|He always hated women, and then he decided to kill them -- washingtonpost.com |
Scott Paul Beierle’s attack on a Florida yoga studio was fueled by male supremacy, a movement with ties to other hate groups
The first thing Kate Pierson did after unlocking the yoga studio that November afternoon was set the mood, plugging in the soothing waterfall, selecting a cheery lemongrass oil for the scent diffuser. The thermostat was turned up to 98 for the 5:30 class.
Hot Yoga Tallahassee was styled as a calming haven for a mostly female clientele. The men who practiced there, Pierson said, were men at ease with the “light and love” mission of the place.
But the man who walked in about 5:15 that Friday was different. Pierson was still alone in the lobby when he entered, a big guy whose maroon Florida State University T-shirt was stretched over a paunchy belly, the wrapper still on the yoga mat under his arm. A black Planet Fitness bag was strapped across his chest. Inside, she would learn soon, was a Glock 9mm pistol.
The man wasn’t on the list of 11 students preregistered for the evening class, and he seemed disappointed so few were expected. Handing over a debit card for the $12 walk-in fee, he identified himself as “Scott ... Paul,” hesitating between the two words.
His name was actually Scott Paul Beierle, a 40-year-old former FSU graduate student who had driven 250 miles for a yoga class in the town where he had twice been arrested for groping female students and banned from campus.
Hot Yoga Tallahassee’s second-floor studio was targeted by Scott Paul Beierle, whose hatred of women drove him to violence.
Beierle was an avowed hater of women, a man who repeatedly grabbed women in real life and fantasized about raping and killing them in the horrific collection of lyrics, poetry and novels he began writing as a teenager. His interactions with the opposite sex had gotten him fired from teaching jobs, booted from the Army and hauled before the principal of his high school. He traced his fury at women — “Just beneath their blushing lashes and their innocent smiles lies the most rancid and putrid, sickening essences” — to the girls who both aroused and frustrated him in eighth grade.
It is a kind of hatred that experts in extremism warn is becoming more common and more dangerous, providing what amounts to a new feeder network for white supremacy and neo-Nazi groups.
“More and more, we see misogyny as the gateway drug for extremists,” said Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of more than 20 people interviewed to compile this account of Beierle’s history and the phenomenon it represents.
On that pleasant fall night in 2018, Beierle seemed uncertain at first, Pierson recalled. He paced the second-floor breezeway of the palm-lined shopping center as a few women began arriving in their yoga outfits. Once he came in to ask when the more crowded sessions were held — Saturday mornings were popular, Pierson told him — and then walked back out. “I thought he was skipping it after all,” she said.
The yoga class had already begun when Beierle finally entered the studio. The students were in “child’s pose” at the time, on their knees, noses to the floor, arms outstretched.
He was still wearing his street shoes, carrying the shrink-wrapped mat and bag. The teacher told him to store his stuff in a cubby outside the hot room.
“But I have a question,” he said, fumbling in his bag. He took out a set of earmuff hearing protectors and put them on. Then he pulled out the Glock.
For a moment he stood still, displaying the gun, according to one of the students who looked up to see him. A big man in a power pose of his own.
Then he pointed it at the woman closest to him.
In 2018, a few months before Beierle stood in that studio, the Southern Poverty Law Center added a new category to its tracking list of hate movements around the country: male supremacy.
The term encompasses a worrying new array of assaults by men who view women as genetically inferior, inherently treacherous or unwilling to provide them with the sex and submission they see as their birthright.
It’s a trend with roots both ancient and new. Condemning women as a gender dates to at least the ancient Greek myth that blamed Pandora for unleashing evil into the world. But in the digital age, misogyny is being stoked within hundreds of online chat rooms and forums, echo chambers of grievance that drive some men to cyberbullying and a far smaller number to violence.
“What’s different today is the online space itself,” Beirich said. “Back in the day, an ad on how to meet girls in the back of a magazine didn’t open a door into the dark web.”
