In Depth

What is the Incel Movement?

Toronto killer Alek Minassian’s cryptic Facebook message hints at link to disturbing subculture

Hours before using a van to mow down pedestrians in Toronto, killing ten people, Alek Minassian posted a cryptic Facebook message that investigators believe could hold clues to his motive for the rampage.

The status contained a positive reference to Elliot Rodger, a 22-year-old man who murdered six people in California in 2014 before killing himself, leaving behind a manifesto detailing his sexual frustration and hatred of women.

Minassian’s message - the authenticity of which has been confirmed by Facebook - has led investigators to believe that he may have belonged to an online subculture known as the Incel Movement.

What does “incel” mean?

The term “incel” is a portmanteau derived from the phrase “involuntary celibate”. Self-identified incels believe that they are excluded from fulfilling their desire to have sex, date or establish relationships with women, usually because of their physical appearance.

What is their ideology?

Although they share some ideological similarities with the better known Men’s Rights Movement - notably the belief that feminism has resulted in male oppression - incels are specifically fixated on sex and their lack of access to it.

The community “grew out of the pickup artist movement, which takes a manipulative approach to seduction, but is rejected by incels who find it too humanising of women”, The New York Times reports.

In his pre-rampage Facebook post, Minassian referred to “Chads” and “Stacies”, the subculture’s slang for the attractive men and choosy women - also referred to as “normies” - whom they perceive as shutting “incels” out of the sexual marketplace.

The slang reflects how incels see themselves as shunned and persecuted by their lack of sway in the dating market. One popular forum “compared women to Nazis and so-called ‘incels’ to Jews”, Vice journalist Aditi Natasha Kini reported in November.

Are they dangerous?

The Incel Movement has been identified as a strand of a broader trend of young white males being radicalised online. It shares some similarities with the better known alt-right movement, with both groups attributing society’s ills to social liberalism, women and ethnic minorities.

Feminism and social justice are blamed for supposedly upsetting the balance of the sexual marketplace in favour of women, while non-white races are frequently described in crude sexual stereotypes.

Within the movement’s most extreme fringe, California killer Rodger is revered as a martyr and an inspiration. The most hard-line incels believe that rape, violence and even murder are justified to draw attention to the “problem” of sexually frustrated males.

Acid attacks are a particularly popular suggestion for retribution, since they usually result in physical disfigurement. Others advocate for the sexual enslavement of women in order to ensure “fair” distribution of sex.

The moderate elements of the movement have taken care to distance themselves from Minassian’s extreme actions. In the aftermath of the rampage, Braincels, a Reddit message board for incels, reiterated that it “does not support, encourage, or glorify any violence or physical harm, or those who commit such crimes”.

However, within radical circles, Minassian is already being praised as a hero.

Screenshots posted to We Hunted the Mammoth, a blog that documents the “manosphere”, show members of one message board applauding the Toronto massacre as the start of an “incel uprising”.

“This is literally what I asked for, finally somebody breaking the mold,” one wrote. “Normies… need to be in constant fear for EVERY ASPECT OF THEIR LIFE.”

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