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'Pro-rape' blogger cancels followers' meet-ups after online backlash

'Neo-masculinist' blogger Daryush 'Roosh' Valizadeh has cancelled a series of meet-ups for his followers in 43 countries after days of relentless online criticism of his group’s pro-rape message.

American blogger Daryush Valizadeh, known online as "Roosh," has announced he has cancelled a series of planned meetings for followers of his online group "The Return of King," citing security concerns for attendants after a myriad of sometimes violent online criticism .

The group, which Valizadeh describes as being "neo-masculinist,“ argues in favor of "traditional" sex roles and denounces gender equality as "Western degeneracy." Valizadeh, a self-styled "pickup artist," has already been in the spotlight in the past for his public objectification of women, most notably in his books providing "advice" on how to bed women in several countries, a practice that has been called predatory.

The meetings, initially planned for Saturday, February 6, were supposed to take place in cities in over 43 countries. The exact locations – as well as a "protocol" to recognize attendants, including a password – were posted on the group's website. They have since been deleted.

For days users relentlessly criticized Valizadeh and his followers, unanimously denouncing his group’s view on women. They pointed to one particular blog post, published in February 2015, where Valizadeh claimed that legalizing rape in private spaces would be the best way to fight the rape culture in the US.

Following days of backlash, the blogger announced the cancellation of the planned meetings, leading twitter users in the countries where the group meetings were scheduled to immediately rejoice at the news.

Many tweets also highlighted the irony of an apparent rape advocate having to cancel a gathering because of security concerns, pointing out that many women around the world live with these concerns every day.

The backlash went beyond the realm of social media. In the United Kingdom, where meet-ups were scheduled in eight cities, netizens started a petition to have him banned from entering the country. Another petition was launched to demand that online retailer Amazon stop selling his books.

Despite the mass of critics, Valizadeh still had defenders. Some mentioned Germany, claiming the blogger was attracting more attention there than the recent sexual assaults in Cologne.

Valizadeh himself defended the meetings, calling them a "private happy hour for men." He also came out to defend his post on "legalizing rape", claiming it was "satire." He has held this position since the piece was originally posted, despite having written"let’s legalize rape" explicitly and repeatedly, and there being no obvious hint of humour in his post.

He also tried to regain ground on social media, starting his own hashtag, #FeminineWomenForRoosh, in the hopes of responding to his critics. The hashtag has only garnered a few dozen responses, for the most part critical of Valizadeh.

However, amid the overwhelming criticism directed at the blogger, some Twitter users criticized both the media and the public for advertizing Valizadeh’s controversial views by relaying them, even if only to attack them.

Some in the media pointed that the outcry serves the blogger’s very elaborate strategy, which starts with him publishing an outrageous statement, waiting for the public outrage to spread it and then cashing in on it with a promotional event or book. Valizadeh seemingly made this clear online.

Though he has a significant audience on twitter and claims that his website has over 40,000 members, it was unclear how many were actually planning to attend the meetings.

In his cancellation statement, Valizadeh said he could not stop his followers from gathering privately, leading some users to worry about their safety and to warn women to stay on their guard this weekend.

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