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Examining the Denver Shooter’s Ideological Views

Examining the Denver Shooter’s Ideological Views
3rd January 2022 Matthew Kriner

On 27 December 2021, Lyndon McLeod shot and killed five individuals in Denver, Colorado before being shot and killed by a Denver police officer. McLeod’s writings and social media content suggest his worldviews were heavily aligned with accelerationist themes and narratives promoted by the esoteric fascist movement Wolves of Vinland. Two of the individuals targeted by McLeod were named in his novel Sanction – a book rife with violent accelerationist imagery. According to Denver police, the shootings appear to be motivated by personal grievances. Denver police claim McLeod was known to law enforcement and had been investigated in “two separate investigations” in 2020 and early 2021, although the basis of these investigations have not been made public by law enforcement.

Evidence suggests McLeod was deeply influenced by the misogynistic pro-masculinity culture which pervades the alt-right’s so-called manosphere – particularly the views of Paul Waggener, a co-founder of the Wolves of Vinland; Jack Donovan, author of The Way of Men and a former member of the Wolves of Vinland; and Jack Murphy, Claremont Institute fellow and founder of the “international men’s organization” Liminal Order. On Donovan’s podcast, McLeod expressed the belief that his natural masculine traits were actually stumbling blocks in modernity and that Sanction became a post-mortem of why his life was always so contentious and he didn’t “fit in.”

McLeod also appears to have been linked to two organisations. He posted materials on his social media accounts related to the Wolves of Vinland and to the group’s feeder organisation, Operation Werewolf (OPWW). McLeod was also a self-declared member of Jack Murphy’s Liminal Order, a manosphere men’s club that vilifies ‘radical feminism’ as the root of social disorder in modern America. Much about Liminal Order is still unknown, though Murphy’s brand is popular in the manosphere community.

The purpose of this article is to provide a preliminary assessment of McLeod’s expressed views and examine how they link to known extremist organisations and ideologies such as those found in the Wolves of Vinland. The Wolves are known for their anti-modernity views and Norse pagan rituals and aesthetic which often include co-opted runes and neo-Nazi symbols like the sonnenrad.

Sanction

McLeod’s three-volume novel, Sanction, is set in a dystopian future where a billionaire turned politician creates an embodied artificial intelligence so he can stop criminal recidivism through genetic editing. More important than the novel’s setting is how McLeod positions the novel within a contemporary movement to reclaim masculinity within literature, which he alleges has come under fire by feminist frameworks of modernity. In addition, he states on a podcast that “War is coming is the three-word slogan” for the novel.

Violent extremists have a long history of using works of fiction to promote their ideologies and to encourage their followers to carry out attacks. The white nationalist propaganda novel The Turner Diaries greatly influenced Timothy McVeigh prior to the Oklahoma City Bombing, although McVeigh targeted the Murrah Federal Building, rather than the FBI headquarters as depicted in the novel. In recent years, Order of Nine Angles (O9A) faction Temple ov Blood (ToB) has published ideological fiction via their publishing arm Martinet Press. The books have featured prominently in the radicalisation to violence of numerous O9A adherents, and accelerationists have found inspiration in both the Turner Diaries and the ToB texts.

Sanction provides clues to McLeod’s ideological views. In the opening pages of Sanction I, McLeod references two writers that informed his views on masculinity and modernity – Jack Donovan and Ted Kaczynski. Despite referencing Kaczynski, McLeod suggests that for some men, the escape from modernity must come via the construction of a parallel culture that is smaller, more tribal, and is made up of like-minded people who don’t fit in with modern society’s expectations. On his blog, McLeod explained that real life individuals from whom he drew inspiration were intentionally placed in the books: “Jack [Donovan] is also a character in the book because it is a work of historical fiction. I use real names and real events and real people alongside fictional ones precisely because I wanted to blur the line between what is and what is possible.” In addition, the novel draws on Jack Donovan’s philosophising on post-societal collapse survival in “The Way of Men” and cites “A More Complete Beast.”

