Illustration by Dave van Patten

Pick-Up Artists See a Kindred Spirit in Trump

“He’s that asshole in the club,” said one admirer. “Maybe you wouldn’t sleep with him… but you know somebody else is.”

Tony Newton took a big swig from his can of beer, uttered the word “patriarchy” in defiant satisfaction, and burped loudly into his web camera.

“For those of you who aren’t crying into their bedsheets because Trump won, here’s one for you,” he said, during a nearly hourlong video he broadcast to Facebook Live a week after the U.S. presidential election. “Even if he blows up the world, I’m going to enjoy this beer.”

Newton, wearing a gray beanie and a blue zip-up sweatshirt, was sitting in his bedroom in Vancouver, Canada, recording what he later called “one of the most inspired messages” he’d ever created. The thesis? “Pickup artists got President Trump elected,” he wrote on Facebook. “We’re going to make women happy again.”

Newton, a 38-year-old dating coach who says he travels the world offering confidence-boosting mentorships and boot camps to his male clients, is among a vocal group of men online who see Trump’s election not just as a cultural victory but as a validation of their own misogynistic philosophies and aggressive techniques for picking up women. In the large anti-feminist network of YouTube videos, blogs and Reddit communities loosely known as “the manosphere,” thousands of men share their views on Trump, comparing his political ascent to their own sexual conquests and analyzing his every move as an embodiment of traditional masculinity.

Like many men interested in so-called pick-up artistry, Newton first discovered the scene when he read journalist Neil Strauss’ account of it in The Game. The influential book, which has sold 2.5 million copies since it was published in 2005, exposed what Strauss deemed a secret society of men who practiced behavior geared toward seducing women. The subculture went mainstream two years later when one of the book’s most compelling subjects, a Canadian pick-up artist known as Mystery, became the star of a VH1 reality show in which he coached men on how to attract women.

“We weren’t trying to push some kind of ideology or change the world; we just wanted to get laid,” Newton told me during a phone call. “A lot of men were really, really frustrated because just being nice wasn’t working. Buying flowers wasn’t working. And they were lonely and mad and frustrated.”

In the years since, pick-up artistry has become something of a joke in popular culture, a source of easy mockery aimed at men who have to rehearse from scripts in a sad attempt to meet women. Though few men would openly identity as pick-up artists today — even Newton prefers to be called a dating coach, which he says is the more socially acceptable term — elements of The Game have permeated popular culture, appearing in magazines, movies and podcasts marketed toward young, heterosexual men. More than a decade after The Game was published, interest in pick-up artists remains high: James Franco signed on to play Mystery in an adaptation of The Game that’s scheduled for production next year.

But for Newton, his involvement in what began as a nerdy subculture focused on getting laid — and the backlash he says he faced because of it — slowly led him to participate in a radicalized right-wing movement that bashes feminism, utilizes hateful rhetoric and eschews all mainstream media.

It wasn’t so long ago that Newton considered himself a Chomsky–reading, feminist-supporting diehard liberal, he said. All that changed after he discovered pick-up artistry, and later, the alt-right. Now, he’s an avid consumer of conservative, conspiracy-peddling sites like Infowars — “Pickup artists love Infowars,” Newton me — Breitbart News and Return of Kings, which describes itself as a place for heterosexual men “who believe men should be masculine and women should be feminine.”

Trump’s sexist remarks, wild overconfidence and distraction techniques were drawing comparisons to pick-up artistry long before he was elected president of the United States. Over the last several months, Esquire asked whether Trump was the “world’s greatest pickup artist”; The Daily Beast declared he was going “full-on pick-up artist” during his campaign; and The Washington Post compared his Trump University sales guide to a pick-up artist’s playbook.

But Newton says the ties between the PUA community and Trump’s election are more than just speculative. He points to Mike Cernovich, the alt-right figurehead and Trump fanatic whom The New Yorker recently dubbed “the meme mastermind of the alt-right,” as a key example: His polarizing political blog “Danger & Play,” in which he recently called for disbanding the White House press corps and regularly makes false accusations against The New York Times and other news organizations, started out innocently enough as a self-help blog for picking up women.

