The men of A Voice for Men — more or less the flagship website of the MRA movement — await me in the comments section of the group’s YouTube channel. They’re there because the only way its founder, Paul Elam, will agree to talk to me is via YouTube Live. Both Elam and his followers are suspicious — of me, of MEL, of men who see the world differently than them — and they want to make sure there’s evidence if I twist their words (or the meaning behind them). “Wonder if he’s a closet mangina,” Demonio ponders. “I guess we’ll see when the story runs.”
“Seems to be a hair’s breadth away from full-blown pussyhood,” adds król SOBIESKI.
I reached out to Elam because A Voice of Men — along with professional pickup artist Roosh V’s Return of Kings (“a blog for heterosexual men who believe men should be masculine and women should be feminine”) — recently made the Southern Poverty Law Center’s annual list of hate groups. It was a first, as no other men’s group (or what the SPLC calls a “male supremacy” group) had ever found itself among the myriad Nazis, racists and domestic terrorists whose presence on the list is a yearly tradition. (I asked Roosh for comment, too, but he declined: “I’m pretty lazy with interviews,” he explained. “I find that they take up time but don’t benefit me.”)
A Voice for Men (est. 2008) functions as the closest thing there is to a center of the “manosphere” — a loose agglomeration of blogs, websites and forums dedicated to men’s issues such as, in Elam’s words, a world gripped by “misandry,” institutionalized feminism and a corrupt family court system rigged against fathers. “Being provocative and confrontational is the only way to get people to pay attention,” he explains.
Or as he wrote in 2011, “Progress for men will not be gained by debate, reason or typical channels of grievance available to segments of the population that the world actually gives a damn about. The progress we need will only be realized by inflicting enough pain on the agents of hate, in public view, that it literally shocks society out of its current coma.”
Obviously then, the group’s reputation varies. Some call it a relatively sober voice of reason in the toxic world of men’s rights; others, like journalist Jessica Roy, describe it as divided between “individuals making violent threats” and “individuals laughing openly at jokes about rape.” It’s that combination that’s landed A Voice for Men on the SPLC’s hate list. “The vilification of women by A Voice for Men and Return of Kings makes them no different than other groups demeaning entire populations,” explains Heidi Beirich, the SPLC’s Intelligence Project Director who has spent decades studying hate in all its forms and who authored the “Year in Hate” report. “How is the way they talk about women different from how neo-Nazis talk about Jews or the way American Renaissance talks about black people?”
In terms of specifics, Beirich and others typically cite some combination of the following:
- In 2010, the site suggested drunk women at bars are “begging to be raped.”
- In 2011, it set up a fake online registry designed to equate women it dislikes with murderers, rapists and child molesters.
- That same year, Elam opined that “if some family court judge were dragged out of his courtroom into the street, beaten mercilessly, doused with gasoline and set afire by a father who just won’t take another moment of injustice it would not so much be a tragedy as the chickens coming home to roost.”
- In 2015 and 2017, the group renamed Valentine’s Day as “Whore’s Day” since the majority of women are “candy and jewelry grubbing whores.”
- And just last year, it claimed “pussy is the only real empowerment women will ever know,” and that only men can draw power from accomplishment.
Why A Voice for Men and Return of Kings were singled out while others in the manosphere — who easily match, if not exceed, their vitriol — were given a “hate pass” comes down to infrastructure, Beirich says. “Our feeling was that A Voice for Men and Return of Kings are true organizations, not just websites. We don’t do an annual list of hate websites.” Keegan Hankes, the SPLC’s data intelligence analyst, further clarified the distinction for Broadly, noting, “Return of Kings sells merchandise, collects donations and publishes books. All of these things contribute to a listing.”
There’s also, of course, the fact that women have been doxxed, threatened and chased out of their homes by online mobs, often as a result of Roosh’s and Elam’s direct calls for targeted harassment. In 2015, for example, Roosh singled out a Canadian woman as an “extremist organizer” and asked his followers to collect “intel” on her — addresses, phone numbers, names of relatives, etc. Forum members subsequently unearthed and posted nude photos of the woman and sent her death threats.
