Over the last several years, we’ve witnessed a veritable uprising of angry men. Most of them are white, most of them racist, most of them are misogynistic and all of them are seriously pissed that they, and their fellow angry men, don’t get the automatic deference they imagine the men of the past once enjoyed. That particular strain of rage is what sociologist Michael Kimmel, a longtime student of insecure masculinity, calls “aggrieved entitlement.”
Last week, one of these men reportedly drove a rented van into a crowd of pedestrians in Toronto, killing 10 people and injuring more than a dozen others. The accused mass murderer, 25-year-old Alek Minassian, left behind a miniature manifesto of sorts in the form of a Facebook post.
His missive declared the start of the “incel rebellion” and praised Isla Vista spree killer Elliot Rodger. Rodger murdered six people in 2014 in what he called his “day of retribution” against the “spoiled, heartless, wicked bitches” who wouldn’t date him.
Media outlets have obligingly offered up detailed explainers of the internet’s strange subculture of “involuntary celibates” and their violent hatred of the women who want nothing to do with them. As someone who has been writing about the male supremacist movement on my blog We Hunted the Mammoth for nearly eight years ― and as someone who wrote one of these explainers myself ― I think most of these “incel 101” pieces have been useful and accurate.
The real question is: Why are they still necessary? Since the flurry of the 2016 election and its aftermath, we’ve had over two years’ worth of field guides to the poisonous online wastelands in which nationalism, fascism and bigotry fester. Why are we only now shining the light on the role patriarchy plays in the petri dish?
“Most of these 'incel 101' pieces have been useful and accurate. The real question is: Why are they still necessary?”
Of all the toxic misogynistic groups I monitor on my blog, the incel subculture is easily the most troubling. It’s a strange and toxic little world that transforms lovelorn men by the thousands into potential terrorists. It not only stokes men’s hatred of the women who won’t date them, it also encourages a hopeless self-hatred that leads many incels to conclude they have little to live for.
Hate and hopelessness are a dangerous combination. I was saddened when I learned that Minassian had hailed incel “hero” Rodger in his Facebook post. But I wasn’t surprised. I’m really only surprised there haven’t been more incel mass murders.
On internet forums like Incels.me, incels talk endlessly about violent retribution against the “Chads” (attractive men) and “Stacies” (attractive women) they blame for their own misery. They lionize Rodger ― celebrating the anniversary of his murder spree as “Saint Elliot Day” ― as well as pretty much every other mass killer who makes the news.
When a bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, last year killed nearly two dozen people ― most of them teenage girls ― incels on Reddit cheered, with one commenter declaring bluntly that the “stacies … got what they deserved.” When Stephen Paddock massacred dozens of “normies” at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas, Reddit’s incels celebrated the news as “PURE LIFEFUEL.” One commenter “joked” that he had “fapped” to video of the shooting.
In addition to glorifying mass killers, incels often try to claim them as their own. On Incels.me, they hailed the alleged Parkland shooter as “our savior St. Nikolas Cruz,” making much of the fact that the killings took place on Valentine’s Day, aka “this day of incel exclusion.” Recently, incels declared the accused Austin package bomber to be “Elliot Rodger 2.0” and a “Unabomber incel.”
Now, they’re celebrating Minassian as their newest “saint.” One prolific Incels.me commenter has posted a picture of a makeshift shrine he had constructed to honor the accused mass killer; another urged his fellow incels to “spread [Minassian’s] name, speak of his sacrifice for our cause.” Still others hoped the Toronto attack would usher in a new wave of attacks on “normies” that might include mass rapes and acid attacks alongside more traditional mass killings. “[N]ormies … need to be in constant fear for EVERY ASPECT OF THEIR LIFE,” declared one incel terrorism enthusiast.
In the “manosphere” ― as the world of online misogynists is sometimes called ― incels aren’t the only ones who have been talking terrorism. Many in the “Men’s Rights” movement, including some of its best-known names, canonized a fellow MRA named Thomas Ball who took his own life by lighting himself on fire outside a family court in Keene, New Hampshire, in hopes of inspiring other men to “start burning down police stations and courthouses,” as he put it in a rambling manifesto.
The “Men’s Rights” blog A Voice for Men ― recently and rightly designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center ― hosted Ball’s terrorist manifesto in the “activism” section of its website for years, censoring only the portion of the manifesto in which Ball gave specific advice on how best to construct Molotov cocktails. The blog quietly removed the manifesto after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.
“I’m really only surprised there haven’t been more incel mass murders.”
At least one major figure in the manosphere is aware that his followers may be capable of terrible violence. In one astounding blog post, “pickup artist” Roosh V ― who once suggested semi-seriously that rape should be legalized on private property ― declared that it was ”just a matter of time” before one of his followers committed a mass shooting. His main concern was not preventing such a tragedy from occurring, but ensuring that, when one inevitably happened, the rest of his followers denounce it and not make too many jokes about it.
Recognizing that some of his followers were likely “to empathize with frustrated males who believe they have nothing to lose,” he encouraged them to “share any empathy with such killers through private message[s]” and not in his comments section.
At this point, it should be clear: The entire manosphere ― from the faux-respectable Men’s Rights Activists to the anonymous Twitter trolls who threaten and harass any woman who dares express an opinion they don’t like ― is irredeemably toxic. The incels are the most hateful of them all. We need to start regarding them with the same revulsion and disdain that most decent people feel for those who inhabit the resurgent fascist movement known euphemistically as the “alt-right,” to whom misogyny is almost as central as white supremacy.
The time for 101 explainers has long since passed. Misogyny kills, quite literally, and we need to shut it down. Incels, we’re coming for you.
David Futrelle is a journalist who writes about the male supremacist movement on his blog WeHuntedTheMammoth.com.