On April 24, minutes before the Toronto van attacker plowed his van into a busy pedestrian street in Toronto, killing 10 and wounding at least 13—predominantly women—the 25-year-old posted an explanation of sorts on Facebook: “Private (Recruit) Minassian Infantry 00010, wishing to speak to Sgt 4chan please. C23249161. The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”1 

The “supreme gentleman” that he saluted, was the notorious mass killer who in May 2014 stabbed his male roommates to death then set out to “slaughter” women at “the hottest sorority house” at the University of California, Santa Barbara.2 When the Santa Barbara perpetrator, then 22, failed to gain entrance to the sorority, he opened fire outside, killing two women from another sorority as well as a male bystander soon after. As an active member of the online community of “incels”—a term used in male supremacist forums to describe “involuntarily celibate” (heterosexual) men who say they’re unable to attract women for sex or relationships—he claimed in an approximately 140-page manifesto that one girl going on a date with him could have prevented this massacre.3

“Aggrieved entitlement” is at play not only in explicitly misogynist attacks, but also in White supremacist groups, which tell White men that they have been unfairly deprived of their rightful place in society.

Under the male supremacist framework the Santa Barbara perpetrator had subscribed to, he believed that he was entitled to sex, and women en masse deserved death for his deprivation. Sociologist Michael Kimmel, who studies masculinities, argues that this concept of “aggrieved entitlement” explains the motivations behind disproportionately male-perpetrated mass killings and everyday violence against women.4 

Aggrieved entitlement, Kimmel writes, is a belief by men “that they are entitled to certain things—power, wealth, sex—and that they are entitled to use violence to restore what they believe is rightfully theirs.” Kimmel sees this perception at play not only in explicitly misogynist attacks, but also in White supremacist groups, which tell White men that they have been unfairly deprived of their rightful place in society. According to Kimmel, entitled killers need “to believe that they were justified, that their murderous rampage was legitimate.”5

In a YouTube video the Santa Barbara perpetrator posted describing his plans, he laid out the twisted logic under which he sought “retribution.” “It’s an injustice, a crime because I don’t know what you don’t see in me,” he said. “I’m the perfect guy and yet you throw yourselves at all these obnoxious men instead of me, the supreme gentleman.”6

The Santa Barbara perpetrator was hardly the first man in the United States or Canada to commit mass violence against women because of his sense of aggrieved entitlement. In 1989, the 25-year-old Montreal mass shooter killed 14 female engineering students at École Polytechnique in Montreal (which had rejected his application), leaving a note declaring, “I have decided to send the feminists, who have always ruined my life, to their Maker.”However, the Santa Barbara perpetrator’s attack was distinguished by his known connections to male supremacist online forums. He frequented r/ForeverAlone, a subreddit forum for incels, and r/TheRedPill, a forum founded in 2012 at the intersection of the existing Men’s Rights Activist (MRA) and Pickup Artist (PUA) or “seduction” communities.8 MRAs claim that men are oppressed by feminist society, venturing into conspiratorial thinking. Pickup artists teach men “game”: tips and strategies for picking up women that include demeaning and “negging” them, and advocate techniques that frequently amount to rape.9 While little studied before the shootings, in 2014, misogynist online Reddit forums ranged from 30,000 subscribers (r/ForeverAlone) to almost 200,000 (r/seduction); today, r/TheRedPill is one of the largest, with over 250,000 subscribers.

The Santa Barbara perpetrator also posted regularly on PUAhate.com—a messaging board for failed pickup artists—which he credited with confirming “many of the theories I had about how wicked and degenerate women really are.”10 (After his attack, PUAhate was renamed Sluthate, a change viewed as seeking to avoid the spotlight the Santa Barbara perpetrator put on the website; however, it also shifted focus from railing against PUA lessons to simply hating sexually active women.) His posts included a rallying cry to fellow incels: “If we can’t solve our problems we must DESTROY our problems…One day incels will realize their true strength and numbers, and will overthrow this oppressive feminist system.”11

A similar revenge fantasy has been referred to on 4chan—an online forum that has become a major gathering place for the growing Alt Right umbrella of White and male supremacists—as the “beta uprising.”

