In the wake of a brutal attack on a mother and her infant, which has been linked to a notorious group of online misogynists, some experts are now cautioning against applying the "incel" label too broadly.
Self-described incel Alexander Stavropoulos attacked an 8-month-old baby after stabbing her mother several times in a Sudbury, Ontario parking lot last summer. He pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted murder and one count of breach of probation on January 13. Stavropoulus, 26, told police he was “out to murder a little white girl” and that he was frustrated with white women who won’t have sex with him.
Typically, incels or “involuntary celibates,” are united by their lack of romantic or sexual companionship and hatred towards women.
However, researchers who study incel behaviour said it’s unusual that Stavropoulos targeted a child and that, despite his claims, his misogynistic behaviour may not be part of a larger movement. Attributing his behaviour to being an incel can distract from the specificity of his actions and galvanize other incels, they said.
According to an agreed statement of facts, Stavropoulos, waited outside of the Michael’s craft store on Marcus Drive in Sudbury on June 3, 2019, where he eventually spotted the 35-year-old mother as she left the store with her two daughters. Stavropoulos followed the trio through the parking lot to their vehicle before stabbing the mom with two utility knives purchased from a Home Depot. Then, he tried to stab the 8-month-old girl, according to CBC News.
A witness, Brent Holder, told Sudbury.com that he chased Stavropoulos, who slashed his own throat and dropped to his knees. Holder held Stavropoulos down and called 911.
Stavropoulus didn’t know the victims but told police he was frustrated with white women who won’t have sex with him and wanted to “murder a little white girl.”
"I couldn't get laid, so I just wanted to kill for some reason," he told police in his interview, CBC News reported. "It could be a lot of things."
Shannon Zimmerman, a research fellow at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, said Stavropoulus is the first incel she’s heard of that’s gone after a child.
She said Stavropoulos has not ascribed his previous crimes to being an incel, likely holds other extremist views, and didn’t use “incel lingo” (“Stacy” and “Chad” are incel terms for attractive women and men) when talking with police.
“He identifies as an incel, but I don't know if he’s part of an incel movement,” Zimmerman said. “He probably identifies as wanting to have a relationship and can’t, but he doesnt fit into the incel identity.”
According to Zimmerman, a broad application of the incel label risks over-simplifying a person’s oft-complex motivation for committing violence. Plus, she says, the term emphasizes “sex and sexual desire” rather than the underpinning motivation, which “is that these men hate women.”
Defining incels isn’t easy because public discussion around them is relatively new, professor of sociology at the University of Toronto, Jooyoung Lee, told VICE.
“People can be an incel and not necessarily use that lingo, but still espouse some of the same views.”
Lee believes an assault on a baby can still represent an attack on an adult woman.
“The baby represents the person the mother loves most in the world,” Lee said. “And he confessed that he was motivated because of his sexual frustration and misplaced anger towards women in general.”
Lee said the more attention incels receive, the more others will copycat violent behaviour.
“[The attention] frames what they’ve done and who they are as part of something larger than themselves,” Lee said.
The loneliness and isolation incels feel can morph into entitlement to and violence against women’s bodies, he said, so young men who empathize with notorious incels—like Toronto van attack driver Alek Minassian and mass murderer Elliot Rodger—can be spurred to action too.
“Part of that is hitching yourself to somebody who may have inspired you to kind of be like them,” Lee said. “Another part of it is to bask in the infamy and notoriety of someone who has killed and is part of the larger incel cause.”
Stavropoulos targeted the baby girl about a year after Minassian rented a van and drove it into a crowd of pedestrians in Toronto. Stavropoulos told police the incident, which killed 10 people, inspired his actions.
But Stavropoulos didn’t identify as an incel when he committed a previous crime—a fact Zimmerman said also raises suspicions about his incel affiliation.
Stavropoulos was prohibited from wielding knives following an attack in April 2018 during which he drew a knife at the Sudbury Transit Terminal and directed it at police. Officers shot at Stavropoulos five or six times, inadvertently injuring a transit employee. Two bullets hit Stavropoulos’ leg and took him down. According to news reports, Stavropoulos yelled, “white power,” during the ordeal. He was sentenced to time served plus two years probation, citing weed-induced psychosis and depression as the cause for his behaviour.
“The thing about misogyny is it runs a thread through many different extremisms, including among incels but also with alt-right ideology,” Zimmerman said.
It’s important to note that incels can express deeply racist views as well, Lee added. “You have incels saying, ‘The worst part about being rejected is that she’s dating an Asian guy or a Black guy or a Latino guy.’”
Lee and Zimmerman urged people to keep in mind that while incels often represent the most violent manifestation of toxic masculinity, everyone is at risk of holding latent misogynistic views.
“Most men will not go out and commit this kind of violence, but there are more and more reports about how rampant sexual violence is at college campuses, on public transit,” Lee said. “So the belief that women’s bodies are for men is not unique to incels.”
Stavropoulos will be back in video remand court on January 23. He’s facing a Dangerous Offender registry ruling, which could result in an indefinite prison sentence.
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