be completely surprised and completely not surprised at the same time?’” 

Thiele, the German fan of McLeod who eventually was turned off by his extremist rhetoric in late 2020, told VICE News he contacted Denver police, the FBI, and German authorities about McLeod. 

“It may very well be that the accused is a typical case of a literary genius and a petty thug who runs his mouth and talks too much. I would from my personal experiences say that this might be a 90 percent chance,” Thiele wrote in the eight-page report sent to Denver police in December 2020 and seen by VICE News. “But there is a 10 percent chance, that he has—at least in his own mind—created the perfect storm of right-wing terrorism. I cannot in good conscience say that he will act with certainty. But I can say that IF he should act, the result would be devastating.

“Though the book is not political per se, it could be read as an extremist right-wing manifesto and a terrorist prophecy.” 

Thiele said that he got one email from Denver police, from a detective thanking him for the tip and saying they would be in touch. He never heard back. 


Denver police told VICE News they investigated the tips. “Based on our initial review, there was not sufficient evidence to file criminal charges or a legal basis for monitoring McLeod at the time,” a spokesperson said, adding they’re reviewing their “January 2021 investigation as part of [their] overall investigation into the homicide/shooting incidents in Denver.”

“It is tragic that they didn't act,” Thiele said. 

In April 2020, McLeod had a visit from the FBI after he threatened to kill a man and his family on Twitter because the man had insulted the writing of one of McLeod’s friends. Recently the Denver Post reported that McLeod threatened his employees with a gun at a medical marijuana grow-op 10 years ago and pleaded guilty to menacing. 

Authorities' reaction to the file has been under fire to the point where state lawmakers requested a formal review by the Department of Justice. 

​​“We have serious concerns regarding the sharing of information and the response of law enforcement officials and whether it was adequate, timely and thorough,” reads a letter from U.S. Reps. Jason Crow, Diana DeGette, Joe Neguse, and Ed Perlmutter to the DOJ’s inspector general. “It is critical we understand who knew what information and when, and how this information was shared and acted upon to identify and close any gaps in the information-sharing process among law enforcement.”


Creating Grudges 

Several people who spoke to VICE News described McLeod as an intelligent and well-read man who was intense and manipulative. 

According to acquaintances, as well as his own partially autobiographical writings, McLeod grew up as an Army brat and spent some time overseas as a kid before attending a high school in Ohio. In 1999, when he was in his mid-20s, he found his way to Zendik Farm, a New Age environmental commune described by some as a cult led by Wulf and Arol Zendik. “Stop Bitching, Start a Revolution'' was its slogan. McLeod told a friend he joined because of a girl he was chasing, and left after a year. 

In the mid-2000s he made his way to Denver and began work cultivating cannabis. During this time, McLeod met many of the people he would later kill or try to kill. 

His then-girlfriend told VICE News McLeod worked with Swinyard, the oldest victim, in weed—although the legality of that operation is dubious: A Denver warehouse address connected to Swinyard in public court documents was an illegal grow operation. According to news reports, people who purchased a home from McLeod had their place raided after the sale by federal agents looking for a grow-op. 


In 2008, McLeod started emailing with Helen Zuman, a former member of the Zendik Farm. It was a correspondence that lasted years. Zuman shared some of the emails with VICE News. In one set from 2018, McLeod describes himself as a “shiva-the-destroyer archetype” who likes to “watch shit burn.” He waxes poetic on the possibility of societal collapse and describes himself as “a recovering leftist” taking interest in race relations and genetics.

“This is what I am going for. I’m describing a future wherein the most aggressive and grudge holding males are engaged in full on war with modernity,“ he wrote to Zuman about his book.

By all accounts, McLeod made good money in cannabis and wasn’t scared of showing it off. McLeod also liked tattoos and spent time with a set of tattoo artists who were out of work, so he offered to use part of his weed money to help fund a tattoo parlour. Costilow, though never having a financial stake in the business nor being an employee, helped McLeod and his friends start up All Heart Tattoo in downtown Denver in the early 2010s. Danny Scofield, another of McLeod’s victims, was one of the artists at All Heart Tattoo. 

The shop didn’t last long. McLeod berated his workers and was terrible at managing finances. Costilow recalled a time when McLeod demanded that one of the artists tattoo a friend of his for free. When the artist asked if they could get paid, McLeod exploded and began throwing hundred-dollar bills in their face, yelling, “Is that enough money, motherfucker?” 

