Misogynists like Andrew Tate—the “manosphere” gurus who manage to make a living by spouting their misogyny—have been around awhile. So has the related phenomenon of young men being radicalized online—“red-pilled” or “blackpilled” or whatever metaphor fits their worldview—by these scam artists peddling toxic masculinity with a political twist (see, e.g., Stefan Molyneux or Mike Cernovich).
But what makes Tate—who’s currently locked up in a Romanian jail awaiting trial on human-trafficking charges—stand out is how phenomenally popular he is with young men, and how widely his brand of misogynism has spread among teenagers. Some have even taken up exchanging a hand sign that originated with Tate during his arrest. Even as Tate faces possible prison time, his cult has grown.
Just last fall, Tate was rated the No. 1 social-media influencer for the under-18 crowd (according to a Piper Sandler survey). Clips using a hashtag of his name have been viewed more than 13 billion times on TikTok alone—though he has been banned from both that platform and YouTube. In his videos, he mostly rambles at length about his life “philosophy,” such as it is, which mostly revolves around cars and abusing women, who he considers nearly subhuman but enjoys for sex. Tate, who was a successful kickboxer, peddles the idea that men need to live up to their true “alpha” form, and says he believes men have gotten too soft.
He couches all that around a lot of content about fitness and fast cars, as well as discursions on how stupid women are, in his view. He’s described himself as “absolutely a misogynist,” saying, “There’s no way you can be rooted in reality and not be sexist.”
Tate also says women are a man’s property and belong at home, and they’re unable to do jobs as well as men anyway. He thinks rape victims should “bear responsibility” for their attacks and boasts about seeking out 18-year-old girls because they are “fresh.” He says he judges a woman by the notches on her bedpost, and asserts that straight relationships only work when the woman "obeys like she's supposed to."
He also believes that males are being prevented from achieving their real natures by “the Matrix,” and preaches a kind of “red-pilling” with a strong Islamist flavor. After he was arrested, he tweeted that “the Matrix sent their agents” and had taken him into custody, later adding: "The Matrix has attacked me. But they misunderstand, you cannot kill an idea. Hard to Kill."
And because he seemingly recruits mainly from terminally online teenage males, the radicalization into his conspiracist worldview occurs within a zone where attempts at refutation or countermessaging are often pointless, because adolescent rebellion innately recoils from anything that looks like them.
Tate claims to be making millions through his immense social-media following and peddling his life philosophy. Thousands are enrolled for $49 monthly fees in his online course and community, which he has dubbed "Hustlers University." It enables its 168,000 active students (or so Tate claims), some as young as 13, to earn thousands of dollars a month through copywriting or buying and selling NFTs—or, as always, by recruiting new members.
His arrest was the first time many parents had heard of Tate—though a large number of them were stunned to find out that their children were shocked and outraged at the news of his arrest. In the UK, teachers have tried raising the alarm about Tate and his brand of misogyny.
Schools have held special assemblies discussing online misogyny and Tate, and have used personal social and health education lessons to encourage students to question Tate’s content, which they say can be a “gateway drug” to other kinds of extremism—as the “manosphere” has long been known to be.
Teens who admire Tate have taken to exchanging a hand signal—both hands forming a triangle with two thumbs and two index finger—that Tate flashed while being arrested by Romanian police. Schoolboys have displayed the signal in class photos. A headteacher in Cumbria, a town in northwestern England, called out the gesture’s use: “This has been used by Tate and other individuals on the internet to show support for the views he holds. All staff at QEGS are aware of this hand signal, and we will challenge those who use it. We will also inform parents that this has occurred.”
Tim Squirrel of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue told Vice: “There’s a two-pronged appeal here. For one, you can show your endorsement of controversial people or beliefs without having to say it outright, allowing you plausible deniability and possibly avoiding consequences like detention or censure.”
“You can also signify that you have hidden knowledge—that you’re aware of what this sign means to you and others around you who are part of the in-group who are in the know, and that’s a very appealing identity marker for children and teenagers.”
The issue is less whether the gesture threatens anyone, but rather how it signals the approval of misogynist beliefs and attitudes. “For women and girls who are around it, that doesn’t really make much of a difference—‘ironic’ endorsement of violent misogyny is, in many instances, indistinguishable from the real thing and creates an unsafe atmosphere for them,” Squirrel said. “They should absolutely be concerned about children engaging with Tate’s content. Not only does he endorse violent misogyny, based on recent reporting it appears there’s good reason to believe that he has engaged in hideous and brutal violence against women, as well as being an alleged human trafficker.”
His arrest has also plunged his followers further into his conspiracist worldview, especially as they repeat his claims that he was arrested by “the Matrix.” Other conspiracy theorists came to Tate’s defense, amplifying his claim. On Infowars, Alex Jones proclaimed that the charges brought against Tate were "completely, absolutely, totally made up." Right-wing talk host Dave Rubin also jumped to Tate's defense, implying that his arrest was somehow connected to his Twitter beef with climate activist Greta Thunberg, which had broken out only a few days before.
