When journalist Matt Shea and director Jamie Tahsin first started discussing tracking the influencer Andrew Tate for a Vice documentary, The Dangerous Rise of Andrew Tate, it was 2019. Andrew Tate was a minor Twitter celebrity with about 50,000 Instagram followers, primarily known for making incendiary comments about mental illness and Star Wars, and he was starting to build a marginal following as a figure in the manosphere, the term used to describe men’s rights activists and pickup artists who capitalize off of insecurities about masculinity. But he was steadily gaining a following, and Tahsin and Shea grabbed the opportunity to get incredible access to Tate, traveling to his compound in Romania to interview him, attending an event for his all-male community the War Room, and, in Shea’s case, even stepping into the ring for a cage match as an initiation rite into Tate’s world.
Last year, everything changed. Thanks to his numerous incendiary podcast appearances, which circulated on multiple social media platforms, Tate went viral seemingly overnight, metamorphosing from a middling kickboxer and failed reality show star to one of the most notorious men in the world, accused of spreading his misogynistic ideals among millions of impressionable male fans. In December, Tate and his brother Tristan were detained by authorities for months on suspicion of human trafficking, rape, and organized crime. And by the time The Dangerous Rise of Andrew Tate premiered earlier this year, Tate was a household name.
Today, Tate and his brother have been released from house arrest, and are awaiting trial in Romanian court. Through his team, the Tates have repeatedly denied the allegations against them. “While all statements from the alleged victims, incriminating the brothers, have been unquestioningly accepted by the public, the evidence supporting the brothers’ innocence has not been given the same fair treatment,” a spokesperson for the Tates previously told us. Yet he arguably is more visible than ever, frequently ranting about being unfairly targeted by what he calls the “Matrix” and regularly broadcasting his views to his 7.7 million followers on X, formerly Twitter. (Though he was banned for years, owner Elon Musk reinstated him once he took over the platform.)
But with Tate’s empire potentially at risk of collapsing if he is found guilty, who else is pulling the strings behind the scenes? Shea and Tahsin’s new documentary, the BBC’s Andrew Tate: The Man Who Groomed the World (available to stream via BBC Select in the United States on September 28), posits that there is a key figure in Tate’s circle who has managed to avoid accountability: Iggy Semmelweis.
A self-styled hypnotist who has imbued himself with mythical significance in the War Room, Tate’s secret all-male organization, Semmelweis, the film alleges, is one of the chief masterminds of a large-scale grooming operation run by the War Room, which encourages members to manipulate women into producing adult content and performing on webcam for their financial benefit. (Semmelweis did not respond to a request for comment via Twitter.)
Though Semmelweis is not interviewed in the film — one of its most gripping moments features Shea trailing a silent Semmelweis through the streets of Los Angeles — it sheds light on his apparent role in the organization, as well as the true extent of Tate’s alleged trafficking operation, saying they have identified more than 40 women who have allegedly been recruited by War Room members for the purpose of producing adult content. The Tates and their associates have characterized the War Room as a positive self-improvement community for men. “It’s a story that just kept on getting wider and wider and deeper and deeper with the things that we were finding out,” Tahsin says.
Rolling Stone spoke with Shea and director Jamie Tahsin about Tate’s empire, the man himself, and the chilling truth about his web of influence.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How did this all begin?
Tahsin: I was super interested in the manosphere generally. And then a colleague of mine, when I was back at Vice, basically sent me and another colleague Andrew Tate. She was like, “you should look at this person,” and then sent me a picture of her friend’s brother who had joined the War Room. This was back in 2019, so the War Room had only existed for like six months. But what I found really interesting was, if you went on his Instagram, it was perfectly curated. The pictures were the same poses — like, Andrew Tate and a friend sat leaning over the chess board with the same Andrew Tate quote underneath. And that immediately grabbed me because it wasn’t that often within the manosphere — in the Red Pill world — that you saw guys who were publicly affirming a character, not hiding behind pseudonyms and monikers, and going to real-world event meetups. He was growing massively online, which was a huge part of it, but the fact that men were paying to go to meetings in Romania, in the U.S., and all around Europe, where they had these behind-door meetings for this figure who said such extreme things online, it just seemed such an interesting world to explore. It’s one of those things you get so often as a journalist where you know that something’s happening behind the set of closed doors. And you’re just desperate to know what that is.
Given all the harassment that you guys received with the first film, why did you want to make another one?