Notably, McLeod was a guest on Jack Donovan’s Start the World podcast in March 2020 where Donovan spoke approvingly of Sanction in the episode’s description: “Roman McClay lives in a converted shipping container in the mountains on some land that he’s named hríð tòrr. He’s authored the Sanction trilogy — a massive work of masculine fiction that’s caught on with a lot of men I respect. Roman and I talked about the concepts in his books, his plans for hríð tòrr, “sigma males,” and a lot more.” While now deleted from Donovan’s podcast episode lineup on YouTube, McLeod’s Sanction website still retains a record of the appearance and third party podcast sites retain an archive of the episode.

In Sanction II, the Wolves of Vinland play a central role in the fictional post-apocalyptic world crafted by McLeod. In addition to including Waggener in his novel, McLeod amplified Waggener’s social media content and posted Wolves materials on his social media accounts. He also appears to have followed the program of weightlifting and homesteading required for prospective members of the Wolves. McLeod told Donovan that he had intended to use his 35 acres as a retreat for men to come and engage in masculine activities away from the modern world, where they could tap into their primal nature.

The Wolves of Vinland

The Wolves of Vinland is an esoteric Norse pagan fascist movement, with known branches in the US, France, Italy, Germany, Serbia, Norway, Spain, and Russia. The group was founded in Lynchburg, Virginia in 2006 by Paul and Matthias Waggener and Sam and Nathan Carnes. Despite branding itself as an inclusive organization based on individual ability, the Wolves are racially/ethnically exclusive and advocate for a pagan-integralist society based on tribal units. The Wolves are modeled after outlaw biker gangs like the Hell’s Angels, in which members first join a feeder organisation and are not initiated into the main group until they have proved themselves. Members of the feeder organisation, called Operation Werewolf (OPWW), prove their fitness and belonging through the development of combat, homesteading, or subsistence farming skills. The Wolves’ long-term goals are opaque: while they openly discuss the creation of an organicist tribal society, it is unclear whether they intend to build their own outside community separate from modern society, or whether they aim to take over existing social structures and transform them to match their ideal.

The ‘Tribe’ is important to the Wolves as an organisational structure, both as an actual community and as an envisioned community. OPWW members are encouraged to meet up physically and form small units referred to as ‘tribes’, and to create their own symbols and rituals to strengthen their collective identity. The combination of ‘tribal’ organisation and the Wolves’ revival of Norse/Germanic pagan tradition is heavily reminiscent of German Indianthusiasm. Typified by the works of Karl May, German Indianthusiasm portrayed Native Americans as effortlessly superhuman, spiritual beings lacking material concern, outside ‘civilized’ laws and norms, for whom fighting was a racial trait. This portrayal colored Nazi depictions of pre-Christian (anti-Judaic), ancient Germanic tribal tradition, from which the Wolves appropriate many of their symbols.

The Wolves perceive themselves as severed from nature by industrialisation and commercialisation. This severing results in weakness, both mental and physical, which the Wolves believe may be remedied through physical fitness, the accumulation of homesteading skills and revival of nature-centered pagan ritual. The Waggeners maintain that OPWW is apolitical but urge followers not to vote, which would be participation in an illegitimate political process. Their ideology privileges action over words and a masculine ideal of violent heroism. It teaches that the individual is capable of taking back autonomy and changing his environment, but insists that this is an internal process and is vague about where members ought to direct violence. Commodity consumption, city life and office jobs are routinely derided in Waggener’s War Journal blog as “passive” and “slow, humiliating mind suicide.” Both the gym and nature are places where one works off the effects of overcivilization: they provide hard conditions against which the Wolves struggle to prove themselves. Weightlifting creates strong bodies, which in turn form a strong ‘tribe’, while homesteading skills enable the ‘tribe’ to live independent from modern civilization. Paul Waggener also praises youth subcultures, like the black metal music scene, as training grounds for the “tribal imagination,” or an “us vs. them” mindset.

