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'Incels': The Movement Behind The Toronto Attack

The sun sets over the Toronto skyline, Friday, July 10, 2015. (Rebecca Blackwell/AP)
The sun sets over the Toronto skyline, Friday, July 10, 2015. (Rebecca Blackwell/AP)

With Meghna Chakrabarti

The suspect in the Toronto van attack embraced a misogynist ideology. We’ll look at so-called “incels,” and how the internet is inflaming toxic masculinity.


Jennifer Yang, identity and inequality reporter for the Toronto Star. (@jyangstar)

David Futrelle, journalist who tracks the “manosphere,” including the incel movement, on his website, We Hunted The Mammoth. (@DavidFutrelle)

Sam Louie, psychotherapist based in Seattle who specializes in behavioral addictions.

Toula Drimonis, freelance writer and editor. (@ToulasTake)

Highlights From The Show

On the victims of the van attack

Jennifer Yang: “Ten people were killed in this attack sadly, and the part of Toronto where this attack took place — I mean, all of Toronto is incredibly diverse, but this intersection in particular, really was home to a lot of people from a lot of parts all over the world, primarily from Korea, people from East Asia and people I think from Iran as well. What we do know is that I think five people affected by this attack are from Korea, two of the deceased are Korean, and we also have one of the victims who is a woman from Sri Lanka who was a single mother of a young boy, and he is now left without any parents. And there has been a GoFundMe page created to raise money to help him out.

“There’s also some victims who are elderly. There is a woman named Betty and she was living with cancer and she was, I believe, in her 90s walking in the neighborhood with her walker, which was something she was known to do. And a terrible security cam video actually recently emerged that appeared to show an elderly person being hit by this van. And it’s just a terrible, terrible scene all around.

“Some of the victims have yet to be identified, but from the way it’s looking right now, it does appear that most of [the victims] are women, although I think police have said that there’s no indication at this time that the driver aimed at specific people. But the picture emerging does seem to say that most of the victims are women.”

On who makes up the community of so-called “incels”

David Futrelle: “It’s a group that’s made up, I think, mostly of young men, who — basically what happens is that they are frustrated with their romantic and sexual lives, oftentimes they’re virgins, and they begin to feel like the world has done them wrong and that women in particular have done them wrong by ignoring them and paying attention to guys that the incel types think are basically jerks and bullies.

“What you get is a bunch of angry, very depressed guys who have no faith that anything can change these things, and that’s just a breeding ground for precisely the sort of thing that we saw in Toronto. I’ve been afraid of this for some time. When I write about them I keep saying, ‘People are gonna get killed,’ because that’s the sort of — of all the misogynistic communities I’ve looked at online, this is the most frightening because of that dynamic that happens inside the incel communities.”

On working with members of this group as a psychotherapist

Sam Louie: “The ones that reach me, they may have been in these message boards and finally recognize that this was just a negative cycle of not only self-shaming, but also of the anti-feminism, the blaming, the externalization without ever taking a look at themselves and how they might be able to change, and/or be willing to have some of their beliefs challenged.”

On characterizing the Toronto van attack as terrorism

Toula Drimonis: “I think we need to be focusing on acknowledging what it is. I think you can’t fight what you don’t acknowledge, and there seems to be to this real strange reticence to refer to it as a hate crime, as terrorism, and that’s exactly what it was. It was gender-based violence, it was indoctrinated via the internet and the outcome was deadly. Misogyny is an ideology.”

From The Reading List

The Toronto Star: “Who is Alek Minassian, the man accused in the van rampage?” — “On Tuesday afternoon, as police confirmed Minassian would be charged with a 14th count of attempted murder, suspicions hardened toward the grim possibility that a virulent hatred of women was behind the tragedy.

“At the centre of that suspicion is a Facebook post first believed by many to be a hoax — only to be authenticated by Facebook itself as real. Toronto police, however, also alluded to the post but stopped short of confirming it was written by the suspect.

“The jarring message, apparently time-bombed to appear on the suspect’s Facebook account as Monday’s tragedy unfolded, offered praise to an infamous figure worshipped by a dark corner of the internet that seethes misogyny — U.S. mass murderer Elliot Rodger, who in 2014 killed six people near the University of California, Santa Barbara, by stabbing and shooting his victims. He injured another 13 people, striking four of them with his black BMW while engaged in gunfire with police. Rodger, 22, killed himself before he could be arrested.”

Elle: “‘Involuntary Celibates’ Want You to Think They’re Victims. They’re Anything But.” — “Welcome to the world of the ‘incel,’ a world in which well-adjusted, sexually active young men (‘Chads’) and women (‘Stacys’) are somehow responsible for the misery of the dateless. A world in which the misogynistic spree killer Elliot Rodger is not only the ‘supreme gentleman’ he sometimes imagined himself to be, but a bona fide saint.

“The world got its first look at the incel subculture in 2014, when Rodger murdered six people in what he saw as an act of ‘retribution’ against the women of the world for rejecting him. Rodger, who ended his murder spree by killing himself, left behind a hundred page autobiography-cum-manifesto in which he detailed what he called his ‘twisted life’ and set forth the rationale behind his murder spree, which could be reduced to a simple proposition: if others were getting laid and he wasn’t, they deserved to die.”

Psychology Today: “The Incel Movement: The sexual, social, recreational, and racial implications” — “When a term like ‘Incel’ is created combined with online forums, it allows all these isolated and alienated people to unite and for once feel a sense of connectivity, acceptance, and understanding to share their sense of shame and self-condemnation. But it also allows for a perfect storm of not only self-hatred but vitriol, rage, and a desire to inflict harm on others whereby victims can also experience first-hand the grief and suffering which Incels feel they’ve had to endure for a lifetime.”

The Cut: “The Deadly History of Gender Violence in Canada” — “Since the horrific attack, many have expressed shock and dismay at the fact that something like this could happen in Canada — a relatively nonviolent country that experiences almost none of the gun violence the U.S. routinely does. And yet, not only can it happen, it has happened time and again. In fact, Canada has a long history of gender-based mass killings; three of its worst mass murders committed in the last 30 years have been motivated by hatred of women.”

Online radicalization. We’ve seen it with Islamic extremism. White supremacy. Now, with misogyny. The man who is suspected to have murdered 10 people in the Toronto van attack most likely belonged to an online community called “incels” — or, involuntary celibates. They’re young men who see themselves as victims because of a lack of sexual contact. Their forums are often filled with violent and misogynistic speech. The threat they pose isn’t on the scale of other radicals, but it’s a new kind of internet-distilled hatred crossing into real life.

This hour, On Point: Incels, misogyny and the internet.

— Meghna Chakrabarti

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