Mike Cernovich rose to prominence on the back of his male supremacist rhetoric before latching on to the racist and misogynistic so-called “alt-right.” He has since distanced himself from the "alt-right" after it became a liability for his brand, but still embodies its informational style, as well as its affinity for conspiracy theories and online harassment campaigns.
About Mike Cernovich
Cernovich is one of America’s most visible right-wing provocateurs, known for boosting or generating massively successful conspiracy theories like #Pizzagate. He made his career on trolling the liberal establishment by accusing people of pedophilia or child sex trafficking.
Armed with a law degree, Cernovich claims to defend “free speech,” in particular the freedom to harass women and make misogynistic, violent comments. He came to prominence through his role in #Gamergate, a coordinated campaign of harassment against women in the gaming industry. Bankrolled by a divorce and by the sale of his books, Cernovich operates at the fringe of the conservative mainstream, acting as a pass-through for thinly-sourced and conspiratorial scoops. In May 2017, he joined forces with popular conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to co-host a show on Infowars, moving even deeper into the world of conspiracy theories.
In his own words
“Next time, don’t settle for the make out. If possible, at least pull out your d---. If you can get her to touch it, even better. If not, just let her know that your c--- is too swollen to go back into your jeans, and that, ‘either you’re taking care of this, or I am.’ Masturbating will set your anchor nearer the desired destination – p---- [s]port.”
—“When in Doubt, Whip it Out,” www.dangerandplay.com, February 2012
“Rape via an alpha male is different from other forms of rape. We can't really understand this, as our culture is too detached from instinct.”
—Twitter, September 2013
“I went from libertarian to alt-right after realizing tolerance only went one way and diversity is code for white genocide.”
—Twitter, October 2015
“Today we have a moment of silence for Trayvon Martin’s rape victims. Kidding! He got got before he was able to rape anyone.”
—Twitter, February 2016
“Not being a s--- is the only proven way to avoid AIDS. If you love Black women, s--- shame them.”
—Twitter, February 2016
“(((Echo))) exists because people got tired of seeing, ‘WE WHITE PEOPLE are evil and oppress blacks.’ Speak as Jews, not whites. Honesty!”
—Twitter, July 2016
“If you’re a woman, go out and tell a group of men that that man raped you. See what happens. They’re going to believe you probably, especially if you’re crying and hysterical. It’s p---- privilege. If you own a p----, men will white knight for you, they will risk their lives to save you, they will believe you. You go tell five men that I raped you they’re not going to believe me unless I’m really persuasive and my life will literally be in danger if you said that. P---- privilege is real, you got it. You also get the p---- pass.”
—Youtube, “10 Types of White Male Privilege,” March 2017
Background: From free speech to rape promotion
Cernovich’s promotion of violent misogyny and defense of rape were the drivers of his rise to public view. As Cernovich explained in a 2013 tweet: “Do a Google image search for ‘lions mating.’ That's basically rape and it's also the natural form of sex.”
In 2003, Cernovich was accused of rape. As he described, “I was arrested by federal marshals for rape and my ex-wife came to bail me out of jail.” The charge was later dropped (Cernovich credits his lawyer for pressuring the plaintiff’s friend to testify against her) and his record expunged, but he had to do community service for misdemeanor battery. The accusation seems to have been fundamental in shaping his later obsession with rape and “false rape allegations.” Cernovich credits the experience positively for making him the person he is today, in a video immortalized by the website Cernovich Leaks:
“You know, I f----- a girl, she said I raped her, that cost me 50 grand, it cost me five years of my life … yeah but now look at me now. What if I’d not f----- her? Maybe I’d be some f-----’ schlub dude living a life of quiet desperation with three kids and a wife that hates me.”
Cernovich holds a law degree from Pepperdine University. His first foray into online writing started with his blog, “Crime and Federalism,” in 2004, a year after the allegation. Initially a libertarian blog dedicated to legal issues like free speech, government and prosecutorial misconduct, and his support of federalism, it eventually took on the cause of false rape allegations and increasingly endorsed the language of “strong” masculinity (surprisingly, Cernovich praised “Obama’s Alpha Male status”) and of white identity politics. “Crime and Federalism” was consistently republished on the American Bar Association Journal’s “Blawg Directory,” featuring articles like “An Open Letter to the #C---servative Chattering Class” or “How to Write About Free Speech Without Being Called a Misogynist.”