Wolves of Vinland materials make constant reference to the core tenets of Julius Evola’s philosophy: a four-part religious-historical time cycle that ends in an age of degeneracy known as the Kali Yuga. Evola co-opted the Hindu concept of the time cycle, a recurring historical-spiritual pattern in which a harmonious Golden Age, the Satya Yuga, gives way to increasingly degenerate political and religious systems until at the end of the last age, the Kali Yuga, the corruption is swept away in an apocalyptic conflict. The Satya Yuga recurs, and the cycle begins again. Evola’s Traditionalism includes a racialist vision of “harmony” and spiritual order. During the Golden Age or “era of the gods”, the polar “Hyperborean” civilization was in perfect harmony with a primordial “solar” non-human spirituality. After migrations and mixing with southern populations who subscribed to an Earth-fertility spirituality, civilization loses its access to the polar spiritual center and enters the Silver Age, characterised by “lunar spirituality”, and then the Bronze Age characterised by worship of the earth and of natural forces. The Iron Age or Kali Yuga is a time of both spiritual and political breakdown: no trace remains of the harmonious hierarchy of the Golden Age, and people indulge in such “political perversions” as religious liberty and representative democracy. Wolves of Vinland materials warn of the imminent end of the Kali Yuga and emphasise the importance of developing the spiritual and practical skills necessary to survive the catastrophe.

Sanction includes repeated references to Evola and to the Kali Yuga. McLeod quotes from Evola’s Ride the Tiger and uses Sanction’s characters to suggest that the world is ready for a “revanchist movement” that can bring about the “Great Return”. Fascist accelerationists believe that by destabilising the civilizations of the Kali Yuga, they can hasten the end of the time cycle and the return of the Golden Age. Unlike most terrorist movements, fascist accelerationists do not expect to reshape their societies by using violence to extract political concessions from the state. They believe that their only role is to generate enough violence and chaos that the social and religious structures of the Kali Yuga collapse under their own weight. As Jade Parker has written, accelerationists “believe capitalism and technology produce irreparable moral degeneracy and decadence that requires violent revolution.”

Conclusion

McLeod’s anti-modernism, belief in imminent widespread social conflict, and the need to prepare for gang/tribe-based survival in a post-collapse social structure fit neatly within the Wolves’ accelerationist views. And following his violent shooting spree, McLeod has become a ‘saint’ in the deeper accelerationist spaces on Telegram alongside figures like Brenton Tarrant and Dylan Roof.

Belief in social conflagration and global collapse is common amongst accelerationists and those that believe in Western esoteric cycles of history – particularly amongst the skull mask network that emerged from the Iron March forum. Collapse narratives, like the no political solution narrative, are also common in broader extremist worldviews. However, the collapse vision the Wolves and Donovan promote differs in its desire to separate from society without applying direct violence to solve modernity’s ills.

While McLeod’s crime may not be considered an act of terrorism in a strict sense, as it was not intended to coerce political concessions from the state, it is difficult to separate his ideological views from his violent actions. Even though Paul Waggener has denounced McLeod’s actions, the Wolves of Vinland feature prominently in the shooter’s worldviews and writings. Similarly, Jack Donovan and Jack Murphy’s role in shaping toxic masculine spaces that promote and glorify violence are intrinsically intertwined into McLeod’s extremism despite efforts to scrub endorsement of McLeod’s writings from podcasts and websites. Clues to his potential for such violence were hidden in plain sight on McLeod’s blog:

“There are certain men who maybe only represent[s] a small percentage of men – maybe only 10-15% – but who have a disproportionate impact on the world when they get even with their enemies. Society – full of reasonable and proportionate people – is currently f*cking with the wrong men; and it comes at a price. It comes at a price disproportionate to the crime. It comes at a price if men like us vow to overreact and follow through. Then, and only then, will people learn.”

Matt Kriner is a Senior Research Scholar at the Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism (CTEC).

H.E. Upchurch is a fellow at the Accelerationism Research Consortium. She is a researcher of far-right extremism, specialising in neo-fascist occultism.

W. Aaron is an analyst and researcher of far-right extremism.