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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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Voxpoptart
Voxpoptart
1 year ago

@weirwood:

Oh. That’s a bummer, and I was mistaken. I could stick to my guns in that, being off-page, it isn’t “cheap sexual violence”. But I won’t, as it’s still something a reader has every right in the world not to want to encounter. I had forgotten; but then, I’m a guy. 🙁

Jenora Feuer
Jenora Feuer
1 year ago

@Redsilkphoenix:
*boggle*
I hadn’t heard that bit from Seanan McGuire. What… why would someone even ask… gah.

Part of the reason that I don’t write about it is that they’re my characters, and I don’t want them to go through that. I’ve done some crappy things to my characters (the main character in that cyberpunk story has a pretty flat affect, which shouldn’t be surprising for someone who’s a combat mercenary) but I have limits on what I want to deal with.

(Actually, just got a art commission for that story from the same artist you used for your avatar.)

I still need to gather the serialized bits of the story together and try to shop it around. After I replace the disk drive the day before I was about to copy everything off of it.

Moon_custafer
Moon_custafer
1 year ago

IIRC wasn’t McGuire also especially disgusted by the use of the word “finally?” Like it was something fans would naturally want to see happen to a character, and she’d been stringing them along?

Citerior Motive
Citerior Motive
1 year ago

You can get kicked off Gab? I thought that white supremacists liked it so much precisely because you couldn’t.

Jenora Feuer
Jenora Feuer
1 year ago

@Citerior Motive:
Of course you can get kicked off Gab, it’s just that the white supremacist types who started it get to say WHO gets kicked off. And since they were most of the folks joining, most of the kicking has been due to internal arguments. Along with the usual claims that the folks being removed were ‘deep cover liberals trying to make us look bad’ or some such to save face.

Dalillama
Dalillama
1 year ago

Though I swear she had another follow-up where she specifically stated that she wasn’t ever going to tackle rape in her for-funsies Urban Fantasy series (which was the series said ‘fan’ wanted to see rape happen in) because yeah, that’s not a ‘fun’ topic to read about.

As someone who follows that series, two of the female members of the family have defenses involving mind control, and a third can set things that are too threatening on fire with her mind. So for the three of them, it’s basically impossible that anyone could do that to start with. Of the other two, one can kick people standing behind her in the face, the other wrestles alligators for shits and giggles, and neither of them is unarmed outside the shower. Wait, also there’s two who are ghosts and one who trolls hell dimensions for her missing husband with a backpack full of grenades. What I’m getting at here is that as far as ordinary creeps go, they are what lurks in the night, and as far as supernatural threats go, most of them aren’t human, and a significant percentage aren’t even mammals, so that kind of thing is rarely on the table to start with in those situations. So, one, realism has left the building, and two, realistically, people like these don’t get victimised in that fashion, because they’re borderline (or actually) superhuman badasses.

Scanisaurus
Scanisaurus
1 year ago

@Catalpa
I tried the first episode of the podcast, and it’s pretty good!

@Voxpoptart
While something like that being off-page is better than showing it, implying it can also be cheap if the only reason the implication is there is for shock value or because the writer couldn’t think of any other backstory for the female characters. Having not read the book myself though, I can’t judge in this instance.

@Redsilkphoenix: Jetpack Vixen, Intergalactic Meanie
Thank you so much for sending me that link, Seanan McGuire and the people in the comments sum all of it up so well and do a great job of explaining how cheap inclusion of these tropes perpetuate real-life misogyni. However, there was one section of one comment that stood out to me;

There are situations where rape would be a reasonable concern for a character. If you were writing a book about a female WWII POW, for example, that is a genuine concern.

and McGuire’s answer:

Oh, absolutely. If I were writing about a female WWII POW, I would have to seriously question why I had made that choice, simply because of my policy on writing rape. And if rape were truly necessary to the story, because of the setting…I probably wouldn’t write that story.

