It’s a telling commentary on the state of modern American media that a lethal act of domestic terrorism like last weekend’s shooting rampage in Denver by a radicalized far-right misogynist seems to have, at most, raised only a momentary blip on the national radar. Because it’s an important story that not only reminds us that “lone wolves” acting on behalf of far-right ideologies remain our most lethal terrorist threat, but indicates that the violent insurgency the American right has been embracing since before Jan. 6 may be ratcheting things up.
The incident is also a stark illustration of how the extremist right meshes across its various sectors—from the “respectable” and well-financed “Intellectual Dark Web” to conspiracist Trump fanatics to the “anti-communist” posturing of the Proud Boys to the festering cesspit of the misogynist “manosphere”—into a singular radicalizing force. The shooter’s writings and his social media activity—particularly his connections there to well-known right-wing figures like Mike Cernovich and Jeff Giesea, both of whom followed him on Twitter—manifest how far-right politics are deeply rooted in an abiding sexism and racism, and a contempt for “weakness.”
The killer—a 47-year-old white man named Lyndon McLeod—gunned down five people, all of them apparently targeted, in various locations around the Denver area in an hourlong spree Monday. His prolific writings on social media and elsewhere were mostly expressions of contempt for women and communities of color, as well as a desire to inflict violence on them.
These included a series of three books he had written, titled Sanction, which featured a protagonist named for himself, who hunts down and murders people, some of them in their homes, precisely as he did this week. The books even identify his eventual victims by name.
As The Daily Beast reports, McLeod’s multiple Twitter and Instagram accounts used the alias Roman McClay, the same pseudonym under which he wrote Sanction. He posted to these accounts frequently, always promoting the same far-right, white-supremacist ideology embedded in his novels.
“This is basically the plot to my stupid book,” he wrote in April 2020. “Our entire society is made up of shitty little fucks who insult badasses & get away with it because law enforcement & social norms protect the WEAK from the STRONG. I’m over it.”
“The weak better buckle up ... shit is about to get real,” he added.
Like many “red-pilled” mass killers, he was also an avid participant in the “manosphere,” and had become something of a known figure in those circles. He had been interviewed about his books on the Start the World podcast, hosted by white-nationalist figure Jack Donovan, who has a background in organizing the now-defunct white-power cult Wolves of Vinland. McLeod stated that he was “a big fan” of Donovan, and described his appearance on the podcast: “We discussed myth, masculinity and the role of the artist or the shaman in the tribe.”
He also frequently exchanged tweets with Cernovich, with whom he was a mutual follower on Twitter. McLeod even promoted Cernovich’s business on Twitter. Cernovich has not yet posted a single word about the Denver rampage.
Another of McLeod’s Twitter mutuals was right-wing organizer Jeff Giesea, a longtime associate of financier Peter Thiel and funder of various far-right causes. Giesea played a key role in building Donald Trump’s online alt-right army in 2016, and helped Thiel organize a dinner at which he met with some of the country’s most infamous alt-right white nationalists.
McLeod also posted regularly in response to tweets from Claremont Institute Fellow Jack Murphy, another “manosphere” figure most notable for writing that “feminists need rape.” Though McLeod apparently was a member of Murphy’s “Liminal Order” group, Murphy on Monday locked his account to prevent the public from digging through exchanges.
Another notable white-nationalist figure, Jack Posobiec, also promoted McLeod’s books, asking his followers at one point: “Should Poso read Sanction?”
A reader named John McNally replied: “Yes it’s quite the read @JackPosobiec but my friend @mcclay_roman has a great mind and an enthralling way of writing. Shades of Dostoyevsky. It’s a necessary glimpse into a possible American future.” McLeod replied to both with a handshake emoji.
McLeod was also an active “reply guy” in multiple right-wing accounts that he followed avidly, including pseudo-journalist Andy Ngo, white nationalist Richard Spencer, and right-wing pundit Glenn Beck. He also appeared as the guest on the podcast of transphobic rapper Zuby.
His threats of violence extended beyond his primary targets—his enemies in the tattoo business, women, “antifa,” and various marginalized communities—to sometimes even include rival far-right extremists. At one point, he threatened to behead the wife and children of one such rival; Twitter never suspended his account for it.
Unsurprisingly, other far-right extremists immediately went to work lionizing McLeod, particularly on Telegram and other platforms where racist bigotry is widely tolerated. One meme appeared on Telegram praising him: “Hail Lyndon McLeod.” Its text read: “5 Antifa dead, What a shining example of a [righteous] Aryan, Hopefully more will find inspiration from him.”
Misogyny has always been a central component of fascist politics, and so the manosphere has long played a key role in organizing some of the most vicious violence that has emanated from the extremist right over the past decade. The trend has seemed to spiral into an even more toxic phase over the past couple of years, fueled in part by the public’s increasing time online as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. An MIT study published last year found that there appeared to be a serious spike in interest in so-called “incel” (“involuntary celibate”) groups that promote a nihilistic view of society.
As Helen Lewis explained in The Atlantic in 2019, the realm of online misogynists is in many regards the beating heart of the radical right, since they generate many of the core ideas of white nationalism and other extremist belief systems, including the belief that “feminization” is destroying Western civilization and that women need to be subservient to men in order to create a strong society. They also all promote the idea that the world can only be saved by strong men committing acts of violence.
White-nationalist concepts such as “replacement theory” are all founded on this worldview, as Lewis notes:
In all these strands of replacement theory, controlling white female sexuality and reproduction is vital. Women’s sexual and reproductive freedom are seen as threats to civilization itself. It is therefore not surprising that anti-feminism is an entry point to the online far right. “Misogyny is used predominantly as the first outreach mechanism,” Ashley Mattheis, a researcher at the University of North Carolina who studies the far right online, told me. “You were owed something, or your life should have been X, but because of the ridiculous things feminists are doing, you can’t access them.”
This is the same theory we’ve heard Tucker Carlson promote on Fox News, all in the context of the right’s running claim that liberals and the left seek to replace white men with women of color. Carlson, of course, gives it the imprimatur of mainstream approval. But it reflects the intense hold that violent hatreds have in every corner of their politics, which inevitably manifest themselves in the terrorist acts of men like Lyndon McLeod.