WASHINGTON — Former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke’s colorful past helped fuel the presidential campaign he launched this week. His résumé includes time spent in a punk band and, as revealed in a piece in Reuters on Friday, membership in an early hacker collective called the Cult of the Dead Cow.
According to Reuters reporter Joseph Menn, there is no indication that the teenage O’Rourke engaged in the “edgiest sorts of hacking activity” like breaking into computers while part of the group. But his participation did include creating short pieces of writing known as “text files” under a nom de plume. Archived versions of writings attributed to O’Rourke’s alias “Psychedelic Warlord” include one that criticized some women as “sluts,” mocked them for having “violent boyfriends,” and suggested a way to deal with these women was to call them “completely ugly,” or inform “Nazi Skins in your area” that they had “AIDS.”
Rob Friedlander, a spokesperson for O’Rourke — who would have been in his late teens at the time the piece was published — declined to comment on this story beyond pointing to comments the candidate made on the campaign trail in Iowa on Friday. The El Paso Times reported O’Rourke acknowledged his membership in the Cult of the Dead Cow at one event in Iowa. However, the newspaper also pointed out that he “did not say whether he regrets his involvement.”
“It was something that I was a part of when I was a teenager in El Paso a long, long time ago,” O’Rourke said of the group.
O’Rourke later said he regretted the writings during an interview with a podcast in Iowa.
“I’m mortified to read it now, incredibly embarrassed. But I have to take ownership of my words. … I have to look long and hard at my actions … and I have to constantly try to do better,” O’Rourke said, according to the Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek.
The various pieces of text attributed to O’Rourke’s alias were all dated between 1987 and 1989, a period when he was under eighteen. They included a mix of fiction and commentary. And while one of the files had derogatory remarks about some women, the Reuters article credited O’Rourke with having “tried to do something about sexism in the male-dominated world of hacking” by pushing for the Cult of the Dead Cow to admit a female member. The text file with the misogynistic language was not referenced in the Reuters article.
Even before he kicked off his presidential bid on Wednesday night, O’Rourke was the subject of intense speculation and media coverage stemming from his unexpected close finish in an ultimately unsuccessful Senate bid against Republican Ted Cruz last year. Much of the avalanche of attention that has been heaped on O’Rourke has focused on his punk past and penchant for skateboarding.
Menn reported that one of the Cult of the Dead Cow’s core activities was operating bulletin boards where members of the group wrote and distributed their text files. According to Menn, O’Rourke contributed these essays as a teenager using the Psychedelic Warlord handle. O’Rourke discussed his role in the group with Menn. Some of these Cult of the Dead Cow writings that are attributed to O’Rourke’s alias are still archived online.
Beto O'Rourke throughout his political career
Beto O'Rourke throughout his political career
UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 13: Rep.-elect Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas, speaks to reporters after a news conference with democratic members-elect in the Capitol Visitor Center. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
**ADVANCE FOR MONDAY, OCT 31** El Paso City Representatives Steve Ortega, left and Beto O'Rourke pose with a backdrop of Downtown El Paso, Texas, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2005. The two and three other colleagues, all political newcomers under 35, were elected this year to the El Paso city council. The group of young up-and-comers say they took on their public roles to make El Paso the kind of city it should be, the kind it has long struggled to become. (AP Photo/El Paso Times, Victor Calzada)
US Rep. Beto O'Rourke (R), D-TX, speaks during a meeting with One Campaign volunteers including Jeseus Navarrete (L) on February 26, 2013 in O'Rouke's office in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGANWith the United States days away from billions of dollars in automatic spending cuts, anti-poverty campaigners fear that reductions in foreign aid could potentially lead to thousands of deaths. The world's largest economy faces $85 billion in cuts virtually across the board starting on March 1, 2013 unless the White House and Congress reach a last-minute deal ahead of the self-imposed deadline known as the sequester. While the showdown has caused concern in numerous circles, activists are pushing hard to avoid a 5.3 percent cut in US development assistance which they fear could set back programs to feed the poor and prevent disease. 'The sequester is an equal cut across the board, but equal cuts don't have equal impact,' said Tom Hart, US executive director of the One campaign, the anti-poverty group co-founded by U2 frontman Bono. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 23: Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas, rides his bike after a democratic congressional baseball practice in Northeast. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - MAY 23: Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas, is pictured at a democratic congressional baseball practice in Northeast. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
