The Pickup Artist Rape Ring
A San Diego woman discovered details of her rape on a pickup-artist blog—and three men are now going away for a very long time.
*Warning—the following article contains a graphic depiction of a rape.
Alex Smith and Jonas Dick considered themselves part of the elite.
The two men were instructors in the community of pickup artists—men who obsessively study and practice methods of meeting and sleeping with as many women as possible. Some men in the community say pickup is about self-actualization, and finding meaning in their lives.
But according to San Diego’s district attorney, Alex and Jonas—both 27 years old—are predators and the pursuit of their “art” has led to the rape of multiple women.
In what may be a first for the pickup community, the two men—along with their “student,” 28-year-old Jason Berlin—were charged in 2015 with the rape of a San Diego woman. Jonas and Jason pleaded guilty to the charges; Alex has maintained his innocence, claiming—contrary to Jason and Jonas’s sworn pleas—that the events of that night were consensual.
The investigation of the San Diego charges not only uncovered another victim of Jonas Dick’s—a 16-year-old girl for whose rape Jonas also pleaded guilty—but suggested the possibility that many more victims could remain unidentified.
Jonas received eight years in state prison for the two rapes; his student Jason faces a maximum eight-year sentence. Both will spend a lifetime on the sex offender registry.
Meanwhile, Alex Smith went to trial last week, before a jury of 10 men and two women. (At an emotional jury selection, the majority of female candidates said they couldn’t remain impartial at Alex’s trial, citing a personal account or relationship with a woman who had been raped under similar circumstances.)
Alex’s defense lawyer, Samantha Greene—a charismatic former deputy district attorney—laid out her client’s case in opening statements, taking the line that the woman (we’ll call her Claire, though that’s not her real name) had consented and now regretted it. “This case is about Claire being embarrassed, not rape,” she told the mostly-male jury.
For years, feminists and bloggers have lambasted pickup websites and blogs as echo chambers for misogyny, criticized their “techniques” as de facto harassment or assault, and called the group’s leaders advocates for rape. But pickup’s thousands of fans and followers—who congregate with other anti-feminists in the online space known as the “manosphere”—have roundly dismissed that criticism as “blue pill” thinking (a reference to the Matrix). In contrast, pickup artists and others in the Men’s Rights Movement think they’ve swallowed the “red pill” and can see through the evils of a politically-correct society whose supposed goal is to kill what remains of the world’s masculinity.
From 2011 to 2013, Alex Smith, Jonas Dick, and Jason Berlin congregated in pickup’s corner of the manosphere, indoctrinated themselves with the teachings of their pickup artist heroes, and contributed to its chatter in a series of concerning online blog posts. But it’s what they did with that ideology in the real world that’s now at issue for a San Diego jury.
On a Saturday night in October 2013, Claire, then 31, went out with her friend, let’s call her Laura, for a girl’s night out in San Diego’s trendy Gaslamp Quarter.
They were having a good time. At Analog, a bar advertising “good food and strong drinks,” Claire ordered a glass of champagne, then a Fireball shot, followed by a pear cider, while Laura drank vodka sodas. They ran into a bachelorette party and took another shot, a cactus cooler. After several rounds, sometime around midnight or 1 a.m., the women left and crossed the street to a different bar—the Tipsy Crow—for two more drinks: a lemon drop shot and a cocktail.
Just what Claire drank that night, at what times and in what quantities, would become the subject of intense scrutiny over the next three years; her state of drunkenness was at the heart of the state’s argument as well as Alex Smith’s defense. The prosecution says that Claire had been too drunk to consent to sex, Alex’s defense attorney says she couldn’t have been that drunk.
Claire was tipsy, then slightly tipsier, as she remembers it.
When the bars closed for the night, Claire and Laura shuffled out with the rest of the crowd onto Fifth Avenue. They called an Uber, and as they waited, they were approached by two men, Jonas Dick and Alex Smith.
Jonas and Alex were no strangers to meeting girls on that street at that time: they referred to two in the morning as “pull o’clock” because of how easy it was to bring home the last women leaving the bars. They invited Claire and Laura to their place for drinks. It was only a few blocks away.
Claire says she doesn’t remember meeting Alex and Jonas. She remembers stumbling and someone with a receding hairline “pushing her along,” leading her to an apartment building. She remembers being in a semi-furnished bedroom on a mattress without a headboard. Someone giving her a clear drink. The sip she took didn’t taste like water, maybe it was alcohol? Before she could think about it, she was falling backwards, and that’s when she says it all goes black.
What occurred in that bedroom over the next hour runs in and out of Claire’s mind like waves. As she testified in court, she can feel the bed beneath her, coming to for a moment, and vomiting on the floor. She hears one—or is it two?—male voices, mumbling like the adults in “Charlie Brown” before it all fades away again.
