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.
We Hunted the Mammoth relies entirely on readers like you for its survival. If you appreciate our work, please send a few bucks our way! Thanks!