Alek Minassian – the 25-year-old who drove his van into pedestrians, killing 10 in Toronto last week – ticked every box for a lone wolf terrorist. He was a misfit, an outsider with a grievance, which he nursed until it turned into a rage. Then he took that rage to the internet where other misfits legitimised and politicised it, moulding it into an ideology of hatred. Minassian was radicalised, in other words, just like so many angry young men before him.
The fact his radicalisation revolved around misogyny, as opposed to an antipathy for western culture or a particular ethnicity, wrong-footed some commentators. The likes of InfoWars editor Paul Joseph Watson and general rent-a-gob Katie Hopkins were so sure the perpetrator would be an Islamic jihadi, they didn’t wait for confirmation before giving their verdict on social media.
But it should have come as no surprise – particularly to people like them. Toxic masculinity comes in many forms and this one has been carving itself out a niche in the kind of alt-right circles they frequent for some time now.
Incels (Involuntary Celibates) are a group of extremists who hate women for denying them the sex they believe they are owed and use this to justify violence against random individuals. The movement grew out of other anti-feminist internet communities: MRAs (Men’s Rights Activists), PUAs (Pickup Artists) and Gamergate: the systematic harassment of women in the video games industry. But the sense of sexual entitlement at its heart is everywhere: you can see it in Harvey Weinstein’s touching up of actresses, in Trump’s “grab her by the pussy” comments and in the WhatsApp messages of those Ulster and Ireland rugby players who thought they had a God-given right to threesomes.
What the Incels have done is to weaponise their own sense of inadequacy. On underground chat forums like 4Chan they rail against the Stacys, the Alpha girls who think they’re too good to sleep with Beta men, and the Chads – the Alpha boys who get to take their pick. At their most deranged, they discuss their desire to rape and murder those they deem responsible for their sexual drought. And from time to time one of them turns the fantasy into reality.
Like many spree killers, Minassian posted his mission statement on Facebook shortly before embarking on his rampage. “The Incel rebellion has already begun. We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys. All hail the Supreme gentleman Elliot Rodger,” he wrote invoking the name of the “hero” who killed six in a shooting and stabbing spree in California in 2014. The following year, Chris Harper-Mercer – also an Incel – killed nine people in Oregon.
In the wake of Minassian’s mission statement, there has been much debate over whether or not newspapers should use the word “Incels” or report on their manifesto of violence. As with Isis, there have been suggestions that using the name they invented plays into their hands. Judging from recent Reddit posts, some of them do appear to be revelling in the attention. My feeling, however, is that the opposite is true: we have been downplaying the threat of misogyny-based terrorism for too long.
Where the media has highlighted developments that presaged the Incel movement – pro-rape pick-up artist Roosh V, who teaches men how to pressurise women into having intercourse, for example – the backlash has been met with libertarian warnings about no-platforming and potential threats to freedom of speech (which always trump women’s safety).
If the link between PUAs and the murders in Toronto seems tenuous, then look what we have here. It’s only Roosh V tweeting his views in the immediate aftermath. “Sleeping with only two or three Toronto Tinder sluts would have been enough to stop [Minassian’s] urge to kill,” he wrote.
The answer, according to Roosh V, is not to teach men they have no droit du seigneur, but to make sure they get laid. He imagines he is living in some Handmaid’s Tale-type dystopia in which women exist solely for the purposes of slaking male desire. Come on, ladies: do your duty. Your Country Needs You. Raise your skirts for the pacification of the nation.
The minimisation of male violence is not confined to those who have turned it into a movement. We see it every day in the coverage of domestic abuse. Last week, for example, the jailing of a man for a campaign of violence against his wife was given the headline: “Thug caged for battering woman because he couldn’t find matching socks.”
As commentator Kirsty Strickland pointed out: “He abused her over a ten-year period, he attacked her while she was lying in a hospital bed recovering from surgery, he had previously been jailed for abuse on the same woman, he beat her while she was pregnant, he beat her with a belt and a dog chain.
“He hit her while she was driving, he made her sit outside in the snow without warm clothes. He tied a rope to a beam and made a noose and told her to kill herself. He permanently disfigured her.”
But still the online story carried the man’s face and a picture of non-matching socks. The subliminal message is that men’s frustration demands a physical release and that it’s something we can be flippant about. Those messages bleed into the general discourse, so it’s little wonder some Incels come to believe women who won’t sleep with them are breaching their civil rights.
There are plenty of similarities between these men and other lone wolves. Like so many perpetrators of IS-inspired attacks, their world-view is full of inconsistencies; just as the homegrown Islamic fundamentalists often drink and use drugs, so Incels long for a return to more traditional values – where women stay pure until they marry – while continuing to berate the Stacys for refusing to service them sexually.
If these MRAs, sitting in their bedsits, swapping their hard-luck stories of stuck-up bitches who won’t put out and agreeing that a reasonable response is to drive a van at random shoppers, were Muslim extremists, there would be watchlists and internet checks and Prevent programmes aimed at spotting early signs of radicalisation.
Hand-wringing liberals would be asking themselves: “What is the root cause of these men’s alienation?” and investing in projects to create more socially cohesive communities; conservatives would be calling for their deportation.
However, their fixation is the evils of feminism – a concern that is quite widespread if the below-the-line comments on some of my pieces are anything to go by. So their behaviour is attributed to other things: social awkwardness or poor mental health, as if none of those factors ever apply to those who follow Isis; as if most lone wolf attackers weren’t disaffected men looking for a political doctrine on which to hang their destructive tendencies.
As the number of Incel killing sprees grows, we need to start treating this (and all forms of male violence) much more seriously because the most glaring common factor in DIY terrorism isn’t ethnicity or religion or mental health, it’s toxic masculinity. And it damages us all.