Late on the evening of January 6, nine women and one trans individual met at a union space in Northeast Portland to call out a well-known local activist for being, in their consideration, a wolf in sheep's clothing. They were about to share with four dozen strangers highly personal stories of sexual and emotional abuse that inspired shame and rage. Some had seen each other at activist rallies or on Bike Swarm trips around Portland, though only a few had formally met beforehand. Despite this, they had a common denominator: The same self-proclaimed male feminist had abused them, and they wanted to make sure it wouldn't happen to anyone else.
These 10 individuals, all feminists, were the focus of a "fishbowl meeting": a meeting formation made up of a closed inner circle inside a horseshoe-shape of community members. The four dozen people around the victims, mostly participants in Portland bike collectives, were there to offer support and strategize a community plan of action. Over the next two hours, the victims told harrowing stories of harassment, domination, and crossed boundaries. Although this wasn't planned, the stories increased in severity throughout the night and culminated with the tale of Byrd Jasper (not their legal name), a trans person whose recent Facebook post spurred the meeting.
"This is going to be a call out," it read. "Hart Noecker is a manipulator and an abuser... On several occasions he got me wasted and either did things I had said a hard no to or told me of his intentions to do them in the future." After lengthy discussions about consent, the post said, Noecker had choked and anally penetrated Jasper, despite determined and persistent warnings that anal sex was off-limits during their pre-sex conversation about boundaries. The post added that Noecker is particularly dangerous because of his "extensive knowledge of radical politics and social capital on the activist scene."
Some women met him online, where he wore his activist credentials like a badge of impunity. Most met him at biking events or activist rallies, where he was outspoken about a number of social justice issues. The Willamette Week, a local Portland newspaper, reports that he was passionately opposed to water fluoridation, certain local highway projects, driving cars, the police, and the mayor of Portland, Charlie Hales.
The six victims I interviewed described Noecker as charismatic, with an intensity in his eyes and a passion for ethical living. Originally from Michigan, he strove for an anti-capitalist lifestyle, the pinnacles of which were his militant veganism and leadership in the biking community. Noecker, 34, was also known to take photographs at activist events, and disturbingly, of naked women at Portland's World Naked Bike Ride. The most recent event he spearheaded was Don't Shoot PDX, a Ferguson solidarity protest. For his day job, Noecker worked in a call center.
A self-professed male feminist, Noecker was fluent with women's issues such as body-image politics, female silencing and, most chillingly, consent. His radical-activist blog, Rebel Metropolis (briefly removed but now back), praised Alice Walker, Emma Goldman, and Julia Ward Howe. He wore a pin with a feminist fist. He was, in many ways, the image of a male ally.
Noecker's victims argue that his behavior represents larger trends in the idea of "macktivism," a strategy men use to pursue female activists and progressives. Their stories differed in levels of violence, but their narrative arcs were the same: He talked himself up as a radical feminist and ally, slowly introduced controlling behavior, and, while intoxicated, crossed sexual boundaries his victims had expressly laid out (and some that didn't need to be).
Some women in the fishbowl meeting accused Noecker of non-consensually penetrating them without a condom. Some said he had followed them into a bathroom and forced himself on them. Some said he masturbated next to them after they refused sex. A few allege that he urinated on them or forced them to urinate on him. Byrd Jasper, who believes themself to be his last victim, has accused him publicly of rape and is pressing charges.
These alleged assaults, the victims stressed, were nearly all prefaced by lengthy discussions about consent. Many of his victims maintain that Noecker instigated these discussions, asking before physical contact what their "likes and dislikes" were. Jasper, during this conversation, said they were a hard "no" on anal sex, an imperative they say Noecker violated when he was drunk. Amy, another victim, says Noecker blamed her for wearing a tiny shirt after she called him out for suddenly groping her. Later, she says, he nonconsensually penetrated her without a condom, a recurrent complaint throughout my interviews with individuals he dated.
One victim estimates that 20 women have come forward with allegations against Noecker since Jasper's call-out. There is now a Tumblr blog called "Abusive Anarchist" dedicated to airing complaints about Noecker's behavior. (One post details the discrepancies between the Willamette Week's coverage, which "implies that Byrd is the only person with 'severe' allegations," and their collective account of the initial meeting, in which "seven [individuals] spoke of emotional abuse and sexual coercion in great detail. Five indicated sexual assault. Two, including Byrd Jasper, indicated rape.")
"He used feminism as a way to get women to sleep with him," said Nicole, who dated Noecker last summer. "But it was even more than that. I think he gets off on the idea of controlling these strong, powerful women. He definitely used his self-proclaimed feminism to do that." Others agreed: Noecker's underhanded feminism, they say, was a tool he used to "groom" or gain the trust of women he eventually would abuse emotionally or physically.
Noecker's legal firm told me they urged their client not to comment to the media, and have issued an official statement declaring that he denies all charges. They added, "The burden is on Ms. [Jasper] to prove the truth of her allegations," mislabeling Jasper, who is trans, and prefers the gender-neutral pronoun.