Because I’d argue that even in a WW2 setting, no writer should ever include rape just because “it’s part of the setting”, for three reasons;
Firstly, while it did happened to millions of women, it did not happen to everyone. If the comment had specifically said “comfort women”, I’d agreed, but with just POW’s in general the risks varied greatly between different camps and countries, and I’ve heard and read several stories of female camp survivors held as political prisoners or forced labor that didn’t experience that trauma (not to say they didn’t experience a wide host of other traumas).

Secondly, whilst most victims were women, countless men have also been targeted by sexual violence, yet the only war-movie I’ve seen bringing this up was Lawrence of Arabia. Just to bring up a few examples without going into too graphic detail, it was common of interrogators to torture male prisoners by forcing a baton or gun barrel into places they did not want them, and several concentration camp capos, often sent to the camp due to their homosexuality, would abuse their position to take advantage of young men and boys being sent there. If filmmakers or writers of historical fiction can omit these parts when making prison camp dramas starring men, why not with women?

And lastly, there is so many horrifyingly bad portrayals of this, in case of the soviets and Japanese, reducing them to orc-like caricatures who couldn’t control themselves rather than treating it like deliberate war-crimes, and in case of the Nazis it’s even worse, countless people basically turning real-life warcrimes into fetish fuel, and I think that’s far worse and more disrespectful towards the victims than omitting them altogether.

Redsilkphoenix: Jetpack Vixen, Intergalactic Meanie
Redsilkphoenix: Jetpack Vixen, Intergalactic Meanie
1 year ago

This whole ‘rape as necessary backstory for Strong Female Characters (TM)’ discussion is putting me in mind of a pair of Bad_Roleplayers_Suck LJ posts from a few years ago. (One from the player this happened to, one from a player who witnessed it).

A bunch of players get together to do some roleplaying, and are at the stage where they’ve finished their character sheets and are looking them over. One character is a woman whose backstory was she came from the future (a soldier, I think), who fell into the hands of a medical lab and spent years as their prisoner before escaping. In other words, a Medical Horror backstory.

Another player – the bad one – reads that ‘sheet over, and asks why there was no mention of rape in the prisoner part of it, since that’s something to be expected in that sort of situation. The originating player says, in essence, that being dehumanized to the point that her captors literally saw her as nothing more than a piece of lab equipment was more than sufficient trauma for the character to recover from in the RP.

At that point the bad player states that any female character that could have a rape slotted into her backstory easily but didn’t, was a Mary Sue and should be treated as such. Because the char’s creator was clearly ‘coddling’ their creation instead of giving them real traumas and letting them grow from those.

Clearly, this guy has no clue what the actual traits of a Mary Sue / Gary Stu are. At all.

Jenora Feuer
Jenora Feuer
1 year ago

@Redsilkphoenix:
The scary part of that is that people like that bad roleplayer apparently think that rape is even more common than it is in reality (and it’s too damn common as it is).

Someone’s obviously got their ‘edgy’ fiction confused with reality again.

Scanisaurus
Scanisaurus
1 year ago

@Redsilkphoenix: Jetpack Vixen, Intergalactic Meanie

That’s insane! Plus with the whole “horrible medical experiments” as backstory for the character, you’d think that’d be a good reason as to why her captors would avoid any unnecessary close contact that could disrupt the experiments or cause them to contract any nasty side effects of whatever drugs/diseases or other things they gave her.

All the while writers can have their male characters be thrown in prison, forcibly committed to an asylum, forced to live on the streets, be captured by sadistic outlaws or have backstories involving them growing up in abusive homes or orphanages, and I’ve never seen a single person demand that a writer should add a rape backstory into their canon or a roleplayer should role-play that scenario with a male player in the name of “realism”, meanwhile you see similar stuff for female characters with a frightening regularity over at r/rpghorrorstories at Reddit.

Jay
Jay
1 year ago

I honestly wish she would put a target on the honey badgers logo (what a stupid fucking name). She’s a piece of shit, scumbag, scammer, and deserves everything coming to her.