How a Sleazy American Dating Coach Became a Pro-Putin Shill in Ukraine
He peddled sexist bile and toxic relationship advice within a subculture populated by men’s rights activists and incels—while living in Ukraine. Then the invasion started.
As soon as Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, Gonzalo Lira started sharing his thoughts and observations on the conflict in a run of YouTube videos and posts on Telegram and Twitter. “The commentary and analysis I post is without picking sides,” Lira, an American who’s lived in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv for years and was in Kyiv at the start of the offensive, wrote in a recent post, “trying to be as balanced and factually accurate as I can be.”
He began showing up on niche but notable podcasts and livestreams, where hosts introduced him as an unmediated font of on-the-ground insights, as someone willing to share truths about the complex conflict that the mainstream media either can’t or won’t. He’s also gained a slew of new followers—his Telegram has about 45,000 followers, up from 20,000 on March 1, and seems to be gaining hundreds more every day. Many people seem to view him as a valuable source, and have taken to signal-boosting his content.
But his “fair-and-balanced” accounts often involve wild claims about the supposedly obvious “evil” of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The comedian-turned-politician is a known “cokehead,” Lira has claimed—a man who uses his people as shields, has provided arms to criminals who have terrorized the streets of Kyiv, and has possibly “deliberately tried to have a nuclear accident” to pin it on Russia and possibly drag America into his war. Meanwhile, Lira has portrayed the Russian assault as provoked—and as “one of the most brilliant invasions in military history.” He has insisted that the invaders don’t want to harm civilians or civilian infrastructure and are in fact taking pains not to, that the Russian advance has not stalled but is in fact right on course, and that Russian domination will likely be good for Ukraine in the end.
He has also shared widely debunked conspiracy theories to support or build out his narratives, many of them revolving around Russian claims that they’ve found evidence of American bioweapons labs and research in Ukraine. He has decried stories about Ukrainian resistance as obvious Western propaganda. And he has accused people who contradict his assessments of being idiots or paid shills.
Independent experts who follow the conflict closely, of course, vigorously disagree.
“His claims are nonsense,” Alexander Motyl, an expert on Ukrainian affairs at Rutgers University who’s been monitoring the conflict, told The Daily Beast.
Not only do Lira's narratives fly in the face of a vast amount of credible on-the-ground reporting, they “fit perfectly with what Putin and his associates have been claiming for months,” as Motyl put it. In fact, Lira has been in such striking lockstep with Russian narratives on the conflict—sometimes even posting official government statements as definitive truths about it—that Russian propaganda outlets have used clips of him as a supposed source of external, on-the-ground support for its stories.
More telling: When Alexandra Hrycak, a Ukrainian affairs expert who works at Reed College and has been monitoring the conflict, first reviewed Lira’s claims, she assumed he was likely a fictional persona created by the Kremlin to spread its message. These sorts of covert mouthpieces often claim to be fair and balanced outside experts, she noted, “and [tend to argue] that their opponents are irrational, emotional, and need to consider the facts.”
Lira is not fake. Nor is there any evidence that he’s a paid Russian agent. In fact, he’s actually attempted to publicly distance himself from propaganda content that uses his clips.
But until just months before this conflict started, he didn’t appear to present himself as a citizen journalist, or a Ukraine expert, or a foreign policy buff, or a war nerd. He was a “medium-sized manosphere YouTuber,” according to Manoel Horta Ribeiro, a researcher at Switzerland’s École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne. Ribeiro studies that digital space—a loose constellation of blogs, forums, and social-media accounts inhabited by pick-up artists, men’s rights activists, and incels. Most of those who dwell in this world believe that men are the true oppressed gender, despite clear evidence that women still face undeniable and rampant, systemic discrimination across the globe.
Under the name Coach Red Pill, Lira made videos and hosted digital seminars in which he offered dating, life, and relationship advice. In the manosphere, a “red-pilled” person is someone who’s realized hidden supposed truths about gender and relationships. These are usually tired stereotypes about how all women supposedly think, and reactionary ideas about the glory of traditional gender roles and relations and how their erosion screws over men.