In a 2018 report, the Anti-Defamation League divided this “manosphere” into three overlapping tribes: “men’s rights activists,” who have channeled legitimate advocacy for equal treatment in divorce and custody disputes into a toxic male rage; “pick-up artists,” who have perverted those back-of-the-magazine schemes into a cult of predatory sexual entitlement; and “incels,” men who blame all women for their own involuntary celibacy.
All three groups espouse a generalized loathing for women and the shifting norms — from female empowerment to gay rights — that they blame for their many miseries. As the online communities swelled in the past five or six years, the rhetoric became more extreme.
"More and more, we see misogyny as the gateway drug for extremists.”
“It went from ‘I got [screwed] in my divorce settlement’ to ‘Women are dogs, women should be raped,’?” Beirich said.
The FBI began tracking hate crimes against women in 2013, though the agency’s statistics have long been plagued by major inconsistencies in the ways thousands of police departments around the country define and report hate crimes. In 2017, the most recent year available, the FBI tallied 24 attacks against women based on their gender — a tiny percentage of hate crimes overall.
Tallahassee police are stationed outside the yoga studio after the shooting on Nov. 2, 2018. A police investigator later spent months tracing gunman Scott Beierle’s movements.
But researchers say many incidents go unreported by police or by women themselves, and they expect more attacks in the future, spurred by the cross-pollination among aggrieved men and broader hate movements.
“A deep-seated loathing of women acts as a connective tissue between many white supremacists,” explained the ADL report, titled “When Women are the Enemy: The Intersection of Misogyny and White Supremacy.”
While old-guard white supremacists revered women as the mothers of the race, younger bigots despise them as just one more group responsible for eroding their status.
“Even if you become the ultimate alpha male, some stupid bitch will still ruin your life,” declared Andrew Anglin on the neo-Nazi website he founded, the Daily Stormer. Anglin has credited his site’s anti-women content with bolstering traffic even as other hate sites have seen a falloff.
"The hot ones all detest me, and I haven’t a clue why.”
Scott Paul Beierle in “Rejected Youth,” a novel he wrote in high school
A photo of Paul Scott Beirle from his Facebook page
“Incels are full of rage, and it is trivial to turn these guys into kike haters,” explained one of Anglin’s sidekicks, Andrew Auernheimer, known online as Weev, in a Daily Stormer post. “Few people have ever personally had their life harmed by a Jew (in a direct, personally observable sense), but every single breathing man has had it f----- up by multiple selfish, scheming hookers (likely starting with their own mothers).”
The ugly rhetoric can lead to violence. The 19-year-old nursing student alleged to have opened fire in a San Diego-area synagogue in April cited, among a litany of anti-Semitic conspiracies, the role of Jews in promoting feminism.
Incel adherents in particular — who dream of destroying the women they long for, derisively nicknamed “Stacys,” and the attractive men, “Chads,” who have better luck — have emerged as killers.
In a 2014 rampage in Santa Barbara, Calif., a 22-year-old college dropout named Elliot Rodger used guns, a knife and his car to kill six and injure 13 before shooting himself, blaming the attack on his inability to get a girlfriend and his disgust at interracial couples. A year later, a 26-year-old student shot his English professor and eight classmates at an Oregon community college, having lamented in a virulently racist manifesto that he was a virgin with no girlfriend. In 2018, a driver plowed a rented van down a Toronto sidewalk, killing 10, after allegedly posting on Facebook that the “incel Rebellion has already begun!”
The last two cited the example of Rodger before they killed. And in a video posted well before driving to Tallahassee in November and giving his debit card to Kate Pierson, so had Scott Beierle.
Pierson was still sitting at the front desk during the 5:30 class when she was startled by three sharp blows on the wall behind her. She thought perhaps the stereo had fallen from its shelf in the studio. But then she heard the muffled voice of the teacher — “What are you doing?” — followed by five quick gunshots.
Pierson dropped her phone and ran out the front door, turning left to avoid passing the broad window of the studio. She heard screaming behind and saw one of the students running toward her. “I think I’ve been shot,” the woman cried.
