Trigger Warning: This story has references of violence and disturbing content.
Yash, a 14-year-old from Delhi, admires Andrew Tate - a British-American media personality, former kick-boxer, and a highly polarising internet sensation.
“He has full control of his life. He's a successful person, he has people who have his back. And he inspires me. He inspires me to work harder, become successful, and focus on things which matter - family, work, career and so on,” he told Decode.
Tate is currently in Romania, where he stands accused of rape, human trafficking, and forming an organised crime group to sexually exploit women.
Yash is your regular school-going kid - he leads a “chill life” - a bit of school, friends, and basketball. Tate’s influence on him, at face value, seems benign, or rather positive. However, Tate’s preaching has often transgressed beyond self-improvement, into the realm of misogyny, violence, and exploitation, and it has enabled the radicalisation of an online community of budding misogynists.
Decode spoke to four of Tate's fans between the ages of 14-34, and went through multiple responses to our Reddit posts by both fans and haters, to closely examine Tate's marketing strategy. We found that Tate deploys similar recruiting techniques as those used by White Supremacists and ISIS.
"When I Grab You By Your Neck..."
Ever since law enforcement in Romania cracked down on Tate, there has been considerable toning down on the extreme misogyny and violence in his videos.
However, his past videos from now-banned social media accounts, re-shared multiple times by his fans, strongly back the criticism he has faced for the promotion of ‘toxic masculinity’, and violence against women.
In one of his now-deleted TikTok videos, Tate explains how he would react if his female partner accused him of cheating, and dared to reach for the machete that he keeps next to his bed: “Bang out the machete, boom in her face, then grip her up by the neck, you go 'SHUT UP BITCH' she's shaking on the floor, panties are all wet, and you go fuck her. That's how it goes - slap, slap, grab, choke, shut up bitch, sex."
In another video he made, he talks about how women cannot effectively learn self-defence, and says, "When I grab you (a woman) by your neck, and you start annoying me and try to resist, and I just (violently punches his hand repeatedly, indicating the beating of a woman) and then I grab you by your neck again, then what the fuck you gonna do when your face is collapsed and your fucking cheekbone is broken? You ain't gonna do shit but cry."
Earlier this year, a 30-year-old British woman accused Tate of choking and raping her 10 years ago, hinting at the possibility that the misogynistic violence preached by Tate was not confined to his videos.
Many of his supporters hailed Tate for being successful, by implementing lucrative business models. However, going through his past interviews, and now-defunct websites, Tate's business model became clear - exploit women to make money.
In a podcast interview, Tate once stated, "I had 75 women working for me in four locations and I was doing $600,000 a month from webcam."
On his website - Cobratate, he offered a 'course' to men on how to trap women and exploit them through a now-deleted programme called PHD - "Pimping Hoes Degree". An excerpt from the website reads, "My job was to meet a girl, go on a few dates, sleep with her, test if she's quality, get her to fall in love with me to where she'd do anything I say, and then get her on webcam so we could become rich together."
Click here to view an archived version of the site.
The Bait Of Self-Improvement
While his in-your-face misogyny has drawn him considerable attention - both good and bad - Tate also uses more benign forms of messaging - of self-improvement and success - to draw supporters. He often targets young men who he states are 'undervalued' - with the rising popularity of feminism - and claims to provide them the secret to become more valuable.
A Reddit user told Decode that Tate had become the cause of a rift between him, and his cousin and aunt - whom he described as a former feminist.
“My aunt did her MBBS in Jhansi, got married in Kerala. She is a British citizen now - a doctor in the NHS, and settled in Scotland. She has OCD, and is kind of a fitness nut, but her son was overweight. So when Tate’s shorts motivated my cousin to hit the gym and lose weight, Tate got her attention,” he said over a Reddit conversation.
Another Reddit user likened Tate's fandom to a cult. "It's simple, he lures you into the cult with sensible things like: Go to the gym, focus on yourself and work hard,” the user wrote. He believes that it makes Tate a “pseudo-reasonable role model” for people to follow in some aspects, because Tate then unloads the misogynist subtext along with hypermasculine content on his followers, which have little to do with self-improvement.
"He focuses on people who think they're sore losers, he makes them realise that they are not useless. They have some worth, they can do things. And they are on this path in this life for a reason. He makes them feel special," said Yash, answering a question on what make Tate stand out among other motivational speakers.
Decode went through dozens of online forum discussions on Tate, and found a commonality among Tate supporters - they all claimed that Tate helped them become better, and come out of a “dark place”.