Shea: Well, the reason we made this second one was because our first one didn’t even really scratch the surface in terms of what we’ve uncovered about Andrew Tate’s wider organization. This film is much more focused on the men behind Andrew Tate, specifically the War Room, which is his secretive, all-male society. As part of this film, we interviewed women who allege that they were groomed into online sex work by members of the War Room using a method that appears to have been taught within the War Room. We also have access to encrypted messages sent by War Room members to each other, which reveal the kind of details of that method of grooming. Now, it’s important to remember that not all War Room members will follow those teachings and follow that method. But the evidence suggests that some certainly did, and our analysis has shown that there were at least 45 potential victims of this method of grooming, with a further at least 29 who are targeted.
Tell me a little bit about your reporting on the War Room grooming practices. Can you describe a little bit how it works, and were you surprised by the extent of it?
Shea: The grooming technique that’s discussed in the War Room appears to begin with the so-called lover boy method, whereby members will portray themselves as romantically interested in a woman with the end goal of manipulating them into webcam sex work. In that period, through which they kind of translate what seems like a romantic relationship into a more pimping-style relationship. They use several tactics of manipulation including rewarding women’s so-called good behavior with attention and with sex, and punishing women’s so-called bad behavior with a lack of attention. In some cases, we’ve seen examples where it seems they punish women with physical violence as well. In one War Room member’s own words, this is referred to as Pavlovian conditioning, which is how you train dogs.
Tahsin: There was some elements that were shocking, but perhaps unsurprising. Given what people already knew about Andrew Tate’s Pimping Hoes’ Degree program [a now-defunct website where Tate documents how to coerce a woman into performing on webcam], but what we managed to find out was that the methodology being taught within the War Room actually went far beyond what was just explained in that Pimping Hoes Degree. For example, like Matt referenced, they talk about Pavlovian conditioning and creating chase cycles. So it was a lot more detailed and more developed than we had initially thought.
Do you have a sense of where that came from in Andrew’s ideology? You talk about the pimping hoes’ degree program, but do you have a sense of what the genesis was even before that?
Tahsin: To some extent, we do, because one of the War Room members gives a list of books they recommend the men read. Included on that reading list is a book called The 48 Laws of Pimpology, by Big Pimping Ken, who’s a character that Tate referenced in interviews from 2016-2017 onwards. So [he] appears to draw some inspiration from that book. Some degree of it also comes from the other War Room member, Iggy Semmelweis, who we’ve shown played a big part. He himself seems to have a history in the pickup artist community and is interested in neurolinguistic programming [a debunked psychological tactic used to influence and control people], and a lot of the methodology they teach seems to have some of its origins in both of those things as well.
Is it accurate to say that a lot of this is just old wine packaged in new bottles? Is there anything particularly unique or revolutionary about Andrew Tate’s teachings?
Shea: I think that it’s no secret that women around the world have found themselves subjected to all forms of pickup artistry and coercive control for hundreds of years. But I think what this appears to be is actually creating a systematic method of coercive control for the first time that brings together all these different elements and adds new ones. And also unlike pickup artistry, the goal here isn’t just to get laid. The goal is almost female sexual slavery. That takes it beyond just getting laid to actually turning women into revenue streams for financial benefit, and to have total subjugation over them.
Tell me more about Iggy. What do you think was his motivation for his involvement in the War Room? What do you know about his background?
Tahsin: I think part of his motivation comes from a genuine ideological belief in the way the world should be. There’s a few other interesting, more out-there points. So, for example, we mentioned in the film that Iggy constantly references The Scarlet Citadel, this Conan the Barbarian fantasy novel, by Robert E. Howard. But in the chat log messages, we also see him talking about those books, and he says, “this is the life that all men should dream of, the life of a Cimmerian conqueror,” and these are characters who wage war and battle and violence and collect women. So he definitely does see that as sort of the ideal pinnacle of masculinity, and I think that’s a huge driving factor for him. But the other thing is his apparent, or at least perceived, admiration for Tate himself.
You mentioned he was allegedly involved in some cults prior to his involvement with the War Room. Do you see any relationship between that and his involvement with Tate, or his devotion to Tate?
