Cross: Mike Cernovich, The 800 lb. Gorilla Lawyer
Feb. 24, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — Ed. Note: Scott Greenfield crosses Mike Cernovich, Mission Viejo, California criminal defense and civil rights lawyer, pioneer of the blawgosphere with Crime & Federalism, and now, Danger & Play.
Q. You grew up poor. As in, very poor. Your mother suffered from mental illness. You suffered from mental illness as well. And yet, you went to college, went to law school and became a lawyer, which is either the American dream or against all odds. Which is it? How did you manage to break away from a childhood that should have offered you no chance? Are you angry about it? Looking back now, do you see the obstacles you had to surmount as character builders?
A. Fortunately I didn’t have a serious mental illness, though knowing it was somewhere in the DNA led to some bouts of worry and even what others might define as depression or anxiety. It does occur to me that my eccentricities and online antics make me indistinguishable from someone who is insane.
I have low inhibitions and lack the social constraints most have – likely the result of a low-grade mental illness.
Childhood offered me a lot of chance. Our public schools were good. Yes, I had to fight a lot and was bullied, but that’s life. The fight never ends. Even if you try quitting life, you’ll have bills to pay and a body that’s growing older. You fight or you die, though of course we all die anyway. I’d rather die knowing I gave life my all.
I believed in the American dream. Work hard, avoid trouble, and good things will happen. The American dream is still alive, with some caveats – work hard, avoid college (unless you go for free), avoid marriage until you’re in your 30s, and do not buy a home!
I feel no anger for my childhood. I had two loving parents who did their best.
My dad enrolled me in martial arts when kids bullied me, and he attended classes with me. Did he make money or understand the world? No. We were poor, but rich in love.
I’ve met lots of rich children with “parent issues,” and it astounds me people still talk about their childhood well into adulthood. My dad coached pee-wee league baseball and was always around. He was kind to my mother and never cheated, even though he was incredibly handsome. My mom babied us kids in whatever way she could. They were affectionate and warm people, and still are.
Did it “traumatize” me as a child to visit my mom in a mental institution? Yes, and that wasn’t her fault. Rather than see myself as the victim because my mom was ill, I got over myself. My mom struggled with a terrible condition, yet did her best to raise a family. How did she feel? What was her existence like? What more can you ask of a person?
All that said, my parents were weird. They were deeply religious, and because of my introversion, they were at one time convinced I might be joining a satanic cult. That seems funny now, but Satanic panic (much like the current college campus rape hysteria we are now living through) was real.
Geraldo Rivera and others held specials, talking to “experts” on Satanism. One “warning sign” that your child might be involved in the occult was that he or she spent a lot of time alone. My dad would call me down from my room and make me socialize. I also had to attend bible study multiple times a week in “home churches.”
It wasn’t fun. Duh, introversion!
Looking back, I developed my hatred of the media because they made my childhood more difficult than it needed to be.
Living a good life means re-framing how we view a situation. Could I be resentful of my parents for failing in some ways? Or could I express gratitude for them for doing their best to raise us?
As an example of that thinking, consider this childhood story. My parents sold their wedding rings to buy us presents for Christmas one year. They didn’t want us to go without Christmas and sacrificed in the way they knew how.
When looking at my parents, I am left with a sense of inadequacy. That is, am I doing enough for those I love?
Q. As an undergrad at University of Illinois, you majored in “legal studies,” suggesting that it was always your plan to become a lawyer. Why? What about the law did it for you? Notably, you were also in the National Guard/Army Reserve since your senior year of high school. Was that because you also wanted to be a soldier, or was that the poor kid’s way out? And what about the discipline imposed by military service. How did that affect you?
A. My plan was always to be a soldier. I enlisted in the National Guard at 17 as a way to attend basic training before graduating high school. From there, the plan was to join the regular army.
My dad, who never demanded much of us kids, asked me a favor: “Would you please give one semester of college a try?”
My dad’s biggest fear was that I’d end up working a hard factory job as he had. I sensed my choice meant a lot to him.
I always hated school, but did the old man a solid. I loved college. It turned out that it wasn’t school I hated. High school was a kid prison where dreams go to die. Learning is fun. Being monitored like a prisoner is not.
I was a Gerry Spence fanboy and always identified, and still do, with the underdog. Lawyers create change more than anyone else, other than media people. Though we view lobbyists as being in control, the most power exercised over people comes from the entertainment and media industries.
