The virulently misogynistic online community linked to the Toronto van attack suspect

Alek Minassian, a self-described "Incel," praised mass shooter Elliot Rodger prior to the attack.

Prior to Monday's attack in Toronto, suspect Alek Minassian, a self-described "Incel," praised mass shooter Elliot Rodger. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)
Prior to Monday's attack in Toronto, suspect Alek Minassian, a self-described "Incel," praised mass shooter Elliot Rodger. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)

The suspect charged with killing ten people and injuring dozens more in a van attack in downtown Toronto on Monday praised mass shooter Elliot Rodger and was a self-described incel — a virulently misogynistic online community which occupies many of the same online spaces as the far-right.

Alek Minassian, 25, was charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder during a brief court appearance on Tuesday. Minassian had previously posted a status on Facebook praising Elliot Rodger, the socially-awkward mass shooter who killed six people in Santa Barbara in 2014 before turning the gun on himself.

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“Wishing to speak to Sgt. 4chan please…. The Incel Rebellion has already begun!” Minassian wrote on Facebook Monday, at around 1:30 p.m. Eastern Time — around the same time the attack begun. “We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”

Facebook later confirmed that the post was authentic.

Incel refers to an involuntary celibate, or an individual who has never had sex or a romantic relationship. Incels previously gathered on their 40,000 strong subreddit r/incels, which was nominally a support group for men and women (but mostly men) to discuss their celibacy. In practice however the subreddit was virulently misogynist, regularly advocating rape, with popular posts like “All women are sluts” and “Reasons why women are the embodiment of evil”.

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Reddit banned r/incels last November for inciting violence against women, but the community has a documented history of inspiring real world violence. Elliot Rodger, for instance, was a self-professed incel, and wrote a 141-page manifesto in which he stated that “all of my suffering on this world has been at the hands of humanity, particularly women.” In 2016 26-year-old Chris Harper-Mercer posted a warning on /r9k/, a 4chan board also popular with incels, warning them to steer clear of Umpqua Community College in Oregon where, the following day, he killed nine of his classmates before shooting himself. 

“Incels conspiracize and feel that they do not have access to sex on demand and this used justification for violence,” Alex DiBranco, a Yale Researcher who has previously written about online misogyny, told ThinkProgress in an interview last October. “They point at Elliot Rodger and say ‘this is what’s going to happen if you don’t provide sexual outlets [for men].'”

The incels community also has ties to other “manosphere” sites like r/TheRedPill, which have in turn consistently acted as a recruitment path for the online far-right. In wake of the Santa Barbara shooting for instance, “Pick Up Artist” and noted far-right troll Daryush “Roosh” Valizadeh (who recently rubbed shoulders with Alex Jones, Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes’, and a host of other far-right media figures), wrote that society’s disavowal of rape was responsible for Rodger’s actions.

“Society has decided that shy and awkward men like Elliot Rodger do not deserve to have a girlfriend,” he wrote. “There is no legal means for him to solicit prostitution…to release his biological and very pressing urge for fornication…yet we still feign outrage and surprise when every so often one of them picks up a gun and starts shooting.”

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The extent of Minassian’s involvement with the incel movement is still developing, however former classmates told the Globe and the Mail that he was socially awkward, had a hard time speaking to people and had constant physical tics. He was also described as an expert at computers.

Meanwhile, those on the far-right have been waylaid trying to figure out whether they should praise the attack or condemn it as an extremist attack. After police identified the suspect, the online far-right quickly moved from saying it was the product of extremism, to pointing at Toronto’s diversity as the problem, and finally to asking whether Minassian — who is reportedly of Armenian descent — is “white.”