Misogynist influencer Andrew Tate, who once said he moved from the UK to Romania because “rape laws are more lenient there,” was arrested by Romanian officials on December 29 on charges of rape and human trafficking.
The country’s Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism, or DIICOT, said that Tate and his brother Tristan are suspected of having recruited victims for a criminal online porn scam. In a translated press release, officials said that the Tates recruited victims by making them believe they were interested in genuine relationships, then transported them to live in houses where they were under constant surveillance and forced to act in porn videos under threats of violence. The videos would then be sold online.
Tate has proudly admitted to some version of this already: The self-proclaimed “king of toxic masculinity” told the Daily Mirror that he and his brother once operated a “total scam” business in which 75 women were paid to talk to men for $4 per minute, and where the Tates would pocket most of the money. This kind of behavior is central to Tate’s personal brand, that of the “straight-talking” hustler who films himself alongside exotic sports cars and scantily clad models, wearing bathrobes and smoking cigars, implying that by following his advice, you too could live such a lifestyle.
Though Tate has been courting fame for years, his videos began gaining mainstream traction last year, when clips of his angry diatribes and shady entrepreneurial advice regularly went viral on TikTok. Much of the discourse surrounding him relates to panic over the well-being of boys and young men; during that time, middle and high school teachers reported noticing a major uptick in sexual harassment and sexist hate speech in their classrooms by their male students. In response, all the major social media platforms banned his accounts, although under Elon Musk’s ownership, Twitter reinstated his account in November. (It had been removed since 2017, when Tate tweeted in the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein allegations, “If you put yourself in a position to be raped, you must bare [sic] some responsibility.”)
The brazenness of his cruelty and expensive-but-trashy aesthetic has made Tate the face of several unfortunate stereotypes in contemporary internet culture: the anti-feminist capitalizing on the Me Too backlash, the angry dude with a podcast mic, and the guy shilling for scammy pyramid scheme-adjacent businesses. It also makes him extremely easy to make fun of, which is what happened when, on December 27, he tweeted at climate activist Greta Thunberg in an attempt to brag about how terrible his sports cars are for the environment. “Please provide your email address so I can send a complete list of my car collection and their respective enormous emissions,” to which Thunberg replied, “yes, please do enlighten me. email me at email@example.com.” (It’s now the fourth most liked tweet of all time.)
That this exchange occurred just two days before his arrest is pure coincidence, although conspiracies abounded afterward: Tate responded to Thunberg with a video of himself next to a pizza box, and people guessed that because the location of the pizza shop was visible, it was a clue to his whereabouts. Romanian authorities have denied that this was the case and have been investigating his properties since April 2022, although Thunberg playfully referenced the rumors in a tweet that read, “this is what happens when you don’t recycle your pizza boxes.”
In a video of his arrest, Tate can be heard saying, “The Matrix has attacked me.” As those familiar with the “manosphere” or QAnon will know, the sci-fi film’s concept of the “red pill” has become synonymous with a set of right-wing neoreactionary beliefs: that feminism has gone too far, that “wokeism” is a serious moral threat to personal freedom, and that democracy and major democratic institutions are inherently suspect (all of which is ironic, considering the filmmakers’ intentions).
DIICOT has so far identified six victims who it says were sexually exploited by Tate’s group; it did not specify which suspect was accused of rape. Tate, along with his brother, is being detained in prison for 30 days and has not yet been released, despite false reports on TikTok.
The arrest has once again brought Andrew Tate’s name into the public discourse, and with it the question of how to deal with the boys and young men who have bought into his rhetoric. Tweeted the popular leftist streamer Vaush, “I cannot stress enough how important it is to understand that twelve year old white boys on twitch are not being pulled into fascism because of some Machiavellian desire to preserve and expand their privileges, it’s because the right talks to them and the left doesn’t.” It’s unclear, however, what a “leftist Andrew Tate for teen boys” would look like (someone willing to embrace casual sexism? There are already plenty of them!), or whether mainstream or left-leaning culture really does ignore teenage boys, who continue to be one of the key demographics for movies, music, TV, and video games.
Instead, experts recommend that concerned parents or supervisors talk to kids about what they know about Tate and what they think of him. “It’s good for parents to remind kids that it might be funny to them, but it might actually have a negative impact on people because it’s threatening, it’s scary, it’s upsetting,” one clinical psychologist and cybersecurity safety trainer told ABC Radio Australia. “What you can teach that child is how to build up your own confidence and security without necessarily embodying these really toxic traits, because there is a difference between masculinity and toxic masculinity.”
There will always be creepy, charismatic reactionaries ready to exploit algorithms that reward anger and prey on young people, kids who are still figuring out how the world works and their place in it. Tate isn’t some kind of singular genius, and we should refrain from treating him as such. The important thing is that when people come across content like his — attention-getting and controversial as it may be — they can see through the bullshit.