Alleged Toronto van attacker highlights toxic links between incels and the alt-right

Charged with killing ten people, Alek Minassian is thought to be part of a violent, toxic online subculture with a hatred for women.

They talk about “cucks” and “red pills”, and post Pepe memes. They view the world through the lens of group genetics and unbending laws. And they think of themselves as an unfairly maligned minority group under attack by social justice warriors and the politically correct anti-free speech brigade.

No, I’m not talking about the alt-right foot soldiers on r/The_Donald or the conspiracy kooks on 4chan. No, these particular race obsessives are hanging out on r/Braincels, one of the remaining Reddit bastions populated by a group of angry, sexually frustrated young men: incels.


Even though it’s been around for years, this particular online subculture has received a spike in attention after the Toronto van attack. In a post that Facebook has confirmed as genuine, suspect Alek Minassian talked about an “incel rebellion” and praised Elliot Rodger, the mass murderer whose violent manifesto chronicled his sexual frustration and visceral hatred of women and sexually successful men, particularly men from minority ethnic groups.

In 2014, Rodger killed six people and injured 14 more in knife, gun and car attacks. He then turned the gun on himself. Ever since then, he’s been something of a hero, or anti-hero, or ironic hero, to the clusters of mostly young men who congregate on incel message boards.

“Incel” is short for “involuntarily celibate.” Incels see themselves as sexually deprived not because of any lack of drive, ambition or hygiene, but because external forces - biology, feminism, society at large - are stacked against them.

In the days since the Toronto attack, coverage has quite rightly focused on the unabashed misogyny on subreddits like r/Braincels and other websites. And snowflakey incels are complaining that they’re all being branded extremist killers. Some are desperately trying to distance themselves from Minassian - although others are undermining that message somewhat by excusing or defending the attack.

But there is a significant overlap between incel culture and the alt-right - that amorphous group of white nationalists, anti-feminists and opponents of political correctness that came to prominence during the 2016 US presidential election and banded together in support of Donald Trump.


For starters, take language. Incels use the same mix of detached irony and sincere anger and throw around insults like “cuck” and “normie” just as often as any maladjusted alt-right foot soldier. But in addition to those false dichotomies so beloved by alt-righters (“red pill”/”blue pill” “alpha/beta”), the Incels are particularly partial to the nihilistic “black pill” – the idea that the whole game of sex and attraction is rigged from birth. Their simplistic flawed logic goes something like this:

a) looks are genetically determined

b) looks are the primary (or only) determinant of sexual success, so

c) If you weren’t born with the right genes, you won’t ever get laid.

This kind of determinism is imported directly from the alt-right, who use it in their arguments about race, IQ and social outcomes. Where alt-righters brandish junk science to argue in favour of ethnic nationstates, incels blast out their own style of inchoate anger in all directions: against women, other men, society, normies, Tinder, or whatever random thing pissed them off that day.

Viewing their situation as genetic and unalterable makes incels prone to another alt-right vice: constant bleating about supposed victimhood. In forum posts and in personal messages I’ve exchanged with incels since the Toronto attack, they compare their plight to those who have medical conditions or who are members of minority groups

The “Muslims are treated better than incels” meme is a particularly common one. And one that can be utterly baffling unless you buy into incel logic. The argument goes something like this.


At least, incels say, a person has some sort of choice over whether to practice Islam or not. But they themselves had no choice about their incel status – having lost the genetic lottery, from birth they were condemned to a life without sex.

Young men who fall into the rabbit holes of incel message boards might find themselves reading about familiar experiences of dating failure and sexual inexperience, but once there they hang out for a while and start contributing, they soon find themselves vigorously policed by more established members. Incels wallow in their own inceldom, but the goal is rarely to break out of it (because, again, the accepted groupthink says it’s a genetic condition). If you actually manage to have sex with a woman, you’re branded a “fakecel.”

With no coherent goals, a toxic online “support system,” and a permanent sense of grievance, it’s no surprise blackpilled incels type out things like (as one deleted post read): “hopefully somebody finally uses a fucking truck to just ram down roasties during a school parade or something.” (“Roasties” being a charming incel term for female genetalia.)

In large part because he was captured alive, we’ll surely hear more about Minassian’s specific grievances and the chain of events which led to the attack in Toronto. But we don’t need to wait for a trial to realize that incels are drinking from the same deep well of hatred that the alt-right has tapped into.

It’s been four years since Elliot Rodger’s rampage, and since then men with ties to a number of the amorphous constituencies – meninists, culture warriors, well-dressed neo-Nazis – that share alt-right ideas have been responsible for a litany of murders, shootings and stabbings.

The radicalising power of these extreme forums shouldn’t surprise anyone. The Toronto suspect wasn’t the first to apparently be influenced by this toxic online stew. He also won’t be the last.

Mike Wendling is editor of the BBC’s in-depth social media investigative unit, BBC Trending, and author of Alt-Right: From 4chan to the White House, published in Canada by Fernwood.