I once, in the 8th grade, got into a slap-boxing fight on a trampoline, with a kid who was about a foot taller than I was. The fake fight turned into a real fight, which then turned into me running inside with blood streaming from my nose. I have since learned not to settle my quarrels with my fists.
But if there were any world where 8th-grade logic still reigns supreme, it's the world of amateur YouTube bodybuilders. And among that strangely cultish subsection of the population, few YouTubers command more attention that Boynton Beach's Jason Genova — a childlike, yet somehow captivating, aspiring bodybuilder whose day job is bag boy at Publix. Genova's mannerisms have led some viewers to speculate that he is autistic, a description he denies.
Genova spent this week ordering his massive following to harass another bodybuilder online. That much-bigger bodybuilder claimed to have felt threatened, and in turn, at a public event, slap-boxed Genova on camera. This shocked some viewers, who saw it as bullying, if not assault. The hubub has become something of a scandal within the bodybuilding community.
Genova was the subject of a November 2015 New Times feature story that won a Sigma Delta Chi award from the Society of Professional Journalists. Genova, a man equally obsessed with getting swole and making Star Wars references, commands a legion of 26,734 subscribers on YouTube, who seem willing to do his bidding. They're all devotees to the church of "broscience" — that is, the culture of amateur gym-rats sharing advice in person and on the internet.
Genova refers to himself as "Lord Vader" in his videos. His fans call themselves the "Genova's Witnesses." Genova made a name for himself taking pot-shots at established celebrities, like MMA fighter Kimbo Slice.
Genova regularly asks his followers to execute an "Order 66" on people he doesn't like — that is, to blow up their social media accounts with threats, harassment, and bullying. (The term comes from Star Wars: Episode III.) Most of the "victims," like Kim Kardashian or Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino, don't respond to the attacks.
Last week, Genova ordered his followers to execute an online attack on a bodybuilder named Rich Piana (a pro bodybuilder who apparently had declined to offer Genova a sponsorship deal).
Then, Piana and Genova met at a bodybuilding expo in Orlando.
Piana confronted Genova, saying that they settle their differences by slap boxing. This transpired:
After the video was posted online, commenters largely defended Genova. Friends of Genova in Delray who have long filmed his antics — known as the "Delray Misfits" — seemed protective of their friend, calling Piana "a fake fuckin tough guy," a "fuckin puss" and "95 percent oil" but admitting there was "grey area" because the online attack could have affected Piana's business. Still, they said it had been an unfair fight.
Piana in turn posted a 30-minute rant to YouTube on Monday, where he tried to explain himself and said he had felt threatened.
"He ordered a 66. I didn't know what a 66 was, never heard of a 66 before," he said. "I found out, it's where he basically orders all his followers to attack a person's social media." Hundreds of people swarmed his account with "bad comments," he said.
"The life threatening comments were the ones that were disturbing," Piana said. He then added: "I had never received anything of him asking to be an athlete, so I was confused." Piana said his wife even received death threats, and canceled a hair appointment that day to stay indoors.
"When I went to the gym, I carried my gun with me," Piana said.
He claims he had no idea who Genova was before all this happened — "All I know is that he threatened my life, and my wife's life," Piana said.
Piana then apologized for the way he and Genova settled their beef.
Genova likewise posted an apology:
"I shouldn't be Order 66-ing people," Genova said. "He taught me a lesson not to mess with people's livelihood and money."
English philosopher Thomas Hobbes spent his life wondering how humans would solve their problems without the laws of society to guide them. If he were alive today, Jason Genova would probably show up in his Twitter mentions.
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Jerry Iannelli is a staff writer for Miami New Times. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University. He moved to South Florida in 2015.