Making money off saps has always been the real American Dream, and by this measure Mike Cernovich is doing his best to truly live out our great national aspiration. One not might have thought the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump would make compelling raw material for a self-help franchise, but in MAGA Mindset: Making YOU and America Great Again, Cernovich manages to meld the nationalist rhetoric of the “alt-right” with the affirmational platitudes of The Secret.

Over the course of the presidential campaign, Cernovich built up a reputation as the man too toxically right-wing for even FOX News. When the network invited him on, a RedState blogger exclaimed, “They’re giving this motherfucker legitimacy? Oh my god!” Cernovich, after all, is a Pizzagate truther known for sending tweets about how date rape doesn’t exist. He regularly uses the word “bitch” in describing women, and has called the Syrian refugee crisis a media-created “hoax.” Yet Cernovich has built up a considerable platform on (where else?) Twitter, where he preaches to a swarm of over one hundred and fifty thousand followers.

In his conspiratorial and misogynistic pronouncements, Cernovich is a run-of-the-mill creature of the online alt-right. He nevertheless makes for an interesting subspecimen, as one of the only fixtures of the movement to parlay his politics into a self-help brand. Cernovich’s blog and books are not just Trumpist propaganda. They sell a lifestyle, a package of inspirational macho clichés to help weedy, socially inept men become their ultimate selves. Cernovich takes Trump’s sales pitch one step further: Make America Great Again is not just a political program. It is a whole new you.

Cernovich himself is a classic rags-to-riches story: the inspiring metamorphosis of a poor, fat kid from the Midwest into a fully-fledged asshole in Venice Beach, California. During this remarkable journey, Cernovich learned martial arts, went to law school, was accused of rape, self-published three entire books on juicing, married a highly successful Silicon Valley patent attorney, was divorced by a highly successful Silicon Valley patent attorney, got a seven-figure alimony payout, rose to internet prominence by savaging a bunch of female gamers on Twitter, and finally became a thought-leader in the world of tinhat fake news (e.g.: “The Orlando Shooter Did Not Act Alone”). Also, his podcast has more followers than James Altucher’s. (We have no idea who James Altucher is either, but Mike Cernovich mentions this fact in every single one of his books, so we must assume it is one of Cernovich’s more significant achievements.)

Cernovich’s internet writings include such thinkpieces as “How to Choke a Woman During Sex” and, entirely unrelatedly, “How to Avoid a False Rape Case.” (Cernovich’s professional advice is that you should secretly film the woman during sex.) Given this provocative online oeuvre, the surprising thing about Cernovich’s first self-help book, Gorilla Mindset (other than how little it actually discusses gorillas), is just how milquetoast and prototypical Cernovich’s advice is. Confronting your challenges, reaching your goals, maintaining your focus. For a masculinist tract, parts of it have a surprisingly Chicken Soup for the Soul vibe.

The gorilla conceit itself goes unexplained. Why gorillas? Presumably because they are muscly and do not suffer from self-doubt. (They are also, however, not known for being especially sophisticated political thinkers, a fact one may wish to bear in mind when assessing how much credence to give Cernovich’s theory of an international war on whites.) The gorilla mindset seems to have something to do with unleashing an inner animal. But what gorillas have to offer, other than large chests and a constrained capacity for higher-order reasoning, one is never told.

We do learn one characteristic of people with gorilla mindsets, which is that they are very organized. “When stepping outside of my door and before closing the door,” Cernovich reveals, “I stop. I feel for my wallet, cell phone, and keys. Because of this Gorilla Mindset habit, I have never locked myself out of my apartment.” A real gorilla never forgets his keys! Mike Cernovich is laying down all the hard truths those effeminate left-wing nature documentaries will never tell you. Later on, in a list of Gorilla Focus habits, we are told that gorillas “do not eat in front of the television.” A real gorilla knows this will only make him lose track of his calorie intake! The discoveries continue to pile on. A real gorilla pees eight times a day, clear urine! A real gorilla always registers as self-employed on his tax returns! A real gorilla COOKS WITH A CROCKPOT!