Double-speaking male "feminists" recently garnered media attention when Hugo Schwyzer, the famously lecherous gender studies professor at Pasadena City College, was outed in 2013. He wrote eloquently about issues surrounding female body image, often on this very website, and gave workshops on sexual harassment. Armed with lectures like "Holding Men Accountable" and "Consent and Enthusiasm," Schwyzer seemed to be an unlikely sexual aggressor. But in his capacity as a renowned male feminist blogger and academic, Schwyzer also fucked porn stars he met through his classes and, at one point, slept with four women on a class trip he was chaperoning. (In the past, he also allegedly tried to murder his ex-girlfriend.) "Male weakness" was a recurrent theme in his writing. It came out that his feminism was, in part, subordinate to his libido.
"I always wrote for women but wrote in a really backhanded way," Schwyzer told The Daily Beast. "And that required presenting myself as the ideal husband, father, and reformed bad boy. My point is that I was writing for women because I wanted validation from women." Schwyzer discussed consent (always sought), BDSM and professor-student sex on his blog, noting that his ambitious sexual escapades had "profoundly negative" repercussions.
When the truth about his lascivious antics emerged, Schwyzer took to Twitter: "I lied and manipulated and cheated so many of you," he wrote, acknowledging how he'd used his male feminist brand to attract women.
In a time when only seven percent more women than men identify as feminists, it's upsetting to have to second-guess our allies. We've made tangible progress helping men understand that women are systematically treated as second-class citizens. Men are increasingly outspoken at rallies, regular readers of feminist publications, and knowledgeable about issues like consent. Kudos to those who are acting sincerely. But, according to the women interviewed for this story, no one hides bad intentions quite as well as a man well-versed in feminist lingo—most of all consent.
In another highly publicized instance of doublespeak, Kyle Payne, an internet-famous radical feminist blogger, was convicted in 2008 for assaulting and photographing an unconscious woman. Payne eventually admitted that his feminism was deceitful after his unforgivable antics became public. His intent, his court documents read, was "to arouse my sexual desire." He was a Resident Adviser to many women and an outspoken sexual assault advocate (in a long blog post, Schwyzer called his story "infuriating").
What did Payne have to say for himself?
My work against sexual violence and my reputation as a pro-feminist 'good guy' accomplished … distract[ing] myself from the shame of fantasizing about women as sexual objects, and in the case of my victim, acting out that fantasy. It's no coincidence that I traveled to two feminist anti-pornography events (in Boston and Austin), established an online presence as a pro-feminist anti-pornography blogger, and became an avid fan of women's athletics in the nineteen months between committing my offense and being convicted in court.
It now seems painfully ironic that an apparently offended Schwyzer, in 2009, wrote an open letter to Payne asking him to take down his feminist blog.
We can't paint a broad brush to understand the psychology here, but for Noecker, Payne, Schwyzer and many others like them, domination and sexual gratification were inextricably linked. I interviewed six of the individuals Nocker transgressed; many attested that he described his infatuation with power dynamics as a fetish (he expressly enjoyed BDSM). But they agreed that his sexual inclinations were less fetishistic than they were representative of a dangerous pathology: He got off on abusing and dominating his partners without their consent. While fetishes are necessarily transgressive, bending the norms of sexual relations, they also rely on healthy consent practices. The men described in this article neglected to continue those practices as time progressed.
In another case of sexual assault prefaced on consent, a student and outspoken male "feminist" at a Pacific Northwest college was expelled last December after two female students accused him of sexual assault. Maria*, who spoke with me under the condition of anonymity, told me that she believes the number of victims is higher.
Maria met Mike* at a college party the summer of 2013. A member of the Feminist Student Union, Mike was a passionate political science major before his recent expulsion. At first coming off to Maria as innocent, even somewhat prudish, Mike fell into an impassioned discussion about Marx with Maria before breaking off to socialize with other partygoers.
Over the next few weeks, Maria occasionally met him after classes to talk about philosophy; he was not only active in the Feminist Student Union but in the feminist reading circles associated with the group. Maria, an opinionated feminist, remembers him excitedly talking with her about Bell Hooks' Feminism is for Everybody. His fluency in feminist diction made her feel comfortable around him, she says, so they started getting together in private places to talk about their shared interests. That's when they started hooking up. But it only took a few intimate encounters—all preceded by lengthy discussions about consent—before Maria started to think that for Mike, feminism was more of an underhanded mating tactic than a lifestyle choice.
For Maria, Mike's conceit of feminism masked violent sexual inclinations, which were off-putting even in consensual encounters. "Within a few minutes of having sex," she recalled, "I learned about some of his sexual preferences.… He seemed extremely interested in degrading me emotionally, hurting me physically, and placing me in fantasies in which I was sexually humiliated." Even then, he asked her for consent. She reluctantly agreed.
After some time, Mike apparently became less concerned about obtaining consent (she recalled he didn't use a condom once, which terrified her because he was openly polyamorous). On the night last November that Maria alleges Mike raped her, she says consent was completely thrown out the window. She says she said no four times, and that he only stopped when she started, in her words, "hysterically crying."