In 2011, after his divorce from his first wife, Cernovich set up an advice blog “Danger and Play.” On it, he offered lifestyle advice on fitness, food or alternative medicine, and openly advocated for violence against women and non-consensual sex. The blog, “an online magazine for alpha males” was inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche’s quote, “The true man wants two things: danger and play. For that reason he wants woman, as the most dangerous plaything.”
Ironically, for a person preaching the domination of women by men, Cernovich’s ability to live off his writing and so prominently dedicate himself to online campaigns was in large part enabled by his divorce from his first wife, who he met in law school and married in 2003. His wife, a successful Silicon Valley attorney, eventually left Cernovich with a “seven figures” divorce settlement, Cernovich told The New Yorker. Nonetheless, he blamed their separation on “feminist indoctrination.”
“Danger and Play” soon became the locus of fiercely violent rhetoric posing as life, dating, and sex advice. In a February 2014 piece “How to Become More Dominant in the Bedroom,” Cernovich recommended: “Order her around the bedroom like you own her ... You are setting the tone. She exists for your sexual pleasure. She exists to please you.” These themes periodically dominate Cernovich’s social media feeds. In a 2013 tweet, for instance, he suggested that “Rape via an alpha male is different from other forms of rape. We can't really understand this, as our culture is too detached from instinct.”
Date rape, he further explained in a 2016 blog post, was an invention: “Rape requires the use of force, and ‘date rape’ does not exist at all as all rape is rape.” Though Cernovich has since deleted the post, “Danger and Play” is full of such blood-curdling “seduction” advice. His post “How to Choke a Woman” describes choking a woman during sex as “a useful indicator of your strength as a man.” After all, he’s declared elsewhere that “the hotter the sex, the more closely it resembles rape.” Cernovich’s belief in “alpha-maleness” is used to excuse all sorts of non-consensual behavior in the bedroom.
“How to tell if someone is a true player?” Cernovich tweeted in 2011. “There’s a 100% chance he’s had a pregnancy scare, and a 25% chance he’s had a false rape scare,” he tweeted. Misogyny, he mused elsewhere, “gets you laid.”
In a video, full of racial slurs, where Cernovich discusses “male privilege f------ f------,” he explains that true privilege is actually “p---- privilege” because women can put a man’s life in danger with rape accusations.
In September of 2011, he gave advice to his readers in an article entitled “How to Avoid a False Rape Case,” including secretly filming sexual encounters, texting your sexual partner the morning after to accumulate contradictory evidence, having the girl put on the condom to ensure her fingerprints are on it, and, in all caps, NEVER TALK[ING] TO THE POLICE. As Cernovich declared in a tweet, this was “anti-rape game. After abusing a girl, I always immediately send a text and save her reply.”
Should there be any ambiguity left about his vision of women, Cernovich declared, “All girls are the same. Once you realize that essentially p---- is fungible then there’s no pedestal, you’re like, 'well, it’s good p---- and I like it.'”
Clearly embodying the obsession with false rape allegations and female domination by men so prevalent in male supremacist circles, Cernovich jumped to the defense of men’s rights causes, while claiming he didn’t identify as a men’s rights activist. In 2015, he contributed $10,000 to produce the pro men's rights documentary The Red Pill by Cassie Jaye, thus earning the title of associate producer. More of a self-promoter than an ideologue, Cernovich is primarily concerned with sex and false rape allegations and focuses on individuals, but often stops short of the lopsided political analysis that defines men’s rights activists.
Though its influence has been declining, “Danger and Play” still attracted 30,000 unique visitors in January 2018. Cernovich’s more consistent following is split between a variety of social media platforms. He accumulated substantial followings during a period of unwillingness by tech companies to moderate content. Cernovich, for instance, flourished on Twitter, which he used to generate and court national controversies like #Gamergate and #Pizzagate. He reached 401,000 followers as of January 2018. He also has an extended following on Periscope and YouTube (with over 65,000 followers on YouTube and 83,000 on Periscope as of January 2018). Cernovich depicts himself as a family-friendly, athletic and healthy dad on these platforms, obscuring his misogynist writings and rants.
Gamergate and harassment campaigns
Cernovich is known for using trolling tactics and encouraging harassment of his detractors, techniques affiliated with unsavory parts of the men’s rights community online. Cernovich cut his teeth with a harassment campaign in 2008, when he published the name of a marine who had been filmed throwing a puppy off a cliff and helped incite his followers to get retribution, ultimately by harassing the marine’s family. He wrote at the time, “After confirming him as the puppy killer, we must engage in an online campaign to ensure that everyone who does business with or associates with him is warned.” A few years later, he would use “Crime and Federalism” to write on #Gamergate, using it to critique female journalists and gamers and defend the free speech rights of those inciting their harassment — which he was simultaneously egging on.