Cernovich’s next book, Danger & Play, continues the themes of Gorilla Mindset in a more aggressive style. The content is edgier, the formatting is far worse, and Mike Cernovich wants you to know that he is done coddling you. Straight away, he lays down the central traits of Masculine Men. Masculine men are aggressive. Masculine men move with purpose. But above all else, masculine men are hard. Do you have what it takes to be hard, Cernovich taunts his eunuch readers, or are you a coward? “Are you afraid of drinking a green juice?” he asks, “and instead look for your milk and cookies?”

Cernovich’s writing on dating and relationships is predictably full of bad advice. “Acting like a narcissist will make people like you,” he says. (This is not the case.) There’s the usual stuff from “pick-up artist” culture about being mean to women to make them like you, and about how it’s a good idea to bite a woman on the neck if you’re not totally sure she wants you to kiss her. (Though you’d better make sure you film it, lest you be brought up on a false vampirism charge.) His declarations often have the interesting quality, in common with virgins writing letters to Penthouse, of leading the reader to emit a long “Suuuuuuuure.” “My first marriage was ruined by feminist indoctrination,” he insists. (Suuuure it was.) “I was friends with a lot of girls who had crushes on me, but I was too polite to fuck them.” (Suuuuure they did.) Not all of the claims he makes are implausible, though. A long list of “what I juiced this week” (including recipes for cabbage carrot juice, kale lemonade, and a celery refresher) is too exhaustively-documented to be fictionalized.

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One can glimpse the fruits of Cernovich’s gender philosophy in a New Yorker profile of him, which portrays his current marriage as wracked by tension and nervous laughter on the part of his indulgent wife. (“Never marry for love,” Cernovich advised his readers in a December 2016 blog post, published just two days after his wife gave birth to their child.) Cernovich’s principled commitment to being an asshole to women seems to have, shockingly enough, caused its share of tearful rifts in the home:

Early in Shauna’s relationship with Mike, she read Danger and Play, including such posts as “How to Cheat on Your Girlfriend.” She said, “I would come home from work crying—‘How can you write such rude things?’ He’d go, ‘You don’t understand, babe, this is just how guys talk.’ ” (Advice from the blog: “Always call your girl ‘babe,’ ” to avoid mixing up names.) Shauna, who has stopped working, continued, “I was still upset, though, and he eventually deleted some older posts.” “I rewrote some of the wording,” Mike insisted. “I never disavow things I’ve said.”

Though Cernovich may draw a principled distinction between disavowing and deleting the things he’s said in the past, he certainly has no aversion to simply lying. His championing of Donald Trump, for example, began as a cynical ploy to sell e-books. In a 2015 Twitter exchange with a follower, who remarked that Cernovich “took a damn sharp turn to the right,” Cernovich replied: “My real views are far more moderate, but now is the time to win. Arguing over details is reserved for the winners.”

MAGA Mindset, Cernovich’s Trump-themed book, is 75% alt-right screed against the evils of feminism and the ethnic adulteration of the United States, and 25% of the usual warmed-over gorilla feces sandwiched between Trump block quotes. Cernovich is eager, in this book, to cast himself as a defender of white working-class folk against the diabolical coastal elites who say that such people “deserve to die.” This is a fascinating evolution from Cernovich’s pre-election view, which was that the people from his own small Midwestern town were human garbage. “My brother is a loser who just got out of prison for shooting his meth dealer,” he writes in Danger and Play. “I haven’t talked to him in more than a decade. Why would I associate with such a scumbag? Because he’s family?” If Cernovich himself hadn’t moved to California, he added, “I’d be stuck working a shit job in a shit downtown, married to some shit cow and raising some shit kids.” Instead, he’s now living the dream in Orange County, alternating between making his wife cry and blogging about liberal media conspiracies. He is truly a populist in the Donald Trump mold.

“My first marriage was ruined by feminist indoctrination…”

Reading Cernovich, one gets the distinct impression that he is urgently trying to prove something. The New Yorker profile provides one possible explanation of this might be:

After law school, his wife became a successful attorney in Silicon Valley. But Cernovich was not admitted to the California bar until nine years after getting his law degree. In the meantime, he says, he got by with “freelance legal research” and “appellate stuff.” Cernovich’s wife earned millions of dollars in stock from an I.P.O.; he told me that he received “seven figures” in the divorce settlement. This seems to have been, and might still be, his primary source of funds. (He insists that book sales provide his main income.)

