From Denver with Love

Commentary on a new Rolling Stone feature about gun violence and toxic masculinity online

It started, as so many stories do, with a tweet. 

Three days after Christmas 2021, someone I follow retweeted a person saying there’d been a mass shooting in Denver the previous night targeting members of the tattoo and piercing community, and all the news stories were focusing far too much on the sensational personal details of the killer and not nearly enough on the victims—particularly, his friend Alicia Cardenas. At that moment I decided I’d try to tell her story, even if no one would pay me to do it. Fortunately, Rolling Stone did

The shooter’s story was compelling, to be sure: A prolific misogynist in various corners of the internet, Lyndon McLeod had self-published three novels beginning in 2018, and in the murderous tales he used the names of people he knew in real life as the victims. Members of the so-called online “manosphere” praised his toxic work and believed him to be a visionary; but one fan in Germany grew concerned about the increasingly urgent nature of his violent rhetoric, and tipped off Denver police, where McLeod lived, and the FBI in early 2021. 

But what McLeod attempted to snuff out with death only burned brighter in the end: The memory of Alicia Cardenas remains as a testimony to the many communities in which she found a sense of purpose and safety. It was a privilege to meet with her father and brother; to chat over a warm mug of Atole—an indigenous Mexican blue corn drink—with her fellow Aztec dancer; to sit in the backroom of the shop just a few doors down from Alicia’s tattoo studio with her dear friend. I got to see up close the bullet holes that still riddled the wall of McLeod’s former business associate’s home studio, each still numbered as crime scene evidence. I drove the route he took that fateful night to settle grudges his victims hardly knew existed. 

There have been nearly 300 mass shootings in America since that bloody December night, and it’s easy to grow numb when internalizing each and every one would destine you to endless pain. And it’s difficult to conceptualize just how much rampant online misogyny has influenced the rise in shooting deaths: it’s enough to make you want to close the curtains and crawl back into bed. But when possible, it can help to reflect on the people injured or killed by weapons of war and toxic ideology to ensure that whether they lived a few years or many decades, their presence on this shared Earth mattered. While it’s important to protect ourselves from pain, it’s incumbent upon us not to become immune to it either. 

All that said, I hope you’ll read my latest piece that’s been months in the making. My endless gratitude to the people I met, and to the people who I’ll never get to meet but whose stories live on here.

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