Cernovich achieved greater prominence during the 2014 #Gamergate harassment campaign, coordinated across social media platforms and online forums. Ignited by a blog-post by Eron Gjoni, an ex-boyfriend of female video game developer Zoë Quinn, in which he accused Quinn of sleeping with men in return for positive coverage of her game, #Gamergate turned into a full-blown campaign of harassment against women in the video game industry masquerading as a campaign for “ethics” in gaming journalism. Cernovich offered to give Gjoni pro bono legal advice in the name of “free speech” or more accurately, as he explained on Twitter, “to fight against the free speech hating SJWs” (a preferred acronym of the "alt-right" for social justice warriors.)
Cernovich obtained Quinn’s legal complaint against her ex-boyfriend and gave it to rabid misogynist pick-up artist Roosh so that he could write a piece attacking Quinn on his website, Return of Kings. Cernovich also covered the issue at length on “Crime and Federalism” (as a “free speech” issue) and “Danger and Play.”
Despite this unsavory record, Cernovich became somewhat of a lifestyle and masculinity model. In 2015, he self-published his first self-help book, Gorilla Mindset, which he described as a “book about embracing your gorilla nature to find dominance and power, but you will see that this primarily means power over yourself, not others.” The book reached best-seller status in its category on Amazon. Never missing an occasion to make money, Cernovich also sells Gorilla Mind cognitive supplements online.
As he described in Gorilla Mindset, growing up on welfare in a working-class family, Cernovich was bullied for his weight until he “chang[ed] his mindset,” exercised, ate better, and ingested a constant stream of nutritional supplements (his detractors nicknamed him “Juicebro”). Sold as the success story of someone who was able to regain power in life, it forgets another group of people over which Cernovich decided to exercise his power: women.
Making news through trolling
Cernovich, who describes his journalism as “Pulitzer-worthy,” has repeatedly boosted absurd conspiracy theories, which, amplified by his platform, have taken on lives of their own. He is best known for his role in promoting the #Pizzagate fiasco, when he shamelessly promulgated the conspiracy theory that John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign manager, was using the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizzeria to operate a child sex trafficking ring, an obscure theory that emerged out of 4chan.
The conspiracy took off after the release of John Podesta’s emails by Wikileaks: social media users started tracking the use of the word “pizza” in the emails, claiming “cheese pizza” was a code word for “child pornography.” Thousands bought into the conspiracy theory and latched on to the idea that the pizzeria, whose owner had corresponded with Podesta, was, in fact, a cover for a child sex ring. This was a typical instance of what Cernovich would describe as “citizen journalism” (he considers himself a “citizen journalist”) and that can more aptly be described as the madness of crowds.
The hysteria didn’t stop there. A man, Edgar Welch, then drove from North Carolina to D.C. with an assault rifle and a handgun and walked into the pizzeria firing shots, looking for the child abuse ring. It became one of the most blatant demonstrations of the dangerous effects of online conspiracy theories. Ever discerning with his information, Cernovich claimed that the event was fake.
Cernovich has accused members of the liberal establishment (from liberal politicians to prominent media personalities) of being pedophiles or running child sex rings in short Twitter blasts. As compiled by Jesse Singal in NY Mag, Cernovich’s accusations of pedophilia have targeted everyone from the Clintons to Hillary Clinton’s presidential running mate Tim Kaine (renamed by Cernovich “Creepy Kaine”), to video producer Vic Berger, IV. He even hinted that Salon or the BBC might be covering up for pedophilia. Part troll-fest, part genuine outrage, these campaigns flood social media, created or pushed by Cernovich, and succeed in making concepts that are conjured out of thin air topics of conversation.
Despite making completely unsubstantiated accusations of pedophilia, Cernovich discussed the allegations that aspiring Alabama senator Roy Moore had sexually abused underage girls cautiously. After tweeting that “If it’s true, string the guy up, man. I got no problem with that,” he later retweeted individuals casting doubt on the validity of the accusers, writing: “When you’re lied about in the news daily, as I am, you pause when 40-year-old accusations surface one month away from an election where WaPo endorsed the other candidate.” Taking it further, however, Cernovich then recorded a podcast giving “scientific” advice to Roy Moore, to tell him how to use the scandal as an opportunity to talk about the things he wanted to talk about: “if you don’t like the conversation, change it!”