Some of Lira’s content offered reasonable, run-of-the-mill tips on things like financial literacy, according to George Michael, a professor of criminal justice at Westfield State University and an expert on far-right groups who’s been watching Coach Red Pill videos for years. But, Ribeiro added, most of his content was steeped in old and reductive views on gender and society, as well as outright vile misogyny, often defended using “questionable interpretations of evolutionary psychology.”
“Never date a woman in her thirties,” Lira, who’s in his fifties, said in one video created in 2020. He also argued that, “irrespective of what they claim they want,” all women only truly desire money, a house, and kids, as child-rearing is the one thing that will biologically validate them. That women who are still single and childless in their thirties have supposedly ignored that imperative in order to live the ‘hedonistic’ lifestyle that a “degenerate” Western culture pushes them towards, chasing the hottest 15 percent of guys for meaningless sex. And that when they hit their thirties, they all get “baby rabies,” but realize their looks are fading. (“It’s biology,” he said. “Women age badly. Men age like wine.”) So, they will all supposedly lie and connive to trick a man into marriage and a pregnancy, after which they’ll reveal their true faces.
In one of his earliest posts on a prominent manosphere forum, Lira warned that “HR departments are exceedingly dangerous to anyone who’s been red-pilled.” But he offered a guide on how men could supposedly turn these departments into “a powerful weapon” by learning how to manipulate HR staffers who, he argued, are “predominantly women who, in high-school [sic], were slutty-looking, and used to gossip and create all kinds of drama. Women who are… the most easily manipulated, the most easily taken in by flattery and deference.”
Lira’s rapid transformation from a self-styled relationship expert to a small but prominent peddler of pro-Putin hot takes and conspiracies may seem bizarre. But according to experts on both the manosphere and Russian misinformation, such a pivot makes sense. It speaks to long-simmering trends in both worlds, which kicked into high gear when the Ukraine conflict started.
Lira declined to respond to questions The Daily Beast sent him about his decision to shift away from his manosphere-centric content and towards dedicated Ukraine conflict commentary. Or about the information he chooses to share, where he finds it, and how he assesses and frames it. Or any of the other topics discussed in this article.
Instead, he posted The Daily Beast’s communications with him on his social-media channels. He claimed in one post that he did so to entertain his followers and that they should thank The Daily Beast “for the lulz.” He also created a 22-minute-long video preemptively warning his followers not to trust anything The Daily Beast writes, concocting a fantastical narrative in which every journalist secretly knows he and his ilk are right about the things they say but chooses to print lies because “everybody who works at the mainstream media is by definition a piece of shit.” He added that he is better than the mainstream media because he can “say the truth,” and suggested this article was developed at least in part because The Daily Beast writers envy and resent his freedom.
This attitude toward the press, and Lira’s affinity for pro-Putin views, is far from shocking, given the environment in which he’s operated for years now.
The manosphere is a murky and chaotic space, riven by internal divisions about the exact nature of masculinity or the ideal approach to relationships (Lira has in the past indicated that he dislikes incels, even as he thrived in the larger subculture that they inhabit.) But most of its diverse factions are united in their distaste for Western values, and policies on gender equality connected to them, because they believe those norms ultimately hurt men, experts on this world told The Daily Beast. Members of the manosphere also tend to be skeptical of the mainstream media, often viewing it as a source of propaganda created to slander them and bolster supposedly harmful and incorrect ideas—like feminism.
Meanwhile, over the last decade, Putin’s regime has aggressively promoted “the importance of traditional gender roles to Russia,” explained Hrycak. It’s done so in part by elevating groups and commentators who decry the supposed horrors of Western feminism, and of gender and sexual freedoms and rights. Russia has also attempted to appeal to and build ties with “anti-woke” communities in the West, like the manosphere, as part of its ongoing efforts to sow division and discord within its rivals’ borders, added Rhys Crilly, a scholar at the University of Glasgow who studies the nation’s communications strategies.