Another Reddit user, currently preparing for the NEET exam, wrote in a highly popular forum discussion, "He (Tate) saved me from depression and even made me think about my future and made me realise what I want to become in life. My relationship with my parents is also getting better just because of him, and there are many many happy things that happened in my life in last year just because I took some of his advice."
Yash, and many other teenagers and young adults said they were influenced by Tate to go to the gym, and make money - make something out of their lives. But these positive messages were quickly followed-up with more extreme views.
Nirali Bhatia, a cyber psychologist who studies online behaviour, and counsels cybercrime victims, believes this to be a typical example of how online extremism begins.
"Young minds, in their formative age, are looking for a way to go ahead. And what these online communities offer is instant fame, success, and doing a larger good. If you are a young mind, in the internet age - why wouldn't you want that," Bhatia explained.
"In young adults and teens, what we see is that there has to be something you like about yourself, whether it is academics, or sports - something that will bind you to the confidence in your own personality," she said. According to Bhatia, the lack of confidence among the youth can lead to insecurities, which opens up the mind to seek out 'belongingness' - something that the internet offers aplenty.
"An underlying, and common deep-rooted reason for being influenced by extreme ideologies is the need for belonging. Belonging to some school of thought, or some common value system. If we find even the closest link with a group ideology, we will waiver towards that group," she stated.
Bhatia's explanation alluded to the fairly common methodology of online radicalisation. Such techniques have been used by ISIS, White Supremacists and QAnon conspiracy theorists to draw supporters from around the world through the internet - and the manosphere is not far behind.
Extremism In The Manosphere
On May 23, 2014, 22-year-old Elliot Rodger went on a killing spree - killing six people, and injuring 14 others, in Isla Vista, California. During the attacks, Rodger uploaded a video on YouTube titled "Elliot Rodger's Retribution", where he explained that the attacks were meant to punish women for rejecting him.
Rodger was an incel - a community of men who proclaim themselves 'involuntary celibate', who believe in sexual entitlement for men, and blame women for their celibacy. Rodger was also highly active in the manosphere - a collection of websites, forums, blogs, podcasts and videos dedicated to misogyny, masculinity and opposition to feminism.
Tate's extreme views were in clear synergy with the beliefs of the manosphere, and Indian participants were not left out. Decode interviewed several Reddit users whose views on women, and on men's position in society, were heavily influenced by Tate.
18-year-old Kaisar from Bangalore, currently preparing for the JEE (Joint Entrance Examination), agrees with some of Tate' views on women.
His views developed while he was in school - when he was facing insecurities and isolation due to being overweight. "They (girls in his class) were my classmates. They acted really disgusted when they were made to sit next to me. They would refuse to share stationery when needed, and stuff like that," he said in conversation with Decode.
Kaisar believes Tate has helped him confirm his views - that women only care about men's looks and their wallets.
"What a woman looks for in you is looks and money, there's nothing more than that. This (view) was based on my personal experience, but also the fact that Andrew Tate talked about it, made it really solid," he explained. He states that he was an 'incel' in school, and that Tate's teachings have helped him go to the gym and feel better about himself.
20-year-old Arnav Pandey is a fan of Andrew Tate as well. He told Decode that what he finds interesting about Tate is “he talks about things which are true but most people won't say it openly” - such as the world currently being gynocentric, and unfair towards men.
“Have you ever seen teachers hit girls in school? No. Girls can get away with a lot more, and get less punishment. If a boy does something he is asked to stand outside. This almost never happens to girls,” Pandey told Decode.
On Tate’s past videos promoting exploitation of women, Pandey believes that Tate is simply joking. “He isn't perfect and can be a bit extreme at times. Also he is entertaining af.”
34-year-old Pratap*, who currently lives in Australia, says although he is not an Andrew Tate fan, he supports Tate for his views. Speaking to Decode over a WhatsApp call, he explains, "I want to point out that every man cannot be perfect. He (Tate) is trying to say something that most men cannot say right now, because they are helpless."
Pratap believes that after the spread of feminism, patriarchy is making a comeback. "See, there is an Overton window. There was a phase when women were oppressed; then many societies thought, no, women should not be oppressed. We had first wave of feminism, second wave of feminism. Now, we are going to a point where we are saying, oh, the ancestors were right," he says.
Responding to cases of domestic violence by men on women, he states, "Why would a man hit a woman? If you do some research - there was a guy who put that (sic) - always women hit men first in domestic violence cases. But the harm that is caused when a man hits a woman is much more."
Decode was unable to find any reliable evidence to corroborate Pratap's claim. However, we did find a study from 2008 that analysed the use of violence by women with male intimate partners.
