Feb. 6 was supposed to be a momentous day.
Feb. 6 was supposed to be the day the writers and lurkers that make up Return of Kings, an anti-feminist website, would finally congregate. Though RoK began as a platform and forum for a fascinating breed of American heterosexual male — men allergic to political correctness who mourn the supposed slow death of masculinity — RoK had apparently expanded greatly over the years of its existence, so much so that Roosh Valizadeh, RoK’s head honcho, called for members around the world to meet at specific locations for male bonding sessions. Like, hella male bonding sessions. No women and homosexuals. Treehouse boy clubs with happy hour drinks.
Filipino members were scheduled to meet up at the “R” structure near one of Greenbelt’s driveways, on or before 8:20 p.m. Roosh’s blog post on the legalization of rape was largely responsible for the outrage the followed, and upon hearing of protests being organized around these various location, Roosh cancelled the meet-ups.
I figured some people were going to convene at the R anyway, so I went to see for myself.
On Feb. 6, I waited by the R at around 8:10, feeling passersby drilling hard stares into me. The plan was to pose as someone who lurked through RoK’s pages, a straight 20-something studying the tenets of neo-masculinity. Five minutes in, I overheard Roosh’s name, and moved to a nearby spot where I met an Australian named Hesse Kassel, and an American whom I will call Chad.
Kassel is a retired economist of stocky build and mild-mannered temperament. He wears glasses, takes his time with his beer, and finds the act of raising one’s arms to call a waiter’s attention rude and discomforting. He later revealed himself to me and Chad as a writer for RoK, responsible for articles such as “5 Lines That Potential Wives Cannot Cross” and “8 Reasons It Doesn’t Get Better For Homosexual Men.” Hesse Kassel also isn’t his real name. He is afraid that if he is found out, an angry social justice warrior will throw bricks through his window.
Chad is taller than me, likes to travel, and prefers emotionally invested relationships over one-night stands. He says he loves the Philippines. He likes the women here. He views RoK as an educational source of male self-improvement.
Both Kassel and Chad are far from the alpha-jock stereotype I imagined RoK followers would look like — far from the image Roosh V, RoK’s leader, seems to project — which shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did.
I should explain. For the few days that the meet-ups were set to push through, I imagined this kind of scenario: about a classroom’s worth of Filipino RoK members — 20 to 40 men, maybe — would convene near the “R” while straight allies not of their membership would spy and infiltrate. The group would move to a warehouse (I don’t know why I imagined a warehouse) and a self-appointed tribal leader would facilitate discussion on the death of masculinity and the artistry of the pick-up. One man would give some kind of go-signal to the allied pack, stand on their chairs, and confess allegiance to gender equality. Then maybe 10 minutes of bloody crotch-punching. I thought there would be a small crowd of “Tribal and Affliction” shirts pooling at the R. I thought a brave handful of straight male allies were gonna go full Project Mayhem on RoK. But that’s not what happened.
“There will always be bigoted people who reside on any given point in the alpha-to-beta spectrum of masculinity.”
Kassel, Chad, and I moved to a nearby bar. Talk of difference between the sexes made up roughly 10 percent of the conversation; I sipped on my beer while the two grown-ups discussed real estate and the Australian economy. Very little talk by way of politics, of core beliefs — of women, even. This was a male bonding session after all, and from my personal experience, such affairs hold little room for political firebranding. And here I was expecting to be evangelized on the superiority of the male species.
We called it a night at about 9:30. And… that was it. I thought something exciting was going to happen. Nothing exciting happened. I still have their cellphone numbers.
It shouldn’t bother me that there exist mild-mannered people who happen to resonate with Roosh’s teachings. There will always be bigoted people who reside on any given point in the alpha-to-beta spectrum of masculinity. But this piece isn’t about the notion that a Kassel lurks inside all of us, that in the blur of faces you encounter every day might be a Chad weaving through the crowd. That’s not my main complaint.
No, it’s that my undercover meeting with RoK was boring. Kassel was boring. Chad was boring. And you’re boring. You’re all boring.
Until Roosh V made the cancellation announcement, no one I knew was organizing a protest, or messaging straight male allies for a motley crew infiltration mission. I asked a couple of people, what is the most effective way to shut this down? Dialogue and education? But that’s for the children, the ones not yet stapled down by cognitive bias. Picketing? Outdated. Angry nonviolent mobs would only further strengthen the bonds uniting RoK. Staying out of it was another suggestion. RoK is a mass of trolls, after all, that feed on publicity more than they sustain injury from it, the same way members of the Westboro Baptist Church gorge on the outrage their opponents generate. I thought, there must be more creative ways of expressing outrage. But no one was writing open letters to Greenbelt. And the claim of one of my Facebooks friends to wack an RoK member across the face with a giant dildo remains empty. Hell, my stint as an “undercover journalist” was a farce.
Feb. 6 turned out to be a show of outrage theater. RoK members crawling back into their little holes, and male feminist allies settling comfortably into the status quo of armchair activism. The days leading to Feb. 6 were supposed to be momentous, an ideological battle between the most caricatured enemies of feminist society and the modern straight male ally. But no. Just a whole bunch of men, puffed chests and shrunken testicles, proving they can’t be properly good or properly evil.
Hello, ladies. I’m sorry we’re like this.