Inside the studio, it was pandemonium. Beierle fired wildly and fast, not seeming to target any one student so much as all of them. In the panicked scramble, one woman was hit in her left arm, torso and leg, police said. Another was shot in her chest, another in her thigh. A woman was grazed in the back as she sprinted out the door. One student cowered beneath her foam yoga mat as shell casings showered the carpet.
“I’m just going to hit him. He’ll cock that thing back and shoot me. But I’m going to hit him.”
Two women close to the shooter fell almost immediately, one struck in the back of the head, the other twice in the back. Maura Binkley was a 21-year-old German major in her senior year at FSU who had recently joined a rally against gun violence at the state capital. Nancy Van Vessem was a Tallahassee physician, health-care executive and a near-daily regular at the studio. Neither would survive.
After 13 shots, the shooter paused. Joshua Quick, a second-year FSU law student and the only male in the class, heard the gun click.
“I didn’t know if it was jammed or what,” said Quick, who’d worked as a nurse in Arizona before enrolling in law school. A slender yoga and meditation enthusiast, Quick, now 34, said he thought: “I’m just going to hit him. He’ll cock that thing back and shoot me. But I’m going to hit him.”
With his terrified girlfriend looking on, Quick grabbed the best weapon in reach: an upright vacuum cleaner in the corner. And he rushed at Beierle.
Joshua Quick, wielding a vacuum cleaner and then a broomstick, fought back after Scott Beierle opened fire inside the yoga studio.
In the late 1990s, when Scott Beierle was in high school in Vestal, N.Y., he wrote a novel. He called it "Rejected Youth," a 70,000-word revenge fantasy of a middle school boy nursing hatred of the girls who had shunned and humiliated him. The protagonist, Scott Bradley, critiques their looks, ridicules their boyfriends and is enraged by their disdain. "The hot ones all detest me, and I haven't a clue why," he laments.
The boy murders them, brutally, one by one, even as he admires their bodies. In the final scene, he cuts the throat of the clique’s ringleader before he throws himself off a roof with the cops closing in.
According to someone who knew Beierle back then and provided a copy of the manuscript, the characters, with names slightly changed, were their real classmates.
“This is basically his school journal,” said the man, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid being associated with the killer.
Beierle was one of three boys raised in a middle-class family in Vestal, a small suburb of Binghamton. His father was a white-collar office worker, and Beierle earned badges as a Boy Scout, worked as a paperboy, served as an acolyte in his Methodist church and was elected vice president of the Vestal High Class of 1997. But he also openly admired Hitler and the Aryan Nations. His class campaign slogan, against a female opponent, was “Vote Beierle, because we don’t need no woman.”
After high school, he went out west for a few months, telling friends he was trying to make it as a screenwriter. But he returned to New York, graduating from Binghamton University and burning through local hangouts and odd jobs: banned from a downtown bar for groping women, according to the childhood friend, and fired from a call-center job for harassing a female co-worker.
Beierle wrote of discovering punk rock around this time, reveling in the “utter chaos” of the sound, and used the incident with his co-worker as inspiration for one of his first songs: “Stalker.”
His violent writings were already a concern to his family. One sister-in-law told Tallahassee detectives that Beierle’s parents slept with their bedroom door locked when he was in the house. She and her husband, Beierle’s brother, considered contacting law enforcement in 2002 out of fear that Beierle might be the D.C. sniper, who was then terrorizing the Washington area near where Beierle had moved after college. None of Beierle’s relatives responded to requests for comment.
By 2005, Beierle was living in Maryland and teaching English and social studies at Anne Arundel County’s Meade High School. Toward the end of his first year, he was investigated by police for making a female student uncomfortable by touching her on the arm, suggesting she wear low-cut shirts and asking if she would ever pose in Playboy. The police report indicates the case was suspended, and Beierle continued teaching for another year before resigning.
A makeshift memorial in front of Hot Yoga Tallahassee two days after the shooting that left two women dead and several wounded.
