Are mens’ rights websites dangerous hate groups? Chuck Rudd calls the Southern Poverty Law Center out for mission creep.
The Southern Poverty Law Center—a non-profit civil rights organization that made its bones going after the likes of the KKK and neo-Nazis—has turned its cannons on my virtual homeland: The Manosphere. The SPLC, created in 1971 by civil rights activist Morris Dees, publishes a quarterly “Intelligence Report” covering the latest movements and trends among so-called extremists and hate groups. This quarter’s issue features no less than three articles covering the Manosphere.
First, what is the SPLC’s stated purpose?
The Southern Poverty Law Center monitors hate groups and extremists throughout the United States and exposes their activities to law enforcement agencies, the media and the public. We’ve crippled some of the country’s most notorious hate groups by suing them for murders and other violent acts committed by their members.
To expose the rampant hatred and seething violence of the Manosphere, the group’s lengthiest piece mentions a handful of high-profile cases of men committing acts of violence against women.
The SPLC report begins with Thomas Ball who last year set fire to himself at the footsteps of the Cheshire Co., New Hampshire courthouse after a decade long child custody battle. They discuss George Sodini, the involuntarily celibate lunatic who sought revenge against women by shooting up a women’s fitness center. The SPLC report mentions Anders Breivik, the Norwegian right-wing, anti-Jihadist, anti-feminist who killed 77 of his fellow Norwegians. They mention Scott Evans Dekraai who recently killed his ex-wife and five others after a custody dispute. They also cover the crimes of Marc Lepine and Darren Mack and sprinkle crumbs of admittedly supportive comments from Manosphere bloggers and website commenters.
What the SPLC doesn’t do is connect the words written at sites like A Voice for Men and The Spearhead and others to violent action against women. It’s overt guilt-by-association rather than guilt itself. None of the violent men mentioned—or Thomas Ball who committed violence against himself—were associated with the Manosphere. No forums; no known comments; no known web affiliations. None were a visible presence on the sites targeted by SPLC, and there have been no reported cases of men linked to these sites committing criminal acts or engaging in violence.
At the widely read blog Marginal Revolution, economist Tyler Cowen recently linked to a piece of research which finds that the increase of porn usage in various countries is not associated with an increase in sexual violence. In fact, the increase of porn—which feminists have at one time or another called misogynistic or hate-based—is correlated with a decline of sexual violence against women all across the world.
I’d argue that Manosphere sites have a similar effect. There’s no question that a lot of content in the Manosphere is unsavory and offensive. Some of that is for, as it is called in the internet, ‘lulz’. Some is an airing of grievances or just irrational frustration that might otherwise manifest itself violently. This is the “safety-valve argument” that has been put forth by scholars such as Columbia University president Lee Bollinger and famed jurist and legal scholar Richard Posner who favors someone writing rather than just passively staring at a screen.
This argument also has some empirical evidence to back it up. Researchers from the University of Kansas and the University of Wisconsin studied the blogging patterns of several dozen prominent political bloggers and found that the most commonly-cited reason for entering the political blogosphere was “to blow off steam”. Perhaps Sodini, Ball, or Mack would have benefited from a forum outside of their own head.
The SPLC’s report suggests that the group is either behind the times or hard up for opponents. They are brick and mortar; the internet is fluid. The groups like the KKK that the SPLC previously condemned were ones that pushed for violent action. But the websites of the Manosphere are loosely affiliated networks of men with similar frustrations – not similar desires to act in violent ways. The KKK, the Nation of Islam, and neo-Nazis have buildings and P.O. Boxes and franchisees and mailing lists and meetings and, hell, uniforms. And most importantly, they have a hierarchy and chains of command. All of this is infrastructure for concerted violent attacks which are the ultimate—and rightly confronted—fear.
Roosh V, a popular seduction blogger and author, was mentioned in the list of “misogynist” bloggers. Libertarian outpost Reason magazine giggled at the SPLC’s reliance on a blog called “ManBoobz” and at the group’s turn from gutting organizations that openly state their violent intentions to badgering internet writers and ex-pat PUA bloggers. Reason spots the ridiculousness of the report:
Take note, America: Having consensual sex (Roosh is not a rapist, but a seducer*) with someone you don’t actually like and then never calling her/him again will land you in a reputation-ruining** SPLC report.
