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When Lyndon McLeod fatally shot two men and three women in a rampage that included two tattoo parlors, a hotel and a private home in Denver last month, it didn’t come from nowhere.
In one of the novels from his self-published trilogy, he described killing people — and two of the characters who end up dead share names with his real-life victims. McLeod was also active on online forums where he touted masculine supremacy and disdain for the “weak.”
Denver police eventually shot and killed McLeod after he shot an officer. The police department had received a warning about McLeod about a year before the shootings, from a German man who grew concerned after reading McLeod’s books and online chats. But in a statement released after the shootings, Denver police said they had determined “there was not sufficient evidence to file criminal charges or a legal basis for monitoring McLeod at the time.”
The department also told HuffPost that there were two previous law enforcement investigations into McLeod, but neither resulted in criminal charges.
McLeod’s case is an example of the ties between misogyny and easy access to guns that Everytown for Gun Safety highlights in a new report this week, which was shared with HuffPost ahead of its publication. The group documents at least six high-profile misogyny-driven mass shootings in the U.S. since 2014, and the ways that guns and hatred of women have served as a unifying tie for many far-right groups online.
This isn’t a coincidence. Members of the far right typically reject liberalism in all its forms, including protections for women and other marginalized groups. Extremism experts call this trend “accelerationism” — affecting people whose beliefs are “hypermasculine, hyper-misogynistic and hyper-racist,” said Matthew Kriner, managing director of the Accelerationism Research Consortium, a collaborative initiative that conducts in-depth research on this issue.
“These anti-democratic spaces reject those premises of Western society that we’ve come to accept as baseline,” Kriner said. “Misogyny is emblematic of that anti-modernity notion.”
Everytown’s research, compiled last year, details how male supremacy ideologies pose an increased threat to public safety because certain online communities often promote gun purchases and encourage acts of violence.
“For groups of radicalized men who see violence as a means to make their rage visible, firearms are easily accessible and impactful tools. Guns can, and have, turned years of hate into deadly acts of mass violence,” the report finds.
The report also says that supporters of far-right movements “have both adopted misogynist attitudes and used hatred of women to recruit new supporters,” and that it’s not coincidental that so many public attacks perpetrated by misogynists involve guns.
The report also notes that “a sense of empowerment” from gun ownership particularly resonates with men and “can provide or re-instill a feeling of power, and are even explicitly marketed as doing so.”
Greta Jasser, a doctoral fellow at the United Kingdom-based Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right, said guns are closely linked to masculine ideals for some men.
“Owning guns and shooting them is a performance of hegemonic masculinity – i.e., the ‘most honored way of being a man,’ which is contextual and depends on the time and the place – in the U.S.,” she said.
Sarah Burd-Sharps, director of research at Everytown for Gun Safety, said the trend is worrying.
“As long as firearms continue to be easily accessible to people with these views and extremism is tolerated in our country, we will keep seeing similar acts of gun violence,” she said.
A survey conducted by Northeastern University for the Annals of Internal Medicine, one of the most widely cited specialty medical journals, found that gun purchases in the U.S. surged from 2020 to 2021, with 7.5 million new purchases. Of those, 5.4 million constituted first-ever firearm purchases.
That means more homes now have guns, which the survey authors flagged as another concern because that means “exposing an additional 11.7 million people, including more than 5 million children, to the risks of living in a household with firearms.”
While gun sales have increased since 1999, experts say the coronavirus pandemic, a national reckoning over race after the murder of George Floyd, and the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, are likely contributing factors to the recent increase in gun sales.
“You put that together and you have a whole lot of instability, insecurity, and a whole lot of reasons for people to be motivated to find an individual sense of security in the context of a lot of things they can’t control,” said Dabney Evans, director of the Center for Humanitarian Emergencies at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University.
Evans, whose research focuses on gender-based violence, told HuffPost that the U.S. culture toward individual safety and empowerment fuels division in discussions about guns.
“What worries me at this moment in this country is the way in which we have a very large tension between individual liberty and freedom and community responsibility and citizenship,” Evans said.
The U.S. government does not track gun sales to civilians. Instead, the only official data of gun acquirement belongs to the FBI, but it only counts background checks conducted, which doesn’t account for total gun sales.
“Ghost guns,” for example, are legal firearms that are sold 80% complete, often with a kit of the materials needed to finish building the firearm. The weapons, which don’t have serial numbers, don’t require owners to obtain background checks or register their purchases.
A December HuffPost investigation found that far-right groups are using off-mainstream online forums to promote 3D-printed guns and share details on how to print gun parts.
These communities, both online and at in-person events, are rife with accelerationist rhetoric and imagery. One major ghost guns conference, Bear Arms N’ Bitcoin, is full of far-right and white supremacist imagery, according to extremism experts who reviewed imagery that HuffPost provided. The symbols, iconography and language of the speakers and attendees stay just shy of illegal hate speech but do incorporate niche far-right views.
Ragnar Lifthrasir, the organizer of the conference, enthusiastically promotes the narrative that U.S. society is in decline, as well as the concept of secession from the government. Although he told HuffPost that he does not associate with the far right, language and imagery at his events suggest otherwise, as do his own social media feeds touting European history and art that extremism experts say reflect an anti-modernity, anti-liberal point of view. The name “Ragnar Lifthrasir” is itself an allusion to the Vikings, a standard reference for the far-right.
Dr. Natalie Van Deusen, an associate professor of Nordic history, literature and culture at the University of Alberta, notes that Viking references are another manifestation of both white supremacy and misogyny. “Traditional family values and conservative gender roles play a major role in white supremacy and far-right movements, which also tend to be masculinist and male-supremacist,” Van Deusen said.
Exposure to hateful, exclusionary imagery plays a massive role in online radicalization, according to the Everytown report. The organization identified overlap between misogyny and white supremacy in what is known as the “manosphere,” an online community of men who reject modern notions of feminism and bond over shared misogynistic values.
“In addition to these attitudes being common in online spaces, they’re also observable in many attackers whose violence was motivated by hate,” said the report.
Everytown also noted that many shooters who identified with these ideologies drew inspiration from a 2014 shooting in Isla Vista, California, in which Elliot Rodger stabbed his two roommates and a third man in his apartment before driving to a sorority house at the University of California, Santa Barbara. There, he shot three women, killing two, before continuing his rampage at a deli. A total of six were killed and another 14 were wounded. After exchanging gunfire with law enforcement, Rodger shot himself and died.
In an online manifesto published before the shooting, Rodger said he picked the sorority because the girls there were the “hottest.” Rodger has been revered as a hero in online “incel” communities — a self-assigned misogynistic term meaning “involuntarily celibate.”
Rodger’s manifesto also reflected the confluence of guns and hatred of women detailed in Everytown’s report: “My first act of preparation was the purchase [of] my first handgun … After I picked up the handgun, I brought it back to my room and felt a new sense of power. I was now armed,” the manifesto reads.
Everytown also quoted Jane Weiss, an aunt of Veronika Weiss, a 19-year-old first-year student Rodger shot and killed.
“Every time I read or hear of an incel murderer or plot, I know that the crime was inspired by the person who murdered my niece,” she told Everytown. “The more I have learned over the years from cases in the news, the more I believe getting guns out of the hands of these young men is so important.”