For years, men on Internet message boards have been sharing revenge fantasies targeting the women who’ve rejected them. But what is motivating their repeated references to a violent “Beta Uprising,” and how dangerous are the guys who chat online about it?
ON OCTOBER 1, 2015, in a scene that has become depressingly familiar, 26-year-old Christopher Harper-Mercer walked into Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, and opened fire, killing nine people and injuring nine more. Like George Sodini, who killed three women and himself in an L.A. Fitness Center in Pennsylvania; like Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 people and injured 17 others at Virginia Tech; and like Elliot Rodger, who killed 6 people and injured 14 others in Isla Vista, California; a large part of Harper-Mercer’s motivation was his toxic anger at women because of his lack of success with them.
Harper-Mercer was a virgin at 26, and not happy about it. According to police reports, his “manifesto” (which was not released to the public) contained complaints about how unfair it was that he didn’t have a girlfriend. And, like many of these other killers, his frustrations played out online—in blogs and on misogynist forums—before he ever took action.
In the hours prior to the shooting, a man believed to be Harper-Mercer posted a message on the anonymous bulletin-board site 4chan.org’s /r9k/ forum—the name stands for Robot 9000, and posters are often referred to as “Robots” stating—“Some of you guys are alright, don’t go to school tomorrow if you live in the north-west. Happening thread will be posted tomorrow morning. So long space robots.”
The very first response to the message was, “Is beta uprising finally going down? You might want to chillax and not alert police.” Other commenters assumed it was a hoax. But when word of the violence hit the news, commenters in the forum cheered the shooter on as one of their own. Some declared, “OP [original poster] DELIVERED!” while others noted that the massacre might not have “had to happen” if only “OP” had been luckier in love. “This post proves the mindset behind these shooters,” one user wrote. “If only he had been con-soled or had a GF then maybe he wouldn’t have went off the deep end like this and many lives would have been saved. Instead of making fun of the betas or calling them creepy nerds, we should have saved them. My heart goes out to the victims but our shooter here as this thread here shows was a victim too.” Another poster wrote Harper-Mercer a poetic ode: “society failed him/it’s not his fault/don’t blame him/he was the hero we deserved.”
The Internet-culture tracking website KnowYourMeme.com traces the earliest use of the term “beta uprising” to a 2011 post on a men’s rights blog called Fight For Justice. However, it has since picked up steam and become a popular phrase used on misogynist message boards like 4chan’s /r9k/ and Sluthate.com. “Beta uprising” refers to a kind of revolution that will supposedly take place when all the unloved
“beta” males realize that they’ve been kept down too long by feminists and alpha males, and rise up against them in order to create a glorious utopian society in which they all get girlfriends. For most of them, it’s just an inside joke—albeit a sick one.
4Chan’s /r9k/ board started out as an experiment—it was originally a message board in which software prevented users from repeatedly posting the same image, in the hopes of fostering creativity and originality. That didn’t work out so well, and the board was later deleted. When it was brought back, it became a home for “green text stories”—anecdotal stories, written in green text, told in a few short sentences.
As is the case with all 4chan boards, the line between trolling and sincerity on /r9k/ isn’t exactly clear. One former 4chan user (who, unsurprisingly, wishes to remain anonymous) told me that the biggest mistake people make about 4chan is taking it seriously. “Sure, most of the posters on /r9k/ have definite issues with women and socializing in general,” he says, “but for the vast majority of them, this is all talk, and the ‘beta uprising’ stuff is just a joke. They’re not actually going to go out and kill anyone.”
The “greentext” stories /r9k/ users post vary, but not by much—popular themes include depression, creeping out women, what they are masturbating to, and, of course, how easy things are for women, whom they hate and deeply resent for not sleeping with them. They express anger towards “normies,” aka people with functional personal and professional lives; “Chad Thundercocks,” a stand-in for the sort of alpha male/normie men who have lots of self-confidence and are popular with the ladies; and “Stacies,” the sort of shallow “normie” ladies who prefer “Chad Thundercock” and pass right over beta males like themselves. Particularly angry posts are often decorated with a picture of “Angry Pepe”—a variation on the “Pepe the Frog” character from the comic book series Boy’s Club—that has become something of a 4chan mascot.
They blame feminism—and its encouragement of women to work outside the home, embrace sexual freedom, and reject patriarchial beauty standards—for their lack of access to young, thin, submissive, virgin-supermodel wives
The other message board where talk of a “beta uprising” is most active is SlutHate. com—which changed its name from PUA-Hate.com after one of its active posters, Elliot Rodger, went on a killing spree in 2014 in Isla Vista, California. Prior to his rampage—in which 22-year-old Rodger stabbed three men to death in his apartment, shot three female students outside a sorority house (killing two), then killed a male student inside a deli before speeding through Isla Vista shooting and wounding several pedestrians and striking several others with his car before committing suicide—Rodger published his manifesto and uploaded a video to YouTube explicitly stating that he was motivated to kill people due to his lack of success with women.
