Like many, I hadn’t heard the term “incel” until April 23, 2018 when twenty-five year old Alek Minassian drove a rental van onto a Toronto sidewalk, killing ten and injuring sixteen others. He had no prior convictions or run-ins with the law, and was frequently described as being quiet, although socially awkward. In a Telegraph article, a secondary school colleague said Minassian’s behavior was “usually quite strange…. [He] made people feel uneasy around him,” but “never noticed anything violent.” A college acquaintance said Minassian was “extremely bright,” and he “couldn’t imagine him doing something like this.”
Shortly before Minassian acted, he posted a cryptic message to Facebook, a post that would beguile many, and send journalists to 4chan, Reddit, and incel forums: “Private (Recruit) Minassian Infantry 00010, wishing to speak to Sgt 4chan please. C23249161. The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!” In a few sentences – lines, really – Minassian revealed yet another seething, scary internet underbelly to an unsuspecting public.
There’s a lot to unpack in Minassian’s message, so let’s start with the most basic – something you may already know. “Incel” stands for involuntarily celibate, and refers to a segment of the male population who not only are unable to find themselves a romantic or sexual partner despite their desire for one, but believe that it is caused by factors they cannot control. “Chads” are sexually active men and “Stacys” are sexually active women, though if you spend more than a handful of hours on incel forums (There are a LOT of them, but incels.me and lookism.net were two preeminent ones), you’re sure to find much more detailed information – a lot of it reads like phrenology, the pseudoscience used in eugenics and as a means to rationalize slavery. “Chads” and “Stacys” are despised, largely responsible for the plight of incels.
There are hundreds of technical terms used by incels to unpack their existence – what caused it, what defines it. Incels frame their misfortunes through anatomical mistakes like their “canthal tilt” or “the angle of the lateral canthus (outside corner of eye) in relation to the medial canthus (inside corner of eye),” the shape of their chin, their weight, the presence – of lack thereof – of hair. Anything is fair game, as long as it keeps you from getting laid.
When the Isla Vista killings occurred in 2014, I read Elliot Rodgers’ 140 page manifesto, and watched all of his videos. I was completely obsessed, but a few months passed, and I was interested in something else. Four years later, Rodgers’ violent outburst is lionized by Minassian. I dove back in. Hard. I spent hours on Incel Forums. I listened to Incelcast. I watched dozens of Eggman videos. I listened to Baraka Tivo’s rants – Tivo later killed himself by setting himself on fire. I read everything I could about the Neckbeards video game, which features notable Incel members. There is a lot out there on inceldom, and because it is a culture based in the internet, you only need the internet to uncover what’s there.
As upsetting as it is that incel culture creeps from the computer screen into North American streets, it never stops being tragic. It is utterly sad. Immediately following Minassian’s arrest, there was an influx of articles – most featuring bewildered writers and cultural critics unable to comprehend, many of which dehumanized the subculture, and quite frankly incensed them. These articles reinforced the fact that mainstream North Americans had nothing but hatred towards them – something incels have known all along.
One particular Vice article did something different – they spoke with an incel. Yeah, in general DEFINITELY take Vice with a grain of salt, but for some reason, they are very good at infiltrating right wing and reactionary groups. Elle Reeve from Vice went to an incel’s apartment after meeting through a chatroom and spent a day talking and getting to understand incel culture. From my experience, and by the article’s words, Joey is on the more manageable side of incels – he’s not sexually active, but his issues seem to stem more from simply loving digital life more than real life, whatever that means. He apologizes for the misogynistic jokes that the reporter sees on the chat forums – he feels bad that she is being attacked. Online, perhaps he will say and do one thing, but when faced with human beings, he is entirely different.
That seems fairly consistent with incels at large – that’s why when violence occurs from this segment, people are surprised. By and large, the rhetoric spewed by incels is just that – rhetoric. The big personalities in inceldom – and there is a social hierarchy in inceldom, trust me, the ironies don’t stop there – don’t end up violently attacking innocents, but there is this competitive circle jerk aspect to the movement. It’s like leg touching. Someone mentions a violent act in digital fantasy. Maybe it’s a rape. Maybe it’s murder. Maybe it’s mass murder. It begins as a joke, and people start dogpiling. Someone thinks this is a tacit affirmation of their fantasy. They take it into the physical realm, and people start dying.
Male rage has existed as long as males have existed, and there are many, many forms of it. With the advent of modern communication – the ease to rent a car, the ease to buy a gun in the U.S. – it has never been easier for males to enact their rage. Historically, this hasn’t bled into the realm of the beta male or, in the case of incels, the omega male. But technology changes everything. When swords were made, you could rely less on brute strength. When guns were made, you could rely less on reach and reflexes. When bombs were made, you could rely less on accuracy. When drones were made, well…you get the point.
It has never been easier to kill someone, and there have been many waiting for their chance. And even if incels at large are not murderers, it only takes one to cause permanent damage.
There’s a chilling note at the end of the Telegraph article on Minassian. 42-year old survivor Panna Patel recounts the attacker’s behavior as being “like he was playing a video game, trying to kill as many people as possible. He was looking people directly in the eye, making eye contact, it was so scary. He wasn’t remorseful at all.” There’s an obvious parallel between being behind the windshield of a car and being behind the screen of a computer. But in one scenario, the effect is wallowing in misery while riling up an agitated body, and in another, people are dying. At some point, the froth boils over from one into the other. I’ll let you determine which way that goes.