By PoliceOne Staff
A recent shooting at a Tallahassee yoga studio brought widespread attention to a dark corner of the internet: the “incel” community.
Here are five things to know about incels, who’ve been linked to multiple acts of mass violence over the past few years.
1. What is an incel?
Incel is short for “involuntary celibate.” It isn’t an organized group, but an online congregation of mostly 20-something males who vent to each other about their lack of sexual relationships with women, sometimes describing violent fantasies or calling for violence outright against women. A subsection of the “red pill” men’s rights movement, the incel ideology mostly boils down to the belief that women (called “Staceys” in incel slang) have denied them (“beta males”) sexual experiences or romantic relationships in favor of more attractive “alpha males” (which incels have coined “Chads”).
Some incels have called for rape, acid attacks and other violence against Staceys and Chads. As with most violent language on the internet, determining a serious threat can be challenging, but incels have carried out real-life violence on multiple occasions.
2. Where are these communities?
Incels most commonly congregate on social media platforms and message boards like 4chan. Misogyny and racism often run rampant within these communities, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with 4chan. The website’s archive-less “/b/” message board is notorious for being the go-to place for the absolute worst of the internet. Anonymous users post everything from child pornography to murder confessions. In 2014, one member strangled his girlfriend and shared photos of her naked corpse on the page.
3. Incels are radicalized online
The rise of the incel community is another example of the increasing frequency of online radicalization in the digital age.
Tracking incel activity comes with all of the same challenges as monitoring and investigating any radical ideology or criminal element on the web – the vastness of the internet and the impermanence of content posted on sites like 4chan makes it hard to thwart attacks or differentiate real violence from fantasy.
Tech companies’ efforts to curtail this type of online behavior vary depending on the platform, as does their level of cooperation with law enforcement. But some attempts at progress have been made. In June 2017, for example, major tech companies like Google and Facebook formed the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) – an initiative to combat violent content on their platforms. Even with the aid of artificial intelligence and increased manpower focused on the issue, the puzzle of how to best go about tamping down on extremist content on the internet remains mostly unsolved.
4. Incels have been linked to multiple incidents of mass violence
Incel chatter on the internet has been a precursor to some very real acts of mass violence.
In addition to the aforementioned shooting in Tallahassee, the perpetrator of the Umpqua Community College mass shooting in 2015 had links to the community, as well as the suspect in the van attack in Toronto that left 10 people dead and 16 injured earlier this year.
5. The ‘beta uprising’ and the church of Elliot Rodger
Shortly before the Toronto attack, the suspect, Alek Minassian, posted the following message on his Facebook account:
“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!”
The reference to Elliot Rodger, who carried out the 2014 Isla Vista mass shooting, isn’t unique to the Toronto attack. In fact, Rodger has become somewhat of a patron saint in the incel community. His misogynistic manifesto, “My Twisted World,” along with his equally disturbing video blogs, all cited his hatred of women (stemming from his inability to lose his virginity) as the reason behind his deadly “Day of Retribution.” This material has become oft-cited in the incel community, with terms like “supreme gentleman” and talk of betas vs. alphas ripped directly from Rodger’s writings. Many posts praising him take on a religious tone, and the anniversary of his attack is celebrated by some as “Saint Elliot Day.”
William Edward Atchison, who killed two students at a New Mexico high school in 2017, often praised the killer on the internet and used “Elliot Rodger” as an online pseudonym.
Nikolas Cruz, the suspect in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, once wrote “Elliot rodger will not be forgotten,” in a comment on a YouTube video.
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