Hearing that Daryush Valizadeh, a blogger who set off global outrage last week when he planned to organize men-only “tribal gatherings” around the world, would be holding a press conference Saturday night in a Dupont Circle hotel was like receiving an invitation to a real-life meeting with one of the odder corners of internet culture. Valizadeh had already had an interesting week: His planned meetings resurfaced an article he wrote last year in which he suggested rapes committed on private property should be legal, prompting internet-wide condemnation, rebukes from government officials around the globe, and the online-activist group Anonymous publishing his parents’ address.
A day after the Daily Mail followed Anonymous’s tip to a Silver Spring cul-de-sac and found him at the door, Valizadeh—who goes by the nom-de-blog “Roosh V”—hastily called the press conference, supposedly to dispel charges that he is a “pro-rape” advocate.
The set-up suggested the strangeness that was to come. Valizadeh did not supply the exact location until less than two hours before it started. He arrived escorted by a clutch of burly men who he said were bodyguards, and set up his own cameras to ensure his online followers would have their own view of the proceedings with the dozen or journalists who took the bait.
What followed was nearly an hour of ranting, evasions, and accusations ranging from broadside attacks on all media to responding to one of my questions by asking, “Do you lift?” And rather than spend the remainder of the night adding to his purported sexual conquests—Valizadeh has self-published more than a dozen “guides” to seducing women in many different countries, all with the word “Bang” in the title—he followed the press conference by setting his Twitter followers loose on the reporters who showed up.
“This article, to a ten-year-old, was obvious I didn’t intend to legalize rape or cause harm against women,” Valizadeh said about his February 2015 post that his critics seized upon. While he said it was meant to be satire from the start, though, it is not difficult to see why readers would take it as his genuine belief.
As “Roosh V,” Valizadeh has built up a small but dedicated following of a philosophy he calls “neomasculinity.” He believes that women should be socially and physically submissive to men, claims to have 1 million monthly readers, and has written about multiple sexual encounters in which the woman was too inebriated to give consent.
But rather than give off a veneer of strength and virility, Valizadeh on Saturday came off as rambling, paranoid, and defensive, answering nearly every question by pivoting back to his belief that he is the victim of a media conspiracy, guzzling through several bottles of water in the process. He told a reporter from Vice Media that the company peddles “garbage,” and called the Daily Beast a CIA front.
“As you see I’ve been under a lot of stress from this mob that’s coming after me because of these things you wrote that don’t conform to the real world, and I don’t get it,” he said. “You’re ready to write that this guy is pro-rape without knowing where that false idea comes from.”
Even if Valizadeh’s professed exploits have been on the right side of the law, they do not, as Vox pointed out last week, comport to most people’s definition of rape. (The FBI defines it as “penetration, no matter how slight” without consent.)
“I’ve never been accused of rape,” he said. “Nobody’s ever read something by me and went onto rape, because I know if they did hurt a woman it would be all over the news.
Valizadeh’s grasp of the actual news seemed to be lacking, though. At one point, he said international media “covered up” a wave of sexual assaults on New Year’s Eve in Cologne, Germany. He dismissed out-of-hand the dozens of sexual-assault allegations against Bill Cosby. “The evidence I’ve seen is girls wanting to be with him and take drugs with him,” he said.
He also, when prompted, said that Donald Trump is the presidential candidate who comes closest to his beliefs.
That Valizadeh would endorse a candidate known for his own moments of bombast, media criticism, and, frankly, misogyny is worth a few chuckles, but it’s of a piece. Trump’s following has always seemed much bigger online than actually on the ground because he is selling a brand that supersedes politics. He’s shallow on policy, but long on promises of greatness because he is so great himself.
Valizadeh is doing the same, but on a much smaller and even baser level than Trump. Perhaps, as he insisted several times on Saturday, he was only visiting his mother in Silver Spring and has no fixed address because he is constantly traveling the world bedding women. (The only evidence being social-media photos of him on streets in Eastern Europe, which are scattered between him posing with a fan of $20 and $50 bills.) Maybe he does have the million-plus readers and continuous stream of advertising revenue he claims.
But maybe he’s just a loathsome character who believes in the crude, escapist fantasy he offers to the internet dregs. Valizadeh started his lifestyle blogging more a decade ago as “DC Bachelor,” which started as dating stories and media criticism and grew into his “pick-up artist” persona that eventually birthed his current site, Return of Kings, where the legal-rape argument appeared. He claimed that, like a feedback loop, the attention he sparks elicits invitations from women.
“I’m getting emails from girls, a lot of girls right now, and I plan once this drama dies down, if I can survive it, I may have to get in touch with them,” he said. “That’s what you have given me.”
It’s tough to discern if those emails are real. Following the press conference, Valizadeh seemed more interested in getting in touch with his fanbase, however large or small. He had salty tweets for every reporter who showed up, including me:
This is the guy from the presser who doesn’t lift. Weak body & weak questions. Go back to your third-tier magazine https://t.co/0k2cqq0005
— Roosh (@rooshv) February 7, 2016
Since this was sent, my mentions column has been peppered with derogatory insults from Valizadeh’s followers, and I am sure the publication of this article will incite more. (I can assure the user who said I weigh 125 pounds that he is off by about 24 percent.) The press conference will serve as a reminder that the internet remains fundamentally dangerous terrain, populated with subcultures that could only thrive in a non-material space. We just happened to meet one of the ringleaders.
Unlike Trump, though, Valizadeh can’t back up his bluster with actual crowds. Although he officially canceled his “tribal gatherings,” he intimated that they might still have happened in secret. Who knows for sure? He did, however, inspire protests around the world by women’s-rights groups and advocates for victims of sexual violence.
A couple dozen demonstrators gathered outside the Starbucks on the north side of Dupont Circle, where Valizadeh had originally said his DC gathering would assemble. One of them, who gave her name only as Robby because she said she is a sexual-assault survivor, offered some dating advice for Valizadeh: “He just hasn’t met the right dominatrix yet.”