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A portrait of Alicia Cardenas. Submitted by Aloria Weaver

Costilow said, “all my buddies got sick of his shit and they all quit” and eventually there was just no one who would work with McLeod. When McLeod told Costilow how he wanted to carry on, Costilow told him he wanted “out of the friendship and the business.” They met on a street corner to shake hands and say farewell, and Costilow thought they parted on OK terms.  

“He said, ‘OK’, shook my hand, that's about it. We didn't really have any mean words over splitting the business and nothing. But he saw it as some kind of betrayal." 

Eventually, McLeod’s girlfriend at the time showed up at Costilow’s door with a dire warning that McLeod was out to kill him. Costilow said he knows why Mcleod held a grudge against him but doesn’t understand why he went after the others. In Sanction, McLeod wrote that Costilow and Swinyard were his main targets.

“With Michael dead—and now Jeremy—he could focus on the lower-score people that remained,” the book reads. “Michael and Jeremy were personal, the rest were more to pay the universe back for its banquet.”

Alicia Cardenas, another of McLeod’s victims, took over the shop after All Heart went under, and eventually started Sol Tribe nearby—the studio where McLeod began his murder spree. Cardenas’ brother told VICE News that the two knew each other personally in the past but he did not know the specifics of the relationship.  


McLeod’s then-girlfriend told VICE News that McLeod had trouble keeping relationships because his feelings were easily hurt and he held grudges for longer than an average person. She said McLeod’s anger toward Costilow was so intense she felt compelled to warn him. 

"He just had this weird way of recordkeeping in his head... He remembered every time everyone had ever done him wrong in his whole life,” she told VICE News. “His whole thing was, this is because this is the way Scottish people are. He claimed that was a genetic trait." 

Following the collapse of his tattoo shop and his girlfriend leaving him in 2015, McLeod packed up and left Denver for a property high on a mountain outside Denver he had bought years earlier. Living in a tent and using his cannabis money, he built a home from shipping containers. It was here he wrote the Sanction series. He self-published the book in 2018 and sold it through outlets like Amazon with the tagline “The book that philosophizes with a jackhammer.” Amazon pulled the books after the killings, but they can still be found easily. In a public chat room, McLeod had hidden a link to a Discord server dedicated to the work; followers are sharing PDFs for all three volumes.

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McLeod in a since deleted podcast he did with popular right-wing influencer Zuby.

It was during this period when McLeod earned his brief time in the sun—being invited on podcasts, having a small Twitter following (which he would use to incessantly reply to larger accounts), and at times having guests on the mountain who would pick his brain about his philosophy and his novels. All that abruptly ended after two years after he threatened someone in a Twitter fight, leading to the alleged visit from the FBI—McLeod posted


photos of the FBI visit. Friends said he was racking up debt and had to leave. He then went to live with Knight and the other roommate in Louisiana.

The FBI offered “no comment” about their encounter with McLeod. 

Thiele, who was a part of a closed Telegram group with McLeod set up to discuss Sanction, said it was around this time that McLeod became increasingly extreme. A collection of posts Thiele shared with VICE News shows a thirst for violence and a deep hatred of modernity. 

While some people were quick to describe him as a neo-Nazi or a white supremacist, McLeod’s ideological affiliation seems to be more obscure. 

Kriner alongside scholars H. E. Upchurch, and W. Aaron examined McLeod’s work and men’s groups he was affiliated with, such as the occult fascist group Wolves of Vinland. Kriner, the managing director of the Accelerationist Research Consortium (ARC,) said McLeod’s views are reflective of “militant traditionalism… which believes that modern society is doomed to collapse.”

(Disclosure: VICE News Reporter Mack Lamoureux is a journalism fellow at ARC.) 

McLeod seemingly didn’t shy away from the extreme-right. James Porrazzo, a former leader of a violent neo-Nazi group who is still active, endorsed McLeod’s murders on his private Instagram page, calling the victims “mundanes,” and claimed the two spent a time together discussing cults “for hours.” On the page, he refused to denounce McLeod and described him as “a friend.” 

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A screenshot from the instagram post made by a member of an extreme-right group about McLeod.