In another part of the apartment, Laura was sitting and chatting with Jonas. On the way in, Laura saw a man named Jason Berlin, lying on a makeshift bed of pillows on the floor. Laura and Jonas walked to the other bedroom, where he tried to kiss her. But Laura wasn’t interested, so they shared a beer and talked for a while instead. After a trip to the bathroom, Laura realized her phone was missing. Jonas had hidden it inside the pocket of a shirt hanging in his closet—which struck her as a strange thing for him to do. Uncomfortable, Laura got up and walked across the apartment to find Claire. It was time to go.
Laura knocked on the other bedroom door. When Alex opened it, Laura could see Claire on the bed. Claire’s dress was on the floor; she was lying facedown in a pool of her own vomit. Laura says she was unconscious. Surrounding her were two men—Alex, who was completely naked and erect, and in the corner, another man, the one she had seen sleeping on the living-room floor on her way in. He was wearing only a T-shirt.
“Claire, let’s go. I’m ready to go,” Laura said, shaking Claire, and pulling her by the shoulders. It took a minute for Claire to come to, Laura says.
As Laura helped Claire put her clothes back on, Alex was laughing. Jonas had followed Laura in and was laughing, too.
“We just tag-teamed your friend,” Alex said.
As Claire gathered her things, she started screaming at Alex, the man with the receding hairline, swatting at him with her high heel. Alex was dragging Claire, then lifting her—“like throwing laundry out the door,” Jason later described it.
“Get the fuck out of here,” Alex said, and slammed the door shut.
Claire was sick and sore, and she knew she wanted the police.
When patrol officers arrived at the apartment complex, they tested Claire’s blood-alcohol level. It was three hours since her last drink and Claire blew a .151, about twice the legal limit to drive. Detective Garrick Nugent, a newer addition to department’s sex crimes unit, arrived shortly after to take Claire and her friend’s statements. Claire agreed to a SART exam, more commonly known as a rape kit.
“I’ve never been in the back of a police car before,” Claire thought, as they drove to the lab.
At the same time, police banged on the door of apartment 3031. Neighbors in the building—full of young professionals, bartenders, and club promoters—came out to investigate. Officers reported the sound of vomiting inside, but no one ever came to the door. So the officers just left.
Across town, Claire was identified as rape victim E960.1, directed into an exam room, and told to take off her clothes. She noticed her dress had been torn at the waist and her underwear was missing. An examiner with a professional camera took photos of the bruises forming on Claire’s arms and legs, and the scratches on her legs and chest. Then a nurse performed tests for sexually transmitted diseases, as well as a vaginal exam, to document Claire’s injuries and collect a DNA sample. Claire started to sob on the exam table.
There was no shower, so she washed the vomit out of her hair as best she could in the room’s miniature sink, then changed into a new set of clothes, and got back into the patrol car. When Claire got home, she crawled into bed and cried until she fell asleep.
In the weeks following Claire’s rape, there was no hint that her attackers would ever face prosecution. While Claire was filling prescriptions for pain medications, waking from night terrors, and taking breaks from her IT job to cry in the women’s bathroom, the hazy figures inside that San Diego apartment were going about life as usual. One of the men slipped Claire’s left-behind underwear, adding to a collection of several other pairs, into an empty beer box labeled “Lost and Found.”
The police hadn’t gone back to the apartment to question suspects, or collect any evidence from inside, and they hadn’t sought a search warrant—a misstep that a judge would later question in court. “Obviously, we know that the police dropped the ball that night,” San Diego Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Fraser said, when discussing whether the Viagra, steroids, and Xanax prescription found in Alex’s apartment safe months later could be entered into evidence.
Rape cases like Claire’s—those involving intoxication or unconsciousness—are difficult to investigate and unlikely to ever be prosecuted. Most rape victims never file a report with police (PDF). Of those who do, it’s difficult to say how many cases are prosecuted because there isn’t any sort of database that tracks sexual assaults from the moment a report is filed to its eventual resolution—if any comes. Still, statistics in San Diego show prosecution to be incredibly rare.
In the first half of 2016, 558 rapes were reported to San Diego County law enforcement (PDF).
The San Diego police provided some data showing 119 reports of rape (during that same time period) where intoxication was a factor and the San Diego Sheriff’s Department said they’d received seven reports of rape where alcohol was a factor to date this year. Of those 126 reports of rape involving intoxication, 18 have been referred to the district attorney’s office this year. According to statistics provided by the DA, state prosecutors declined to file charges in 12 cases, are currently reviewing three, and have taken on three. Since 2010, the San Diego DA has filed charges of rape by intoxication 28 times, rejecting 80 percent of the cases it received from law enforcement.
“We work very closely with the DA and they say the intoxication ones are the hardest for them to prove,” San Diego Police Lieutenant Paul Phillips told me. Phillips has headed up the SDPD’s sex crimes unit since March and speaks passionately about his new position. “We had to watch The Hunting Ground in our unit, and I’ve been watching it with my wife.”