Shea: We can’t go beyond the facts, which is that we were told by a family connection of his that he was a member of the Bargawan cult, which is the one that appears in Wild Wild Country on Netflix, and the Maharishi cult. And one could imagine that he was trying to create his own cult by creating a mythology around Andrew Tate, and then evangelizing that to masses of young men. [It’s] a mythology that sees Tate as a kind of icon of masculinity who’s gonna save us, and also a kind of mythology that sees the society and the media and and the government as a kind of evil matrix which we need to be saved from.
What was your guys’ impression of Iggy when you met him for the first time in Romania [during a War Room retreat]?
Shea: He cast a spell on me.
What kind of spell?
Shea: Well, he wouldn’t speak to us. He refused to speak to us for the film, and then after I did the cage-fight initiation to be accepted into the War Room, I felt that he owed me at least a few words. So I said, “Look, I’ve done the cage fight thing. You should at least speak to us,” and he kind of gestured for me to throw my radio mic away, and then he just began walking in a large circle around the room. We were in silence the whole time I was speaking to him, and then as we came to the end of the circle, he turned to me, held his hand out, shook my hand, and said, “You are a brave man.” He then later tweeted, “Matt, at the War Room I spoke 3 words to you and those words are having their intended consequence,” or something to that effect, “and your work will help the War Room grow.” So he was always trying to be mysterious, possibly trying to do neurolinguistic programming on me. He was always trying to portray himself as this wise, wizard-like figure with mysterious powers who could cast magic on people.
Did you think about what he said in terms of, do you ever wonder whether or not your guys’s films would have an impact on making the War Room grow and expanding its audience?
Shea: Yeah, absolutely. Obviously a question that anyone who’s reporting on this topic needs to ask themselves when reporting on it is whether they’re giving a platform to Andrew Tate’s organization and helping it grow, or whether they are presenting critical context that allows people who might be inclined to follow Andrew Tate to form a more true opinion on him, based on the facts. And this is the case with our work, which gives a voice not just to Tate’s War Room, but to the women who allege that they were groomed and targeted by it, and presents new allegations that previously were not publicly available or not in the public knowledge. So, despite what Andrew and what Iggy might think exposing themselves to us would [do], despite what they think that may have benefited them or the War Room, the truth is that they weren’t banking on the exposé, and and on us giving a platform to to the alleged victims, which of course, is not gonna be good for them.
What exactly did Andrew expect with the first film?
Shea: He hadn’t thought it through, clearly. It’s a story of hubris, really. He thought that all publicity is good publicity. He didn’t have the foresight to think, “wait a second. These guys are actual journalists. Letting them into my organization might not be the best idea because they’re gonna turn up stuff that isn’t gonna make me look good,” which in the end our reporting did, and gave a platform to the brave women who chose to share their stories where they alleged they were sexually and/or physically abused by Andrew Tate, all of which Tate denies.
Tahsin: A thing to bear in mind with Tate is that he’s a guy who, while he was under investigation for rape and physical abuse in the U.K. [the investigation was dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service in 2019 due to prosecutors’ belief they couldn’t build a case against him], went on Big Brother, which was one of the biggest reality TV shows in the country. So there is this level of hubris, or believing that allegations won’t damage you, and you can still continue with your aims for fame and celebrity. That has been there long before we ever interacted with Tate.
In contrast to Andrew, Tristan [Tate, Andrew’s brother], seemed to be quite aware of what they were getting into and refused to speak to you guys when you went to Romania the first time. He’s not featured in the second film so much. What’s your read on him, and the role that he plays in the War Room and in Tate’s life?
Tahsin: He definitely still plays a big guiding role within the War Room. There’s an occasion where he says to one member, “I can help you recruit a webcam girl if you want, even if it’s just for fun.” So he’s still coaching them. They don’t idolize him in the same way that they do Andrew Tate. In terms of Tristan himself. It’s a really hard one to speak to. The first time I met them both in person was in the end of 2019, and it was when we were of discussing whether we were gonna get access going forward. This was back when Tate himself was really excited at the prospect of doing a Vice documentary. But Tristan, from the get-go, was very, very standoffish, and the only real comment he said about the project was, “I don’t think it’s a good idea, and I don’t want to do it, but Andrew does so we will.” I think that kind of just speaks to their sibling dynamic. But he’s a much harder guy to get a read on than Andrew, I would say. He wavered between being friendly, and very standoffish. Wanting to speak, not wanting to speak. He was a difficult guy to read, whereas Andrew Tate is difficult in another sense, but to a degree you know where you stand.
