“My Brother Is So Far Gone”: How Male Influencers Turned The Men In These People’s Lives Toxic

  Michelle Thompson for BuzzFeed News
Michelle Thompson for BuzzFeed News

A beloved brother who suddenly supports violence against women, a dad who minored in women’s studies and now wants to murder “effeminate” men, a boyfriend who starts making misogynistic jokes. We asked our readers how toxic male influences have changed the men in their lives, and they responded with disturbing stories.

Supporters of the “alpha male” ideology — a term adopted by the manosphere to describe what they consider the ideal version of manhood — were dealt a blow when rising star Andrew Tate was deplatformed across several social media sites in quick succession in August.

The former kickboxer and purported self-made millionaire found infamy online as one of the top influencers in an ecosystem of toxic male figures by defending traditional Western gender roles and preaching the gospel of misogyny. He and other creators like him position themselves as life coaches, teaching hypermasculinity and “hustle” culture — through social media, podcasts, videos, and online courses — to millennial and Gen Z men. Tate, influencer Kevin Samuels (who died in May 2022), and Myron Gaines and Walter Weekes of the Fresh & Fit podcast successfully built careers selling the idea of the dominant man to millions of followers while trafficking in anti-woman and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric.

These figures are seen as compelling to their followers because they are perceived as “anti-mainstream,” said Dr. Lisa Sugiura, author of The Incel Rebellion: The Rise of the Manosphere and the Virtual War Against Women and a professor who studies the crossover between gender and cybercrime.

“But of course, the contradiction is that it's very much part of the mainstream and validating the usual tropes about gender and violence against women,” Sugiura told BuzzFeed News.

This is evident in tweets from Tate stating rape victims “bear responsibility,” which first got him banned from Twitter in 2017, then again earlier this year. Renewed attention on his misogynist comments in August saw him deplatformed from TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube, where his three channels had over 1 million subscribers and were reportedly earning both him and YouTube millions of dollars in ad revenue. While Tate may now be banned from most social media platforms, the audience he and other misogynistic influencers have cultivated remains.

What makes this particular strain of content creation so insidious is how it’s packaged: most often as self-help for men who are struggling with real issues.

“On the surface, there’s that appreciation of genuine problems that the men suffer in society, but these communities are not about support,” Sugiura said. “They are more concerned with creating this common enemy of women, society, and progressiveness. Instead, they’re taught to self-loathe, hate women, and blame women and broader society for it.”

For instance, Samuels initially introduced himself to audiences as an image consultant and lifestyle coach. But he became a godfather figure for misogynoir — misogyny directed at Black women — in his podcast and across social media.

And Gaines and Weekes touted Fresh & Fit as a place to help men navigate “females, fitness, and finances.” Their combined Instagram accounts have over 600,000 followers, and their Patreon has over 1,500 subscribers paying at least $5 a month. But Reddit has been quietly removing content from the podcast for months because it violates the platform’s rule against promoting hate.

We asked our readers to tell us stories about how listening to and watching these influencers changed the behavior of men in their lives and presented some of their experiences to representatives of Tate, Gaines, and Weekes.

Gaines and Weekes did not reply to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment for this story.

Tate denied that his content harms his younger followers. “Children who are exposed to the internet will always find ideas that they misinterpret because they don’t have real-life experience,” he told BuzzFeed News.

When we shared examples of the real-world impact of his words, Tate argued that he was a “positive force.”

Here’s a selection of stories that suggest otherwise. Some responses have been slightly edited for clarity, and names marked with * have been changed for privacy reasons.

Kennedy-Ezra, 26, Minneapolis

My brother is 20 years old. We were raised to be kind and nice people, and generally respectful. Last year, he started to send me clips of Kevin Samuels, saying things like “Finally someone who gets it.” He would make insinuations about needing to change the way he was because he was a “beta.”

He began to say things like “Women need to be reminded of their place” or “Black women need to go back to being homemakers and supporting their Black kings.” But one of the most startling behavior changes I’ve noticed was he began becoming more violent towards women. He began sharing posts on Facebook about how it’s okay to beat women if they step out of line, or how women are not being “high value.” It’s like he doesn’t even recognize reality or the poor arguments that he’s making. As the older sibling who spends so much time with advocacy in government and general community education, watching somebody you love fall down this pipeline, you’re just sitting here trying to think, Damn, where did I go wrong?