Anne Arundel school officials, who noted that Beierle went through a criminal-background check when he was hired, said that all such incidents involving police are investigated by a team that can recommend anything from termination to no discipline. They would not say whether Beierle was punished.
It was just one of a series of episodes in which Beierle’s conduct with women led to him being questioned, arrested, fired or banned from private property — but never criminally convicted. In some cases, the woman or his employer declined to press charges. In others, prosecutors chose not to pursue them. It added up to a long record of harassment and assault accusations that did not turn up during cursory background checks.
In 2008, Beierle enlisted in the Army, completing officers’ school and becoming a second lieutenant. But by 2010 he was out for “unacceptable conduct.” Although he was still given an honorable discharge, Army documents reviewed by Tallahassee police show Beierle was investigated for inappropriate contact with female soldiers.
Beierle documented that episode, as he did many of his ruinous run-ins with women, in his bizarre catalogue of self-recorded music. In the lyrics, and a series of essays he wrote explaining them, he distills his anger at women into vengeance scenarios, including kidnapping and torture (“Locked in My Basement”), cannibalism (“Freshly Fried-up Girl”) and mass shooting (“I Will Not Touch You — My Bullets Will”).
A woman who knew Beierle
He wrote more than 100 songs and managed to record more than two dozen of them. Some rail against women, some against minorities, the dilution of the white race, homosexuals and liberals. All are atonal howls of rage.
“He basically had zero talent musically,” said David Lauber, a Florida recording engineer who sold Beierle studio time at $50 an hour.
At one point, the wife of a friend who read the ultraviolent lyrics reported his website to the FBI through an Internet tip line. An FBI official confirmed that the bureau received the tip, one of almost 732,000 posted online in 2018, and reviewed the songs, determining them to be “unactionable.” Even violently themed lyrics are protected speech, the FBI official said, unless they target a particular person, place or event.
“In this situation, there wasn’t a specific threat,” the official said.
After the Army, Beierle moved to Tallahassee to attend graduate school. But the college town had other attractions. He wrote of making a pilgrimage to Ted Bundy’s boardinghouse, and to Sorority Row, where the serial killer strangled two women who belonged to Chi Omega in 1978, the year Beierle was born.
“Christians have their Via Delorosa in Jerusalem,” he wrote, “and I have mine.”
Courtnee Connon said Scott Beierle groped her and two other women when she was a freshman at Florida State in 2012. The incidents — and others like them — led FSU police to ban Beierle from campus.
On a December afternoon in 2012, Courtnee Connon, an 18-year-old freshman, was in an undergraduate dining hall when she felt a hand firmly on her rear end. She whirled around and found Beierle, 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, denying he had touched her on purpose.
But a few minutes later, she saw him grope another woman, then a third. All three, she said, were wearing yoga pants.
Beierle was arrested and banned from the dining hall, but Connon decided not to press charges — a decision she said she now regrets. After two more similar incidents, FSU police barred him from campus.
At 36, Beierle had master’s degrees in public administration and planning, but his world was getting only smaller.
He found another job nearby as a substitute teacher in the Leon County school system, until he was fired for viewing porn at work. He made a run at stand-up in a comedy club, until bookers told him his anti-Semitic jokes were not welcome.
And then he tried to spark a social life through a Meetup.com group for local 20s and 30s. “We called him Nazi Scott,” said a woman who belonged to the group. “He’d walk up and just start talking about weapons and killing people in the military and how Hitler was right to clear the human race of gays and Jews and blacks."
One June afternoon in 2016, after a woman sunbathing by an apartment pool declined Beierle’s offer to apply tanning lotion, he grabbed and shook her buttocks. Charged with battery, he was diverted into mandatory counseling with a sex-addiction therapist. He dismissed therapy as one more “racket.”
“I’ve never gone to a psychiatrist of my own volition, nor would I ever,” he wrote in one online essay. “I have been ordered to visit one on 4 separate occasions though, dating back to high school, all having to do either with females or my mania.”