Shea: I do think that with a lot of these megalomaniac celebrities, one of the things that propels them forward is the fact that they aren’t surrounded by people who are critically challenging their views. Celebrities will say, “Oh, I don’t want to be around anyone who has bad energy,” but what they mean by that is someone who just disagrees and challenges them. So instead, they surround themselves intentionally with people who just constantly prop up everything they say. I think that’s certainly the case with Andrew Tate, and I think that his brother is the prime backer-upper, the prime person who’s constantly around him, feeding his sense that he’s right about everything. Being surrounded by people exactly like that constantly can give you a Messiah complex, and that’s why I also think he was quite shocked when Jamie and I went to interview him, and I started challenging him on things.
Do you have a sense of what his influence is like now? Is the fact that he’s under criminal investigation having any impact on the War Room?
Shea: The War Room is still active, and it’s still existent. It’s hard to answer that question, because we only have access to their communications from a small window from a few years ago, and we don’t have access to their communications now. But there’s nothing to suggest that Andrew Tate isn’t still revered and seen as a leader within the War Room.
Tahsin: I think it’s worth mentioning as well that Eli, who we spoke to, who was an ex-member of the war room, said that in recent months, the War Room itself, and Andrew Tate’s wider PR machine, had been very active in this project of rebranding Tate. So putting loads of content out about his charitable contributions, lots of content around his pious lifestyle and reversion to Islam. I mean, even today, Andrew Tate tweeted that forcing women to take their clothes off for the eyes of ogling men was a terrible thing, which was ironic in the context of the charges he’s currently facing. But the War Room is still intricately tied up with Andrew Tate, because the War Room is part of this project right now to try and change his public perception. They want to take the women out of his public perception and replace it with Islam, replace it with charity and various other things that they think will make him look good.
Do you think it’s effective?
Tahsin: I think it’s effective with his demographic. My own personal opinion is, I don’t think it bleeds out into the wider sphere. But the thing is, his demographic is huge. It’s millions and millions and millions of people. So if it’s effective with them, it’s still worked well as a PR campaign.
Shea: I think what reduces its effectiveness is things like the articles you’re writing, the documentary. The effectiveness of that campaign the War Room is doing to clean up his image is only effective on social media. We can’t control social media. But we can keep reporting as traditional media. And that is the one thing that is going to run counter to that.
I’m really curious. Do you think that there is anything that Andrew Tate is embarrassed about? That either you or someone else has reported on that he doesn’t want people to know?
Tahsin: One interesting point was that after our first film came out, the main thing that he complained about was that he felt he came across stuttery in the way we’d edited our interviews, which was just us showing listening shots of him. But it was kind of telling that was the thing that he seemed most annoyed about, as opposed to the allegations that he had raped or physically abused women. So I think that’s the thing that brings him shame — when he feels like he hasn’t performed in the way he could have, or he stumbles, or he looks unintelligent or out of control.
Like less of a man.
Tahsin: Yeah. And I think it’s really a control thing, he’s a guy that likes to feel in control, especially from our experiences with him. He was constantly trying to put as many barriers up as he could and create the limitations and put everything in place the way he wanted it.
Do you feel like you understand Andrew Tate and what motivates him and what his appeal is any better as a result of making these films?
Tahsin: Yeah, I think to me it’s kind of obvious what his appeal is to certain men. The thing I say with Andrew Tate often is that 20 percent of the things he might say would be perfectly reasonable things. So the idea that you should exercise, that it might be better for your mental health, and that you should take personal ownership over your decisions. Those are all things that in isolation are good bits of advice. And you could see that mentality appealing to young men. But it’s all of the other stuff that comes with it. It’s the other loaded bits about misogyny in the War Room, and all the way through to his pimping hoes’ degree and all of this stuff. But it’s easy to see how that message could appear if you’re feeling lost and alienated in the same way that, like, Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson’s positive message resonates with loads of people who feel that they need more motivation or something new in their life. The main difference being that Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson doesn’t put in a load of toxic misogyny with his self-improvement message.
What has it been like psychologically for you guys to be immersed in that world for so long?
Shea: I would say that if anything, it has cured my own insecurity about my masculinity, hanging around people like Andrew Tate and his crew. When you spend that much time on people who are so trapped by their own insecurity that it informs every single action that they do, [and] every statement they make is about proving that they are masculine to other men, then you realize, “Actually, I’m good. I don’t need anything to do with that.”