He is promoting Change.org petitions to get Andrew Tate back on social media.

As someone who’s queer, I think the most hurtful thing I’ve heard him say is that he believes that there’s something mentally wrong with us. To the toxic male influencers, I would say that you are creating a pathway for men to be openly violent towards marginalized people such as Black women and LGBTQ folk with little regard to the psychological implications that [this violence] has on them and the people that they interact with.

Speaking honestly, I think my brother is so far gone that he wouldn’t change. He is promoting Change.org petitions to get Andrew Tate back on social media. I think he’s found an echo chamber that shares what he believes and shares his thoughts, and it’s pretty much solidified how he views women.

Sandy*, 22, Washington

My father has gone from a man who minored in women’s studies in college — who was kind and in touch with his emotions and who treated all people, men and women, around him with kindness — to a man who says that whenever he sees an “effeminate” male stranger, he gets an overwhelming urge to murder them.

It was right around 2016 when it sort of began, that’s when he started slipping. He got divorced from my mother in 2018 and then got bad in early 2020 when the pandemic hit. It’s been incredibly damaging for my queer younger brother, who lives with him; it is a nightmare. The divorce was messy, and that’s part of why he started subscribing to those ideals — that was a major trigger.

He loves podcasts, and he listens to a lot of podcasts: all far-right, all the time, for like 13 to 14 hours a day. He’s a massive fan of Joe Rogan, and I know he’s listened to Andrew Tate. He’s just sort of gone off the deep end within the last year; his spiral has reached its climax.

Part of the toxic masculinity that my dad exhibits has been homophobia. He forces my brother to listen to all of his homophobic, anti-gay, anti-women podcasts every day and then is quizzing him on them, and told my brother that he's never gonna amount to anything and that a queer man isn't a real man.

I wish I could just tell him that I love him, and I want the real him back. But if he continues down this path, I’m not sure how long I’m going to be able to maintain a relationship [with him] or [how long he’s going to maintain] any relationships for that matter. It’s getting to the point where he’s about to lose his whole family.

Emme*, 33, Toronto

My ex-boyfriend became increasingly possessive and would tell me I could not take a girls’ trip anywhere like Miami or Vegas. When we argued about me going to a nightclub, he would say that I could dance at family gatherings instead.

We had arguments over his consumption of these content creators because it was so concerning and he was repeating so much of their messaging, like “Women should be feminine, fit, friendly, cooperative, and submissive” and “Toxic femininity is women who are entitled to things just because they are women” and “Feminism has taught women to hate men.”

He would laugh and repeat Kevin Samuels’s catchphrase “danger zone,” which refers to women who are approaching an age [27–35] where they are no longer desirable, according to Samuels. Not what your girlfriend who falls into that age range wants to hear.

It was an incredibly upsetting experience; it was like he turned on me. Kevin Samuels and Fresh & Fit are sometimes hours-long shows... He would play them all the way through, and eventually, it was daily.

When I began dating on the apps again, I noticed an increase of men regurgitating messaging from these creators.

I am a feminist, but in the hopes of trying to be open-minded and maybe salvage my relationship, I watched a lot of this shit in his company and on my own, to try and find value — to understand it, and him, and it honestly messed with my head at times.

[We] broke up one year ago, and when I began dating on the apps again, I noticed an increase of men regurgitating messaging from these creators, including things in profiles like “seeking a feminine woman,” “I am a high-value man,” etc., and because I was so familiar with these sorts of red-pill vibes, it was an immediate [swipe] left.

I would also ask men on dates their thoughts on these people because it’s so awful. My new partner refers to Fresh & Fit as “those jackasses” and we are very happy together.

Taryn, 28, Vancouver

I recently dated and broke up with a 45-year-old man who was heavily influenced by toxic male influencer content. At the beginning of our relationship, he was very respectful towards me and women in general and open-minded to views that opposed his upbringing, politics, and personal perspectives.