While he couldn’t comment on Claire’s case while it was still open, Phillips said cases like hers require an investigator to overcome some very specific and immediate obstacles.
“There are challenges, but we do our best to investigate these cases from beginning to end,” Lt. Phillips said. “The biggest challenge is the victim’s memory about what has taken place. Was the victim so intoxicated that they couldn’t give consent? Were they unconscious? And I’m not trying to minimize reports, but could it have been more about regret?”
The hurdle of a victim’s intoxication can be so high, in fact, that law enforcement and prosecutors sometimes fail to fully investigate or prosecute rapes, according to Jennifer Gentile Long, a former prosecutor and CEO of AEquitas, a global resource for prosecutors handling sex crimes.
“Clearly cases get weeded out of the system for many reasons,” said Gentile Long. Victims change their minds, rape kits go untested, police fail to follow up, or prosecutors decline to press charges, but “intoxication of a victim is the most common barrier,” she said.
Still, Gentile Long said, “as challenging as it is to prosecute sex assault cases where alcohol is a factor, we, law enforcement, are creating more challenges by not fully investigating these cases and taking them forward.”
“They can be successfully prosecuted.”
When the police hadn’t found any suspects in Claire’s case, she decided to start her own investigation. Her memory may have been unreliable, but evidence was everywhere. So, a month following her rape, Claire did what the police seemingly hadn’t bothered to do: she sat at her computer and Googled “Jonas Dick,”—a name so unique, Laura had asked to see his license when they met.
Claire immediately found Jonas’s profile on the online forum of Real Social Dynamics (RSD)—a Los Angeles-based company that since 2002 has brought in millions of dollars by selling pickup to lonely, socially awkward men.
RSD has long been the most important player in the underground pickup industry, and it attracted a popular media firestorm in 2014 after a video emerged showing one of its instructors pulling the heads of Tokyo women into his lap and forcing kisses on a cashier. “If you’re a white male, you can do what you want,” Julien Blanc tells a room full of his students in the video. Just “yell ‘Pikachu.’”
Claire was raped a year before #TakeDownJulienBlanc would go viral as a trend, successfully getting Blanc banned from several countries and putting RSD and the pickup industry in the crosshairs of women’s-rights groups and the public at large. When Claire stumbled upon RSD’s forum in 2013, she was among the few people outside the community who knew it existed. Today, RSD’s forum contains 850,000 posts—contributed by instructors, students, and those men RSD hopes to make into paying clients—as well as 11,000 “field reports,” blogs where RSD members obsessively document their interactions with women.
It was on that forum Claire first learned about Jonas, who had for the last two years been blogging on RSD’s board using the unimaginative handle, DICK.
And so Claire jumped down the pickup rabbit hole. She pored over posts on the RSD forums and then moved to PUAHate.com, a now-defunct corner of the internet where equally lost men bemoaned their own failure in and victimization by the pickup industry. She scoured both websites for clues.
“I uncovered this whole world that I did not know existed,” Claire said in a statement to a San Diego court in July. “Of pickup artists, men who blogged about their interactions with women, bragged about how many they slept with, and egged each other with advice and insults of how they should manipulate and objectify women. Even more shocking, there were many that wanted to share and spread their techniques through books, seminars, and hidden videos of their approach.”
Through her research, Claire discovered that Jonas was a pickup “teacher,” and working for Efficient Pickup, a San Diego company owned and operated by RSD alumni John Mulvehill and Josh Lewis. And she thought she recognized another instructor, identified as “Beryl,” who would turn out to be Alex Smith—the man with the receding hairline who led her to his apartment that night.
Efficient Pickup was a new company—its founders were emerging stars, or rejects (depending on whom you ask) in the pickup community—and its forum was relatively small. It didn’t take long for Claire to read through the postings and come across a blog called “Tales of a Sex Addicted Narcissistic Player.” It was owned by an instructor calling himself Chrysoberyl (a variety of the gemstone known as Alexandrite and another handle employed by Alex Smith). A post dated Oct. 12—the night of her rape—caught Claire’s attention. It was titled “Run a train with bootcamp student,” using a term to describe multiple men having sex with a woman.
“Jonas [Dick] and I are both teaching BC [boot camp] tonight,” the post began. “We run into each other at pull o clock [bar closing]. He asks me to Wing for him. I do; within a couple minutes I’m fingering my girl right outside of the bar in public. Pull back to the spot. 0 LMR.”
LMR means “Last-Minute Resistance” and is loosely defined by pickup artists as the hurdles they believe women make men jump through before agreeing to sex. It’s also called a “shit test” or “token resistance” which Jason described on the stand as getting past a girl’s “bullshit.”
Pickup artists have their own language. They speak in lingo and acronyms and pseudoscientific gobbledygook and it is perhaps telling that there are multiple terms to describe when a woman’s “No” might actually mean “Yes.”
