Self-Proclaimed Misogynist Murders Two Women at Florida Yoga Studio

Two women were shot and killed at a yoga studio in Tallahassee, Florida, on Friday when a far-right extremist and self-proclaimed misogynist entered a yoga class and opened fire. Forty-year-old gunman Scott Beierle murdered 61-year-old Nancy Van Vessem, a medical doctor and a faculty member at Florida State University, and Florida State University student 21-year-old Maura Binkley in the deadly shooting. He critically injured four other women, including one woman who was shot nine times. Beierle also pistol-whipped a man in the rampage before turning the gun on himself. Police say Beierle was found dead at the yoga studio from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Beierle had a track record of attacking women, black people and immigrants via online videos and songs and had previously been investigated for harassing women and arrested at least twice, once on allegations of battery against women. We speak with Soraya Chemaly in Washington, DC. She is a longtime writer and feminist activist and author of the new book Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger. She is also director of the Women’s Media Center Speech Project.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Tallahassee, Florida, where two women were shot dead at a yoga studio on Friday afternoon by a far-right extremist and self-proclaimed misogynist. Forty-year-old Scott Beierle had a track record of attacking women, black people and immigrants via online videos and songs and had previously been investigated for harassing women and arrested at least twice, once on allegations of battery against women. In 2014, he was banned from the Florida State University campus.

On Friday evening, Beierle entered a hot yoga studio in Tallahassee, reportedly posing as a customer before opening fire on the class. He shot and killed two women. Four other women were shot but survived, including one woman who was shot nine times. Beierle also pistol-whipped a man in the rampage before turning the gun on himself. The man reportedly attempted to stop the gunman, wrestling Beierle after his gun jammed. Police say he was found dead at the yoga studio from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The two victims of the massacre are 61-year-old Nancy Van Vessem, a medical doctor and a faculty member at Florida State University, and 21-year-old Maura Binkley. She was a student at Florida State University, as well, majoring in German and journalism. Binkley had traveled to Washington, D.C., in the wake of the Parkland massacre to lobby lawmakers with Parkland survivors and their families. She was a major advocate of gun control.

BuzzFeed has reported Beierle posted racist and misogynistic video screeds on a YouTube channel in 2014, where he called women “sluts” and “whores.” He also bemoaned, quote, “the collective treachery” of girls who had attended high school with him. Another of his 2014 videos was titled “The Rebirth of My Misogynism.” Beierle had also expressed sympathy for Elliot Rodger, who killed six people in Isla Vista, California, in 2014, after posting a misogynistic video online vowing to take his revenge on women for sexually rejecting him. Rodger had urged other “incels,” or involuntary celibates, to fight back. Beierle reportedly served two years in the military, from 2008 to 2010.

Friday’s attack comes in the wake of a spate of lethal gun attacks in recent weeks. Last month, a gunman entered Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue Saturday, shooting and killing 11 Jewish worshipers in what has been described as the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in American history. Just days before that, a white gunman fatally shot two African Americans at a Kentucky grocery store, shortly after trying and failing to enter a black church.

To talk more about the implications of Friday’s attack and the murder of two women, we go to Washington, DC, where we’re joined by Soraya Chemaly, longtime writer, feminist activist, author of the new book Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger. She’s also director of the Women’s Media Center Speech Project.

Soraya, welcome back to Democracy Now!

SORAYA CHEMALY: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what you understood happened on Friday afternoon. It was about 5:30, apparently, when this man walked into this yoga studio in Tallahassee, Florida.

SORAYA CHEMALY: I think it’s very clear that it was a premeditated act of violence. And he walked into a yoga studio, which is a target of opportunity, like a school, for example, or a shopping mall, where there are certainly, predictably, more women. He set out, I think, to kill women. And that’s what he did. In many of these cases, men are also hurt and killed, as in the case with Elliot Rodger. But, you know, I think he’s been very clear. He documented his intent. He documented his feelings. And there is this direct connection between these communities of misogynistic and racist hate and the violence that we are seeing.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain the male supremacy movement.

SORAYA CHEMALY: The male supremacy movement is sort of sprawling, networked communities that believe that men are being wronged, first of all, and that they’re being oppressed. And they’re extremely authoritarian at their core, because they’re based on ideas and rules and hierarchies in which men dominate. And when men’s domination is challenged, either through women achieving political power or withholding sex, in the case of incels, that men feel they’re owed, those are challenges. And the way it becomes tessellated in the brain of some of these men is that they’re actually defending themselves. I think George Lakoff, years ago, wrote an excellent piece about the metaphorical language of rape and showed the way men who assault women and rape and then eventually kill women see this as a way of self-defense, which we saw in Elliot Rodger’s manifestos and in videos such as the one that this perpetrator had made.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain who incels are and what 4chan is and where you can find these kind of channels, for example, that he kept on YouTube.

SORAYA CHEMALY: So, actually, they’re openly available on any of these platforms. Reddit is a thriving ground. Reddit, I think, has tried on various occasions to shut down some incel groups, but they regenerate in other forums as subreddits — 4chan, 8chan, YouTube. These are openly available expressions of misogynistic — usually misogynistic hatred, that’s married with racism and xenophobia. And people are free to say what they want to say, and they do. And so, it’s not very difficult to find this.

I mean, for those of us who have been writing about it or very aware for years, this is sort of unsurprising. I think that the levels of vitriol and hatred and grossly misogynistic language and imagery that we see in these places shocks people, but I’m not sure why. I mean, this is not new. And in fact, it’s sort of an extreme efflorescence of what we see in the popular culture. But we shouldn’t be surprised by it anymore.