With this in mind, when I click on the link Elam sends me for our YouTube Live conversation, I half expect to find him flanked by a crew of mangina-bashing MRAs itching for a fight. So I’m surprised to be met instead by an affable Baby Boomer sitting in his living room in a purple T-shirt.
“Good morning, good afternoon and good evening wherever you are in the world,” he warmly greets his viewers. “I’m Paul Elam with A Voice for Men, and I’m sitting with Brian Smith from MEL Magazine, who describes the magazine as sort of like Esquire for millennials. I’m not sure what that means, but we’re gonna go for it anyway.”
Almost immediately, we get into the hate group designation. “We’re not a hate group,” Elam states emphatically. “The SPLC is simply doing what it does best: Ginning up fear and mistrust from their regular donors, proving once again why the FBI quit using them as a reliable reference for hate groups. [Note: The only reference I could find to this was on the Daily Caller website.] We’re in good company being listed alongside churches who are against gay marriage. To be clear: I’m not against gay marriage — I don’t have a problem with it at all — but when you call somebody a hate group simply for taking a conservative stand, you run afoul of sense and common decency, which the SPLC is very good at.”
Elam also stresses that much of his work is meant to be satirical. The best example: Him declaring the last five Octobers as “Bash A Violent Bitch Month,” which the SPLC points to as proof positive of his violent intentions. Elam, however, claims it’s his over-the-top rebuttal to a 2007 Jezebel article entitled, “Have You Ever Beat Up A Boyfriend? Cause, Uh, We Have.”
“Here we have a Jezebel article that was quite seriously glorifying violence against men — making light of and absolutely having a ball with beating up on men, breaking their noses, giving black eyes, bloodying their faces. On the other hand, in response, we have an obvious piece of satire to point out what it would look like if the roles were reversed. It’s not called ‘Bash A Woman Month,’ it’s called ‘Bash A Violent Bitch Month.’”
Overall, Elam insists the primary mandate for A Voice for Men is to provide a space for men to talk about their problems, not to spout hate. “Go through any of the 6,000-plus articles that are sitting on the site right now,” he suggests. “What you’ll find are articles about men’s suicide, about depression, about alcoholism, about unfairness that men are facing on college campuses, on challenges men are facing in military life and about how 93 percent of workplace fatalities are men. Try going into a crowd of people and talking for more than 10 seconds about how three out of four suicides is male. They don’t want to hear it. Because this world counts on men to accomplish things. It’s more interested in that than it is in men’s humanity.”
For decades, Elam adds, nice guys like Warren Farrell — the soft-spoken father of the modern men’s rights movement, who Elam mockingly refers to as the “Mr. Rogers of the Manosphere” — were having calm, button-downed conversations about their concerns. “[But] nothing ever happened,” Elam says, raising his voice for the first time in our conversation. “Not even a real discussion! Now we’re being attacked for some provocative satire. I get that it doesn’t work for everybody — some people find it very offensive — but at least we’re having a discussion.”
And while the anger radiating from Elam’s side of that discussion is what the SPLC considers hate, Elam himself makes no apologies for it. To him, it’s both honest and urgent. “I get emails every day — sometimes multiple times a day — from guys who are just totally destroyed. Guys who haven’t seen their kids in three years. Guys who’ve been locked up on false accusations. Guys who’ve lost their jobs or their careers. Guys who are on the edge of suicide. But [the main reason] why I’m angry is because of the injustice. Thirty years ago, I identified as a feminist. I didn’t like injustices against women. I was very vocal about that.
“I don’t like injustice in any way. We live in what’s probably the pinnacle of human achievement in terms of opportunity for the most number of people, and that’s a great thing. But there are still injustices in the world.”
And so, his response to those who ask him why he’s so angry: “Why aren’t you?”