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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