Since 2011, a similar revenge fantasy has been referred to on 4chan—an online forum that has become a major gathering place for the growing Alt Right umbrella of White and male supremacists, and to which the Toronto van attacker pretended to be reporting in his Facebook post—as the “beta uprising.”12 Some incels admiringly also use the phrases “going ER”—referring to the Santa Barbara perpetrator—or “going Sodini” (the latter of which was coined after another aggrieved, sexually inactive man, opened fire in 2009 at a fitness class full of women, killing three and leaving a year’s worth of sporadic online journal entries describing his motivations13). The 26-year-old who killed nine people at Umpqua Community College in Oregon in 2015, referenced the Santa Barbara perpetrator in what the Los Angeles Times described as “a script of his life to convince the public and media that the killings were the result of his mistreatment by others, and that he was merely seeking revenge.”14

Though aiming most of his vitriol at women, the Santa Barbara perpetrator also seethed at “all of you sexually active men”—voicing a resentment characteristic of the incel community. Online incel and Alt Right forums refer, as the Toronto van attacker demonstrated in his Facebook post, to sexually successful White men as “Chads,” and to their attractive (and for an incel, unattainable) White female counterparts as “Stacys,” or to both as “normies.” The Santa Barbara perpetrator’s resentment wasn’t only directed at White men, however; he was also deeply infuriated by Asian and Black men who attracted White women. Though himself biracial—with a White father and Asian mother—he viewed his Whiteness as superior. Similarly, the Umpqua college shooter, also biracial, condemned Black men as “vile” (exempting himself because only his mother, not his father, was Black) and wrote that he “fully agree[d]” with the Santa Barbara perpetrator’s position.15

In October 2017, incel commenters applauded the mass shooter who killed 58 people in Las Vegas at a music festival, for his successful massacre of such “normies.” Despite the fact that the Las Vegas shooter had a live-in girlfriend, incel supporters saw him as one of their own, identifying with the “despondent rage” and “alienation” of mass shooters, who were portrayed as the “real victims.”16

Even those members of the MRA landscape who don’t commend the violence of shooters like the Santa Barbara perpetrator or the Toronto van attacker still support their sense of being aggrieved. Daryush Valizadeh (“Roosh V.”), a PUA leader who founded the site Return of Kings (recently designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center 17), did not explicitly endorse the Santa Barbara perpetrator’s attack, but blamed progressive organizations like SPLC for the killings and warned that until “beta” men have accessible ways to have sex with women—such as legalizing prostitution or teaching “game”—“these massacres will be more commonplace as America’s cultural decline continues.”18 After this April’s Toronto attack, Roosh V. spouted the same line of blame, tweeting, “[The Toronto van attacker] wouldn’t have killed people with a van if the media had not inoculated him and other lonely men against effective game teachers like myself. Sleeping with only two or three Toronto Tinder sluts would have been enough to stop his urge to kill.”19

Though incels have generally been associated with pickup artists—or failed PUAs—developments in recent years suggest that the incel community should be analyzed as a distinct identity within the overlapping spheres of male supremacist mobilizations. From mid-2016 to November 2017, a new misogynist forum, r/Incels, grew rapidly to some 40,000 subscribers before getting banned. While support for violence is an unaddressed problem across male supremacist forums, other misogynist subreddits have been more circumspect than r/Incels with regards to overt glorification of mass killers.20Reddit, which has long permitted hateful content under the guise of free speech, announced in late October 2017 that going forward the site would “take action against any content that encourages, glorifies, incites, or calls for violence or physical harm against an individual or a group of people.”21 This resulted in the prompt banning of White supremacist and neonazi forums, including r/NationalSocialism, r/Nazi, r/DylannRoofInnocent, r/EuropeanNationalism, r/KillTheJews, and r/Far_Right. Two weeks later, r/Incels went the way of these racist and antisemitic forums.22

However, other forums, on Reddit and off, continue to propagate incel ideology. This latest act of mass violence explicitly referencing incels and hailing the Santa Barbara perpetrator speaks to the importance of paying greater attention to the threat posed by this community.

This commentary was originally published by Political Research Associates on May 16, 2018. This article has been edited from its original version to meet the No Notoriety campaign’s recommendation not to give a spotlight to perpetrators of mass violence.