The world was a mess and I wanted to change it, and thought law was the best way to do so.
Life took me on a different path, and so I now fight for the underdog using media methods.
Q. You went straight from Illinois to Pepperdine for law school (which I’m told is one of the most gorgeous campuses in America, on the Malibu shore). Why Pepperdine? Did you know, going in, that you wanted to practice criminal law, or did you fall into it? Notably, you did exceptionally well in certain courses in law school, like Constitutional Law, and yet weren’t in the top of the class. What happened? For a guy who is clearly very smart, what compelled you to be such a bonehead?
A. I was tired of liberal cry babies in college, and there were only two law schools in the country with a reputation for being somewhat conservative – the University of Chicago and Pepperdine.
One day, I looked at a map. “If I go to Chicago (presumptuous, of course, as their admission standards are crazy high),” then I’ll work in Chicago. My entire life will be a 3-hour stretch on a map.
Thus, Pepperdine. It was the right choice. The culture shock hit me, as law school is more like high school than it is in college. Since you see the same people in your section each day, there’s gossip and pettiness. I didn’t like many of my classmates.
I did well in the classes I enjoyed and made the Dean’s List a couple of times. There was no goal to be in the top 10% or to make law review, because who cares? Those were credentials for people who wanted to work in large corporate law firms serving their corporate masters. I wanted to raise hell.
If I didn’t like a class, I wouldn’t grind it out for the grade. I was more interested in attending trial lawyers training skills held by Gerry Spence and writing my law blog.
When I should have been studying for Wills & Trusts, I was watching that Irving Younger series of cross-examination videos and reading books on body language and charisma.
I attended ATLA trial lawyers seminars and CLEs while in law school. When a speaker moved me, I would email him or her asking for copies of their closing arguments, which I’d study. I got a hold of the trial transcript in the Randy Weaver prosecution, where Gerry Spence was the lead defense attorney.
I read more trial transcripts and closing arguments during law school than most lawyers will ever read in a lifetime of practice.
Thus I lived a dual life. To some professors I was a brilliant legal mind. (Three of those professors, including a top gun constitutional law professor, hired me as their research assistant during law school.) To others, I was forgettable.
Q. You took, and passed, the California bar first time out of the box, yet failed to get your ticket punched. Since you’ve written about it publicly, I need to ask: you were the target of a false rape accusation, back in the days when rape still meant rape. What happened? How did that experience affect you, shape your perspective? What did you learn about the criminal justice system from having been in its clutches?
A. I was Patient Zero to the false rape epidemic. “Date rape” was common, the media said, and thus there was pressure to prosecute rape cases where there was no evidence of rape.
My case was bogus. I slept with the girl on the living room floor while her best friend was in the room. (Anyone who wants to fact-check me, ask me for a copy of the case file. It’s somewhere in my Gmail, I’m sure.)
The prosecutors were highly sensitive of the media, as was the judge, who once said to my lawyer, “Think about what the media would say if I dismissed this case!”
I was full of rage, anger, depression, and every other toxic emotion. I had followed all of the rules, and my life was “ruined” by a feminist media and legal system.
The biggest lesson of my rape case is to stay far away from the criminal system. Never talk to the police, even if you’re a witness, because who knows…Maybe they need to close a case, and you were there, after all.
You wrote a book review on Ordinary Injustice, and that was my case. I was a kid with such promise who worked hard, but hey, the media might say something rude about the judge or District Attorney. That’s what really matters.
That mindset, that the players within the system matter more than men charged with serious crimes, is yet another ordinary injustice of our day.
Q. During that period, you started one of the earliest and most well-regarded law blogs around, Crime & Federalism. What made you decide to write? What was it like in the early days of blawging, before the internet was lousy with pundits of little merit? Was there something you were trying to achieve, or did you just want to write? You were never afraid to stake out a position, take on anyone you thought was wrong and speak your mind. Were there consequences? Was it worth the effort?
A. Whenever someone isn’t saying something that needs to be said, I’ll say it. Hence, why I started Crime & Federalism.
Even though I was at a conservative law school, no one seemed to care about criminal justice issues. How can you support a small government while being a boot licker? It made no sense to me then or now. Likewise, how can liberals be skeptical of police yet try growing every other area of government? That’s nonsense. If you give the FDA more power, then the FDA will hire its own federal agents. The Leviathan always grows and always needs guns.
