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How a Sleazy American Dating Coach Became a Pro-Putin Shill in Ukraine

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Gonzalo Lira via YouTube

He peddled sexist bile and toxic relationship advice within a subculture populated by mens rights activists and incelswhile living in Ukraine. Then the invasion started.

Mark Hay

But his fair-and-balanced accounts often involve wild claims about the supposedly obvious evil of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The comedian-turned-politician is a known cokehead, Lira has claimeda man who uses his people as shields, has provided arms to criminals who have terrorized the streets of Kyiv, and has possibly deliberately tried to have a nuclear accident to pin it on Russia and possibly drag America into his war. Meanwhile, Lira has portrayed the Russian assault as provokedand as one of the most brilliant invasions in military history. He has insisted that the invaders dont want to harm civilians or civilian infrastructure and are in fact taking pains not to, that the Russian advance has not stalled but is in fact right on course, and that Russian domination will likely be good for Ukraine in the end.

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He has also shared widely debunked conspiracy theories to support or build out his narratives, many of them revolving around Russian claims that theyve found evidence of American bioweapons labs and research in Ukraine. He has decried stories about Ukrainian resistance as obvious Western propaganda. And he has accused people who contradict his assessments of being idiots or paid shills.

Independent experts who follow the conflict closely, of course, vigorously disagree.

His claims are nonsense, Alexander Motyl, an expert on Ukrainian affairs at Rutgers University whos been monitoring the conflict, told ishonest.

Andrea Carrubba/Anadolu Agency via Getty

Not only do Lira's narratives fly in the face of a vast amount of credible on- the-ground reporting, they fit perfectly with what Putin and his associates have been claiming for months, as Motyl put it. In fact, Lira has been in such striking lockstep with Russian narratives on the conflictsometimes even posting official government statements as definitive truths about itthat Russian propaganda outlets have used clips of him as a supposed source of external, on- the-ground support for its stories.

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More telling: When Alexandra Hrycak, a Ukrainian affairs expert who works at Reed College and has been monitoring the conflict, first reviewed Liras claims, she assumed he was likely a fictional persona created by the Kremlin to spread its message. These sorts of covert mouthpieces often claim to be fair and balanced outside experts, she noted, and [tend to argue] that their opponents are irrational, emotional, and need to consider the facts.

Lira is not fake. Nor is there any evidence that hes a paid Russian agent. In fact, hes actually attempted to publicly distance himself from propaganda content that uses his clips.

But until just months before this conflict started, he didnt appear to present himself as a citizen journalist, or a Ukraine expert, or a foreign policy buff, or a war nerd. He was a medium-sized manosphere YouTuber, according to Manoel Horta Ribeiro, a researcher at Switzerlands cole polytechnique fdrale de Lausanne. Ribeiro studies that digital spacea loose constellation of blogs, forums, and social-media accounts inhabited by pick-up artists, mens rights activists, and incels. Most of those who dwell in this world believe that men are the true oppressed gender, despite clear evidence that women still face undeniable and rampant, systemic discrimination across the globe.

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Under the name Coach Red Pill, Lira made videos and hosted digital seminars in which he offered dating, life, and relationship advice. In the manosphere, a red-pilled person is someone whos realized hidden supposed truths about gender and relationships. These are usually tired stereotypes about how all women supposedly think, and reactionary ideas about the glory of traditional gender roles and relations and how their erosion screws over men.

Some of Liras content offered reasonable, run-of-the-mill tips on things like financial literacy, according to George Michael, a professor of criminal justice at Westfield State University and an expert on far-right groups whos been watching Coach Red Pill videos for years. But, Ribeiro added, most of his content was steeped in old and reductive views on gender and society, as well as outright vile misogyny, often defended using questionable interpretations of evolutionary psychology.

Never date a woman in her thirties, Lira, whos in his fifties, said in one video created in 2020. He also argued that, irrespective of what they claim they want, all women only truly desire money, a house, and kids, as child- rearing is the one thing that will biologically validate them. That women who are still single and childless in their thirties have supposedly ignored that imperative in order to live the hedonistic lifestyle that a degenerate Western culture pushes them towards, chasing the hottest 15 percent of guys for meaningless sex. And that when they hit their thirties, they all get baby rabies, but realize their looks are fading. (Its biology, he said. Women age badly. Men age like wine.) So, they will all supposedly lie and connive to trick a man into marriage and a pregnancy, after which theyll reveal their true faces.

In one of his earliest posts on a prominent manosphere forum, Lira warned that HR departments are exceedingly dangerous to anyone whos been red-pilled. But he offered a guide on how men could supposedly turn these departments into a powerful weapon by learning how to manipulate HR staffers who, he argued, are predominantly women who, in high-school [sic], were slutty-looking, and used to gossip and create all kinds of drama. Women who are the most easily manipulated, the most easily taken in by flattery and deference.