Another of Trump’s most vocal supporters, a blogger known as Roosh V — the Return of Kings founder who was protested earlier this year for attempting to organize male “tribal meetings” that were widely viewed as pro-rape rallies — also gained initial notoriety as a pick-up artist.

Of course, not every so-called pick-up artist is a Trump voter, and not all Trump voters are concerned with picking up women. Strauss himself has disavowed Trump, calling him the “fearmonger in chief” in a Rolling Stone op-ed prior to the election. Others in the PUA scene want nothing to do with Trump.

When one Redditor in the seduction community Seddit suggested earlier this year that Trump is an alpha male because he uses repetitive speech patterns, Reddit user ThrowawayPUA quickly rejected the idea. “Trump alpha? There is a big difference between an alpha male and an egotistical bully,” he wrote in response.

Redditor GayLubeOil [Editor’s note: Yes, we know] doesn’t see Trump as an alpha male, either. “He uses money to get women, and that’s the main thing,” the Philadelphia-based personal trainer told me over Skype. “The Red Pill [Reddit] community is very hostile toward using money to get women… Like, if that’s your strategy, then you’re a beta [the PUA term for a loser, the opposite of an alpha] and that’s bad.”

Still, he said, there were obvious similarities between Trump’s rise and PUA teachings. In a lengthy post published just days after the presidential election, GayLubeOil wrote that Trump was not unlike the ultimate pickup artist, Mystery: Both are unlikely leaders, not conventionally attractive, but surprisingly alluring in their self-assurance. “Everything that made Trump seem unelectable and ridiculous, is what made him succeed,” he wrote. “Trump is the pickup artist Mystery walking into a club wearing aviator goggles and black nail polish circa 2004. He’s brash bold eclectic and reckless.”

GayLubeOil — who also moderates The Donald Unleashed, a Trump-supporting Reddit community, asked that MEL not use his real name. He said he’s received death threats for his participation in The Red Pill, an antagonistic, right-leaning subreddit that claims more than 170,000 members and dubs itself a “discussion of sexual strategy in a culture increasingly lacking a positive identity for men.” Some, but not all members, identify as men’s rights activists; “the red pill” is a term used by men’s rights activists to describe the moment they were being oppressed by an overly feminized society.

The Red Pill subreddit isn’t explicitly a pick-up artist community, but GayLubeOil said that many of its members subscribed to PUA teachings before the scene became tainted by “desperate nerd virgins.” The way he describes it, pick-up artists were never political — and in fact most identified as liberals — when The Game was published during the Bush era. Then, during the Obama years, as he sees it, the mainstream culture shifted to the left and “you started seeing a lot of feminist hit pieces on pick-up artists, and that pushed the whole community far right,” he said.

He acknowledges, however, that postings on the official subreddit tend toward misogyny. In an archived post from May titled “Why We Are Anti-Feminist,” Redditor Sawagurumi described feminism as a hate group that “seeks to maintain female privilege.” GayLubeOil said some users, including himself, deliberately use offensive language to engage readers while repelling outsiders — namely, women.

“If you don’t speak in this hypersexual way, [readers] get bored,” he told me. “As a writer [on the internet], I compete with pornography. I have to be more interesting than pornography.”

Next to threads like “How to Get Laid Like a Warlord” and “Post-Sex Reassurance Text?,” posts about Trump have dominated The Red Pill for the past year. In a post from last December, one Redditor praised Trump’s 2007 self-help book Think Big: Make It Happen in Business and Life as “grade A Red Pill 101.” In another, from January, a Redditor called Trump a genius for deciding not to show up to the GOP debate on Fox News. As much as GayLubeOil disavows pick-up artistry — “Even the term is cringeworthy,” he told me — most of his political metaphors involve the kind of heterosexual, often hypersexual courting scenarios that many pick-up artists see as synonymous with The Game.

“You can see the American voter perhaps as a woman that you’re courting, and then you can see the candidates as all the thirsty dudes in the club,” he said. “When you start off with the Republican lineup, you have Jeb Bush, right? He’s offering you the same thing. He’s kind of boring.” When you look at the candidates as potential suitors, he said, “It would have to be Trump.”

He considers another such scenario. “What I’m saying about Donald Trump is that he’s that asshole in the club,” he said. “Maybe you wouldn’t sleep with him, you wouldn’t choose him — but you know somebody else is going to.”