Blogging in the early 2000s was a golden age. Everyone who wrote did so as a hobbyist. Skilled lawyers like you wrote because you had something to say and not because you needed to get clients.
Writing cost me some friends and job opportunities. My name is forever married to controversy.
Until recently I did not realize that everyone is religious.
If you say that “rape culture isn’t real,” you’ve insulted the god of many liberals. If you say, “You can’t support a small government and police state simultaneously,” you’re a heretic to others.
That said, I have no regrets. I met many great people like you and was able to join a conversation that mattered.
Q. How did you earn a living during the period between your first bar exam and when you took it again, and were admitted to practice, in 2011? It can be hard enough for a new lawyer to survive and support himself, and you were constrained to do so without a law license. How did you manage to accomplish what so many others failed to do?
A. I started my own freelance legal writing company while in law school. I ghost wrote appellate briefs and other motions. (See the answer above about grades!) I developed a reputation as a good writer in law school and never wanted for projects.
It was cool. I wrote the motion to dismiss that successfully got a case dismissed under Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition while still in law school. I’ll never forget receiving the email from the lawyer I was working under.
I also developed an expertise for 42 U.S.C. 1983 in law school. Few lawyers understood qualified immunity or other scam legal doctrines that only apply when you sue the government. Word got around, and Norm Pattis would sing my praises to other lawyers, who would then send me work.
My ex-wife always had big money jobs, so I didn’t have the financial pressures typically associated with men. No wife to support, no kids, no mortgage, no Rolex, no need for the “finer things in life,” and I drove a car that embarrassed my ex-wife and made my friends laugh.
How much money does a man need to make? Not much, actually, if you reject the social pressures associated with being what the slave masters call a “real man.”
Q. When you finally started your practice, you focused on criminal and civil rights litigation. You wanted nothing to do with working for a firm, for someone else. What do you have against making money? What made you want to continue the fight for the underdog? You knew only too well how hard and frustrating the representation of defendants could be, yet chose to make that your niche. What were you thinking?
A. I did not enjoy client contact and preferred doing law and motion work. I only worked for solo or small firm lawyers, as they had better attitudes about life.
What is law if not a status game? Think about how many great lawyers are afraid of saying they are solo – as if you need to work for some firm to matter. When a big firm lawyer goes off to start a small practice, they say, “We run a boutique firm.” Lawyers might be the most insecure professionals in the world.
Lawyers are trapped in the status game, and that game leads to sickness of spirit.
The biggest assholes in the legal profession are corporate and other white-shoe lawyers. I simply do not like those people; they are unethical and overbill, and they aren’t fun.
Conventional people bore me, and while it may sound glib, much of my life has been a quest to escape boredom.
Q. At some point, you “morphed” from the Mike Cernovich at Crime & Federalism, to the Danger & Play guy, your latest venture into blogging, where you have taken up arms promoting masculine health, both physical and mental. What happened? Was this a response to your youth, your having been falsely accused of rape? Your growing fat and realizing you needed to get your shit together? What turned you into @PlayDangerously?
A. When you are falsely accused of rape and see the legal system from the inside as a client and the outside as lawyer, your eyes open up. You realize that everything you had been told about the legal system was a lie.
What other lies have we been told, and what are the source of those lies?
We’ve been lied to about rape culture. If you took the arguments about college rape culture seriously, you’d never send your daughter to college. That’d be like sending her to the Congo. Yet, people claim 1 in 4 women are raped while simultaneously sending girls off to college, and those girls even go walking in public and attend parties. It’s almost as if those rape statistics are made-up.
We have been lied to about gender, especially about a man’s role in society. As a man, you’re supposed to live for everyone except yourself. Make a woman happy, even if she nags. Please everyone, expect nothing for yourself because that’s selfish.
When a man buys a cool car, it’s because he’s having a mid-life crisis. A man can’t have fun or do anything he likes without being attacked.
A man who divorces a harpy is evil. A woman who divorces a man because she “just doesn’t feel it anymore” is a hero. Even a woman who cheats on her husband will be celebrated under the Eat, Pray, Love attitude towards women.
Those were lies resulting from what Nietzsche, whom I read in college but never understood until I became a man, would call the “slave mindset.”
I began examining those lies one-by-one, and as I did, more lies were revealed. I started writing about those lies at Crime & Federalism, though never expected to make a living as a writer.