Endnotes

  1. “Facebook post linked to Toronto van attack points to insular, misogynistic world of ‘incels’,” CBC News, April 25, 2018, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/what-is-an-incel-toronto-van-attack-expla…. Also see: Dan Bilefsky and Ian Austen, “Toronto Van Attack Suspect Expressed Anger at Women,” The New York Times, April 24, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/24/world/canada/toronto-van-rampage.html.
  2. Megan Garvey, “Transcript of the disturbing video ‘Elliot Rodger’s Retribution,” Los Angeles Times, May 24, 2014, http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-transcript-ucsb-shootings-v….
  3. Elliot Rodger, “My Twisted World: The Story of Elliot Rodger,” May 25, 2014, https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/1173808/elliot-rodger-manife….
  4. Michael Kimmel, “The Aggrieved Entitlement of Elliot Rodger,” The Shriver Report, June 2, 2014, http://shriverreport.org/the-aggrieved-entitlement-of-elliot-rodger/.
  5. Michael Kimmel, Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era, (New York: PublicAffairs, 2017).
  6. Megan Garvey, “Transcript of the disturbing video ‘Elliot Rodger’s Retribution,” Los Angeles Times, May 24, 2014, http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-transcript-ucsb-shootings-v….
  7. Julie Bindel, “The Montreal massacre: Canada’s feminists remember,” The Guardian, December 3, 2012, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/dec/03/montreal-massacre-canadas….
  8. Angela Nagle, “The New Man of 4chan,” The Baffler, March 2016, https://thebaffler.com/salvos/new-man-4chan-nagle.
  9. Brandy Zadrozny, “The Secret World of Pickup Artist Julien Blanc,” Daily Beast, December 1, 2014, https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-secret-world-of-pickup-artist-julien-….
  10. Nicky Woolf, “‘PUAhate’ and ‘ForeverAlone’: inside Elliot Rodger’s online life,” The Guardian, May 30, 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/30/elliot-rodger-puahate-for….
  11. Josh Glasstetter, “Shooting Suspect Elliot Rodger’s Misogynistic Posts Point to Motive,” Southern Poverty Law Center, May 23, 2014, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2014/05/23/shooting-suspect-elliot-….
  12. Robyn Pennacchia, “‘Beta Males’ Want To Kill Women Because They Can’t Get Laid,” BUST Magazine, February/March 2016, http://bust.com/feminism/15551-mo-beta-blues.html.
  13. “Full Text of Gym Killer’s Blog,” New York Post, August 5, 2009, https://nypost.com/2009/08/05/full-text-of-gym-killers-blog/.
  14. Rick Anderson, “‘Here I am, 26, with no friends, no job, no girlfriend’: Shooter’s manifesto offers clues to 2015 Oregon college rampage,” Los Angeles Times, September 23, 2017, http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-school-shootings-2017-story.html.
  15. “Shooter’s Manifesto,” contributed by John Heasly, The Register Guard, https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3989824.
  16. “I am only interested in mass shooters not the victims,” r/Incels, 4 October, 2017, http://web.archive.org/web/20171004024818/https:/www.reddit.com/r/Incel….
  17. “Male Supremacy,” Southern Poverty Law Center, https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/ideology/male-s….
  18. Roosh Valizadeh, “No One Would Have Died if PUAhate Killer Elliot Rodger Learned Game,” Return of Kings, May 25, 2014, http://www.returnofkings.com/36135/no-one-would-have-died-if-pua-hate-k….
  19. Daryush Valizadeh (@rooshv), “Alek Minnasian wouldn’t have killed people with a van if the media had not inoculated him and other lonely men against effective game teachers like myself. Sleeping with only two or three Toronto Tinder sluts would have been enough to stop his urge to kill,” Twitter post, April 24, 2018, https://twitter.com/rooshv/status/988877994650427392.
  20. “I am only interested in mass shooters not the victims,” r/Incels, 4 October, 2017, http://web.archive.org/web/20171004024818/https:/www.reddit.com/r/Incel….
  21. u/landoflobsters, “Update on site-wide rules regarding violent content,” Reddit, October 25, 2017, https://www.reddit.com/r/modnews/comments/78p7bz/update_on_sitewide_rul….
  22. Bryan Menegus, “Nazi Groups Kicked Off Reddit as Next Wave of Community Bans Begins [Update],” Gizmodo, October 25, 2017, https://gizmodo.com/reddits-next-wave-of-community-bans-starts-today-18…. Also see: Adi Robertson, “Reddit bans Nazi boards in crackdown on ‘violent’ content,” The Verge, October 25, 2017, https://www.theverge.com/2017/10/25/16548958/reddit-ban-nazi-subreddit-…