Thus Cernovich, who wishes to restore American masculinity, is a parasite on his much more successful ex-wife. (It is this, presumably, to which he is referring when he says that feminism killed his first marriage.) The amusing thing, when delving into the Cernovich’s writings, is realizing just how contrived and desperate the masculine posturing seems. Margaret Pless, a blogger who has made it her gleeful mission to catalogue Cernovich’s many egregious fibs and hypocrisies, has described Cernovich as a “Potemkin Alpha Male,” whose online persona is cobbled together from a whole host of unlikely claims. Though Cernovich boasts of his lawyerly credentials—and routinely threatens lawsuits against his opponents during online feuds—he has apparently never served as counsel in a single state or federal court case. Though he’s publicly mocked other men for accepting alimony, he’s also repeatedly contradicted his own claims that his media products have been the source of his financial success, and seems content to stealthily subsist on the drippings of his high-powered ex-wife’s IPO. His pickup game includes such medically dubious advice as “the best condom a man has is the skin on his dick,” and even his 10,000 juicing books contain lengthy legal disclaimers against foolish readers who expect any kind of health benefit from his recipes. “Although Michael claims to be a self-made man, he trolls more well-known men, drafting off their fame to get attention,” Pless writes. “His tales of sexual conquest are just that, and Michael’s legal career is a similarly trumped-up story with little to no basis in fact.”

One could be amused by Cernovich’s constant attempts to puff himself into the gorilla he knows he isn’t. After all, if this is masculinity, then masculinity is pitiable. And it’s a shame that Mike Cernovich and his followers feel the need to become these ghastly creatures, who call women bitches and never leave the gym, just so they don’t feel like failures. It says something dispiriting about the way boys are raised. Cernovich himself writes of a childhood plagued by bullies, which led him to adopt the following life philosophy: “I hurt anyone who wrongs me and hold lifetime grudges.” One feels for the boy Cernovich, the pudgy kid with the speech impediment, who still spends every day trying to prove himself to his imagined tormentors.

Yet as much pity as one may have for men destroyed by the impossible quest to eliminate personal failure and weakness, the Cernovich mentality is still disturbing. By finding a way to fuse Trumpism with self-esteem building, Cernovich offers a tempting ideological framework for today’s angry white man. One of the ways that Cernovich distinguishes himself from other conservatives is that his brand of right-wing politics openly embraces power rather than logic. Cernovich does not want to have a debate. He wants to achieve dominance. One hesitates to use the word fascist, because of its emptiness. But Cernovich, like Trump, seems a dash like Mussolini by way of Norman Vincent Peale.

Not that Cernovich’s books themselves are especially threatening. The reader feels more likely to die of tedium than at the hands of right-wing terror squads. Your reviewers had a very difficult time getting through them (the Cernovich assignment required two reporters, as the boredom was too much to justify inflicting on one). They are not very slickly made. The paperback version of Cernovich’s blog posts includes hyperlinks that do not work because they are, well, on paper. For MAGA Mindset, someone has evidently forgotten to include the page numbers (even though there is a table of contents). They are produced by a tiny publishing house whose other offerings include There Will Be War, Vol I-X and a guide to “extreme composting.” (None of the usual weak, girly composting here. You must compost like a man.)

Under different circumstances, one might be inclined to simply give Cernovich a gentle pat on the head and coo “There, there,” perhaps also passing him a recommendation for a good therapist, who could help him work through some of his lingering complexes about his childhood. But unfortunately, Trump is president, and the cruel, self-aggrandizing philosophy that could usually be met with ostracism and disdain now threatens us all. Mike Cernovich’s philosophy of vanity, bombast, and sexual assault has become national policy.

None of that changes the underlying facts, though. A gorilla may be strong enough to mash you into the pavement, but that doesn’t mean he knows anything. A man may get a lot of people to buy his books, but that doesn’t mean they are good. And an insecure, narcissistic rapist may look in the mirror and fancy himself a great and powerful beast, but he’s still Mike Cernovich. 

Illustration by Tyler Rubenfeld.