At the risk of simplifying it too greatly, this strand of militant traditionalism is based around the need to reject modern values and return to a traditional society, typically based in religion. Importantly, especially to McLeod, violence is used as a natural mechanism to purge all ills from society. It’s a pervasive ideology that can easily be wrapped into other movements, such as the modern neo-Nazi movement and extremist Islamic jihadist sects.

“These views are pervasive throughout the manosphere… who believe that in response to modernity’s degeneracy, men must form gangs and prepare for a post-collapse society that upholds violence as a natural human state,” Kriner said.

In this ideology, personal violence, like revenge killings, can be seen as ideological actions—or even acts of god—toward societal purification —“culling” individuals who’ve been tested and deemed undeserving of life. 

It has some experts worried due to its ties to the rise of accelerationist terror—actions designed to hasten the fall of Western society—that have become more frequent in recent years. As Kriner and his co-author write in their article about McLeod, this “anti-modernism, belief in imminent widespread social conflict, and the need to prepare for gang/tribe-based survival” fit into an accelerationist view.

“We need a Great Return to instincts for Total Loyalty, Honor, Love, and Hate. Total. Uncompromising emotion… I think killing my enemies (not you ok? Relax) gives them the chance to repent for their sins. It’s a gift,” McLeod wrote in a 2018 email to Zuman.

McLeod and his followers frequently refer to Sanction’s 2.5 million-word trilogy as a “mind virus,” intending to leave the reader wanting to follow their instinct toward violence.

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McLeod on his motorcycle from War Horse.

Kriner called the murders and War Horse “an indication of where things could progress if groups (that have a philosophy similar to McLeod’s) choose to be more active,” adding, “It really highlights the depth of the of the threat that exists. That's not actively presenting itself at this very moment.” 

Despite the murders, and in part grown from them, there is a small group of devout followers and friends intent on carrying on with McLeod’s legacy. Some simply believe the books should be available to the public because there is no sense in attempting to censor something that’s already been widely distributed. Other followers seem to have more insidious intentions, like the man who shared War Horse on YouTube. 

The man, also an author, has essentially copied McLeod’s personal brand of a well-read violent outdoorsman, even including his genome and elevation above sea level in his biography, like McLeod did. The man, who was described by someone familiar with him as “pure violence,” has been emailing his followers about “violent lessons” featuring quotes from Sanction, and has posted his support of McLeod since the murders. In an Instagram story called “Mayhem is Coming,” he uses pictures of bullets and knives and features the sentence that frequently appears in War Horse

“I have pursued mine enemies and killed them.” 

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Screenshots from a follower of McLeod who made copy-cat art.

A book signed with blood

The violence on that cold December day was calculated and quick. McLeod began by going to Sol Tribe in downtown Denver. Here he shot and killed the owner Cardenas and Alyssa Gunn-Maldonado, and wounded Maldonado’s husband, Jimmy. He then went to the home of Costilow and tried to force his way in.

McLeod proceeded to Swinyard’s condo building, where he shot up the lobby, forced his way into Swinyard’s unit, and shot and killed the 67-year-old. He then drove for about 10 minutes to the Lucky 13 tattoo shop in a strip mall, where he shot and killed Danny Scofield. Surveillance video shows he was in and out of the shop in less than 10 seconds. Both before and after he went to Lucky 13, Denver Police officers encountered McLeod and exchanged gunfire with him. In both instances McLeod escaped and officers weren’t injured. 

He abandoned his van at a different shopping center and began walking around. He entered a family restaurant, and video shows him demanding a drink, pointing his weapon at people, but leaving without hurting anyone. Finally, he went to a hotel, where he shot Sarah Steck, the front desk clerk, multiple times. Outside the hotel, he encountered Officer Ashley Ferris, who was responding to the calls, and the two exchanged gunfire. Ferris was wounded and McLeod was killed. 

The entire horror lasted less than an hour. 

Many of the friends and fans who spoke to VICE News said they were still trying to navigate their feelings about his final hours, what they knew of him, how they saw it coming, and whether they did enough.  

"The very fact of writing it down sealed his own fate. Maybe he thought it would be cathartic,” said McLeod and Knight’s former roommate. “I think in the end, once he wrote it down, he had to live it out."

Thiele says perhaps the worst part is that he fears the murders and the books may inspire copycats. He worries that McLeod’s final actions have set Sanction to be bigger than it ever would have been if McLeod had lived out his life quietly on that mountain. 

“This killing spree is the fourth volume of Sanction. He has signed his book with blood.“

Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.