The study indicated that violence used by women "usually occurs in the context of violence against them by their male partners". It also cited evidence to state that "women’s physical violence is more likely than men’s violence to be motivated by self-defense and fear, whereas men’s physical violence is more likely than women’s to be driven by control motives".
Arnav, Kaisar and Pratap were already influenced by the manosphere, when Andrew Tate came along and confirmed their respective views on women.
"People who have been uprooted from their common ground of belonging, are going to be easily swayed, and will be easily radicalised and influenced," explained Bhatia, a cyber psychologist, upon hearing of these cases.
"Let us not forget that there is a segment that believes in traditional masculinity. And when they come across somebody popular like Tate reinforcing their beliefs, it is a natural connection. It validates all they thought. While living in a society which is progressive, which is trying to drop that belief system, they would have been at a backseat - you’re not belonging to this thought process. But when you find somebody who is validating it, you join them," she further states.
Deradicalisation Through Awareness
In March 2019, 28-year-old Brenton Tarrant visited two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, with semi-automatic rifles, boltguns and shotguns, and killed 51 people during Friday Prayers, while live-streaming the attack.
Researcher Beatrice Williamson at The Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, at University of Saint Andrews, studied Tarrant's online activities before the attack.
An excerpt from her paper reads, "In his manifesto Tarrant claimed the internet was responsible for his belief system’s development as “you will not find the truth anywhere else”; allegedly the internet broke the hold of the corporate and state media allowing “true freedom of thought and discussion”."
Williamson also highlighted the rampant use of memes and jokes to perpetuate racist and misogynistic ideas, "where users have learnt to exploit algorithms and social media weaknesses to distort public perception and gain a disproportionally loud voice".
Yet another study found anti-Muslim sentiments in France, UK, Germany and Belgium to be a strong precursor to pro-ISIS radicalisation, through social alienation of young Muslims in these countries.
Similarities can be drawn with Tate's modus operandi, and with the Islamophobic-misogynist cases of the Bulli Bai and Sulli Deals app in India.
In January 2022, we reported on how violent memes were used by four highly-radicalised youth - all under the age of 24 - to promote ideas of genocide, rape, child abuse and murder. The four accused in these cases found drawn to extreme ideas on online forums and Telegram channels, and finding support within the community pushed them further into radical thoughts and actions.
"Deradicalizing is actually a very long process. And the key lies in identifying the root idea of what is driving that person over to extreme ideologies," said Bhatia, who had worked with victims of the Bulli Bai and Sulli Deals cases.
According to Bhatia, in order to deradicalise, one needs to take a closer look at the underlying conditions and belief system that are triggered in the radicalisation process. "Deradicalisaiton can be done by making them more aware of the extremities in their mindsets," she adds.
Like Tarrant and Rodger, Kaisar, Arnav and Pratap too claim to feel alienated - from women, and from a society that is that is progressing out of traditional ideas of patriarchy, and influenced by feminism. The manosphere comes along and gives them a sense of belongingness and acceptance.
Therefore, deradicalisation will have to undergo the painful process of shattering the belief systems that triggered the initial alienation. For Andrew Tate fans, it would mean finding a place in the progressive world through critical analyses of their beliefs about masculinity and feminism, which had initially triggered their alienation.
It may not be an easy feat for many to shun their existing beliefs, and when it comes to teenagers and adolescents, it is up to parents and teachers to provide the space and comfort for such youngsters to not feel further alienated, as they reexamine their ideas.
Parents And Teachers Have A Big Role To Play
Yash may be a fan of Andrew Tate, and even go as far as idolising him, but he agrees that he would have to revisit his ideas about Tate, if the ongoing accusations against him prove to be correct - and that it would not be easy.
He adds, "It would be hard to accept these allegations, if they are proven to be true. All of the opinions I had about him will be shattered. But yes, I would be totally open to accepting these allegations if they turned out to be true.”
For teenagers like Yash, Bhatia believes parents and teachers have a big role to play, in order to make sure they do not fall prey to extreme ideas.
“A lot of times we shut up children who ask us questions - very typically when it comes to religious practices - and that’s when we start killing their instinct of asking questions. But if we can nurture that habit, whether as a parent or teacher, children will not blindly accept anything that is extreme,” she explains.
For parents, who wish to converse with their children about people like Tate, Bhatia believes they must first properly educate themselves on the topic.
“If your child comes and tells you that he likes watching Andrew’s videos, take that opportunity to educate them with the right facts. And you can only do it once you are aware of who this person really is. And what it is about this particular person or group or cult that is attracting your child,” she adds.
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