(When an RSD member on the forum asked Alex in 2012 how to tell the difference between LMR and an actual rejection, Josh chimed in: “He doesn’t care about the difference. All resistance is token resistance. I call him the pitbull because once he latches on he won’t fucking let go.”)
Alex’s post continued: “Make her beg for my dick and I say only if my friend can fuck you too. So we run a train on the hoe. I text Jonas to choo choo her but he has to occupy her friend. Her friend came out and I was like “yeah we just tagteamed your friend” my chick freaked out (cause now she’s the slut etc.) I get hit in the face with a high heel. I laugh; we kick them out. Detail to be added when I have time.”
Though Alex never returned to the post to add any details, his student, Jason Berlin—the third man in Alex’s apartment that night—provided plenty of evidence in his “field report,” which Claire found next. In the now-deleted post—available only through court documents—Jason wrote that Alex came out of a bedroom naked, and called his name.
“I know its choo choo time,” Jason writes. “I get up and walk towards the room. Writing this now, I already see a huge mistake. I came in with all my clothes on. I should’ve taken off all/most my clothes before I got in there.”
Jason continues in lurid detail.
“Then she leans over soon and starts puking on the floor,” Jason writes, adding that Alex didn’t stop even as she was vomiting. “This is fucking hilarious. He is so unphased / comfortable with weird and dirty situations.”
In 1973, Eric Weber published a handbook called “How to Pick Up Girls” and a movement was born.
Though mild by today’s pickup standards, the book’s original introduction included a line (removed in subsequent printings) about how some women are “so absolutely sexy, so downright delicious-looking…for an instant you even consider rape.”
Fast-forward to 2005, when journalist-turned-pickup disciple Neil Strauss penned The Game, a bestselling exposé that introduced America to the seduction community, one that had been percolating under the guidance of a few dating coaches and practiced within small, local groups, called lairs. Soon, VH1 took pickup mainstream with a reality show that documented the efforts of Strauss’s protagonist—a lanky, soul-patched, fuzzy-hatted Canadian named “Mystery”—as he molded hapless suitors into serial Casanovas. James Franco is set to play Mystery in a forthcoming film adaptation of Strauss’s book.
Strauss has recently denounced the very pickup philosophy he popularized. “The techniques, let’s face it, are so objectifying and horrifying,” Strauss told The Atlantic last year. “Let’s just face it, I got so deep into that community and was seduced by it that I completely lost myself in it. It happens in the book. Why did I really stop writing for The New York Times, hang out with all these kids running around, you know, the Sunset Strip like a maniac in stupid clothing? I see those photos and I vomit in my mouth a little bit. Even when I wrote it, I didn’t think it would be a guide.
“I thought it would be a book about male insecurity. I even knew then that it was about low self-esteem.”
Strauss may have seen his own actions as desperate, but his disciples apparently missed the point. In the late aughts, as The Game was becoming more mainstream, two of its new players—a doughy Canadian named Owen Cook and his financier, Nick Kho—were building a business that would come to dominate the pickup market. They enrolled thousands of lonely clients around the globe in seminars and workshops, known as bootcamps and hot seats, and sold them online programs they claimed were the blueprints to seduction. Their company, Real Social Dynamics, is the same one Julian Blanc worked for when he told his students to yell “Pikachu” before assaulting Japanese women.
In February 2011, Jonas Dick, then a student at Wichita State University, created a profile on RSD’s forum, the online message board where members document their failures and successes with women. The youngest of four children, born to Catholic parents who valued hard work and Christian values, Jonas was—as his parents and siblings have explained in letters to the court—an altar boy, and a varsity soccer and tennis player. In family photos, Jonas wears a huge smile and his hair hides his face in long, sideswept bangs.
Jonas was studying international business, investments, and step aerobics at Wichita State when he got involved with RSD. For the summer, he moved west to the Las Vegas Strip, according to a former RSD employee who asked for anonymity for fear of breaching RSD’s intense non-disclosure agreement.
“Jonas was a nonevent,” the former RSD employee, who knew Jonas in Vegas, told me. “He was just a regular everyday kid without great hopes. Not that good-looking, not that intelligent. He would come to a lot of free events that RSD would hold to upsell paid events. Jonas was lonely, he didn’t have any friends. He was just a lost soul.”
Jonas moved to California in 2012. That’s when his family says he “lost his way.”
“He was overwhelmed with the pretty girls, beautiful beaches, outstanding weather, and all that is associated with California,” his mother wrote in a letter of support to the court.
Jonas’s lawyer, Peter Blair, told me the family was still in the dark about what Jonas was up to with RSD. “They don’t know the entirety of what he was into,” Blair said. “They know their son went to California, and came back with a charge for rape.”
But it was in 2011, when Jonas was still in Wichita for fall semester, that he became more active on the RSD message boards as a now-“senior member” of RSDNation. Jonas posted stories both of his failures and random sexual encounters with women. Those posts—which have been deleted by RSD—were sent to The Daily Beast by a current employee, who asked not to be named. In October 2011, Jonas wrote in a field report that he had gone to a club and at the end of the night, taken a woman to his brother’s home.
