The yoga class killer, misogynistic extremism and how we’re missing the signs in men who go on to kill women

·11 min read
Scott Beierle, who shot and killed two women at a Florida yoga studio in 2018, is among a growing number of misogynistic killers, the Secret Service has warned (The Independent/Facebook/AP)
Scott Beierle, who shot and killed two women at a Florida yoga studio in 2018, is among a growing number of misogynistic killers, the Secret Service has warned (The Independent/Facebook/AP)

Early in the evening of 2 November 2018, Scott Paul Beierle entered Hot Yoga Tallahassee with a newly-purchased mat and a black bag strapped across his chest with a 9mm Glock pistol inside.

The 40-year-old had a long history of posting misogynistic, racist videos and songs online, was fired from at least four teaching jobs and discharged from the army for sexual harassment of colleagues and high school students, and had a lengthy arrest history for groping and stalking women.

None of that was known to staff and students at the bikram yoga centre in the Florida state capital as Beierle paid his $12 walk-in fee and was shown into the studio.

Beierle expressed disappointment that the class wasn’t more crowded before he opened fire, killing Florida State University student Maura Binkley, 21, doctor Nancy Van Vessem, 61, wounding four other women and pistol-whipping a male staff member who tried to stop him, before killing himself.

A new report into the killings, conducted by the Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center, examines how warning signs were missed by law enforcement and says the threat posed by male extremists who harbour a hatred toward women is growing.

Maura Binkley, a popular 21-year-old student at Florida State University, was murdered by avowed misogynist killer Scott Beierle (Facebook)
Maura Binkley, a popular 21-year-old student at Florida State University, was murdered by avowed misogynist killer Scott Beierle (Facebook)

“Communities must remain aware of misogynistic extremism, while pursuing prevention efforts that are designed to identify and intervene with those who pose a risk of violence,” said US Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center Chief Dr Lina Alathari.

While stressing there was no way of predicting mass killings, it identified behavioural threats such as homicidal fixations, a history of being bullied, financial instability, mental health issues, a lack of meaningful consequence for minor offences and an “intense and escalating anger” as being common features among misogynistic killers.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist violence, the core tenets of the male supremacy ideology are contradictory.

“Adherents maintain that women are incompetent yet conniving and manipulative,” it states in a recent report.

“Some argue that women use feminism to oppress men, while other male supremacists seek to maintain and exploit existing structural gender inequality.”

The Secret Service interviewed Beierle’s friends and family as they pieced together his early years, severely problematic behaviour in his teenage years, his open admiration for serial killers who targeted women such as Ted Bundy, and his descent into serial sexual assaults and murder.

Dr Nancy Van Vessem, 61, a doctor and chief medical director for Capital Health Plan, was Beierle’s second victim (Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare)
Dr Nancy Van Vessem, 61, a doctor and chief medical director for Capital Health Plan, was Beierle’s second victim (Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare)

Months before his assault on the yoga studio, a friend of Beierle’s found his music and lyrics so disturbing that they reported him to a federal law enforcement agency. But the unnamed agency deemed it to be “free speech” as he didn’t identify a specific target.

The investigation paints a disturbing history of a man who openly and frequently expressed his desire for violent revenge due to minor and imagined slights from females, the missed warning signs, and his frequent let-offs after brushes with law enforcement.

‘We don’t need no woman’

Beierle had “limited friendships and no romantic relationships” from early adolescence growing up in Vestal, New York.

According to the Case Study of Misogynistic Extremism report, Beierle would later recount that an unspecified incident that occurred during his 8th grade year caused his entire school to turn against him, and that he was bullied by female students in a home economics class.

During his teenage years he wrote four novels and a screenplay, including a revenge fantasy about a middle school student who becomes a serial killer, with many of the characters based closely on his classmates.

He achieved the rank of Eagle Scout, and ran for student president against a female student under the slogan: “Vote Scott Beierle, because we don’t need no woman.”

In addition to his troubling behaviour towards women, he openly expressed his admiration for Adolf Hitler and the Aryan Nations while in high school – racist views being a common characteristic of other misogynistic killers, according to the Secret Service.