When moving to Danger & Play, my web traffic grew. People started asking me to write a book and to make donations. A (now) good friend of mine even told me it was possible to make money blogging.
As with other areas of my life, I studied hard. I learned how to build a mailing list, create social media presence that can’t be ignored, write a book that would sell well, and earn money online.
Now I earn more than most lawyers as a writer. That was never my goal, as it didn’t seem possible.
But as a poor kid, I believed in the American dream – and still do. Work hard. Avoid debt. Work two jobs if you need to, and you’ll become a “success.”
Q. While you are still every bit the lawyer, you are also a writer and proselytizer for guys being guys, as reflected in your first book, The Gorilla Mindset. What’s that about? What is the Cernovich perspective that has caught the attention of so many guys? Should men be apologetic for being men? What has happened that this is even a question? Is there a reason why some men find it shameful to be male?
A. Gorilla Mindset is the book I needed but did not exist. How do you control your thoughts and emotions? How do you deal with depression, anxiety, and other toxic feelings? How do you reach the point in your life where you smile and say, “I am enough. I have enough.”
Men enjoyed Gorilla Mindset and enjoy my writing because it’s instructive. It’s direct. “Do this to get that result.”
My writing is also unapologetic. I don’t tell everyone the secret to life is “loving yourself” or any such nonsense. You must take action every day to change your life.
I even tell people they aren’t ready to read my writing yet, which is bracing for many. We are used to being pandered to, to being told our precious feelings rule. When someone says they don’t like my writing, I say, “Great. Don’t read it.” This is upsetting for the weak and refreshing to those who are serious about improving their mindset.
Men are ashamed of being men due to the power of media and societal brain washing. If everyone tells you that you’re a piece of crap, you might one day start believing that. The message from every level is that men are potential rapists, dead-beat dads, and insecure boys with small penises who buy mid-life crisis cars.
I love being a man and my guys discover that being a man is great once you begin living life on your terms by rejecting societal brainwashing and ridding yourself of the slave’s mindset.
Men enjoy my writing because it’s not preachy. “Life on your terms” means just that. If you want to have five kids as a Muslim or Jew or Mormon or atheist, great. If you want to have “Peter Pan Syndrome,” cool. It’s your life. I ask only that you live it with high consciousness.
I write to men as men, which means treating them with dignity and respect. Few others are doing this, as they are caught in preaching to men what it means to be a “real man” – which always, of course, means being a loaded up pack mule who serves an ungrateful wife and never questions The System.
Q. Reaction to your position has been both very positive, and very negative. I’ve seen you characterized as mean, angry and hostile toward women, which is in stark contrast to the Mike Cernovich I know, a smart, calm, thoughtful and exceptionally helpful guy. To what do you attribute this attitude to you? Is it just feminist antagonism toward anyone who doesn’t bend over to be an ally, or is there something deeper going on? How has the gender/culture war affected our ability to be ourselves and still get along with others with whom we disagree? Is there any hope of overcoming this ever-deepening anger, or are we doomed?
A. What is the truth about me or you or anyone else?
The truth is that people see what they want to see. You know the feeling of telling someone you are a criminal defense lawyer. “How can you defend those people?”
Somehow, one aspect of your life dominates the conversation. You’re not a complicated person with great children. You’re not a husband or businessman or writer. You’re someone who defends those people.
Haters see in me someone who rejects their cult thinking and slave mindset. That is all they will ever see and nothing I say or do will change their perspective.
My writing is from the heart and vulnerable. I’ve written about growing up poor, the feeling of visiting my mother in a mental institution, of being bullied, and about fear and anxiety. I’ve posted pictures of myself going through a hideous skin condition where I looked terrible. (The “moral crusaders” who attack me as evil created a fake Twitter profile to mock me and my skin.)
How can anyone read my writing and conclude I’m a hideous person? That question may have kept me up at night years ago, but now that humans make sense to me, I realize it’s a pointless question.
People are going to see what they want to see, and your goal is to share your story. This means you will find many haters. You will also find people who value you.
You could say I’m a troll, a lawyer, a writer, a man committed to helping others, and someone with deep compassion and the courage of his convictions. They’d all be right and wrong at the same time.
Live your life in three dimensions and full color. Express who you are. It’s not your problem that others can only see in black-and-white.