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How the incel community is reckoning with the Toronto van attack

Alek Minassian has drawn praise and condemnation from involuntary celibate men after allegedly killing ten people.

by Rachel Browne and Vanmala Subramaniam
Apr 25 2018, 9:59pm

The day after the van attack on a busy Toronto street that left 10 people dead and 14 others injured, a group of men who call themselves “incels” livestreamed their thoughts about the incident and alleged attacker Alek Minassian, who has been linked to their anti-feminist worldview.

“We’re going to take some time to address the Toronto attack,” host Jack Peterson begins in the third and latest episode of his show, which is described as a podcast by and for incels — short for “involuntary celibates.” As of this writing, Peterson’s YouTube post has over 1,200 views.

Self-identified “incels” are men who espouse misogyny and blame women for their celibacy and constant rejection. They congregate on sites such as 4chan, Reddit, and incels.me.

Incels drew little mainstream attention for years until this week, after 25-year-old Minassian appeared to have posted a message on his Facebook page minutes before the attack invoking “The Incel Rebellion” and praising Elliot Rodger, who carried out a mass killing in California in 2014 and has become an incel icon.

While many incels praised the Toronto van attack and Minassian as “our next new saint,” Peterson and his guests spent much of the show, which was posted on Tuesday, condemning the attack. Though Minassian’s links to the movement remain unclear, the incident has forced members of the community to confront calls for violence from within, and the potential for future acts of violence.

“I don’t condone violence, I don’t condone murder. I don’t support Elliot Rodger,” Peterson declares at the start of the two-hour show. “And I think that you would be misrepresenting the incel community to say that most of us feel that way.”

Nonetheless, the group has always propagated a clear hatred of women, with members often advocating for rape and other forms of physical and sexual violence.

On the show, Peterson’s co-host, who calls himself “Mahlo,” chimes in: “It’s wrong to run over people, especially if they have the right of way. Anyone out there who’s thinking of hurting other people, there are many ways to do that in a safe environment like in a boxing ring, or at a roller derby or something, or in ice hockey.”

“So you don’t have to run people over to unleash your inner incel rage. It’s not the best way to do it.”

Sympathizing with the killer

The same day the podcast was released, Seattle-based psychotherapist Sam Louie met with one of his many patients who identifies as an incel. Louie wouldn’t divulge any identifying features of this particular patient, other than the fact that he was an Asian-Canadian man in his 30s.

Alek Minassian had struck a chord with this patient who, like most of Louie’s other patients, struggles with a range of issues such as depression, social anxiety, porn addiction, low self-esteem, and self-hatred.

Out of 82 self-identified incels surveyed by researchers at Georgia State University in 2001, most were virgins who suffered from some sort of mental or physical disability like autism. Some were young single people with no diagnosed disabilities who had trouble meeting partners, and were often extremely frustrated, depressed, and angry.

“My patient brought up the killings in Toronto on his own accord,” Louie, who specialized in behavioral disorders, told VICE News in a phone interview. “He said he could sympathize with the killer.”

“He had those same thoughts of hurting and killing people in his mid-20s, before the term incel was even coined,” Louie continued. “He could be wanting to hurt people due to his own feelings of helplessness and isolation.”

The patient told Louie that if he had known about incels while he was still in college, “it would’ve been scary and who knows what I could’ve done,” according to the psychotherapist’s account.

But the patient's statement, as described by his therapist, doesn’t change anything for Louie, whose primary focus is to prevent any kind of violent fantasy from becoming reality. Louie explained that his patient now claims to be more on the “red pill side of things.” He does not want to date feminists but he “won’t go the black pill route” either.

The phrase “black pill” — used by incels, and by the broader manosphere community — is synonymous with a feeling of hopelessness or giving up because one will never be attractive to a female, regardless of extreme “pickup artist” techniques used to get laid.

“Red pill” refers to men who have had an awakening about the fact that society harshly discriminates against men, rather than women. Red pills are virulently anti-feminist, but don’t necessarily feel like they will never be desired by women. They instead choose to hate women, and in many cases remain voluntarily single.

The men on the incel podcast agreed that the van attack was a symptom of what they perceive to be a society that fosters their disenfranchisement.

“I don’t support these kind of attacks, really, but I mean, this is the result of what happens when people are ... especially young ugly dudes, are just isolated from society completely,” said another guest who called himself “Mike Pence.”

Future incel attacks

Seemingly troubled at the prospect of violence being carried out by incels, Peterson and his guests brainstormed precautions against future attacks.

“Number one really would be to legalize prostitution everywhere, no restrictions or anything,” said the guest who called himself Mike Pence, who appeared to not know that it’s legal to sell, but not purchase, sex in Canada.

“Second is just like ... give, kind of like, I guess, ugly dudes kind of like a place in society, I guess.”

“I don’t know,” he continued. “I don’t have all the answers of course, I’m low IQ, so.”

Other possible solutions provided by the guests included “forced monogamy” to “just balanc[e] out the sexual market,” but there were concerns that would make the state “really authoritarian.”

A version of legal assisted suicide was floated as another option. Doctor-assisted death is already legal in Canada for certain adult patients whose death is foreseeable.

“I’m not supporting or condoning suicide, but would prefer that to innocent people dying,” said one podcast participant.

For Louie, incels are symptomatic of the rise in the number of young men who hold deep-seated feelings of loneliness and disenfranchisement. While studies measuring the economic and social disenfranchisement of young men in North America are scarce, there is plenty of evidence charting the rise in the number of single-person households, and an increase in the number of young people who suffer from feelings of loneliness.

According to Louie, this can lead young men to angrily lash out against what they interpret as “success stories” in society — so-called “Chads” and “Staceys” who live perfect lives, date perfect people, and who will never begin to understand the struggles that they, as outcasts, go through.

“We live in a hyper-sexualized society. Perhaps even a few decades ago, if you were still a virgin in your 20s, no one was really going to make fun of you,” Louie said. “Now, if you haven’t had sex by your mid-20s or even late teens, you’re virgin-shamed and made to feel out of place and isolated.”

Isolated, that is, until self-professed incels find others who share their views online — which, as many people are learning, can have tragic consequences in the real world.