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The shooting in a Tallahassee yoga studio on Friday, which killed two people and wounded six others, was the latest in a series of lone-shark attacks apparently inspired by misogynistic, white-supremacist, alt-right ideologies of one kind or another. From the mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh to the pipe bombs mailed to prominent critics of the president, middle-aged white extremists have been in the news all week. In Plantation, Florida, it was a van coated in pictures of the president; in Tallahassee on Friday, it was a self-described “incel” whose online presence seems to say it all.
Friday’s victims were 61-year-old Dr. Nancy Van Vessum and 21-year-old Maura Binkley, who were killed by the shooter, as well as four other women who were wounded by gunshots and one man who was pistol-whipped when he attempted to subdue the assailant. As of Sunday, two of the survivors remained hospitalized in stable condition and the three others had been treated and released. The shooter, 40-year-old Scott Paul Beierle, had shot and killed himself by the time police arrived on the scene.
Beierle arrived at Hot Yoga Tallahassee on the second floor of a local shopping mall just past 5:30 p.m. After entering the store as a potential customer, he pulled a pistol out of a bag and began firing at the small group of members of an ongoing class. Police arrived some ten minutes later, after several people in the studio fled the scene and hid in neighboring shops in the mall.
According to a statement by the City of Tallahassee Police Department, several of the yoga studio patrons fought with the assailant after the shooting had begun. One of those people was Joshua Quick, who was interviewed on ABC’s Good Morning America on Sunday morning. Quick said he was pistol-whipped after he hit Beierle during a pause in the shooting when the gun jammed. He then picked up a broom and hit the shooter again, he said, giving some people time to escape into the mall.
“The gentleman who came in, apparently he tried to fight off the attacker and he had quite a few wounds on his face, I guess from – from trying to help,” said Melissa Hutchinson, who witnessed the scene. She said that, according to someone else who was there, the attacker had appeared suspicious from the outset, coming “in and out” of the yoga studio and standing by the door in a way that was out of the ordinary.
According to the same police statement, investigators have not yet landed on a motive and are still investigating the possibility of a connection to the victims. The father of one of the murdered women, however, says that police told him the attack was random. Judging by the apparently indiscriminate assault on the class members, it certainly seems likely that Beierle was looking only to cause as much devastation as he could.
A number of reports on his criminal history and his online activity have provided clues to the disturbed ideology that may have motivated such as attack. As police mention in their statement, Beierle, a graduate of Florida State University and apparently unemployed veteran of the Army, was arrested on multiple occasions for harassing and assaulting women.
In 2012, Beierle was arrested for misdemeanor battery after allegedly groping women’s butts on FSU campus. In 2014, he was arrested for allegedly trespassing at a dining hall on the same campus. Again, in 2016, he was arrested for groping a woman’s butt while she sunbathed, after she refused to allow him to put sunscreen on her. In each case, however, charges were dropped by prosecutors for reasons that remain unclear.
In addition to these several charges, Beierle’s active presence online has helped to paint a dark portrait of the killer. Beierle was a self-identifying “incel,” or “involuntary celibate,” a term used to refer to the collection of men active on alt-right websites and forums who blame women and various distorted conceptions of “liberal society,” “cultural Marxism,” feminism, etc. for their social isolation or suffering. Incels have recently entered into the mainstream after serving as a cultish following for outspoken pundits and authors like Jordan Peterson.
In a video posted online, Beierle can be seen idolizing the mass murderer Elliot Rodger, who himself has become an incel-icon after murdering six people in Isla Vista, California. Rodger was likewise praised by Alek Minassain, who killed 10 people in the Toronto in April.
An active YouTuber, Beierle routinely advertised his hatred of women, homosexuals, Muslims, and non-whites in videos and songs posted online. His songs had titles like “Bring Your Fatwa” and “Who Let the Fags Out.” In several songs, he sings about his inability to attract women, a common theme among incels who argue that society should be reorganized around their sexual obsessions. Beierle also posted a number of rants on his YouTube page with titles like “Plight of the Adolescent Male.” In them, he routinely refers to women as “whores,” specifically those who participate in interracial relationships. Such evidence has led many to suggest that Beierle’s deliberate intent, if it was anything more than random, was to kill women.
Beierle, a resident of Deltona, Florida, had travelled to Tallahassee and was staying in a hotel at the time of the attack. The investigation is ongoing, and further details about any possible motives will certainly be revealed over the course of the week.