Although the original intent of PUAHate was to be a message board for men burned by the advice of so-called “Pick Up Artists,” (aka PUAs), it had a reputation as one of the most misogynist sites on the Internet, even before Rodger’s spree. Today, many posters in the forum consider him a hero, and use a picture of him as an avatar. They credit him for bringing the issue of “involuntary celibacy” and what it can do to a man to light. Others lament the fact that he killed his roommates rather than 200 sorority girls. That, they say, would have really taught those women a lesson for not sleeping with men like them.
George Sodini, who shot up an L.A. Fitness Center in Pennsylvania after spending months writing a blog about his “involuntary celibacy” and lack of success with women, is also admired and sympathized with on SlutHate, as is Cho Seung-Hui, who went on a shooting spree at Virginia Tech after being rejected by a woman.
Most of the posters on the /r9k/ forum and Sluthate refer to themselves as “incels” (involuntary celibates), “beta males,” and “NEETs” (Not in Education, Employment, or Training—in other words, neither working, nor studying, nor preparing to work or study). Many identify as having Asperger’s or as being somewhere on the autistic spectrum, but are primarily self-diagnosed. This feeds into their collective self-image as socially awkward, misunderstood geniuses—although when you actually start reading through their posts, it’s pretty clear that they are vastly overestimating the “genius” part of the equation.
Talk of a beta uprising frequently appears on /r9k/ and Sluthate, as well as in certain other parts of the “manosphere,” with a casual regularity, and is usually intended as a joke. But, behind every joke, there’s an ounce of truth. A truth that reflects a rising tide of anger echoed throughout many little man-niches across the Internet. That anger stems from the fact that these forum posters honestly believe that society drove the incel gunmen to do what they did. Again and again, these men say, “I don’t agree with killing people, but what does society expect when they’ve left [us] with nothing?” Unsurprisingly, this same sentiment was echoed by Christopher Harper-Mercer himself in a blog post he wrote about Vester Flanagan, the man who shot reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward on live television in Virginia this past August. “People like him have nothing else to live for,” wrote Harper-Mercer, “and the only thing left to do is lash out at a society that has abandoned them.”
When these men discuss killers like Harper-Mercer, they suggest that these tragedies wouldn't have "had" to happen, if only some woman would have stepped up to the plate, taken one for the team, and simply "given them sex."
To fully understand where these men are coming from, you have to understand their bizarrely skewed worldview. Incels believe that prior to the sexual revolution and feminism, women were “distributed” more evenly among men. Now, they claim, alpha males get multiple sexual partners throughout their lives, while betas end up with none.
They pine longingly for a time when women, due to having to rely on men for economic support, got married earlier and were looking to settle down more quickly. Betas are particularly embittered over the idea that attractive women will spend their 20s having sex with alpha males, and will only be ready to settle down with beta males (like themselves) once they are, in beta parlance, “all used up.”
Essentially, they blame feminism—and its encouragement of women to work outside the home, embrace sexual freedom, and reject patriarchal beauty standards—for their lack of access to young, thin, submissive, virgin-supermodel wives who are eager to wait on them hand and foot. They also, rather oddly, believe that women are only interested in having sex with physically abusive alpha males, which is their way of framing themselves as the heroes of their own bizarre narratives. What it boils down to, really, is, “I’m great and girls don’t like me—so obviously they prefer men who are terrible.” The fol-lowing is an excerpt from the very first description of a “Beta Uprising” sce-nario posted to /r9k/ in 2013:
“A 9/10 blonde, big titted attention whore was teaching a class at Beta University.
‘Before the class begins you should get on your laptops and like my Facebook updates and 50 new party and beach photos despite me never acknowledging your existence.’
At this moment a robotic, NEET, virgin, who was out of his house for the first time in a week, and fully comprehended the scale of female privilege and the easiness of their lives, stood up and held a rock. ‘What does this rock feel like?’
The ego inflated lecturer smirked quite Jewishly and enthusiastically replied, ‘It feels rough. It hurts my hand just by holding it!’
‘Wrong. If it hurts you and treats you roughly...then why haven’t you let it cum
on your face yet?'"
The lecturer was visibly shaken and dropped her chalk and copy of 50 Shades of Grey. She stormed out of the room crying those white knight summoning tears. The betas applauded and realized that if 20% of the men get all of the women, then they outnumber [alphas] 4 to 1. After one week all women were enslaved by the beta uprising and distributed equally among the male population.
