Calling Incels Terrorists is Good for Feminists
But it’s not clear how it will help anyone else
On February 24, 2020, Canada’s first officially-designated act of “incel terrorism” (terrorism motivated by “incel ideology”) took place in Toronto. On that day, a teenager armed with a 24-inch sword entered a North York erotic massage parlor with the intention, he later said, to murder everyone inside. He stabbed one woman to death and then fought with the massage parlor owner, injuring her arm and finger before she managed to disarm and stab him with his weapon. The killer has not been named because he was only 17 years old at the time of the attack.
Earlier this month, in what CTV news dubbed a “historical [sic] decision,” the judge in the case agreed with the Canadian RCMP (Canada’s national police force) and prosecutor that the murder and attempted murder were terrorism-related. The decision drew on the earlier designation by CSIS (the Canadian Security Intelligence Service) of incel ideology as “a type of ideologically motivated violent extremism.” The killer, who pled guilty to the charges, now awaits his sentence.
The crime seems, according to reports, an open-and-shut case of what feminists have been warning about for years: a young man acting out the misogynistic incel ideology he has learned online. It has been repeatedly noted that the man’s sword was engraved with the words thot slayer, and a note on his body read “Long live the rebellion of the incels” (this latter a homage to Toronto van-killer Alek Minassian, who in April of 2018 had used a rented van to run people down on a busy sidewalk, killing 10 and wounding 16, after announcing on his Facebook page that “The Incel Rebellion has already begun!”). The massage parlor killer said he was an incel, an involuntary celibate, and police reportedly found incel-related web searches on his computer.
But that’s all the newspapers are saying, and a great deal has been left out. To my knowledge, there has been no discussion about the killer’s specific motivations or planning process. It’s never been explained why he chose the massage parlor, whether he had ever visited it before, and whether he knew anyone who worked there. Some reports say the murdered woman was a “sex worker” denigrated with sexual slurs during the attack; others say she was a “receptionist” and that the killer was silent. We don’t know where he got the sword (sometimes referred to as a machete) or how long he’d had it. It doesn’t appear he knew the murdered woman, but that’s never been confirmed. Nothing has been said about how he planned the attack, whether he discussed it online, or whether he got the idea from any incel forum. We know nothing about the intensity of his involvement in incel communities or whether he had ever expressed an interest in violence. Because none of these has been mentioned in the news, it seems that whatever is known, if anything, may not fit the incel narrative.
The reality is that just because someone identifies as an incel and fantasizes about killing thots does not mean he was radicalized by online forums or possesses an actual ideology. Involuntary celibacy is not an ideologically-inspired movement in the same way that eco-terrorism, for example, obviously is. Incel is a life circumstance experienced by a large and extremely diverse group that holds no common political philosophy or worldview. Feminist dogma claiming incel to be a “far-right movement” characterized by hyper-masculinity and the conviction that women owe men sex are based on no empirical data and tell us far more about decades-old feminist talking points than about the thousands of men who hate their celibate lives but will never commit violence.
It's hard not to conclude that the swiftness with which incel ideology was deemed “violent extremism” was influenced more by oft-reiterated feminist dogma than extensive research, and it’s not at all clear that designating incel attacks as terrorism (see especially section 83.01(b) of the Canadian Criminal Code) will assist law enforcement in preventing future violence.
It has been one of the tactical successes of feminism to define “male violence against women” as fundamentally different from and far more worthy of condemnation than other types of violence. Male violence against women is allegedly distinguished by a unique sexual contempt and “entitlement” never seen, for example, in women’s violence against men. Favored terms such as femicide and gender-based violence promote the idea that masculinity always underpins heinous acts, while the Duluth model of Power and Control has for years provided a patina of sociological substance to the false contentions.
(That women kill men for the same reasons men kill women, their violence often rooted, like men’s, in mental illness, addiction, and childhood abuse, has not thus far demonstrably weakened the zeal with which governments and law enforcement bodies enshrine anti-male assumptions.)
Designating incel violence as terrorism justifies imposing a harsher sentence on the then-under-age killer than he might otherwise have received. It frames his crime in an overtly political and inflammatory context that will set a significant precedent. It provides police and other authorities with a rationale for treating all incels—or even all members of the anti-feminist manosphere—as potential terrorists, including, one presumes, with increased surveillance capability. The general public will now have even less interest than they already do in seeing non-violent incels as suffering individuals worthy of empathy.
