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Romanian authorities investigate accusation of human trafficking against Andrew Tate

ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:

Social media influencer Andrew Tate is in jail in Romania. Authorities are investigating accusations of human trafficking. Prosecutors say Tate and his brother Tristan appear to have created an organized crime ring with the purpose of forcing individuals to create pornographic content. Tate has a big online following among young men. Videos under the Andrew Tate hashtag had more than 13 billion views on TikTok before he was banned last August. In some clips, he talks about hitting and choking women and trashing their belongings. What is the appeal of Andrew Tate? I called up Ikran Dahir, who conducted an investigation into Tate for BuzzFeed.

IKRAN DAHIR: He would speak in these really viral soundbites that ended up appealing to young men who were looking for role models. So it was always about how he came up from nothing, he made all this money, and then slowly it started turning into his own personal opinions about women being your property and the ways you can, like, have loads of women in your life and how you can be just like him.

SCHMITZ: Tate was a kickboxing champion. He then appeared on the reality show "Big Brother." He was taken off after a video appeared to show him attacking a woman. The next year, he was banned from Twitter in the midst of the #MeToo movement for saying women, quote, "bear responsibility" for being sexually assaulted. Elon Musk lifted the ban in November, and now Tate has more than 4 million Twitter followers. Dahir says Tate's ideology comes from the dystopian ideas in "The Matrix" films.

DAHIR: It's the whole idea that the world is controlling you, and all our ideas are actually better. And just like "The Matrix," you're trapped right now, and I will free you from it if you just do what I do.

SCHMITZ: Tate started something called Hustlers University. It invites potential students to, quote, "escape the matrix." Tate's Twitter account posted a picture of him in custody in Romania, saying the matrix sent their agents.

What do you think this will do to his popularity?

DAHIR: In a weird way, he's now become a martyr. And people have made these edits claiming that his arrest video resembles when Superman was arrested. So video clips of that have gone viral. People are saying that the West is after him. And especially now he's, like, converted to Islam, it's given him, like, a clean slate with at least his, like, huge Muslim fan base.

SCHMITZ: I'm curious, what led you to start covering him? What was it about him that kind of piqued your curiosity?

DAHIR: In about March, which is, like, the time I guess his videos start popping up, but he was, like, completely nameless, and it was just this guy with glasses on going viral nonstop. And my brother said he was really cool and, like, all the guys I knew were really just suddenly into him.

SCHMITZ: Your brother.

DAHIR: Yeah.

SCHMITZ: What was it about Tate that was attractive to your brother?

DAHIR: I think my brother has the same view that a lot of Gen Z now have, which is that they're very, like, anti-woke. They don't believe in keeping things politically correct. He's very much for, like, I should be able to say what I want, do what I want, and your generation messed things up for us kind of. And Tate is just one of the good guys, and you guys don't see that yet.

SCHMITZ: That is journalist Ikran Dahir. She's covered Andrew Tate for BuzzFeed News. Thanks, Ikran.

DAHIR: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.