Alek Minassian, 25, was charged with first degree murder in the deaths of 10 pedestrians after he plowed through a walkway. Most of his victims were women. While authorities have not yet announced a motive, police said Minassian posted a “cryptic” message on Facebook indicating he was a part of the “incel” community, or an online group of “involuntary celibate” men who blame women for rejecting them.
In his post, Minassian praised Elliot Rodger, the man who killed six students and wounded 14 in a 2014 attack near the University of California, Santa Barbara.
“The Incel Rebellion has already begun,” Minassian wrote in a since-deleted Facebook post. “We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”
It is not immediately clear if Minassian posted on internet incel forums or what his motive for the attack was. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks the community of “involuntary celibates” as part of its watch on male supremacists, says the group looks at punishing women who reject them sexually or romantically as an act of heroism.
“They’re being supposed gentlemen, and feel they should be rewarded for it,” says Eric Mankowski, a psychology professor at Portland State University. “When they perceive they are not being rewarded, they resort to a violent response to gain back what they think they are entitled to.”
Here’s what to know about the term “incel” and the community it attracts.
What are incels?
“Incels” or “involuntary celibates” are misogynistic men who, feeling overlooked, invisible and disrespected, blame women for their lack of success in the bedroom, often resorting to violent and dehumanizing language, according to Mankowski. In their world, “Chads” are men who find success with women, while “Stacys” are the women who reject incels.
Almost any man raised in contemporary society, where traditional definitions of masculinity still rule, is susceptible to being drawn into online incel communities, Mankowski says.
“I don’t think it’s a question of a particular rare bad apple, but it’s really a question of: Why are we socializing boys and men to have ways of being and beliefs that are associated with acts of mass violence?”
The “incel rebellion” mentioned by Minassian refers to discussions among incels about an uprising led by “beta” males to take over feminism’s oppressive control, the New York Times reports.
How has misogyny driven other instances of mass violence?
The attack by Minassian and his salute to Elliot Rodger immediately recalls the Isla Vista killings, in which the 22-year-old Rodger killed six people — three men in his apartment and three women outside a sorority house — and injured 14 others in May 2014. Rodger carried out his attack through stabbing, shooting and running people down in a vehicle. He was then found dead in his car with a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Before carrying out the attack, Rodger uploaded a video to YouTube raging against women from a local sorority who he felt had rejected him, thus leaving him a virgin.
“Tomorrow is the day of retribution for the last eight years of my life, ever since I’ve hit puberty, I’ve been forced to endure and existence of loneliness, rejection, and unfulfilled desires … I don’t know why you girls are not attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it,” Rodger said in the video, which YouTube later took down.
Rodger, who referred to himself as an incel, detailed the plans for his attack in a lengthy, rambling manifesto, which, along with numerous Facebook posts, a blog and other videos, revealed his hatred for women and anger at seeing other couples interact with each other.
The deadly van attack on Monday also recalls a misogyny-fueled massacre in 1989, when the 25-year-old Marc Lepine killed 14 women in a classroom at the Ecole Polytechnique engineering college in Montreal after asking all the men in the room to leave. Lepine shot the women before killing himself, saying in a suicide note that feminists had ruined his life.
Other attacks that resulted in mass casualties have also been linked to violence against women. Most mass shootings between 2009 and 2016 had to do with domestic and family cases, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun-violence prevention group. In 54% of incidents where four or more people were killed with a gun, an intimate partner or family member was a victim. And of 46 public mass shootings since 2009, 33% of the shooters had a history of violent behavior toward women, according to a TIME analysis of Everytown data.
Mankowski says the general conversation about masculinity and violence needs to shift. When white men are found to be behind mass attacks, the reigning narrative focuses on their mental health problems, substance abuse issues or their romantic entanglements, rather than on the messaging boys and men receive about how to respond to their issues. Women, Mankowski notes, also suffer from mental health problems and romantic rejection and abuse substances, but it’s almost “unheard of that they would commit mass violence,” he says.
“The long-term strategy is examining the implied and taught messages on how to be men — they comply with these messages about manhood because there’s privilege and status and benefits that you garner if you perform the role as it’s being taught,” he says. “Incel is saying, ‘I’m doing the role and not getting the benefits, and I’m particularly likely to respond with violence.’”
How have self-described incels reacted to the Toronto van attack?
Incels gather online in spaces like 4chan, an anonymous message board, after Reddit banned the community. While administrators of websites like incel.me have condemned the attack, many online users have heralded Minassian and condoned violence against women. Incels also valorize Rodgers and have also commended Nikolas Cruz, the suspect charged in the killing of 17 people in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February.
“The constant torture that society puts us through every single day brews rightful hatred in our minds,” reads one message posted on an Incel group on Wednesday. “That is what happens when a man is put through so much bullying, ostracization, and persecution throughout his life.”