In recent years, the manosphere has grown increasingly intertwined with far-right networks and influencers, soaking up this radical fringe’s resonant but distinct ideas about the evils of the West and adoration for Putin and his strongman politics as well. This escalating entanglement, Ribeiro and other researchers have shown, is turning the manosphere into an ever-more conspiratorial and radical environment—and a pipeline sending often young, disaffected men down deeper rabbit–holes of extremism.
So it should come as no surprise that, according to the experts The Daily Beast consulted for this story, many figures in the manosphere embrace Russia as a bastion of traditional values that speaks truth to Western powers—and trust Russian narratives over Western ones. “Pro-Russian sentiment could arise in this space” any time the nation is in the news, Ribeiro said, “due to conspiracy theories or even straight-up contrarianism.”
However, to date, most of the chatter experts have observed about the Ukraine conflict across the manosphere has been piecemeal, focused on attempting to relate the crisis back to their own issues. Ribeiro has noted the occasional link to bioweapon conspiracy theories on incel boards, for example, but far more talk about the perceived injustice of Ukraine’s decision to draft men into military service while allowing women and children to flee. (This outrage ignores the many women serving in Ukraine’s military, and civilian women staying behind to fight in or support the resistance.) Tracie Farrell, a British manosphere researcher based out of The Open University’s Knowledge Media Institute, said that she’s seen posts about “how hosting [women] refugees is a good opportunity for incels” to take advantage of their vulnerability.
According to publicly available materials and his own statements, Lira has a long track record of jumping between careers. In the late ’90s, he wrote pulpy action novels about manly men. In the aughts, he switched over to filmmaking for a spell. Then, around 2010, he refashioned himself as a supposed expert in economics, writing commentary for Business Insider and ZeroHedge and appearing as a pundit on “alternative media” programs.
Lira appears to have a BA in history and philosophy from Dartmouth, but no discernible economics background.
Steve Keen, a relatively well-known Australian economist, told The Daily Beast that Lira contacted him out of nowhere about a decade ago to compliment Keen’s analyses, and suggest that they work together on a project. Ultimately, Keen said, Lira proposed a paid subscription content creation model, which he claimed he could effectively market for the two of them. Keen added that he looked Lira up and saw that figures he knew in the alt media world had interviewed him, so he figured he must be somewhat credible, and decided to give this a shot.
“It is an experience I regret,” he told The Daily Beast. He said Lira overstated and over-promised what he could do, then under-delivered. He claimed Lira was arrogant, and so rude to Keen’s other employees and collaborators that it at least hastened many of their departures.
Keen said he regrets not doing better due diligence on Lira, which he believes would have led him to realize that he was not capable or trustworthy. He now describes Lira as a “sleaze” who, anytime he fails in a project, uses his supreme self-confidence to refashion himself into an “expert” on some new topic. “If he is the source for any claim, my reaction would be to strongly doubt the veracity of that claim,” he said of Lira’s current commentary.
“He’ll send me a threat to sue me for what I’ve said, I’m sure,” he added. “But I’m entitled to my opinion. And my opinion is fairly low.”
This approach to life and business is common among manosphere dating coaches, noted Verity Trott, a manosphere watcher and lecturer at Australia’s Monash University who’s analyzed their activities and rhetoric. They project an aura of expertise and self-confidence to build a persona that some—she was not referring specifically to Lira—then use “to financially exploit often younger men for their failure to embody a valued sense of masculinity” and sexual prowess.
So it’s not entirely surprising that, around 2017, Lira started popping up on manosphere forums, presenting himself as an avuncular figure who’d gained wisdom through age that none of the usually younger, more physically fit, or more traditionally macho figures in the space could provide. Over the next few years, he garnered a degree of success in this space, drawing in ad revenue for his videos as well as support on Patreon subscriptions and PayPal donations. (At the end of 2021, he had over 3,200 Patreon subscribers paying $5 or $10 per month each for access to his advice content.)
However, his apparent penchant for petty internet drama and abrasive nature have generated a dedicated base of critics as well—critics who’ve spent years trying to tell people in this space that, from everything they’ve seen of him, they believe Lira is a thin-skinned clown.