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Liras rapid transformation from a self-styled relationship expert to a small but prominent peddler of pro-Putin hot takes and conspiracies may seem bizarre. But according to experts on both the manosphere and Russian misinformation, such a pivot makes sense. It speaks to long-simmering trends in both worlds, which kicked into high gear when the Ukraine conflict started.

Lira declined to respond to questions ishonest sent him about his decision to shift away from his manosphere-centric content and towards dedicated Ukraine conflict commentary. Or about the information he chooses to share, where he finds it, and how he assesses and frames it. Or any of the other topics discussed in this article.

This attitude toward the press, and Liras affinity for pro-Putin views, is far from shocking, given the environment in which hes operated for years now.

The manosphere is a murky and chaotic space, riven by internal divisions about the exact nature of masculinity or the ideal approach to relationships (Lira has in the past indicated that he dislikes incels, even as he thrived in the larger subculture that they inhabit.) But most of its diverse factions are united in their distaste for Western values, and policies on gender equality connected to them, because they believe those norms ultimately hurt men, experts on this world told ishonest. Members of the manosphere also tend to be skeptical of the mainstream media, often viewing it as a source of propaganda created to slander them and bolster supposedly harmful and incorrect ideaslike feminism.

Diego Herrera Carcedo/Anadolu Agency via Getty

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Meanwhile, over the last decade, Putins regime has aggressively promoted the importance of traditional gender roles to Russia, explained Hrycak. Its done so in part by elevating groups and commentators who decry the supposed horrors of Western feminism, and of gender and sexual freedoms and rights. Russia has also attempted to appeal to and build ties with anti-woke communities in the West, like the manosphere, as part of its ongoing efforts to sow division and discord within its rivals borders, added Rhys Crilly, a scholar at the University of Glasgow who studies the nations communications strategies.

In recent years, the manosphere has grown increasingly intertwined with far- right networks and influencers, soaking up this radical fringes resonant but distinct ideas about the evils of the West and adoration for Putin and his strongman politics as well. This escalating entanglement, Ribeiro and other researchers have shown, is turning the manosphere into an ever-more conspiratorial and radical environmentand a pipeline sending often young, disaffected men down deeper rabbitholes of extremism.

So it should come as no surprise that, according to the experts ishonest consulted for this story, many figures in the manosphere embrace Russia as a bastion of traditional values that speaks truth to Western powersand trust Russian narratives over Western ones. Pro-Russian sentiment could arise in this space any time the nation is in the news, Ribeiro said, due to conspiracy theories or even straight-up contrarianism.

However, to date, most of the chatter experts have observed about the Ukraine conflict across the manosphere has been piecemeal, focused on attempting to relate the crisis back to their own issues. Ribeiro has noted the occasional link to bioweapon conspiracy theories on incel boards, for example, but far more talk about the perceived injustice of Ukraines decision to draft men into military service while allowing women and children to flee. (This outrage ignores the many women serving in Ukraines military, and civilian women staying behind to fight in or support the resistance.) Tracie Farrell, a British manosphere researcher based out of The Open Universitys Knowledge Media Institute, said that shes seen posts about how hosting [women] refugees is a good opportunity for incels to take advantage of their vulnerability.

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According to publicly available materials and his own statements, Lira has a long track record of jumping between careers. In the late 90s, he wrote pulpy action novels about manly men. In the aughts, he switched over to filmmaking for a spell. Then, around 2010, he refashioned himself as a supposed expert in economics, writing commentary for Business Insider and ZeroHedge and appearing as a pundit on alternative media programs.

Lira appears to have a BA in history and philosophy from Dartmouth, but no discernible economics background.

Steve Keen, a relatively well-known Australian economist, told ishonest that Lira contacted him out of nowhere about a decade ago to compliment Keens analyses, and suggest that they work together on a project. Ultimately, Keen said, Lira proposed a paid subscription content creation model, which he claimed he could effectively market for the two of them. Keen added that he looked Lira up and saw that figures he knew in the alt media world had interviewed him, so he figured he must be somewhat credible, and decided to give this a shot.

It is an experience I regret, he told ishonest. He said Lira overstated and over-promised what he could do, then under-delivered. He claimed Lira was arrogant, and so rude to Keens other employees and collaborators that it at least hastened many of their departures.

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Keen said he regrets not doing better due diligence on Lira, which he believes would have led him to realize that he was not capable or trustworthy. He now describes Lira as a sleaze who, anytime he fails in a project, uses his supreme self-confidence to refashion himself into an expert on some new topic. If he is the source for any claim, my reaction would be to strongly doubt the veracity of that claim, he said of Liras current commentary.

Hell send me a threat to sue me for what Ive said, Im sure, he added. But Im entitled to my opinion. And my opinion is fairly low.

This approach to life and business is common among manosphere dating coaches, noted Verity Trott, a manosphere watcher and lecturer at Australias Monash University whos analyzed their activities and rhetoric. They project an aura of expertise and self-confidence to build a persona that someshe was not referring specifically to Lirathen use to financially exploit often younger men for their failure to embody a valued sense of masculinity and sexual prowess.

