Blue Pill, Red Pill, Black Pill: Radicalization Narratives and Pathways to Male Supremacism

Male supremacists are united by their belief that women are genetically inferior, in their reduction of women to their reproductive or sexual function, and in their belief that men are truly the oppressed gender. Since 2014 male supremacist identities have been linked to several  acts of mass violence in North America. Notably, in 2020, Candadian authorities charged a 17year-old male with terrorism charges for incel-related violence, marking the first time that terrorism charges were brought in relation to a male supremacist identity. Incels, a portmanteau for involuntary celibate, are one of several male supremacist identities that mainly congregrate in online forums, sometimes collectively referred to as the ‘manosphere’. While misogynist incels have been the most visibly connected to violent extremism, other male supremacist identities such as Men’s Rights Activists, Men Going Their Own Way, Pick-up Artist, and Red-Pillers have advocated for various forms of violence, particularly violence against women. 

Additionally, these various male supremacist identities share a common language; ‘red pills’ and ‘black pills’ are among the many words that populate male supremacist jargon. ‘Red pills’ and ‘black pills’ are assigned by male supremacists to the experiences, media, and other devices that led them to male supremacist identities, and helped them accept the ‘truth’ of male supremacist ideology: that men are truly the oppressed gender, while women, and feminists in particular, are their oppressors. Men’s movements since the 1970s and misogyny have been well documented and studied by gender scholars. While there is growing interest in the newer, digital iteration of the men’s movement and male supremacist identities (Dignam and Rohlinger; 2019, Ging, 2018; Hodapp, 2017; Lin, 2017, Marwick & Caplan 2017), particularly as a potential terror threat (Hoffman et al., 2020; DiBranco, 2019), little work has focused on how individuals radicalize into male supremacism, engage with male supremacist communities, and ‘red pill’ and ‘black pill’ narratives.

Therefore, the objective of this study is to analyze ‘red pill’ and ‘black pill’ narratives to understand and map potential radicalization pathways in and deradicalization pathways out of male supremacism. Employing a digital feminist ethnographic approach, this study focuses on two online male supremacist identities: involuntary celibates (incels) and Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW). Additionally, two forums for former male supremacists will be analyzed to understand possible deradicalization pathways out of male supremacism. This study will be informed by theories of social identity, hegemonic masculinity, and victim ideology. It will utilize discourse analysis and postmodern narrative theory to analyze ‘pill’ narratives. This research will build on existing work on masculinities, digital radicalization and extremism. This research is significant as it will be the first of its kind to analyze ‘red pill’ and ‘black pill’ narratives to better understand radicalization pathways to male supremacism. The findings of this study will provide valuable insights into broader understandings of gender, power, and violence. Further, this research will provide much needed insight into how masculinity operates in radicalization and extremism, particularly among male supremacist groups.

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Andrea Maihofer
Co-Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Paula-Irene Villa Braslavsky (München)

Short Bio

Megan Kelly is a PhD Candidate in Gender Studies  at the Graduate School for Social Sciences at the University of Basel. In 2019, she earned a Master of Arts in Social Sciences as part of the Global Studies Program, receiving a joint-degree from the University of Freiburg and the University of Cape Town. She is also a co-founder and research fellow at the Institute for Research on Male Supremacism. Megan is funded by the Graduate School of Social Sciences Start-Up Stipend, a research scholarship from the Freiwillige Akademische Gesellschaft Basel, and a research scholarship from the Swiss Center for Social Research. 

Portrait Megan Kelly

Megan Kelly 
Graduate School of Social Sciences G3S  
Petersgraben 52 
4051 Basel