US Rep. Beto O'Rourke , D-TX, meets with One campaign volunteers on February 26, 2013 in O'Rouke's office in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. With the United States days away from billions of dollars in automatic spending cuts, anti-poverty campaigners fear that reductions in foreign aid could potentially lead to thousands of deaths. The world's largest economy faces $85 billion in cuts virtually across the board starting on March 1, 2013 unless the White House and Congress reach a last-minute deal ahead of the self-imposed deadline known as the sequester. While the showdown has caused concern in numerous circles, activists are pushing hard to avoid a 5.3 percent cut in US development assistance which they fear could set back programs to feed the poor and prevent disease. 'The sequester is an equal cut across the board, but equal cuts don't have equal impact,' said Tom Hart, US executive director of the One campaign, the anti-poverty group co-founded by U2 frontman Bono. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 14: Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas, walks down the House steps of the Capitol following the last votes of the week on Friday, June 14, 2013. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
U.S. citizen Edgar Falcon, second from right, and Maricruz Valtierra of Mexico, second from left, laugh while El Paso congressman Beto O'Rourke, right, and Judge Bill Moody, left, congratulate them after the couple was married at U.S.-Mexico border, Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013 in El Paso, Texas. Like many other couples made up of a US citizen and a foreigner, Falcon and Valtierra, who has been declared inadmissible after an immigration law violation, hope immigration reform will help them live together in the U.S. (AP Photo/Juan Carlos Llorca)
Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas, stands with his family for a ceremonial photo with Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, left, in the Rayburn Room of the Capitol after the new 113th Congress convened on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013, in Washington. The official oath of office for all members of the House was administered earlier in the House chamber. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas., surrounded by border region leaders, human rights experts, and residents, speaks to media on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013., during a news conference to explain what border communities are asking for in the context of immigration reform. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Congressman Beto O'Rourke, center, speaks at a new conference accompanied by Lillian D'Amico, left, mother of a deceased veteran, and Melinda Russel, a former Army chaplain, in El Paso, Texas, Wednesday, June. 4, 2014. A survey of hundreds of West Texas veterans conducted by O'Rourke's office has found that on average they wait more than two months to see a Veterans Affairs mental health professional and even longer to see a physician. (AP Photo/Juan Carlos Llorca)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 29: U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas, asks a question of former Army Capt. Debra Gipson during a House Veterans' Affairs Committee, Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee hearing on 'Defined Expectations: Evaluating VA's Performance in the Service Member Transition Process' in the Cannon House Office Building, May 29, 2014, in Washington, DC. Ms. Gipson suffered a severe back injury while en route to Afghanistan. (Photo by Rod Lamkey/Getty Images)
Democratic candidate for the US Senate Beto ORourke addresses his last public event in Austin before election night at the Pan American Neighborhood Park on November 4, 2018 in Austin, Texas. - One of the most expensive and closely watched Senate races is in Texas, where incumbent Republican Senator Ted Cruz is facing Democratic Representative Beto O'Rourke. O'Rourke, 46, whose given names are Robert Francis but who goes by Beto, is mounting a suprisingly strong challenge to the 47-year-old Cruz in the reliably Republican 'Lone Star State.' O'Rourke, a three-term congressman and former member of a punk band, is drawing enthusiastic support from many urban dwellers in Texas while Cruz does better in conservative rural areas.