Cernovich’s obsession with pedophilia may be nothing more than an attention-seeking campaign. His cartoonish attempts to argue about various liberals’ pedophilic tendency (in an episode of Infowars, he and Alex Jones, for instance, argued that Joe Biden might be a pedophile for “rubbing” his daughter’s hair in a video) might fit into a more deliberate strategy of “creating compelling spectacle using conflict” — or, as he described to The New Yorker, “use trolling tactics to build my brand.”
The ability to create catchy hashtags and memes is fundamental to Cernovich’s online success: he renamed CNN the Clinton News Network and pushed the hashtag #HillarysHealth which became a national trending topic on Twitter. His followers then do the rest. An SPLC analysis found that Cernovich’s Twitter account was the third most mentioned account in tweets on Clinton’s health. (Cernovich then managed to push his theory of Clinton’s illness to a new audience by challenging “60 minutes” host and “CBS Evening News” anchor Scott Pelley on his sources, an event praised by his devotees as the undoing of old media by the new.) As Scott Greer, an editor at the Daily Caller with questionable ties to white nationalists, tweeted, “Cernovich memed #SickHillary into reality. Never doubt the power of memes.”
With his ability to propel baseless conspiracy theories into the national conversation, it is fitting that Cernovich started co-hosting a show on Infowars in May of 2017 with America’s most influential conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, thus lending him an even larger platform from which to promote his outlandish conspiracies.
Connection to the “alt-right”
Cernovich willfully associated with the so-called "alt-right" until it became a brand liability. He has long supported many of its underlying tenets. In October 2015, Cernovich tweeted that “I went from libertarian to alt-right after realizing tolerance only went one way and diversity is code for white genocide.” He ran to the alt-right’s defense a year before Charlottesville, and to attack Black Lives Matter, tweeting: “The "alt-right" hasn't killed anyone, but #BlackLivesMatter regularly slaughters the innocent. Know the real threat. Think! #Dallas.” Similarly, picking up on the idea of white genocide in South Africa, he wrote “South Africa is learning what happens when whites are exterminated. Total decay and chaos, rape, murder.”
Despite being a rape apologist himself, Cernovich jumped onto the "alt-right" bandwagon of blaming other ethnicities for rape, alternately blaming “Muslim rape culture,” African countries, and non-Western immigrants for bringing in rape. Despite unabashedly boasting of his passion for rough sex, he wrote: “Not being a s--- is the only proven way to avoid AIDS. If you love Black women, s--- shame them.”
Cernovich has repeatedly picked up on racist and white supremacist talking points popular on the alt-right, writing that “the alt-right and I share interests (intellectual and personal).” Rarely rejecting an alt-right theme, for instance, he embraced the idea of ethnic tribalism tweeting, “If you're a Jew, great. Enough with this, ‘WE whites are racist’ bullshit. Speak for your tribe: ‘WE Jews are racist.’” He also defended echoes, the alt-right practice of using three parentheses around names of Jewish people as “(((Echo))) exists because people got tired of seeing, ‘WE WHITE PEOPLE are evil and oppress blacks.’ Speak as Jews, not whites. Honesty!”
Realizing this was an unpopular mainstream position, however, Cernovich banned alt-right personality Baked Alaska (a.k.a. Anthime Gionet) from attending the Deploraball — a party that Cernovich helped organize that was held the day before Donald Trump’s inauguration — after he made antisemitic comments. The rift led some within the movement to burn their copies of Gorilla Mindset, and to Baked Alaska tweeting a meme representing Cernovich as a back-stabber. Never afraid of infighting, Cernovich then proceeded to reveal that someone who had sided with Baked Alaska against him was “morbidly obese” and had a Jewish wife — thus setting in motion the process that led to the doxing of Mike Peinovich.
Cernovich, however, has no problem standing by other dubious parties: he came to the defense of Kyle Chapman (a.k.a. Based Stickman), the founder of the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights fight club, when he was arrested for allegedly hitting counter-protestors with a lead-filled stick at a pro-Trump march in March 2017. Cernovich contributed $2,500 in donations to his legal defense fund.