“Man, this girl is wasted, but she obviously wants me to bang her,” Jonas wrote. “I’m a little perplexed as I want to bang her, but at the same time don’t want to get accusations.”
He continued: “I get on top her. It’s dark and I know how wasted she is. For some reason I was having a little trouble getting it in. Mainly because she was drunk and I couldn’t spread her legs very far as we were on a couch.”
He says he then dropped her off at home. “So yea i didn’t give her any info and hopefully she doesn’t remember any part of me tomorrow. She wasn’t mad at all which is good. Sometimes chicks will freak out once they sober up and realize what they’ve done for the night.”
RSD member SirKonstantine replied, “Don’t sweat the shit… 80% of chicks who WERE raped don’t press charges. Chicks can’t handle social pressure and pressing charges involves a lot of social pressure. Of the things that do get reported, the case needs to be solid enough where the prosecutor would want to pursue it. Meaning, if she’s a dumb idiot, no lawyer (or cops) would listen to her. Those horror stories of a chick pointing the finger and a guy going to jail is media hype.”
That post, and others like it, lived on the RSD site for years.
In a still-live post, titled LMR or Rape? The Fine Line… RSD members discussed whether overcoming a woman’s initial “no” can indeed be rape.
A poster with the handle Jack The Repper wrote, “It’s a very slippery slope, a lot of what many of us do on a regular basis could be considered sexual assault. There’s always two sides to the story and society always sides with the female. We all know that it happens, but the lines are becoming so blurred.”
Did RSD know about these sorts of posts?
“The RSD management and coaches don’t give a fuck,” one former high-ranking RSD employee told me. “They don’t care what’s on the forum. The forum is just a way to let the average everyday idiot feeling like they’re part of the community so that they’ll buy more products.”
Others within RSD told me the forum is moderated by instructors and volunteers.
One current moderator sent screenshots of examples of such oversight. In 2013, in a private chatroom visible to only moderators, RSD executive coach Jeff Allen “Jlaix”—himself known for his ownership what he calls a “rape van”—flagged a post titled “How to Rape 90% of your day2s” for removal with the comment, “This is a public forum and RSD is a multi-million dollar corporation with a lot of liability. Reading these carelessly worded threads in front of a jury in a huge precedent setting lawsuits would be an ambulance chaser’s dream come true.”
RSD did not return requests for comment on the San Diego case. In recent months, the company has integrated a lecture on consent into its online materials. Before a student can sign up for a live event, he must watch—or at least fast-forward through—a video titled “Consent.” In the video, Julien Blanc (the same instructor banned from several countries for his misogyny) reads a definition of consent off Brown University’s Health services webpage and relates what he claims is his personal philosophy: “Always leave a girl better off than you found her.”
It was through RSD connections that Jonas met Alex Smith. Alex discovered pickup in the way most men did—by reading Strauss’s The Game—but he wasn’t having much luck using its secrets on actual women. Then, according to his RSD posts and Efficient Pickup’s instructor page, on New Year’s Day 2012, he met the man who would become his mentor, an RSDer named Josh Lewis, and his life completely changed.
In real life, Alex is balding, lumbering, and smelly. He is intensely socially awkward, perhaps as a symptom of his ADHD, which he treats—or treated, according to his RSD posts—with daily Adderall. In his spare time, Alex enjoyed online role-playing games. But on the RSD forum, Alex (or Beryl or Chrysoberyl as he was known), fashioned himself as a lady-killer who slept with different women every night of the week. His blog, titled “Tales of a Sex Addicted Narcissistic Player,” started, “My name is Beryl, and I like to fuck models.”
Efficient Pickup’s cofounder Josh Lewis “took [Alex] under his wing,” the company’s “Instructors” webpage read (before it was scrubbed), and for the next two years, the pair would “wing” for one another, going out together every weekend to find women. Soon Alex was running his own boot camps, and his specialty, according to his blog, was “train game,” or having sex with a woman who has sex with another man immediately after. “The reason I do it is because it’s fucking hilarious and my buddies and I don’t generally give a fuck about women we pull, we get a hilarious story out of it and it’s really fun,” he wrote, explaining his method to other RSD forum members. “She will usually briefly freak out… Have your buddy come in and start doing whatever on her, escalating up, then just hop off and have your buddy continue.”
While Alex and Josh were perfecting their pickup game in Vegas and California, Jonas Dick was finishing his degree from the University of Wichita. And in 2012, Jonas moved to California for good, to join what he read on RSD’s forum was one big party. With his bachelor’s in Finance, Jonas was soon living at a hostel in the Gaslamp and parking cars at an all-you-can-eat Brazilian steakhouse nearby.