Michael, the extremism expert who’s watched Lira for years, said that he’s always sprinkled anti-Western, anti-globalism rhetoric into his videos—like many in the manosphere. But also like some in the wider manosphere, he’s seemingly grown more conspiratorial over time. In 2021 especially, his Telegram and Twitter featured a veritable best-of list of pandemic conspiracy theories—about the supposed dangers of COVID-19 vaccines, nefarious purpose behind lockdowns, and plan to use the pandemic to take away freedoms and implement totalitarianism.
As late as mid-March of this year, Lira was offendedly posting things like, “Thank God I am #PureBlood.” This is a common term of self-identification and pride among anti-vaxxer COVID conspiracists who refuse the shots.
In one appearance on a manosphere podcast in mid-2021, an energetic Lira told the host that he really wanted to talk about “the war with China next summer,” which he was sure would start to ramp up in February or March of this year—sure enough that he’d be willing to bet much of what he owned on it. The host demurred that he didn’t know much about politics, asked Lira a few questions, but then attempted to guide him back to talking about dating and relationships.
Lira also noticed the tech world starting to crack down on the worst elements of the manosphere, with social-media and fundraising platforms booting off egregiously hateful content creators. In one video from late 2020, he complained that YouTube seemed to be limiting the visibility of his content, even to subscribers; in a 2021 podcast appearance, he fretted about the prospect of widespread deplatforming. A right-wing content creator who used to be friendly with Lira (and declined to provide his legal name to The Daily Beast) said he suspected Lira felt a need to pivot to avoid that fate. (Lira publicly disavowed this creator after he refused Lira’s demands that he denounce Zelensky on his own social-media channels. The creator said he’s not even a fan of the Ukrainian president—he just doesn’t think he’s a fascist, and does think that the Russian invasion is awful and senseless.)
Trott said that several other influencers in the manosphere niche Lira occupies have had similar reactions to deplatforming, rebranding themselves for new careers or audiences. “Platform shift is common for ‘influencers’ who want to remain relevant,” added Farrell, the manosphere expert.
In November 2021, Lira “nuked” (his own term) most of his old life and dating advice content from public channels, and began posting more regularly under his legal name. (The Daily Beast reviewed archived mirrors of this deleted content.) He left only one video up on his Coach Red Pill YouTube channel: a brief warning telling his followers to flee the West before war with China starts and inevitably accelerates a supposed ongoing slide towards totalitarian rule. They should go anywhere poor and under-developed, he said, because those nations supposedly can’t afford to impose totalitarian policies. Just not South Africa, he cautioned, “because if you’re white in South Africa, you’re a dead man.”
Over the next few months, his remaining social-media channels dropped the occasional bit of toxic and hateful relationship advice. Last month, for example, he responded to a question posed to him on Telegram about whether someone should distance themself from their girlfriend if she chose to get vaccinated: “A woman who’s been vaxed [sic] is useless except as a cum dumpster,” because she must be sterile. (For the Nth time, the COVID-19 vaccines do not cause sterility.)
But he seemed to largely shift over to COVID conspiracy commentary, and the occasional note on a supposed coming geopolitical storm. However, as late as mid-February, he insisted that Russia would never invade Ukraine, and that fears about a coming invasion were all drummed up by Western propaganda, pointed out Alex MacKenzie, an expert on Ukraine and its history of conflict with Russia at the United Kingdom’s University of Liverpool who reviewed a fair amount of Lira’s recent videos and posts. Lira now insists in interviews that he saw the invasion coming well ahead of time—because he’s smart like that.
When the war broke out, no matter what Lira was doing, it made sense for him to say something because he lived and had family there, Michael noted. But several observers The Daily Beast spoke to suggested that he might have adopted his new persona as an ostensibly neutral but in fact evidently pro-Russian commentator on the conflict because he saw a market for the Putin-praising viewpoint in the spaces he inhabited, and may have wanted a new hustle.
Given the glaring alignment between Russian state narratives and Lira’s commentary, Hrycak, the Ukraine expert, speculated that he may be compensated by Russia, albeit perhaps indirectly. Russian disinformation shills are, after all, an unfortunate fixture of the modern social-media landscape—and a particularly salient concern as Russia ramps up its propaganda machine now.