The lecturer lost her tenure and was fired the next day. She committed suicide after realizing that none of the hundreds of men that offered to marry her were millionaires, and that her life was too hard.”
The kind of commiseration that happens over social media tends to have a normalizing effect, even on bizarre opinions like those expressed in the post above. Views that would be considered absurd, horrific, and frightening in real life are commonplace in these groups, helping like-minded individuals to develop a shared delusional view of the world. Despite their deep disdain for the political left (which they blame for giving women more independence from men), their posts have evolved into a twisted, sexualized rehashing of Marxist rhetoric. Except instead of workers and the poor rising up to demand a redistribution of wealth, betas are dateless men who believe they are rising up against women and alpha males and demanding a redistribution of sex.
On Sluthate, this ideology gets hashed out even further, as members like Omega-KV go so far as to justify rape in the name of a more equal distribution of sex:
“Rape is wrong because it violates a girl’s chastity,” he writes. “If a woman is married to another man, it’s wrong to rape her because it taints her sexual bond with her husband. Similarly, raping a virgin girl taints her sexual bond with her future husband.
But when some slut gets raped, there is no chastity to violate. Rape is merely a discomfort for her. Someone incel enough to commit rape would have gone through much more pain from being incel than would his ‘rape victim’ as a result of the rape. As long as the girl getting raped is an unwed non-virgin, a man raping her would be comparable to a starving man stealing a loaf of bread.”
Along these same lines, many participants in these forums complain about how
unfair it is that they can’t legally have sex with women under the age of 18. They also talk about how “shallow” it is when women reject men whom they find “creepy.” It’s an echo chamber of extreme toxicity that only gets more toxic the more time posters spend in these closed communities.
Psychologist Kristin J. Anderson, author of Modern Misogyny: Anti-Feminism in a Post-Feminist Era, notes that some of this may be a reaction to the more disastrous economic changes that America has gone through in the last 35 years. Although it’s actually the one percent that these middle-and-working-class forum posters are legitimately losing out to, they’d rather see themselves as losing out to women, causing them to wonder, “What has feminism done to the world I was promised?”
Anderson also notes that many psychological studies show that men and women have very different ideas regarding entitlement. “When women determine how much they should get paid for a task they complete,” she says, “they take into account their performance on the task—if they did well they believe they deserve more than if they did poorly. On the other hand, men tend to believe they deserve good pay regardless of their performance—they just think they are deserving. In other words, women base their perceived rewards on their actual work, men base their perceived rewards on their perceived worth.”
These studies may begin to explain why these men believe they are entitled to have access to women. By simply existing, they deem themselves worthy. And they perceive women as things to be had rather than as individual people with thoughts, feelings, and preferences of their own. They’ve been taught this through television, film, and most other media. If they can’t obtain a girlfriend, then something is wrong with the system, not with them.
When the men in these forums discuss killers like Harper-Mercer and Rodger, they repeatedly suggest that these tragedies wouldn’t have “had” to happen, if only some woman would have stepped up to the plate, taken one for the team, and simply “given them sex.” Women, they rationalize, have brought these tragedies on themselves by cruelly denying these men what they believe they were justly owed.
In an oft-quoted post on Sluthate, user NewGenious119 explains why he believes he is entitled to sex with attractive women:
“This idea that nobody owes anyone anything completely goes against the entire point of even having a society in the first place. If society doesn’t owe an individual person anything, then the individual owes society nothing either, so don’t be surprised when they take their frustration out on the world.
There is absolutely NO GOOD reason why, in the 21st century, every person shouldn’t have their basic needs met. That means food, shelter, clothing, and transportation for all. And, yes, if you are a male, sexual access to attractive females as that is considered a basic need for men as well.”
While the world at large doesn’t have to become paranoid about a literal, coordinated “Beta Uprising” taking over the earth and enslaving all women, there is definitely reason for concern on a more individual basis. It is a fact that the toxic way the men in these communities are teaching each other to perceive intimacy has real-world consequences. As these attitudes proliferate, women do have to worry about a culture that validates male entitlement to sex. We do have to worry about acts of violence committed by those who take these beliefs too far.
There is no perfect solution to this—no real way of determining which men are just venting and which are likely to resort to violence. Ironically, however, if the real source of all this discomfort is the inability of beta males to conform to a hyper-masculine alpha-male ideal, then they should know there already is an established movement trying to dismantle those exact gender stereotypes in the name of a more equitable world for everyone. It’s called feminism—and it might just save us all.
By Robyn Pennacchia
Illustration by Daniel Zender
This article originally appeared in the February/March 2016 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!
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