“I just moved to San Diego and live in a shitty weekly rate hotel in the downtown bar area literally blocks away from the clubs. Best logistics,” Jonas posted on the RSD forum. “That’s 5 girls in the last 8 days.”
In December of 2012, Alex and Josh, who had been running in similar circles, seemed to find each other on RSD’s forum. “DUDE IS THIS JMAN?” Alex commented on Jonas’s blog.
RSD clients and fans were often doing this—uprooting their lives to act as unpaid volunteers or hangers-on at company events in the hopes of meeting and bonding with other pickup wannabes. For these men, RSD was not just a company offering dating advice—it was a way of life.
“You’ve got to understand the kind of power RSD has over these guys,” Nathan Kole, an RSD instructor for eight years until 2012, explained to me.
“On the forum, you hear about guys having epic success or a ton of fun. If you’ve had a shitty life for 20 years in your hometown of a thousand people, you pack your bags and go somewhere where you can start new.”
A year after Jonas moved out to San Diego, he and Alex and their friends—almost exclusively other San Diego pickup artists—were beginning to outgrow RSD.
“People get a certain level of success, and they all think they can be coaches,” said Kole, who currently runs his own dating coach business from Austin, Texas. “That’s the blight of my life. I’ve had dozens of guys who I’ve coached go on to start their own thing.”
By 2013, Jonas and Alex were teaching for Efficient Pickup—a company started by former RSD assistant John Mulvehill and Joshua Lewis, Alex’s old mentor. Efficient Pickup promised clients in Las Vegas and California a faster, “rejection-proof” technique. Mulvehill—known for wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the number of women he’s supposedly slept with (he claims “almost 500” these days)—had been a mainstay of a group of pickup artists in Las Vegas known as the “Vegas Pussy Massacre Crew.” But Mulvehill was kicked off of the strip in 2015, as part of a one-year suspended sentence stemming from a night in May of 2013 when he allegedly locked a woman in his car, took away her phone, and masturbated in front of her.
The day after his arrest, Mulvehill’s RSD profile and more than 650 of his forum contributions were deleted. Mulvehill’s handle, JMULV, was added to a list of flagged terms, and the moderators were instructed to delete any mention of his name.
Mulvehill didn’t respond to a request for comment for this article, but I talked with him last year for another story about his company and his alleged crime in Las Vegas. Back then, he insisted that “compliance” and “resistance” mean different things to the pickup community, and that the media and the public had gotten the wrong idea about his craft.
“I know that sounds sort of rapey,” Mulvehill told me at the time. But, he said, “it’s not about convincing girls to do something they don’t want to do.”
In the summer of 2014, a year after his own arrest and six months after Claire’s rape, Mulvehill pulled Efficient Pickup’s website and its YouTube videos off the internet. He currently peddles his wares on Facebook, under the name Seduction Mindhacks Live, and has reduced the price for learning his “technique,” charging $45 for an online guide.
Mulvehill did address his decision to take down the site in November, during a question-and-answer session following a webinar pitching a $500 online program.
“We shut down our YouTube channel and our site recently because when we first started our company a few years ago, we put a couple guys on our site that were advanced that we thought were going to be teaching programs for us, and they never actually taught programs for us, but they actually got into some legal trouble so we took our site down for the time being because those guys were fucking retarded and they weren’t affiliated with us at all, but we’re just taking it down for the time being.”
The “legal trouble” Mulvehill is likely referring to would be the March arrest and charging of Alex, Jonas, and Jason in Claire’s rape.
Efficient Pick Up’s co-founder and owner, and Alex’s mentor, Josh Lewis, also declined an interview for this article. When Alex’s attorney was considering calling Josh Lewis as a witness in the San Diego rape trial, Judge Jeffrey Fraser appointed Josh his own attorney, who advised him to take the Fifth Amendment because of Josh’s own potential criminal liability in the case. Judge Fraser agreed with the counsel’s advice, noting that “anyone with a connection” to Efficient Pickup was potentially liable for conspiracy.
“I’m sure you don’t have a narrative already in mind and you’ll portray what I have to say fairly,” Josh Lewis told me over Facebook. “Efficient Pickup has been dissolved, [Jonas and Alex] weren’t instructors, and I’m in no way related to this incident,” Lewis said before asking me never to contact him again.
Despite Josh’s denial, Jonas and Alex were listed as two of the five instructors on Efficient Pickup’s website in 2013. And Jason wrote a glowing recommendation for Alex, which Efficient Pickup posted to its testimonial page: “Boot Camp with Beryl is fucking awesome. He will positively impact your life to get better at pickup. I am grateful and privileged to have taken a bootcamp with him and highly recommend him as a pickup instructor.”
By that time, Mulvehill, Josh, Jonas, and Alex had all been banned from RSD for promoting a competing company and for possibly crossing an unspoken line—after years of writing blogs that promoted drinking, drugs, and what reads a lot like nonconsensual sex.