AMY GOODMAN: And this whole definition of incel, what this means?

SORAYA CHEMALY: Well, it’s a portmanteau of the words “involuntary” and “celibate.” It was actually used for the first time by a woman in Canada in 1997 or ’98, I believe, to describe her own state of involuntary celibacy, but it was never meant to be what it has become, which is a completely male-dominated statement of aggrieved entitlement, usually aggrieved sexual entitlement. She herself has bemoaned this course that it’s taken, and has started an alternative organization that’s very focused on the expression of love.

What often happens is that lonely boys and men, who, you know, struggle with expression, I believe, that is tied to all kind of other issues — I write about this in the book — in that emotional regulation of men causes extreme loneliness. I mean, we talk about anger being difficult for women and detached from femininity, but anger and loneliness are thought to be part of being masculine. And it’s really destructive. It’s destructive to boys and men. It’s destructive to the society. But they start off as potentially very lonely people and then get recruited into these environments that become more and more extreme and radicalized. So you go from a person who maybe feels hurt or lonely to a person who then has a vengeful, violent and deeply misogynistic community encouraging them to do harm, either to themselves or to other people.

AMY GOODMAN: According to BuzzFeed, in one video, Beierle said he resented having to subsidize, as a taxpayer, “the casual sex lives of slutty girls” through the Affordable Care Act’s contraception provisions.

SORAYA CHEMALY: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: In the same video, he criticized the “invasion of Central American children” in the US. — I put that in quote, “invasion of” —

SORAYA CHEMALY: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: — and said the migrants seeking asylum should be deported on barges. Can you talk about this intersection of anti-woman and anti-immigrant hatred?

SORAYA CHEMALY: Well, it all exists on a continuum, right? And the issue for a lot of these men in these communities is not just anti-woman, but also the idea that a white woman would willingly engage in a relationship with a man who was not white. We saw that also with Elliot Rodger, who’s sort of glorified in these communities. And so, we see that in these extreme forums, but in fact we see it laundered throughout the media ecosystem, certainly on the right, where the language of our politics is infused with this fear and this denigration and disgust of people of color and of women simultaneously. And so, the idea behind marrying immigrants and feeling that they are threatening and dangerous goes hand in hand with the regulation of women. Sometimes we hear the regulation or redistribution of sex used as an expression in mainstream media, but what we’re really talking about is the redistribution of women. And eliding those two things is really unhelpful. And so we see white supremacist movements which are focused on pushing back immigrants and a sort of toxic Border Patrol mentality of jailing dark, black people in the country as a way of containing them. And we see that same language of containment and disgust in the idea that we should, you know, “lock her up,” for Hillary Clinton, or continue to control women’s reproduction as a function of a right of men, as entitlement of men to do this.

AMY GOODMAN: And he served in the military, Soraya.

SORAYA CHEMALY: Well, I mean, I think if you find comfort in rules and regulations and hierarchy and status, if that is your mindset, then you are also inclined, accordingly, to punish the people who break those rules and to feel aggrieved if you are among those who are not benefiting from those rules. And so, in the incel community, you can see the language infused with those ideas, with the idea that there are these hierarchies of men and that women are lying, manipulative, social climbers who will degrade you and deny you the right to sex, in the case of incels, because they want to scale the ladder and reward men who deserve it in other ways.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, what about the climate now? I mean, just Friday afternoon, I was watching President Obama give a speech in Tallahassee, right? He was there to support Andrew Gillum and Senator Nelson. This is in Tallahassee. It wasn’t hours later before Beierle went into this Tallahassee yoga studio. And Trump also came to Florida this weekend. In the past week, Trump revving up his anti-immigrant rhetoric, talking about the “invaders” coming, something that was cited —

SORAYA CHEMALY: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: — by Bowers, the man who shot up the Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh. And President Trump didn’t let up. He doubled down on using those words. When the bomb letters are sent to Obama and sent to George Soros, he continues to attack Soros, Obama, and with that kind of revving up of anger against Obama, Obama in Tallahassee that day. Your thoughts?

SORAYA CHEMALY: Well, I mean, I think it’s very clear that he uses this rhetoric of violence and confrontation, and his language is deeply dehumanizing. It’s dehumanizing to people of color, to immigrants, to women. And, you know, the dehumanizing language is the first step to the humiliation, degradation and then, eventually, violence that we see against people. There’s no disconnecting the language and rhetoric that’s being used by the president from the violence that we’re seeing, the high emotional tone of our political life. And so, you know, I think to suggest, as is often the case from the White House, that there is no responsibility or no connection between the words and the actions that we’re seeing is misleading, to say the least.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Soraya Chemaly, I want to thank you for being with us, longtime writer, feminist, activist, has a new book out. It’s called Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger. She’s also director of the Women’s Media Center Speech Project.

And I just want to end with the words of the rabbi in Pittsburgh who greeted President Trump, though many felt he should not go to Pittsburgh last week after the shooting. In a short speech, sermon, on Saturday, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers blamed politicians for a rise in hateful rhetoric, saying it led to the massacre at the synagogue last week in which 11 Jews were slain worshiping, considered the worst anti-Semitic attack on U.S. soil in history. Myers said that he delivered the message personally to President Trump and first lady Melania when they visited the synagogue. He said, “I said to him, ‘Mr. President, hate speech leads to hateful actions. Hate speech leads to what happened in my sanctuary, where seven of my congregants were slaughtered. I witnessed it with my eyes.’”

This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back with Noam Chomsky in a minute.