Content warning: This article contains graphic, violent and racist language.
Since the April 23 van attack in Toronto that left 10 people dead and 14 wounded, people have been struggling to understand the misogynistic “incel” community referred to in a Facebook post by Alek Minassian, the man charged in the deadly rampage.
“Incel” stands for “involuntarily celibate,” an online community of mostly men who blame women for their inability to get the attention, and sex, they feel entitled to.
“[Incels] have taken this moniker as almost a badge of honor for men who feel like women are not being the docile sex toys for them that they think they should be,” Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center told ThinkProgress.
ThinkProgress reviewed online incel forums and found posts ranging from self-loathing to brazen, violent rhetoric against women. One post encouraged people to “post your favorite YouTube videos where a woman gets beaten by a man.” Another said having to respect women was akin to asking shell shock victims to “respect” bombs.
The incel forums ThinkProgress reviewed weren’t exclusively focused on women; racism also inspired some of their hateful content. One commenter with the username Tellem–T, who used an image of a black man as his profile picture, wrote: “Once I fully realized how most whites are superior to me in about everything, it changed my attitude towards them, I can never mog [sic] any white guy….because there [sic] skin colour is 10x more superior than mine, they live in a different world than me.”
The commenter went on to write, “I have accepted my defeated and already know my place in society.”
What is becoming increasingly clear is that the incel community doesn’t exist in an online vacuum, nor do other hate groups. What starts online as misogyny can easily evolve into white supremacy. “They started with hating women, and then went on to hate Jews, black people and so on and so forth,” Beirich said. “There’s a lot of examples of alt-right leaders who came to these views in this way.”
Alex DiBranco, a sociology PhD candidate at Yale University, explained to ThinkProgress that “misogyny is more culturally acceptable in Western culture than white supremacy is.” She added that talking about men as victims “doesn’t get the same immediate pushback as talking about white people as victims does.”
These vitriolic communities are hosted on many of the same online platforms so participants can easily be “lured” into other forums, Beirich said. “It’s not that hard if you live online, you live through your phone, to eventually end up in these places when you have particular kinds of grievances and concerns,” she explained.
There has been a shift in how white supremacists and Neo-Nazis treat women, Beirich explained. White supremacists used to idealize Caucasian women as “precious, the mothers of white-babies,” she said. Now, however, white supremacists and those who identify as the alt-right are increasingly misogynistic.
“They talk about women in deplorable terms on their websites,” she said. “They talk about legitimate rape against women.”
A recent example of someone who embodied this melding of hateful ideologies is Elliot Rodger, the 22-year-old student who shot and killed six people in Isla Vista, California in 2014 before killing himself.
Rodger left behind an 137-page manifesto that detailed his hatred toward women, his desire to seek revenge on them and his racist ideologies. Many within the incel community — including Minassian — praised Rodger for killing women, going so far as to call him a “Supreme Gentleman.”
Yale PhD candidate DiBranco said “[incels] speak frequently and positively of Elliot Rodger,” as well as another killer George Sodini. “The terms ‘Going Sodini’ and ‘Going E.R.’ are popular,” DiBranco said.
As these extremist communities interact more frequently, one big concern for the Southern Poverty Law Center is what happens when they go offline.
“These communities are in very close contact in a way that didn’t exist before,” Beirich said. “And I think it makes the possibilities of violence and domestic terrorism coming from people exposed to these ideas even more heightened.”