After graduating high school in 1997, Beierle moved to the West Coast to pursue a career as a screenwriter. But after failing to make a breakthrough, he moved back in with his parents in New York and enrolled in college, where he continued to write “dark, violent and misogynistic” stories and songs.

While living in Vestal he was fired from an insurance call centre for harassing a co-worker at a gym. No details of the incident are included in the Secret Service report, but it was serious enough for police to issue a warning for him to leave the co-worker alone.

He later wrote a song about the experience called “Stalker”, in which he portrayed himself as the victim and killed all of his colleagues in retaliation for being fired.

In the years that followed, Beierle continued to harass co-workers and university classmates, as he graduated from college and moved from New York to Washington DC and on to Alexandria, Virginia in 2002.

When a series of sniper attacks in October that year in the greater DC area resulted in the deaths of 10 people, his brother and sister-n-law were so concerned that Beierle might be involved that they considered contacting police to report him.

John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo were later convicted of the killings, with Muhammad executed by lethal injection in 2009.

From 2005 to 2007, Beierle was hired at a Maryland county school where he taught English and social studies to high school students.

Misogynistic killer Scott Beierle showed decades of warning signs prior to murdering two women and wounding four others in 2018 (Facebook)
Misogynistic killer Scott Beierle showed decades of warning signs prior to murdering two women and wounding four others in 2018 (Facebook)

In 2006, he was investigated for inappropriate contact with a female student after staring at her inappropriately, and asking if she would pose for Playboy.

According to the report, the unidentified school district recommended disciplinary action and a police investigation indicated the case was suspended, but Beierle was allowed to teach in the district for another year before resigning.

Beierle joined the US Army in 2008, and while posted in Amsterdam four female members of the Air Force complained about “inappropriate interactions” with him.

He was found guilty of conduct “unbecoming an officer” and honourably discharged in 2010.

Years later, Beierle posted a video to social media in which he dismissed the incident, claiming he “got too rowdy for their sensibilities”.

‘We compared him to Ted Bundy’

After his discharge, Beierle returned to his parents’ hometown of Vestal, in the centre of New York state, before enrolling in Florida State University (FSU) in Tallahassee 2011.

At FSU, female students would go out of their way to avoid him, one person who knew him told the Secret Service.

Beierle used to perform at open mic nights at a local comedy club where he gained a reputation for telling offensive, racist and antisemitic jokes.

His roommates in Tallahassee said Beierle would sit in the living room drinking beer, would refuse to put on pants, and acted “weird” towards their girlfriends when they came over.

They believed he was mentally ill and speculated his behaviour may have been a result of having suffered post-traumatic stress disorder while in the military.

“We compared him to Ted Bundy back then, it was the way he lurked and followed girls,” one roommate told authorities.

“He was very weird and made everyone uncomfortable. There was concern for sure but there wasn’t enough evidence, and I would have been wasting the police’s time if I had made any kind of report.”

Beierle spoke of his admiration for Bundy, who confessed to the murder of 30 women, and went looking for a sorority house where the serial killer had hunted some of his victims.

Ted Bundy in Leon County sheriff's office in Florida, shortly after after his initial arrest on a charge of theft. He later admitted to 30 murders (AFP/Getty)
Ted Bundy in Leon County sheriff's office in Florida, shortly after after his initial arrest on a charge of theft. He later admitted to 30 murders (AFP/Getty)

In his writings and song lyrics he also referenced other serial killers such as Paul Kenneth Bernardo and Christopher Bernard Wilder, who murdered and sexually assaulted dozens of female victims in Florida in the 1980s and 1990s.

In December 2012, Beierle was arrested on misdemeanour battery charges after grabbing two women at an FSU dining hall.

The charges were later dropped a month later due to lack of evidence, and he was banned from the dining hall.

Over the following years, Beierle’s online video rants became more explicit in their threats of violence. Adopting the name Carnifex, an executioner in ancient Rome, he claimed to have gone on 14 first dates in two months, but always hit “brick walls”. He warned that the women who spurned him “bring this on yourselves” and that they would be responsible for the “next Columbine”.

