We Need To Talk About ‘Incels’: Behind The Ideology That Sparked The Toronto Attack
It stands for "involuntarily celibate".
Before the Toronto van attack that killed ten and injured 15, suspect Alek Minassian was on Facebook. Writing a post that used military lingo and praised mass shooter Elliot Rodger, Minassian talked about the the “Incel Rebellion”.
“The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys!,” he wrote.
Incel stands for “involuntarily celibate”, and it describes an internet-based movement of men who believe that they are oppressed because they can’t get laid.
Facebook says the post from Alek Minassian referencing the “Incel Rebellion” and Elliot Rodger is real, and was posted publicly on his profile before Facebook shut it down.
— matthew braga (@mattbraga) April 24, 2018
If investigators end up determining that Minassian was motivated to commit his attack after being bolstered by the spiteful incel collective, this would be the second such attack in recent years. And it may not be the last.
Understanding The Incel Ideology
When Minassian referenced the “Incel Rebellion”, he wasn’t coining a new term.
The rebellion, also known as the “beta uprising” in incel forums, is the group’s ultimate ideological fantasy: that all the sexless men like them will eventually rise up against the alphas in the world, and reinstate a society where men have more power and guys like them can get laid.
The incel community uses a few tropes to boil their ideology down into an easy-to-digest story.
In their world, there are Chads (guys who have lots of sex) and Stacies (girls who have lots of sex) — they’re the alphas, and virgin incels are the betas. For them, “virginity discrimination” is a serious threat to their existence.
They are fixated on their looks, and view women as deceptive villains who are out there to ruin their lives.
“I was born to be a breeder, strong, tall, with high sex drive and a big ass dick BUT just because my face is sub 8 I am an incel,” one post on the now-banned r/incels subreddit read.
Other posts on the subreddit were titled “all women are sluts”, and “reasons why women are the embodiment of evil”.
On popular online forum incels.me, one of the current top posts is titled “the most common response to the Toronto attack is virgin shaming”.
For some on incels.me, Reddit’s sister forum r/braincels, and notorious online forum 4Chan, the community is a place to vent, complain, and ask for help. But for others, the beta uprising is a violent call to arms.
After the Toronto attack, one post on incels.me refused to blame Minassian for the deaths.
“I blame society for treating low status men like garbage,” the post read. “There will always be more rampages because of the way society treats us.” Other posts detail violent rape fantasies, or suggest that women dress promiscuously to “torture incels”.
This Wouldn’t Be The First Incel Terror Attack
In 2014, Elliot Rodger killed six and injured 14 others near the University of California, Santa Barbara.
In an eerily similar fashion to this recent Toronto attack, he took to social media before the deaths.
Rodger uploaded the video “Elliot Rodger’s Retribution” to YouTube, in which he said that he was going to kill sexually active women because they had rejected him in the past. He also said he would punish sexually active men.
Rodger subscribed to ‘pick-up artist’ YouTube channels, and was part of the incel-populated subreddit, r/ForeverAlone.
In a manifesto he wrote before the mass murder, Rodger said that he would “slaughter every single spoiled, stuck-up, blond slut I see inside there. All those girls I’ve desired so much. They have all rejected me and looked down on me as an inferior man.”
The ‘incel’ community is a trough of poisonous misogyny. This is not the first time that a man pickled in the propaganda of such forums has committed mass murder in their name. This is terrorism, just as much as any violent act of religious extremism. Call it by its name.
— Laurie Penny (@PennyRed) April 25, 2018
At the time, though, commentators didn’t really think the beta rebellion ideology was a key factor in Rodger’s attack. They said he was mentally ill, and that he had easy access to a gun.
But the recent Toronto attack forces us to look back on Rodger’s motivations with fresh eyes. Was he radicalised — or “blackpilled”, as Incel culture calls it — by a narrative of virgin oppression and his hatred of Chads and Stacies?
How Should We Deal With Incels?
Only in the past two years has substantive research started to be done on the incel movement. And it’s is a little scary. One 2016 paper argued that we shouldn’t just consider the movement to be a bit of good ol’ misogyny, but instead recognise it as a new ideological brand altogether.
Other research placed the movement in the broad ‘manosphere’: a loose, online-based movement that is part of the alt-right.
In November 2017, Reddit banned r/incel, after saying it would remove content that “encourages, glorifies, incites or calls for violence or physical harm against an individual or group of people”.
That didn’t really stop incels. They moved to a forum look-a-like, incels.me, and also remain on Reddit in the more heavily moderated subreddit, r/braincels.
One element that complicates our treatment of the movement is that a strong theme of discussion in incel forums is suicide. “My dog is the only thing keeping me alive” one recent incels.me post is titled. Others openly contemplate suicide, or seek advice on how to go about it.
it’s hard to browse incel boards without getting the impression that something is very badly wrong with the lives that many young men are expected to live, even if their own understanding of those problems is horrifying and inaccurate
— Eleanor Robertson (@marrowing) April 25, 2018
This is a group of deeply insecure men who want to lash out violently — against themselves, or against others. More than half a million messages have been shared on incels.me. The old r/incels had over 40,000 members.
We can’t know for sure whether the movement is radicalising young men, and but we do know it’s not disappearing any time soon.