That fall, Beierle moved four hours southeast to Deltona, Fla., where Volusia County schools hired him as a substitute teacher. He was fired within a year for touching a female student on the midriff and asking if she was ticklish.
His existence, ridiculed in his song “My Glamorous Life,” became even more bleak. As his 40th birthday approached, he ate food from cans, according to his landlord, barely made eye contact with his neighbors and watched his bank account drain toward zero.
He began conducting Google searches for “yoga,” according to Tallahassee police investigator Daniel Warren, who spent months tracing Beierle’s movements. At first, it was yoga porn, but then he began looking for actual studios. Soon he was perusing the class schedule of one in particular: Hot Yoga Tallahassee.
A first responder takes information from Joshua Quick after the shooting. Quick was injured when he rushed Scott Beierle in an exchange that allowed several women to escape from the gunman. (Tori Schneider/Tallahassee Democrat)
Joshua Quick, the only man in the 5:30 class, doesn’t think Beierle saw him coming. He slammed the vacuum at Beierle’s head but the big man didn’t fall. Beierle swung the jammed Glock, catching Quick on the left side of his face, opening a three-inch gash over his eyebrow and sending the smaller man flying.
“I think he thought, ‘Okay, that takes care of that guy,’?” Quick said.
But Quick grabbed a broomstick and ran to strike Beierle again. He doesn’t remember the stunning blow he took in return; his girlfriend tells him it was an elbow to the face. When his head cleared seconds later, Beierle was still there, but the other students had fled during their fight. Quick and his girlfriend followed.
When Beierle was ready to shoot again, the room seemed empty of the living. After an agonizing pause, the women who were wounded or hiding heard him say something unintelligible and then take one last shot, upward through his chin. The fall of his body was hard and final.
A memorial to the victims of the Hot Yoga Tallahassee shooting includes a photo Nancy Van Vessem, a local physician killed by Scott Beierle.
Yoga for a Cause, originally organized for Hurricane Michael relief, became a vigil for the yoga studio shooting victims. (Alicia Devine/Tallahassee Democrat) A woman participating in Yoga for a Cause on the morning after the shooting is overcome by her emotions. (Alicia Devine/Tallahassee Democrat)
The misogynists rejoiced when they learned of the attack. Within hours of Beierle's suicide, hate-site habitues had dubbed him "St. Yogacel" and were scrambling to copy and share the online caches of his music and videos that so perfectly reflected their own worldview.
Incels celebrated his targeting of “spandex wearing yoga whores.” Racists hailed his rants against minorities, interracial dating, immigration and Muslims.
“This guy is a hero,” one poster declared. “Women belong in the house, taking care of family. Not going round yoga studios to fine tune their bodies for the pleasure of random strangers.”
But in the real world, something very different was unfolding.
The morning after the shooting, women from yoga classes all over the city rallied, unrolling their mats on a downtown street to show solidarity with the studio and to raise money for displaced staff. The owner of Hot Yoga Tallahassee, who declined to be interviewed, began remodeling the space, adding another exit door and other security measures. Two months later, the studio reopened.
Several of the women who survived the shooting have been back, including Kate Pierson.
“Now when I go in that room, it’s like going to my grandmother’s house even though I know she passed away there,” said Pierson, looking up at the second-floor studio from an outside table below. She was sitting outside the restaurant where she’d run for shelter as Beierle emptied his pistol. On a sunny spring day, it was full of diners, the parking lot was busy, a woman in workout clothes walked up the stairs for an afternoon class.
Quick has also returned, doing yoga in the place he did battle. His heroics are still being recognized — FSU paid for his law school expenses, Tallahassee gave him the key to the city. No one will forget what happened. But what happened won’t make them forget what the attacker tried to take.
“That was a sacred space where you would go to forget the rest of the world, and then the rest of world broke in,” Quick said. “It’s important that people have kept that peace in there. It didn’t change what that space still means.”
What it means on most nights: The scent of lemongrass still comforts, the waterfall still soothes, and the women still gather for yoga at 5:30.