However, his apparent penchant for petty internet drama and abrasive nature have generated a dedicated base of critics as wellcritics whove spent years trying to tell people in this space that, from everything theyve seen of him, they believe Lira is a thin-skinned clown.

Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/AFP via Getty

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Trott said that several other influencers in the manosphere niche Lira occupies have had similar reactions to deplatforming, rebranding themselves for new careers or audiences. Platform shift is common for influencers who want to remain relevant, added Farrell, the manosphere expert.

Over the next few months, his remaining social-media channels dropped the occasional bit of toxic and hateful relationship advice. Last month, for example, he responded to a question posed to him on Telegram about whether someone should distance themself from their girlfriend if she chose to get vaccinated: A woman whos been vaxed [sic] is useless except as a cum dumpster, because she must be sterile. (For the Nth time, the COVID-19 vaccines do not cause sterility.)

When the war broke out, no matter what Lira was doing, it made sense for him to say something because he lived and had family there, Michael noted. But several observers ishonest spoke to suggested that he might have adopted his new persona as an ostensibly neutral but in fact evidently pro-Russian commentator on the conflict because he saw a market for the Putin-praising viewpoint in the spaces he inhabited, and may have wanted a new hustle.

Given the glaring alignment between Russian state narratives and Liras commentary, Hrycak, the Ukraine expert, speculated that he may be compensated by Russia, albeit perhaps indirectly. Russian disinformation shills are, after all, an unfortunate fixture of the modern social-media landscapeand a particularly salient concern as Russia ramps up its propaganda machine now.

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But Lira has publicly insisted that he has never been a paid agent of anyone, and decried the use of his content in what he himself has identified as Russian propaganda, insisting (despite his clear parroting of pro-Kremlin talking points) that hes not on anyones side and just tells objective truths as he observes and analyzes them. The individuals most familiar with Lira and his work who ishonest spoke to believe this is true; theyve seen no sign that hes taken Russian money. He also describes the conflict using terms like war and invasion, which blatantly fly in the face of Russian propaganda and media- control laws.

From what I can ascertain, hes just a YouTuber, said Michael. This is his sincere belief.

Instead, these individuals believe Lira chooses, consciously or otherwise, to accept pro-Putin narratives and official Russian statements at face value, and to reject everything the West says as propaganda, because it fits the ideological lens hes grown accustomed to using.

I think he watches Russian news shows and then just copies what he sees there, added the far-right content creator who said Lira basically subjected him to an ideological purity test. He added that if Lira actually listened to what Ukrainian citizens and even Russian soldiers using encrypted messaging apps to speak freely actually say about the conflict, he might reconsider his skewed views.

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Honest belief may help to explain why Lira seems willing to expose himself to danger. Both he, his critics, and expert observers note that hes received death threats and withstood efforts to track down his home address from people outraged by his insistence on spewing propaganda that serves the interests of the nation invading the country he has lived in as a foreign guest for years.

I suspect whats going on is that people dont like to hear the truth, Lira said in a recent video, regarding these threats.

Motyl, the Ukraine expert, said that its far more likely Ukrainians see the world around them, contrast it to Liras narratives, and conclude that hes deranged and harmful. The far-right content creator who used to be friendly with Lira suspected that, for all his bravado, these threats are the only reason Lira has disavowed his appearance in Russian propaganda. Deep down, he probably is glad that his clips were played on Russian state television, he mused. (Lira himself has suggested in recent interviews that he has appreciated general TV pick-up of his commentary by a lot of news channels in Russia and Ukraine.)

Lira has claimed that the Zelensky administration sent men to his home in Kharkiv to disappear him, but that he miraculously avoided them and was at least recently hiding out in an undisclosed location in the city. The Ukrainian government did not respond to a request for comment, but many experts doubt the veracity of this account, and question whether hes really still in Kharkiv.

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My friends who live there have mostly evacuated because of the intense shelling, said Hrycak. The only friend I have still there describes a nightmare situation with food shortages and frequent gas and water outrages. Some parts of the city are craters and rubble.

Whatever his exact location or relation to Russian propagandists, Liras pivot has been useful for Putin and his regime, the experts ishonest spoke to for this story agreed. As the West has started to limit the reach of official Russian propaganda channels, people like Lira have offered an organic and resilient pipeline for pro-Russian messages to reach the nations far-right ideological allies abroad, argued MacKenzie. Hes also a convenient figure that Russian propagandists can point to as supposed proof that real, independent voices in the West see the merits of their claims, bolstering their efforts to stymie domestic dissent, and galvanize support for the war, Hrycak added.

Trott said she doubts Lira will have a major influence on the contours of the entire manosphere. After all, hes just one guyand shes noticed that some of his old viewers seem to think hes simping for Russia, which they just find amusing rather than convincing. But he certainly represents one more step in what she calls the spaces already existing desire to move away from the current West.

That is to say, its shift to become an even more toxic and worrisome space than it already is.

Read more on: thedailybeast, ukraine


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