A few days ago, a woman in Bel Air, California, posted an ad on Craigslist looking for a “feminism tutor” for her 22-year-old son. The ad has since been removed, but here’s what it said:
My son, Nate, is 22 and a student at UCLA. He has been struggling the whole quarter with his gender studies class that focuses on feminism and feminist theories, and he has a big paper that will be due in a few weeks, and he has not even started. He’s a very typical young man his age - finds the whole idea of feminism and gender studies boring and uninteresting. However his graduation is dependent on successfully finishing this class.
I’m looking for someone who is knowledgeable in this subject and can meet with him 2-3 times a week and help him develop and bring this paper to fruition. We live in Bel-Air near UCLA and you can either meet him here, at any campus library or over lunch (he’s quite the sophisticated young man who enjoys elegant restaurants!) I anticipate he will not need more than 1-2 weeks worth of time to prepare this.
The ad was funny! It got picked up by Jezebel (“Someone Teach This Lady’s Nightmare Garbage Son About Feminism Before He Flunks College”) and mocked on Twitter and Facebook. In just two succinct paragraphs, it seemed to sum up what’s wrong with parents, millennials, men, higher education, rich people, capitalism, and Southern California. It was a gift from the gods of the internet.
On Tuesday afternoon, I emailed the woman who placed the ad, thinking that it was a long shot but that it would be funny to hear her side of the story. She emailed back almost immediately. She was out of town “on assignment in a trial in Arizona,” she wrote, and couldn’t speak with me. But if I emailed her some questions she would try to respond. She also sent me her son’s email address and cell number. She signed the email, “Dr. Alexandra Rose, Phd.”
Jackpot! I emailed Rose some questions, sent Nate a note, and then left him a voice mail. We connected by phone a few hours later, and we chatted for about a half-hour. He was a senior majoring in business economics, he told me, but had a minor in gender studies; initially he had majored in it because he had heard it was an easy major. The class he needed help with was Gender Studies 10, where he said he was one of only two men in class and felt his opinions weren’t really respected during discussions. His professor was named Elizabeth Marchant, and she was “not the most personable individual I’ve met.”
Nate bragged about his mother, a psychoanalyst, and his father, a lawyer. They had donated to UCLA, he said; Marchant knew them “in a professional capacity” but resented that his mother was trying to help him academically. He said he assumed his mother would pay his tutor about $100 an hour for the assignment. They had already received lots of responses, including one from a professor at Cal State Long Beach.
When we got off the phone, I Googled Nate’s father, but I couldn’t find any lawyers in California with his name. There didn’t seem to be a psychoanalyst named Alexandra Rose who had a public profile, either. For that matter, “Nate Schermer” himself was basically a cipher. I emailed Elizabeth Marchant to find out if Nate was in her Gender Studies 10 class. “I’m not teaching this quarter,” she wrote back, “so there’s no question about the fact that I’m not his instructor.” The email address that Rose had given me for Nate was connected to a guy named Nader Kashani online and Nate Kashani on Facebook. (Maybe it was just the name and the Southern California location, but I wondered aloud if I had somehow wandered into an episode of Nathan for You.)
I called “Nate” back. “This is kind of weird,” I said, “but I can’t seem to verify who you are in any of the usual ways, and I can’t find anything online about your parents. Can you help me out?” He texted me a link to his Facebook profile and quickly offered some more details on his parents: His mother works for the Los Angeles Superior Court, and his father, Robert Schermer, is “a lawyer by trade and long time chairman emeritus of a major hospital system.” “Nathan Schermer”’s Facebook profile photo was brand new, and it was the same one Nader/Nate Kashani used. He declined to accept my friend request, texting, “I don’t think you want to see what I’ve discussed on my FB page. [thumbs up emoji, silly wink emoji, laugh-crying emoji].”
The photo “Kashani” and “Schermer” used for their profiles was the same one used by a man named Nader Modgeddi. Here, the online trail gets uglier. “Nader Modgeddi is a student at Penn State University who harasses Women on social media,” the anti-harassment site Male Violence reported. That site has saved files of almost 40 pages of vile tweets Modgeddi directed at various women in 2014, including some calling activist Caitlin Roper a “feminist slut,” among many worse things. Roper wrote about Schermer/Kashani/Modgeddi in a 2014 Guardian column titled “Being Pimped Out Online by Misogynist Harassers Will Not Stop Me From Speaking Out”:
The man who targeted me has been identified. His name is Nader, he is 25 and lives in California. He has been linked to at least eight different twitter accounts he uses to abuse women. In fact, the first rape threats he sent me came from the fake account he had created of yet another feminist campaigner he had been targeting.
He is so brazen about his incitement to rape me, so sure of his invulnerability, that he barely even tried to conceal his real identity. Unfortunately for him, in the course of harassing countless women he left a trail leading to his name, image, phone number, email address, Facebook page and pictures of him exposing his erect penis.
Twitter is littered with complaints about Nate’s behavior, women warning other women away from him. Here’s one from less than a year ago.
“Nate” and I texted back and forth, but he was still being coy. Kashani was his middle name, he said; Modgeddi is his mother’s middle name, and he never uses it himself. Finally I told him I would be writing about this either way, and I’d be happy to speak again if he wanted to be honest with me. He called, and ’fessed up. He’s 27, not 22, and he’s not enrolled at UCLA. He used multiple aliases online, he said, because he’s been burned by using his real name online in the past. He made up the ad “to see what kind of responses it would get,” though he couldn’t explain exactly what he was hoping for. The whole thing was “sort of like a joke,” he explained.
This casts the ad posted by “Nate’s” “mother” in a scarier light: A guy accused of serial harassment of women places an ad seeking an expert in feminism to meet with him in person. When we first spoke about his need for a tutor, “Nate” said his class focused on “modern feminism,” after the year 2000, “more of a younger, more intersectional feminism.” He would have preferred Gloria Steinem–era readings, he said, which more closely align with his own views. “I find the whole younger, more modern approach to feminism more problematic,” he said. When I asked him which writers were assigned in the class, the only person he named—and complained about—was Guardian columnist Jessica Valenti.
One of the topics frequently discussed in class was campus sexual assault, he said. (Keep in mind: He’s not enrolled in class!) “Life is about mitigating risk,” he said. “Is it true that women should be allowed to go to a party and consume as much alcohol as she wants without fear of being harmed in any way? Absolutely. But I also believe life doesn’t necessarily operate that way, and you need to understand the structure of society.” He was just getting started. “People don’t say, ‘Don’t blame that person; she left her diamond ring in the car and unlocked.’ People would call that woman an idiot … but when it comes to the crime of rape people say it was fine that you blacked out on a densely populated campus at 3 a.m.”
There’s more, naturally: Nader’s profile on a website for wannabe actors, and the patent two of his female family members filed for a kind of proto-Thinx panties with a built-in sanitary pad. He should be prepared for yet more scrutiny. When I first spoke with “Nate,” I’d asked him if he was surprised by how much attention his mom’s ad has received thus far. “I understand the culture of the internet and how people are,” he said. “There’s always a handful of people looking to cause controversy.”
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