Jonathan Jacobsen, who, as a pickup instructor, goes by Manwhore, was moderating the RSD forum in 2013 and said he removed Alex and the other men from posting on it.
Jacobsen said he privately messaged Alex before the ban—“if he’s being a fucking idiot you contact the guy and tell him to stop,” he explained—but Alex “couldn’t handle it.”
“[I] want to make the distinction between what they [Efficient Pickup] do and what we do,” Jacobsen told me. “The point is to not do any of it without her wanting to. That’s not what this is supposed to be. It’s a perversion, but these motherfuckers still manage to draw guys in.”
It’s not clear how many clients signed up for Efficient Pickup’s services; there’s only proof of one.
Jason Berlin graduated from the the University of California, San Diego in 2010 with a degree in economics, and started his own business, Venture Pursuit Inc., in 2011. He bought fixer-upper houses and sold them for a profit. Apart from a few complaints to the Better Business Bureau and an incident that got him banned from the University of San Diego in 2012 (for stealing bikes, according to a university spokeswoman), Jason seemed to be doing all right, at least professionally.
“I was probably depressed, but didn’t really notice,” Jason testified during Alex’s trial last week. In November 2015, after several meetings with the DA, Jason pleaded guilty to raping Claire and signed on as a cooperating witness—a partnership that might, but is not guaranteed to, result in a more lenient sentence for him. Jason could receive anywhere from zero to eight years for Claire’s rape; the sentence is at the discretion of Judge Fraser. On the stand, Jason explained how he became Alex and Jonas’s original client at Efficient Pickup.
Apart from bad posture and a mild case of rosacea, Jason is good-looking; he’s clean-cut, goes to the gym, and dresses well. But Jason was never very good with people, and was cripplingly shy and bumbling with women. So in the summer of 2013, Jason said he posted a call for a wingman on some PUA website.
Jonas responded to the post, according to Jason’s testimony. He told Jason he would not just be his wingman but his instructor—after all, Jonas bragged, he’d been in the pickup game for over two years and claimed he’d slept with over 100 women. Jonas offered to impart his wisdom in so-called boot camps, for $300 a night. Alex also signed on to teach Jason his tricks, and soon the three of them were going out every weekend. Alex and Jonas would pick up girls and watch as Jason practiced their techniques.
“I was always paying them,” Jason said.
But Jason felt like he was getting something in return. In his testimony, Jason said Alex and Jonas taught him how to be an alpha male and create a “mindset” that would attract women. He said they taught him to isolate a woman from her friends, and to “plow” through her last-minute resistance.
Jason was a sponge who soon became a true believer. Still, when it came to actually getting women, “I was the worst person they’d ever seen,” he says they told him.
So the trio hatched a new idea for a more immersive experience. Jason would pay $2,000 a month for an apartment near the Gaslamp Quarter, a five-minute walk away from 16 blocks of bars and nightclubs. Alex and Jonas would technically live there, but Jason could come over on the weekends, go out with them for lessons, and crash there. They moved in on Oct. 1.
Jason Berlin was now deep into the world of pickup. He watched Youtube videos on pickup, listened to RSD instructor CDs in the car, and at every opportunity, went out with Alex and Jonas, along with a steady stream of pickup artists that would hang out in their new apartment.
“It was like a hobby. Everyone was talking about it all the time. These people became your friends,” Jason testified.
Twelve days after Alex and Jonas moved into the Gaslamp apartment, the men met Claire and Laura at closing time and brought the girls back to their apartment, where Jason was waiting.
In 2015, with a binder of evidence from Claire and a year-long police investigation complete, the San Diego district attorney formally charged Alex, Jason, and Jonas with two counts of rape, of an intoxicated person and an unconscious person.
Jonas Dick and Jason Berlin both pleaded guilty to one count for Claire’s rape.
Jonas’s crime was essentially rape in concert—even though he hadn’t had sex with Claire, he admitted that he’d known what Alex was allegedly planning to do to her. According to California law, by keeping Claire’s friend Laura occupied—in part by hiding her phone—Jonas had acted as an accomplice, and was just as responsible.
Jonas was also charged with another rape shortly after being charged with Claire’s.
This one belonged to an underage girl who was celebrating her 16th birthday with two friends at the chain restaurant Dick’s Last Resort in 2012. Jonas joined the girls’ table, then convinced them to accompany him back to the hostel where he was living. He offered a tour, grabbed the birthday girl by hand, took away her phone, and whisked her into his room. As her friends searched for her up and down the halls of the hostel, Jonas threw the 110-pound girl on his bed and raped her as she begged him to stop. When it was over, he ejaculated on her stomach, threw her a T-shirt, and said, “Happy Birthday.”
She ran from the room, found her friends, and flagged down a patrol car to make a rape report.