"The fact that he was a feminist who had seemed so concerned with consent made it so much more difficult to realize and accept that he raped me," she says. "I left his apartment that night convinced that there had to have been some misunderstanding on my part." The college's assistant dean of sexual assault declined to comment.
Numerous women filed complaints with the college against Mike, two accusing him of rape. The college's Sexual Misconduct board also found him in violation of a no-contact order. The board recommended him for expulsion, which the president and the Appeals Board saw through. But before Mike was expelled, he sent Maria an apology saturated with feminist terminology (there was a trigger warning in the subject heading), admitting that he had assaulted both women.
A grand jury decided against indicting Mike. He told me that, in retrospect, he believes that "certain strains of sex-positive liberal feminism" can "make certain knowledge of consent more difficult." He now rejects sex-positivity.
A knowledge of feminism doesn't always translate into expressions of feminist ideas. It's easy to repeat what allies say or parrot what you read online in feminist publications. It's easy to tell someone that you ask permission. It's harder to let go of your upbringing in a society that preaches, allows, and even encourages male entitlement toward female bodies.
Noecker was known to have talked extensively about consent with his victims over Facebook or on first dates, long before laying his hands on them. Asking them about their "likes and dislikes," Noecker seemed highly knowledgeable about rape culture and the need for enthusiastic consent. Katherine, one of the women who dated him last July, believes that he led these discussions to plant seeds of doubt in his victim's minds after he deliberately crossed their boundaries. Katherine discussed with Noecker sexual trauma she underwent in the past. Regardless of this, and while Katherine was attempting to sleep, Noecker pulled out his penis and began to masturbate furiously above her body. After she indicated to him that he had violated her, he allegedly said, "I don't know how this is my problem."
Many of Noecker's victims returned to his house after he had harmed them because, like Maria, they felt they had somehow made judgment errors—Noecker, after all, had laid out his sexual preferences and asked them about theirs. All those interviewed said that they wished they had placed less emphasis on his words as a foundation for trust.
At first blush, the collective stories about Noecker could read like a case study of a sociopath. They could also represent the mating strategy of a particularly villainous macktivist, who espouses respect and equality in public while privately asserts his right to whatever he wants. Jasper commented that "most male feminists using this rhetoric to manipulate and abuse aren't sociopaths," adding, "They just found a new market. They're guising chauvinism with academia. That doesn't make them a sociopath—that makes them smart."
Katherine agreed, and added that, for some self-identified male feminists, words come more easily than actions. Chauvinistic impulses can be deeply ingrained. Noecker, Mike and others get off on crossing boundaries in the extreme, but many men who enter feminist circles also have trouble deprogramming their need for dominance.
"Even among perfectly ethical men who are trying to identify as feminists and deprogram misogyny," Katherine said when I asked whether Noecker is an outlier, "they're still coming from a place of privilege. It's inherent, especially if you're straight and cis. There are extremes of this, like sociopathic abusers like Hart. But there are also good-natured men who are proud of themselves for identifying as feminists—maybe they deserve a cookie because they're a good ally. They feel like they can win the hearts of strong women, date more easily, in ways they wouldn't otherwise. I think that if you're being raised as a man in this society, you have to work incredibly hard to recognize your privilege and modify your thinking and behavior."
Abusers hide in every community. But in a space explicitly aimed at protecting women from abuses of power and sexuality, women often feel especially blindsided when they're violated and gaslit when they attempt to address these violations. CounterPunch wrote about how individual accusations had previously seemed insufficient to threaten Noecker's reputation:
One thing we have heard from some people is that they had only knew of one instance where Hart had committed sexual assault prior to the series of call-outs that were aired more recently. One instance of sexual assault should be enough to call someone into account, and the fact that those who spoke up against Hart were isolated and marginalized until the other shoe finally dropped does not bode well for the future—particularly if the person called out is more well respected.
Noecker is currently petitioning Jasper's restraining order, and a court date has been set for March. Noecker's victims met again on January 15 and 22, to discuss potential red flags for male activists in their community. This time, there was a bigger crowd. They talked about a need to dominate other men in conversation, about how self-assured some men seemed when touting their feminist credentials. The prouder a man feels about professing basic feminist ethics—like asking for consent—the more likely he is, perhaps, to think words are the true force of feminism.
"Don't trust what they say about consent," Jasper said when I asked what they would tell others confronted with a similar situation. "Trust what they do about consent. If they boast about their consent practices, say you want to see it in action."
"If a man feels the need to brag about his consent practices," Jasper added, "it's probably because he doesn't know how to show it to you."
Cecilia D'Anastasio is a Brooklyn-based freelance journalist and bullheaded researcher. She has been published in VICE, The Nation and the Columbia Journalism Review.
*Editor's note: this article has been corrected since publication on the morning of Wednesday, Feb 4th to reflect the altered court date for Noecker/Jasper as well as Noecker's reinstated blog.
Illustration by Jim Cooke.