Incel ideology—if it is an ideology—is quite unlike terrorist ideology. While terrorists tend to have explicit political objectives, incels do not. A terrorist has chosen to ally himself to a particular cause, whether promoting the Caliphate or defeating the oil industry. An incel does not have a cause; he believes his life has been made wretched by his inability to find a girlfriend. If he decides to commit an act of violence—extremely rare—it is not clear that his action is intended to intimidate or create terror.
Incels visit online forums to relieve the isolation, rage, and self-loathing that have come to define their lives, not to learn techniques for bomb-making, public confrontations, arson, or industrial sabotage. The forums are places where unacceptable beliefs about the cruelty and superficiality of women as well as the misery of being undesired can be fully expressed without censure or mockery. Nowhere else, certainly not in most therapists’ offices, confessionals, or any other type of community forum, can such ugly thoughts, self-pitying and enraged, be shared. Having their forums designated as incubators of terrorism will understandably strengthen incels’ sense of alienation and their belief that they are victims of a culture that is overtly hostile to unwanted men.
In a paper published by the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism, six researchers investigated incel responses to their labeling as extremists. The responses were obtained from a survey completed by 427 members of incels.co, which asked how the Covid-19 quarantine and terrorism designation affected members’ isolation and/or sense of resentment. The results showed that while neither quarantine nor the terrorism charge significantly increased isolation, and while quarantine did not heighten resentment, "over half (50.8%) of respondents reported that the terrorism charges enhanced resentment.” As the researchers conclude, such a finding “suggests the need to explore the potential effects of public stigmatization and social exclusion on the incel community.”
It is already known amongst counter-terrorism experts that “Exclusion from society has been demonstrated to have a radicalizing effect; increasing rates of exclusion can push those on a radicalized trajectory to more readily and willingly use violence.” The perceptive responses of many members of incels.co are well worth reading. Many focused on their sense of unjust stigmatization and the likely increase in stigma in the coming years. Here are a few:
“It hurts me intellectually that incels are seriously designated a ‘terrorist’ organization. We’re a bunch of sexless men, there is nothing political about being unable to get laid.”
“It makes me afraid to be honest about my inceldom and feelings to people, so there are less people I can feel truly connected with.”
“I have the right to be upset and angry, and I have the right to vent my frustration on the internet freely and anonymously, and I should have that right without being labeled a terrorist.”
“As media demonizes incels further and further, normies will start to treat us even worse. Not only that, but I can see all kinds of bad consequences happening to someone who has been outed as an incel in the future.”
The responses highlight many problems with the terrorism designation: that incel is not a political ideology; that the terror designation will make it even more difficult for incels to talk to people; that the designation threatens to erode incels’ free speech rights; and that it may also compromise employment and other forms of personal security.
The researchers also raise doubts about the standard claim that incels become radicalized as a result of participating in online chat groups; they point out that van-killer Alek Minassian “began fantasizing about conducting a school shooting long before he knew of the incel community” and “later told a psychiatrist that reading hateful comments about women on the internet made him feel better, but that he only passively read incel commentary online and did not actively engage with the community.” Not only was Minassian not prompted to violence by incel forums, as is commonly assumed, but actively venting his anger might possibly have prevented his attack.
None of that can be known for sure until further research is carried out; but for now, it won’t be. It runs counter to the feminist thesis that men kill women to enforce their power. In the feminist narrative, incels are not so much despairing and alienated as all-too-typically entitled, convinced that women owe them love and sex. What needs to be made crystal clear to them, according to feminist commentators, is that women owe them nothing. When they accept that—accept their anguish, loneliness, hopelessness, unmet sexual needs, and status as grotesque untouchables—feminist ideologues may feel satisfied. When incels surrender even their right to gripe with other men online, feminists will undoubtedly feel even better. Mitigating incel violence, one suspects, is not their real concern.
Feminists have long wanted an excuse to outlaw all criticism of feminism and women. With the incel terrorism designation, they’ve advanced a step closer to that goal.