Plucking the Senate seat from Cruz, who battled Donald Trump for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, would be a major victory for the Democratic Party. (Photo by SUZANNE CORDEIRO / AFP) (Photo credit should read SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP/Getty Images)
Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas, of El Paso, Texas, speaks at the University of Texas at Dallas Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, in Richardson, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas, walks during a protest march in downtown Dallas, Sunday, April 9, 2017. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas, left, and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, right, take part in a debate for the Texas U.S. Senate, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018, in San Antonio. (Tom Reel/San Antonio Express-News via AP, Pool)
Texas Congressman Beto ORourke gives his concession speech during the election night party at Southwest University Park in downtown El Paso on November 6, 2018. - After a close race for senate, ORourke conceded to incumbent Ted Cruz in his home town. (Photo by Paul Ratje / AFP) (Photo credit should read PAUL RATJE/AFP/Getty Images)
Former Democratic Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke gestures during a live interview with Oprah Winfrey on a Times Square stage at "Oprah's SuperSoul Conversations from Times Square," Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019, in New York. O'Rourke dazzled Democrats in 2018 by nearly defeating Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in the country's largest red state. O'Rourke says he'll announce whether he'll run for president "before the end of the month." (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
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In one text file that was dated to 1989 when O’Rourke would have been sixteen or seventeen years old, “Psychedelic Warlord” described a “new creature: THE ULTRA TRENDY.” In an over-the-top sarcastic tone, the Psychedelic Warlord declared these “ultra trendies” to be “a cancer that might cause the death of each and every scene across the nation.” The Psychedelic Warlord went on to say that many of these “ultra trendies” are female “sluts.”
“ULTRA TRENDIES are usually the ‘scene sluts’ that many of the menfolk admire so. They show up, get drunk with the band, and tell the lead singer, ‘I really like your music. I think it’s a lot like the Sex Pistols. Sooo… you wanna fuck?’” Psychedelic Warlord wrote.
The writer went on to accuse these women of “only” liking the Sex Pistols and the group’s frontman, Sid Vicious, and suggested this affinity led them to enter into abusive relationships.
“ULTRA TRENDY females hook-up with violent boyfriends because, (yeah… you guessed it) ‘He’s so much like Sid Vicious!’” Psychedelic Warlord wrote.
After describing the characteristics of these “ultra trendies,” Psychedelic Warlord offered suggestions for how to handle these people. The ideas included encouraging interactions between the “ultra trendies” and Neo Nazis as well as mocking their appearance.
“Tell the Nazi Skins in your area that this certain ULTRA TRENDY has AIDS. … To kill an ULTRA TRENDY female, show her a picture of what she’d look like without make-up. … Tell him or her that they’re completely ugly,” Psychedelic Warlord wrote.
While the Reuters report did not discuss the text file about “ultra trendies,” it did quote from other things O’Rourke wrote for the collective as “Psychedelic Warlord” that can be found in the same archive.
In one, of these other pieces, Psychedelic Warlord writes from the perspective of a narrator who confronts a feeling of boredom and aimlessness by going on a killing spree including hitting children with a car. The piece, which was dated 1988, continues with the narrator describing the murder as an “act of love” and saying the feeling it provoked was “simply ecstasy.”
“I had killed nearly 38 people by the time of my twenty-third birthday, and each one was more fulfilling than the last,” Psychedelic Warlord wrote.
Another archived Psychedelic Warlord piece for the Cult of the Dead Cow was a 1988 interview with a Neo Nazi street preacher. In that piece, Psychedelic Warlord described the person’s beliefs as “horrible” and said they shared Nazi’s perspective because they “do not support Neo-Nazism in any way” but “also do not believe in censorship.” The Psychedelic Warlord also wrote about their own ideology in one 1987 file where they envisioned a society without money.
“Think, a free society with no high, middle, or low classification of it’s [sic] people. Think, no more money related murders, suicides, divorces, or theft,” Psychedelic Warlord wrote, adding, “Think, no more families living below a set poverty line or children starving to death because of a lack of money. You’re probably telling yourself, ‘sure, this sounds great, but how would we ever accomplish this?’”
Psychedelic Warlord went on to note this would likely be impossible to achieve without bringing down the government.
“I fear we will always have a system of government, one way or another, so we would have to use other means other than totally toppling the government (I don’t think the masses would support such a radical move at this time). We (as a people) would have to do it more or less non-violently, for if we use violence, we would never have the support of the masses of people that make up our society,” Psychedelic Warlord wrote.
The writings also included some youthful attempts at profane humor such as a 1988 poem Psychedelic Warlord crafted for the Cult of the Dead Cow.
“Wax my ass, Scrub my balls,” Psychedelic Warlord wrote. “The Cow has risen, Provide Milk”