It’s unclear whether police tried to find or apprehend Jonas in his hostel that night. The San Diego PD did not respond to a request for details on that investigation and the court case file is thin. It’s also unknown why it took three years to test her rape kit. Nevertheless, it eventually was tested—and came back with a match for Jonas Dick.
During Jonas’s August 2016 sentencing for both rapes, District Attorney Lisa Fox asked Judge Fraser for eight years, the maximum that the plea deal carried. She noted that Jonas’s quick guilty pleas were not necessarily because he felt regret, but because he wanted protection from “exposing himself to more [charges].”
As it turns out, Jonas’s DNA swab matched yet another victim in a national DNA database, as Fox discovered at a preliminary hearing. For that case—which, according to Fox, involved alcohol and a college student—Jonas has not been charged.
“For two cases with rape, it was a very good result,” Jonas’s attorney Peter Blair told me concerning the eight-year sentence—essentially the plea deal’s maximum. “Theoretically [the judge] could have given him 16.” Jonas will also be a registered sex offender for life.
Claire read a victim’s impact statement at Jonas’s sentencing. For 12 minutes, she spoke about what her life has been like since the night she was raped. Claire said she no longer dated. When she went out in public, she sometimes saw her rapists’ faces on the people around her, so she stopped going out at all. But, she said, a greater motivation than fear had compelled her to find and confront her attackers.
“These businesses that promote rape culture should be stopped,” Claire said. “This is not friendly dating advice or motivational speaking. This is promoting the thinking that women are only objects and men are entitled to their mind and bodies for their entertainment and satisfaction…
“I am standing here today in this room to bring this pickup artist community to light and to represent the women out there that are unaware they too are victims, and to the women who have yet to stumble upon the path of the pickup artist and their students. The night was not an ‘oops’ or a coincidence of events. It was strategically planned by these men, who not only manipulated and raped women regularly, but blogged and profited from it, from their fans and followers.”
The judge agreed, praising Claire’s bravery in hunting down and facing her attackers.
“But for your detective work, we wouldn’t be here, I don’t think. I think that they would still be preying on people either here or in Vegas or San Francisco or somewhere,” Judge Fraser told Claire. “But not for you, this would not have stopped.
“And because of you, he will be punished.”
For his part, Alex Smith pleaded not guilty to the rape charges. Alex is now in a relationship, perhaps married, to a woman who accompanied him every day of his week-long trial. The trial, which included no witnesses for the defense, concluded on Monday.
The jury is expected to reach a verdict in the next few days.
UPDATE: On Wednesday afternoon, a San Diego jury convicted Alex Smith of two felony counts: rape of an intoxicated person and rape of an unconscious person. He’ll be sentenced on October 20, and faces a maximum of eight years in prison.
Through their attorneys, Alex Smith and Jason Berlin declined to comment for this story. Jonas Dick, currently in prison, asked to be paid for an interview. The Daily Beast declined.
Linda Boisvert is the property manager for the apartment that Jason Berlin rented for Alex and Jonas—the apartment where Claire was raped. As part of Linda’s duties, the 51-year-old San Antonio transplant regularly checks the website Crimemapping.com to monitor any criminal activity around her building. The Gaslamp District, as Linda explained over coffee and pie at a downtown diner, is in a period of transformation. “But it’s still sort of the Wild West out here,” she said.
While searching on the website, Linda—who wears stylish browline glasses, with her wavy greying hair cut short—would pick up on bike thefts, vandalism, maybe a few drunken fights. But in October 2013, she saw the report of Claire’s rape. Knowing she had surveillance video that might aid in an investigation, she called Crimestoppers and offered the tapes.
Detective Garrick Nugent and Linda went through the security footage on the night of Claire’s assault. On it, Claire is seen staggering toward Jonas’s apartment building along with Laura and the two men. The group enters the lobby and Claire stumbles off to one side before Alex pulls her back to him. There’s a sloppy embrace and Alex leads her into the elevator as Laura and Jonas follow. Once the doors closed, Linda told Detective Nugent, they were out of view of the cameras.
But, Linda thought, they didn’t have to be if there was a next time. With her co-op board’s approval, Linda set up another security camera in the hallway of the third floor, and pointed it at Alex and Jonas’s apartment. She would watch the footage periodically, and over the next two months, Linda began sending Detective Nugent still photos of what she had seen.
“They would come in with women who were happy and relaxed, and the women would come out—woman after woman—would looked stunned and upset with the same tense body language,” Linda told me.
“I don’t know if they were raped, but if there is a body language to rape, what I saw would have been it.
“One lady went in with two friends and came out covering her face, crying. When they got down to the lobby and the elevator door opened, I could see she was balled up on the elevator floor. It was heartbreaking. I just wanted to scream.”
In court testimony, Detective Nugent described seeing “several” women from Linda’s tapes who appeared “distraught and upset.” Linda couldn’t say how many women she saw leave that way.
“I stopped counting,” she admitted, her eyes welling with tears. “It was too upsetting.”
None of those women have yet been identified.