We both come from very different backgrounds — him: born and raised Catholic, rural prairie community, US Midwestern state university educated, with his social/professional circle made up of a lot of the same; me: agnostic, have lived in multiple cities/provinces/countries, top-tier (liberal) Canadian university educated, working in the diverse social services sector, and having a diverse range of friends/professional contacts — and were initially able to have some really interesting debates and conversations sharing our different experiences.

I noticed he became completely absorbed in toxic male influencer content, watching it whenever he had downtime.

As time went on, I noticed he became completely absorbed in toxic male influencer content, watching it whenever he had downtime and even going so far as to ignore his 7-year-old daughter to consume it (often in front of me). Our conversations and debates became less respectful and more heated, with him often name-calling and shaming me to shut down anything he disagreed with.

The breaking point for me came one night when we were out at his friends’ place and he openly proclaimed, “Women are like used cars, you lose 30% of your value when you drive it off the lot,” while also acknowledging he would lose interest in a woman “if she doesn’t put out after the third date.”

Kamala*, 23, UK

I met my boyfriend at university, and we’ve been dating for just under a year. I was really attracted to his work ethic; he’s very determined, and I feel like he has influenced me in a lot of ways as well.

He always supported me on big things like helping me get a job, and he’s loyal, which I really like because I’ve been cheated on way too many times. But he did have several traits that Andrew Tate seemed to exhibit when I first met him, but not to the extent of now — it’s gotten much worse.

He’s always viewed the world as a contest, a survival-of-the-fittest kind of thing, but because everyone’s more aware of mental health and they’re very accommodating nowadays, he has a different point of view.

So when Andrew Tate started saying things like how it doesn’t matter how upset you are, he got really excited, and he’s like, “This man is speaking the truth, no one else speaks like this.” Andrew Tate is his idol, basically.

He has started making ruder and more worrying jokes that are misogynistic and sexually demanding without apology. Some of his remarks have been disturbing, and now it's for me to rethink our relationship based on my future long-term goals. I think maybe if he actually started treating me how Andrew Tate says he would treat his women, like not letting me go out clubbing, not letting me have male friends, controlling my style, things like that... But he doesn’t do any of that yet — it’s just the rude rhetoric.

I’ve confronted him about it several times and it’s got to a really bad point, but he just stopped watching it around me or mentioning it to me. He’s so influenced by this man, no one can say anything against him.

Helen*, 28, UK

I’m a secondary-school drama teacher and I have been teaching for six years. I have definitely seen an increase in misogyny and Tate-specific language being used towards other students, phrases like “high-value males,” when students have been called out on their sexist or misogynistic language. There has also been an increase in sexist language even towards other staff in school.

Mostly, young boys are increasing their harmful sexual behaviors toward girls of the same age and more pressure is being put on younger years to have sex. There was a group chat created on WhatsApp where Andrew Tate videos were sent to some female students, along with hardcore porn videos.

A lot of students just want to feel like they’re accepted into a part of a community, and these online forums fill that void for them.

There have recently been incidents of students attempting to coerce and manipulate younger students to send nude photos. What has helped is that our students feel comfortable enough to come and tell us this is happening, and we are able to intervene.

My school has a fantastic dedication to PSHE (personal, social, health, and economic) education and this has led to some really honest discussions in class as to how these behaviors are not only upsetting to witness but are warping their ideas of what healthy relationships might look like, but I find the issues are increasing quicker than staff is able to contain. It can feel like the second you put out one fire, another one pops up.

I find young men, particularly young men who don’t feel they have a strong community of friends, are at more risk of these ideas. A lot of students just want to feel like they’re accepted into a part of a community, and these online forums fill that void for them. We have also seen increases in incel language and phrases used by young men.

What is difficult about being in this position is that I want to be honest with them in the same way I would be with friends. If I had friends who displayed this kind of behavior, I would tell them that they will soon be unable to maintain any kind of friendships, let alone relationships, if they have this kind of attitude toward others. Every student has the potential to be something incredible. I love being a teacher, but there is something upsetting about seeing students ruin their chances of healthy relationships and interactions because of people online who only monetize off of these young people and don't have their best interests at heart. ●