Men's rights activism bears all the hallmarks of a typical conspiracy theory. The projection of subliminally-perceived personal failings onto an othered social group, the conviction that this group has infiltrated the upper echelons of society to promote its own agenda, the belief that members of the movement have "taken the red pill" and perceived a reality that normal members of society cannot see.
And as with many cultish conspiracy theories, the people who promulgate the MRA gospel can profit massively from the devotion of their followers. Virulent misogynist he may be, pickup artist Daryush "Roosh V" Valizadeh—who once said rape should be legal "if done on private property"—is primarily in it for the money.
On Monday, news broke that Roosh was organizing a global series of meetups for his "fellow tribesmen." Newspapers, politicians, and activists in over 40 countries discovered that hordes of MRAs would be congregating at 165 locations worldwide for an "International Meetup Day." Press coverage was wall-to-wall and apoplectic, as Roosh intended all along—because his aim is not to unite young men against the oppressive forces of female empowerment, but to profit from the desire of young white men to feel oppressed.
In 2015, Roosh hit the headlines in Canada, following a campaign he swiftly dubbed the "Battle of Montreal." It was a grandiose name for an unremarkable event. Canadian feminists angered by Roosh's neo-masculinist ideology protested against a couple of speaking appearances in Vancouver and Montreal. Roosh urged his supporters to "counterattack" and threaten his feminist nemeses online. In a shocking denouement, a protester threw a beer over Roosh. That was more or less it.
But Google analytics show how searches for Roosh and his website spiked in the weeks of the "Battle," before slumping back to their usual level. Learning from the events of last summer, Roosh has now engineered a headline-grabbing controversy on a much larger scale.
When contacted for comment, Roosh said: "You're an idiot. I'm not making any money off this." But if this weekend's meetups were truly intended to be clandestine, Roosh would not have posted their locations and passwords on a public webpage. Rather, he constructed a honey trap for the media, with his fervent supporters as bait. Then he sat back and watched the coverage pour in, sweeping visitors towards his online store. As this week's story exploded, he shared metrics flaunting the explosion in views to his website, comparing his search-engine ranking to arch-controversialist Milo Yiannopoulos while bragging about his own "infamy."
In its rejection of patriarchal notions of masculinity, feminist theory offers solutions to issues genuinely affecting men, such as high rates of suicide and the stigmatization of mental health issues. But it is "infamy," not the suffering of men, which is Roosh's primary concern.
As such, Roosh repeatedly presents feminism as a "war" against men. "[Men's existence] is mere purgatory until a newly devised outrage sends them to hell," he writes. "Those who don't pick up arms... will suffer most." His pseudo-militaristic rhetoric is calculated to appeal to angry young men, desperate to feel a sense of inclusion and importance.
Pickup artists generate profit along broadly similar lines to the Western military-industrial complex. First, take a disenfranchised, embittered man, frustrated by the lack of opportunities for financial and sexual advancement in civilian/beta society. Second, convince him that he can give his life meaning by uniting with other men to assert his dominance over inferior bodies. (Degenerate brown bodies in one instance; biologically inferior female bodies in the other). Tell him that this war is just, and his part in it significant.
Finally, sell him an AK-47 or a self-published e-book called Day Bang: How to Casually Pick Up Girls During the Day, and reap the spoils of war.
Roosh's profits directly flow from the PayPal accounts of his male acolytes. But the phantom oppression he engenders in the minds of his supporters manifests as actual oppression enacted on the bodies of women worldwide.
Women die at the hands of foot soldiers in the MRA war against women. Frustrated to the point of rage by a nine-year dry spell, George Sodini sought the advice of pickup artists like Roosh. He went to their conferences, bought their books, and posted on their forums.
But his investment failed to generate any sexual return. Journal entries detail his rage at the "30 million... desirable single women" who he calculates "rejected" him. So he shot three "desirable" women to death, and then killed himself.
PUAs seized upon his suicide as proof that "celibacy is walking death," weaponizing his "failure" to hawk their products. "Don't Be George Sodini—Seriously—Get some game and get real," wrote one MRA huckster, linking to his own online store.
Sodini is an extreme case, but he embodies the lies peddled by Roosh and his ilk. In reality, there are a couple of reasons why men aren't getting laid: Either they fall outside of patriarchally-imposed norms of attractiveness, or they're sexist pricks.
But MRAs offer an enticing third option, far easier than working to deconstruct external patriarchal values and internalized patriarchal behaviors. The "red pill" offers up a tangible, external enemy, and the subsequent opportunity to wallow in self-pity about the unfairness of a supposedly matriarchal society that won't let you get your end away.
Roosh preys on this deluded craving for suffering to engender attitudes that leave women beaten, belittled, and marginalized, and sexually frustrated men more furious than ever at women—and thus more likely to buy Roosh's books. Those who buy into neo-masculinist ideology are not lions led by donkeys, but "betas" led by "alphas."
Both the "Battle of Montreal" and the forthcoming meetups are framed as acts of pseudo-military resistance. Articles on Roosh's website about the "Battle" refer to "airstrikes," "ground campaigns," and the "information war."
Eager to feel part of a bona-fide resistance movement, many fans buy into this rhetoric wholesale. Comment threads about this weekend's meetup salivate over a "watershed moment in world history" and stress the importance of "maintaining basic operational security." (OpSec 101: Publish your security measures on a public forum.)
"It's time to go underground in the cities that threaten the safety of my supporters," Roosh tweeted as the media descended on Monday, amplifying his fans' paranoia to the point of absurdity. Roosh knows that his fans are not in any real danger, but he also knows they want to believe that their lives are imperiled by the feminist threat. Those safe from oppression feel a voyeuristic pleasure in imagining its weight upon them, as though they are watching a horror movie that can be switched off at any point.
The meetups will inevitably be swamped by throngs of journalists, standing around in the cold and trying to look plausibly misogynistic in the hope that a gullible anti-feminist will feed them provocative quotes. It's a vicious cycle, with negative media attention reinforcing MRAs' satisfaction in the imagined knowledge that the whole world is united against them.
To borrow conspiracy-theory terminology, the media shitstorm around this weekend's meetups is a false-flag operation. Roosh has intentionally brought the wrath of the global left upon himself. The meetups were planned to generate purchases of his books, not to establish an international guerrilla network of MRAs. His fans, taking to the trenches in their trench-coats and trilbies, are nothing but collateral.
Follow Matt Broomfield on Twitter.