*and a pig
Roosh is a Larry Flynt type—part Gonzo, part self-styled cad. He has faced the ire of foreign governments and their citizens before, so this is nothing new. The question isn’t whether Roosh is offensive or unethical; the question is whether an influential think tank is right in singling out non-violent websites whose main focus is seduction or men’s rights. Instead of being targeted for his violent or hateful intentions, Roosh drew attention during the course of his grand European tour in which he hopped from country to country, carrying out a “scorched disco” strategy and writing books about his encounters. After traveling through Iceland and Denmark, some Estonian bloggers began to post about the coming beard-tornado that is Roosh. But the response of the Estonians or the Danes or the Icelanders was far different from that of the SPLC. People in those countries recognized Roosh as an undesirable—an asshole, they might say—but they didn’t label him a perpetrator of hate or extremism. To put Roosh V on the SPLC watch list would be to track Andrew Dice Clay or Tucker Max. And that Roosh is on that list calls into question the other anti-Manosphere arguments put forth by the SPLC.
Roosh offered speculation for his placement in the crosshairs of Dees and company:
The reason SPLC included me was because game overlaps with a lot of the men’s rights issue. Anything that empowers men is hereby declared misogynistic, and they will attack it. You don’t see them attacking commercial publications like Ask Men, Maxim, or The Art of Manliness because those teach guys how to be obedient worker bees who buy consumer products. The SPLC list had none of those sites.
Asked if he thinks his blog and his books will be harmful to women in a Sodini-like manner, Roosh responded:
Nothing I’ve written will harm women. If anything, it will give them sexual pleasure from the men who successfully seduce them with my teachings. The irony of [the SPLC’s argument that I am] hating American women is that I’m teaching thousands of guys how to have sex with them and therefore give them orgasms, which of course is one of the most pleasurable human experiences.
Picture Fred Phelps cheekily offering his “services” to homosexuals.
The SPLC’s organizational intentions are virtuous on their face, but it seems that they’ve run out of ammunition to sustain their relevance. Thus, the umbrella terms “hate group” or “extremist organization” are cast over these de-centralized, non-organized websites and blogs. This is a far cry from tackling actual, demonstrable impairments of civil rights or personal freedoms. It’s called “mission creep”, and it’s kind of creepy.
Founder Dees has a bit of a sketchy past himself. He has been criticized for using his organization as a vehicle for his own personal gain. Part of the mission creep involves railing against caricatures of bigotry and extremism in order to gin up fear and the donations that closely follow. An article written in 2000 by Ken Silverstein for Harper’s quotes a former SPLC lawyer saying that the group sought to profit off of “black pain and white guilt.”
Dees’ divorce records show a man who was seemingly more extreme in deed than any of the bloggers mentioned in the SPLC report. Questions of the legitimacy of the divorce proceedings could not be verified by the SPLC’s public relations department (though I will update if they return my call). The documents detail Dees’ volatile marriage to his ex-wife, Maureene:
Although Maureene was subjected to a number of degrading sexual episodes by Morris during the marriage which will be discussed hereafter, neither Morris nor Maureene ever wanted or sought a divorce until Morris established his permanent relationship with Vicki Booker McGaha in August of 1977. It was Morris’ absolute refusal to give up his mistress, whom he was supporting and whom he had made pregnant, that directly caused termination of Maureene’s marriage and forced her to institute these divorce proceedings.
And two years later, amidst Dees’ cheating, he gave permission to Maureene—to whom he was still married—to begin seeing other men. In one incident, Dees and a private investigator set up Maureene in a sting. Dees and the P.I. busted out of a bathroom and began snapping pictures of Maureene and her lover in bed together. From the docket:
Morris was acting crazy, and Maureene thought he was going to kill everybody in sight. He told her that he had five detectives with him (R.592). He hit her and gave her a busted jaw. (R. 592).
If the divorce document is true, it is interesting to note that the SPLC is ignoring the violent misogynist in their own midst while taking aim at rhetoric contained on a few websites.