"OK, so I'm just piecing something together here," said Rubin, "but it does strike me as a little odd that this guy who has become an internet sensation gets into a fight with the protected child of the climate movement, and then literally two days later, he is arrested in Romania."
Twitch and YouTube star Asmongold announced his support for Tate, comparing his arrest to Martin Luther King Jr’s persecution. He claimed that the governments “frame people all the time.”
“What’s the probability that the government wants to frame the Tate brothers?’ I don’t know, probably 50%. The government frames people all the time —from any of the leaks, from the way they tried to do with Martin Luther King, yeah absolutely the government annoys people,” Asmongold told his audience.
By making himself into a conspiracy-theory martyr, Tate is deliberately blunting the blowback that might otherwise result from the seamy nature of the charges, and setting himself up for a post-arrest career exploiting the narrative. Squirrel noted that positioning the arrest as part of an elaborate plot against him is likely to work well in that world.
“If you believe that Tate is being persecuted, then that can make it hard to level some of the most serious and credible accusations at him—that he’s an alleged human trafficker and rapist—because you can say that these are fake charges that have been made up to silence him,” he told Vice. “That’s ultimately the most damaging thing, because it prevents his appeal from being dampened and makes him a martyr.”
Tate is symptomatic of a pent-up demand for people selling an easily consumed version of masculinity. “I think that he is so seductive to such a big audience because the image of masculinity that he sells is one that’s very rooted in traditional male characteristics,” Robert Lawson of Birmingham City University told Vice. “He’s very big on this idea of the alpha male, the man that’s in control, that always knows what he’s doing, that always gets what he wants, that has everyone waiting [on] them hand and foot, and this idea that he’s infallible, . I think some men can see that as a particularly attractive trait, but he’s also big on conspicuous consumption. He lives a very jet-set lifestyle: fast cars, private planes, mansions, expensive holidays away.”
Tate’s big following isn’t just about misogyny, as Moira Aikenhead of the University of Victoria law school, who specializes in technology-facilitated gender violence, explains. “He’s a self-described misogynist. Misogyny and degrading women is really central to who he is and his message,” she says. “However, it’s also sort of mixed in with other things. He’s also attempting to sell a lifestyle to people who feel disenfranchised or that the world has sort of wronged them.
“Vulnerable, often very young men, I understand, make up a large segment of his audience.”
“He’s a figure who talks about a struggle, he presents a struggle,” journalist Mike Stuchberry told DW News recently. “He is sort of suggesting that everybody around you is involved in a sort of grand conspiracy to grind you down. That’s something that speaks to young men. That’s something that is really attractive to them.”
Internet researcher Ryan Broderick observed to metro.co.uk Tate’s videos are widespread, especially since he is regularly featured on podcasts and clip shows hosted by others where he spouts his inflammatory views.
“Andrew Tate is not smart or savvy,” he explained. “But he’s figured out that there’s lots of men who have podcasts and if he shows up with sunglasses, smoking a cigar and says the craziest thing you’ve ever heard, that clip will go viral.
“It doesn’t matter even if a video is posted to critique or question what these alpha males are saying. They don’t care if you’re laughing at them, it just feeds them and they get bigger.”
… Tate sells this really romanticized, and to me quite superficial, idea of what it is to be a man. I know loads of men. I don’t know anybody who acts or talks or behaves like Andrew Tate. Tate is a Hollywood form of masculinity, but it’s one that is as deep as a puddle. There’s no substance. The men that I look up to — people like my dad, teachers I had in school, instructors I had when I was in my youth groups — those are the men that have given me the biggest lessons of my life. Those are the men that I will continue to look up to and learn from. And there’s men out there like that that other young men can aspire to be like and look up to and learn from and be guided by. But I don’t think Andrew Tate is the one that we should be putting up on a pedestal.
Aikenhead explains that Tate did a good job of exploiting the incoming currents of toxic masculinity fueled by anxiety over how to present oneself by selling a brand to men.
“You can be rich and powerful like me if you follow my rules and the way that I view the world,” she says. “And also, hey, you are superior to women and the mainstream government, media, everything is trying to actively hold you down and make you not remember that you are more powerful than women.”
These kinds of attitudes, of course, date back centuries if not longer. What is new is the ability to spread them on social media.
“So his message is not new,” Aikenhead says. “What is new is his ability to reach an absolutely massive, massive platform. And he was able to do so because there’s already this group of people who hold this level of extreme views, and they were just waiting for someone who was speaking to them.”
The social media algorithms are designed to promote the most extreme and the most divisive content, according to Aikenhead.
“And Andrew Tate understood that very well and sort of asked his followers to create and share his more extreme viewpoints and divisive content,” she says.
“Things that make people angry and get people talking and yelling at each other is what gets promoted. And at the same time, individuals get fed more and more extreme content, and they also see other people engaging with that.”
Tate’s videos, as Media Matters reports, continue to circulate widely on Facebook and Instagram even after being banned by Meta, thanks to fan accounts. The same thing has occurred at TikTok, following a pattern first exploited by Alex Jones. His arrest may end up amplifying the effect—all thanks to the perverse incentives built into revenue-hungry platforms deploying algorithms that prize “engagement” above ethics or responsibility.