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Why Incels Love Putin

Russian fascism and right-wing chauvinism share an emotional core.
January 5, 2023
Why Incels Love Putin
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is pictured with a horse during his vacation outside the town of Kyzyl in Southern Siberia on August 3, 2009. (Photo: Alexey Druzhinin / AFP / Getty)

Although he is losing his genocidal war against Ukraine and experiencing increasing economic turmoil at home, Russian President Vladimir Putin has one thing going for him: The genocidal dictator has children, palaces, and many rumored mistresses—the power-hungry alpha male’s dream. Why, then, is he so admired by prominent “incels”—i.e., men who refer to themselves as “involuntarily celibate,” mostly because they are transparent misogynists who are rightfully spurned by women?

The Book of Matthew warns of false prophets: “You will know them by their fruits.” Today, you will also know them by their fans. And in Western society, where nobody is really forced to like Putin, some of his most ardent fans are deeply troubled people.

One of the most prominent and most troubled of Putin’s Western boosters is the white supremacist Nick Fuentes, who doesn’t hold back on his admiration for Putin’s war in Ukraine, and considers him to be a beacon of hope for the white race. Earlier this year, before he was fanning the flames of Kanye “I like Hitler” West’s anti-Semitic meltdown, Fuentes made comments about sex with women that eerily echo the ideology of the Kremlin.

Fuentes also refers to himself as an incel, although he also states that he deliberately stays away from women, because he is heterosexual. One might think this makes him voluntarily celibate, but Fuentes explains: “The only really straight heterosexual position is to actually ‘incel’. . . What’s gayer than being ‘I like cuddles, I need kisses?’”

It’s not that Fuentes is opposed to sex with women per se. He is opposed to asking for affection. Incels frequently complain that, as women have been given more choice over their personal lives, men must now woo them rather than dragging them off to a cave.

Viewing all sexual contact as inherently transactional, incels decry the fact that they don’t have the upper hand in the transaction. Genuine affection doesn’t figure into their calculus, so it makes sense that people like Fuentes refer to sex with women as “gay.” In their language, “gay” = “weak.” And the officially homophobic Russian regime would readily agree.

Fuentes is not the only prominent weirdo in Putin’s thrall. Fox News host Tucker Carlson is a much more famous and powerful Western Putinist. Blinded by Carlson’s excellent ratings—his ability to both inspire and direct rage makes him infinitely watchable for both his admirers and detractors—we often forget that he has some strange ideas about masculinity.

It’s not that Carlson is wrong about the existence of a crisis of masculinity in the United States. His instincts are correct—young men are having way less sex, for example. It’s a notable societal shift, and simply laughing it off is foolish. It’s just that Carlson’s approach, which includes pushing “testosterone-boosting” gimmicks such as testicle tanning and not-so-subtly inviting conservative men to take their rage out on immigrants, is crazy. That’s all in addition to his history of misogyny: Carlson once claimed that making uniforms more appropriate for female service members was “a mockery of the U.S. military.”

Modern-day Russian fascism is similarly misogynist. Putin is known for his misogynist remarks. His government all but encourages domestic violence. His soldiers use mass rape as a weapon of war. His sneering pet propagandist, Margarita Simonyan, the head of RT, took to social media to make coy little comments about how Russians will enjoy Kyiv again soon, and will chase after “dark-browed Oksanas,” a turn of phrase specifically aimed at advertising the sexual availability of Ukrainian women as seen by imperialist would-be conquerors from Russia.

This is not just a twisted vision of women; it’s a twisted vision of humanity that has no room for happiness or affection. Affection can make you vulnerable, and vulnerability is anathema to Putinism, which first rose out of an aggrieved, anti-Western revanchism and a feeling of failure that over time turned into seething resentment.

Resentment is the key link between Putin, the serial philanderer, and the likes of Fuentes and Carlson. It doesn’t matter that Putin, far from being an incel, is voluntarily incelibate—all that matters to his Western admirers is that he shares their resentfulness. A resentful person is very keenly aware of the fact that if you love someone, you may lose them. Better to not love anything or anyone at all.

Just like Putin, members of the American far-right, sensing that they are losing the culture wars, have painted themselves as outsiders, misunderstood and downright reviled. They don’t ask themselves why they feel enraged and lost. Like the narrator of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground, they embrace the “pleasure of despair.”

If all of that sounds sad and unsettling, let’s again consider the fact that the Russian military, long thought of as “superior” to America’s own “woke” military by people like Tucker Carlson and Sen. Ted Cruz, is actually terrible on the battlefield. Why do you think the Russian Army resorts to raping and torturing Ukrainian children? It’s because they are pathetic and weak, eager to take their rage out on people who can’t fight back, unlike Ukrainian soldiers—including the almost 60,000Ukrainian women who have taken up arms to defend their country.

In this war, Ukrainians are driven by beliefs that Putin, who gambles on the idea that all people can either be bought off or intimidated, simply doesn’t understand: the love of their people and homeland and the desire to be free of the fascist next door, even if it costs them their lives. Fuentes would probably call that “gay.” Yet sincerely held beliefs provide motivation for finishing a fight you didn’t start.

The Russian military has no such motivation. Even Putin’s repeated nuclear saber rattling confirms his soldiers and his regime in general to be weak—a tacit admission that Russia has failed, and that its war aims are retreating almost as fast as its forces.

The Fuenteses and Carlsons of our society have bought into a bitter lie that Russians have told themselves for years and transmitted across their propaganda channels. That lie is that Putin is strong, and that his anger feeds his strength. Angry Westerners will embrace foreign lies because it gets them attention. Attention is a powerful drug, especially for people who are compensating for something. But at some point, a rational person should step back and consider that lies have a habit of backfiring.

For years, we’ve treated Putin like an outsized figure, impressed by his hold on power. As his blunders have multiplied, the spell has broken.

No matter how many innocent people he destroys, no matter how many palaces he builds, no matter how many extremists he seduces, Putin is a fundamentally weak man. His posturing is a symptom of his weakness. A weak man cannot be free, and lack of freedom means lack of personal and political flexibility, which in turn means brittleness.

Putin is fragile. The best way to disband his cult among the American right is to prove it for all to see by supporting his unequivocal defeat in Ukraine.

Natalia Antonova

Natalia Antonova is a writer and investigator based in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @NataliaAntonova.