But Lira has publicly insisted that he has “never been a paid agent of anyone,” and decried the use of his content in what he himself has identified as Russian propaganda, insisting (despite his clear parroting of pro-Kremlin talking points) that he’s not on anyone’s side and just tells objective truths as he observes and analyzes them. The individuals most familiar with Lira and his work who The Daily Beast spoke to believe this is true; they’ve seen no sign that he’s taken Russian money. He also describes the conflict using terms like “war” and “invasion,” which blatantly fly in the face of Russian propaganda and media-control laws.
“From what I can ascertain, he’s just a YouTuber,” said Michael. “This is his sincere belief.”
Instead, these individuals believe Lira chooses, consciously or otherwise, to accept pro-Putin narratives and official Russian statements at face value, and to reject everything the West says as propaganda, because it fits the ideological lens he’s grown accustomed to using.
“I think he watches Russian news shows and then just copies what he sees there,” added the far-right content creator who said Lira basically subjected him to an ideological purity test. He added that if Lira actually listened to what Ukrainian citizens and even Russian soldiers using encrypted messaging apps to speak freely actually say about the conflict, he might reconsider his skewed views.
Honest belief may help to explain why Lira seems willing to expose himself to danger. Both he, his critics, and expert observers note that he’s received death threats and withstood efforts to track down his home address from people outraged by his insistence on spewing propaganda that serves the interests of the nation invading the country he has lived in as a foreign guest for years.
“I suspect what’s going on is that people don’t like to hear the truth,” Lira said in a recent video, regarding these threats.
Motyl, the Ukraine expert, said that it’s far more likely Ukrainians see the world around them, contrast it to Lira’s narratives, and conclude that he’s deranged and harmful. The far-right content creator who used to be friendly with Lira suspected that, for all his bravado, these threats are the only reason Lira has disavowed his appearance in Russian propaganda. “Deep down, he probably is glad that his clips were played on Russian state television,” he mused. (Lira himself has suggested in recent interviews that he has appreciated general TV pick-up of his commentary “by a lot of news channels in Russia and Ukraine.”)
Lira has claimed that the Zelensky administration sent men to his home in Kharkiv to disappear him, but that he miraculously avoided them and was at least recently hiding out in an undisclosed location in the city. The Ukrainian government did not respond to a request for comment, but many experts doubt the veracity of this account, and question whether he’s really still in Kharkiv.
“My friends who live there have mostly evacuated because of the intense shelling,” said Hrycak. “The only friend I have still there describes a nightmare situation with food shortages and frequent gas and water outrages. Some parts of the city are craters and rubble.”
Whatever his exact location or relation to Russian propagandists, Lira’s pivot has been useful for Putin and his regime, the experts The Daily Beast spoke to for this story agreed. As the West has started to limit the reach of official Russian propaganda channels, people like Lira have offered an organic and resilient pipeline for pro-Russian messages to reach the nation’s far-right ideological allies abroad, argued MacKenzie. He’s also a convenient figure that Russian propagandists can point to as supposed proof that real, independent voices in the West see the merits of their claims, bolstering their efforts to stymie domestic dissent, and galvanize support for the war, Hrycak added.
Lira may help to hasten the spread of pro-Russian extremist views in the manosphere, too. By his own admission in recent posts, Lira believes he’s lost some of his old viewers from his Coach Red Pill days, who aren’t into his new content—although he believes he’s picked up new followers who are interested in what he has to say. But many of those who’ve stayed trust him as an authority. And as Michael pointed out, “If you trust the person, and respect his work, in one area, then it follows that you would be amenable to his views on other topics, like this, as well.”
Trott said she doubts Lira will have a major influence on the contours of the entire manosphere. After all, he’s just one guy—and she’s noticed that some of his old viewers seem to think he’s “simping for Russia,” which they just find amusing rather than convincing. But he certainly represents one more step in what she calls the space’s “already existing desire to move away from the current West.”
That is to say, its shift to become an even more toxic and worrisome space than it already is.