In 2013, he met a woman on a dating site who later told authorities she had attended classes at Hot Yoga Tallahassee and used a photo of herself in a yoga pose in her profile picture.

They exchanged a few messages but she turned down his requests to go a date, including an invitation to a shooting range.

Beierle then began bombarding the woman with unwanted sexual messages, and suggested she should become a stripper. In response, she cut off all contact.

This encounter featured in his journal writings in which he wrote he’d “like to put it to her”.

The woman died before the 2018 attacks, according to the report.

The cycle of stalking, being rebuffed or reported to authorities, and ranting in online videos or his personal journals about his experiences continued to play out over the following years. Each time, his anger seemed to grow.

After finishing his studies, he was issued a trespass notice from the (FSU) for stalking a female volleyball coach and later arrested after being spotted on the campus again.

When Beierle applied for a job as a substitute teacher at an unnamed Florida county school district in April 2015, his “scary, angry” behaviour was so concerning to staff they locked the door after he left.

Despite his bizarre behaviour, failure to pass the Florida Teacher Certification Examination, and against employee recommendations, Beierle was inexplicably hired for a teaching position.

He was fired less than a year later for violating the school district’s internet use policy after he was found to have searched for yoga and cheerleader-themed pornography on a school device.

He moved to Deltona in 2016, which is when he made his first internet search for Hot Yoga Tallahassee – indicating he may have been planning the attack for at least two years.

The report found Beierle worked at 21 schools within the school district over the next three years, including elementary, middle and high schools, and was fired from at least two more for inappropriately touching students and “classroom performance issues”, with police becoming involved on at least one occasion.

Around this time Beierle began searching for cheerleading camps around Florida.

He found it increasingly difficult to find work, and was barely scraping by on his Veteran’s Affairs disability allowance for tinnitus, and help from his parents.

‘In this situation, there wasn’t a specific threat’

In February 2018, Beierle rented space in a music studio where he recorded some of the more than 100 songs he had written over the preceding years.

The owner of the studio said Beierle’s lyrics featured themes of racism, anger and violence, he would hire musicians to accompany him while singing “significantly off-key”. Beierle purchased a website and uploaded all of his music to the site.

The report details several missed chances by law enforcement to intervene before Beierle committed the shooting.

In August, Beierle sent a link of his music website to a childhood friend, whose wife was so concerned that she reported it to an unnamed federal law enforcement agency.

The agency deemed the threat “non-actionable”. An official told the Secret Service that the violent lyrics were protected speech, unless they targeted a particular person. “In this situation, there wasn’t a specific threat.”

The Secret Service stated he started planning the attack on the yoga studio in earnest in mid-2018.

He purchased the Glock pistol he would use in the attack from a pawn shop in Orange County on 23 July that year.

An internet search history shows Beierle looked up the yoga studio several times during August, and called the business twice and speaking briefly with staff.

At the beginning of October, he made final preparations for the attack. These included accessing the studio’s class schedule, purchasing ammunition and uploading a final song titled “F*** ‘Em All”.

The song’s lyrics include the line: “If I can’t find one decent female to live with, I will find many indecent females to die with.”

After arriving at the yoga studio, Beierle checked in using his first and second names, and entered the studio after the class had begun.

The yoga instructor told Beierle to remove his shoes and socks and leave his belongings in a cubby hole.

As he reentered the room, he stopped in the doorway and said: “But I have a question,” put hearing protection in his ears, and began firing.

He shot dead Ms Binkley and Dr Van Vessem and wounded four other women, before his gun malfunctioned.

Other students managed to escape, and a class member struck him with a vacuum cleaner. He then turned the gun on himself.

“After the shooting, police found (Beierle) to be in possession of a detailed engineering diagram of a plaza near the yoga studio, though it is unclear when or how he obtained it,” the report said.

In conclusion, the Secret Service determined that regardless of whether an individual identified as an incel or “anti-feminist”, disturbing behavioural trends as exhibited by Beierle must be picked up sooner.

“Hatred of women, and the gender-based violence that is associated with it, requires increased attention from everyone in a role of public safety.”