The rift between Cernovich and white nationalists (represented by Richard Spencer) was made apparent when Cernovich hosted a "Rally Against Political Violence" simultaneously with Spencer’s “Free Speech” rally in Washington, D.C., in June 2017. Cernovich was joined by the Proud Boys’ Kyle Prescott, Rebel Media’s Jack Posobiec, and Laura Loomer, all of whom were rebranded as “alt-lite” by leaders in the alt-right for stopping short of endorsing full-throated white nationalism.
The divide was further accentuated, after the "Unite the Right" protest in Charlottesville in August 2017. The protest was the largest white supremacist rally in over a decade. It descended into chaotic violence and ultimately left Heather Heyer, a counter-protester, dead. In the aftermath, Cernovich decided to record a video called What I got Alt-Wrong about the Alt-Right, explaining that he would now distance himself from the "alt-right" because it was about “Nazi flags,” hailgates, and antisemitism — which led him to conspiratorially claim that the "alt-right" was essentially “a deep-state operation to discredit Donald Trump.” He explained that he realized the "alt-right" was not an adult movement ready to have measured conversations on whiteness or Jewishness. He has since told Newsweek that the "alt-right" was a “toxic waste that ruins any area they inhabit” — and who incidentally, he said elsewhere, rejected him as a “race-mixer.” Instead, he wanted to do “nationalism without white identity politics.”
Since Charlottesville, he has become one of the leading voices in attempting to move the right wing fringe into a new, cleaner direction, notably by organizing a “Night for Freedom” event in New York in January 2018, where he instructed guests who could afford the expensive tickets (upwards of $199) to “dress to impress,” noting that “by attending the event, you become a brand ambassador. Do you want to make us look professional, or do you want us to look sloppy?”
Headliners included Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes, who went on a vicious tirade against trans people, and Cernovich, who again ranted about a global pedophile network. Though Cernovich might not be the far-right’s most coherent or intellectual leader, he is still one of its substantial bankrollers, even going so far as offering to pay protesters to disrupt a production of Julius Cesar in which the actor playing Caesar closely resembled Donald Trump.
Influence in the mainstream
Whether Cernovich is able to clean up the far-right brand may be irrelevant, given his wealth and his alleged access to the White House ( Donald Trump, Jr. has even tweeted that Cernovich deserved the Pulitzer). His crudity has not prevented him from reaching the highest seats of power. His influence has also meant that the White House has occasionally utilized him by allegedly passing on sources. When necessary, Cernovich hands stories to Breitbart or other publications, where they achieve greater impact and transfer into the mainstream media.
Someone who has historically whitewashed sexual assault and led harassment campaigns, Cernovich abruptly started to denounce members of the Democratic establishment for their hypocrisy and challenging alleged perpetrators of harassment. In November 2017, Cernovich handed Buzzfeed documents showing that Democratic representative John Conyers had settled with an employee after she had accused him of sexual harassment, which led to Conyers’ resignation. Cernovich then announced he would reveal harassment allegations against a high-level Democratic senator, before realizing that he had been handed forged documents making allegations against Democratic senator Chuck Schumer — a paradox for someone who made combating false rape allegations one of his life’s struggles.
Cernovich regularly uses his wealth to obtain sources. For instance, he offered $10,000 to whoever would send him the “Shitty Men in Media” list that circulated among women in media trying to warn one another of men at whose hands they had experienced harassment or abuse. His wealth — allowing him to bankroll events, produce documentaries, self-publish books, and spend time on Youtube, Periscope and Twitter — might be the biggest reason for his relevance within far-right politics today. In January 2018, Cernovich even put up a $500,000 bid to buy one of his longtime enemies, Gawker.com.
In many ways, it is the traditional media’s inability to deal with the forms of trolling that define Cernovich, and which his base expects, that allows him to thrive. Cernovich tables on moral gesturing by liberals and thus plays them at their own game. In 2017 he managed to get MSNBC contributor Sam Seder fired, generating outrage by bringing up one of Seder’s clearly sarcastic tweets on pedophilia, and misrepresenting it as a trivialization (Seder was eventually rehired by the network.) In March of that year, he successfully pushed the New York Times editor Liz Spayd to publicly condemn a reporter for endorsing sex trafficking because she alluded to a comment on Melania Trump being “pimped out.”
As he told an interviewer at Vice, “You guys could create this caricature of [me as] a madman and a monster, and maybe two or three people who follow me on Twitter would like even watch it. So we live now in parallel structures. Right now there’s no shared set of facts in the country.”
And in that world, journalistic and moral integrity be damned, Cernovich knows he is someone to reckon with.