Incel Terrorism – a Tactic to Win the Hearts of Women?

4 mins read

By Viktor Andersson & Lydia Johansson Malm

Toronto, April 23 2018. A man drives a van into a crowd, killing 10 and injuring 16. What was it that actually happened this gruesome spring day almost 2 years ago? To keep it short, it can be said that the white privileged yet somehow offended male happened. We have met him before and with almost all certainty we will see him again. Even though he takes a different form each time, the red flags are all too similar. This time he took the shape of Alek Minassian. Minassian himself was inspired by another privileged man, Elliot Rodger. Rodger was responsible for the 2014 Isla Vista killings, where six were killed and 14 injured. What was it that drove these two men to their violent killings? What did they have in common? Well, they both identified as “incels”.  

Involuntary celibacy, or incel as it is usually called nowadays, is a rapid growing internet-based culture where misogyny, vengeance and discontent all meet. Originally it can be said that the incel-culture was a venue for people with perceptions of being unattractive and not being able to find a sexual partner due to current norms in society. This has however been transformed to an identity, represented by resentful men who are furious at women for not wanting to pursue relationships with them. Incels are not a clear cut organization or movement, and are also not driven by a specific ideology that would unite all incels. This cluster has during the 21st century transformed into a platform for expression of misogynistic ideas, and is almost exclusively consisting of heterosexual males. That is because no women are allowed to express themselves on these forums. Swedish newspaper ETC interviewed Frida, who identifies as an incel. But when she tries to share her experiences in incel groups, she is met with nothing but hate. What does she know about involuntary celibacy? Women are apparently always seen as the enemies, even when they share the same feeling of loneliness and alienation. They cannot possibly be real incels, can they? Frida ends her interview by saying that she is not mad at the men who won’t date her. Why? Because she understands that she cannot demand of someone to want her. 

The current, and continuously evolving internet-culture is leaving a trail of violence behind in society, as demonstrated by the terrorist acts perpetrated by Minassian and Rodger. It is estimated that 50 people have been killed in the name of involuntary celibacy in North America since 2009, not counting suicide. What is it then that draws people to the incel-community? And what is it that causes some people in this movement to commit violent actions? Are there aspects in today’s society that enable this transformation? Totalförsvarets forskningsinstitut has in a recent study looked at different major incels internet forums. These websites had mostly an American user base. However, they found that in terms of population, there were actually more Swedes than Americans who were active members on the forums. Why does Sweden seem to be a Mecca for misogynistic men? The websites describe Sweden as a land which is “cucked”. Swedish men are viewed as weak, allowing themselves to be dominated by feminist women. Immigration is also seen as a threat, as foreign men spoil “the dating market” for ethnic Swedish men.  

In the aftermath of Minassian’s attack, newspapers all over the world started asking the questions: Are incels the new terrorist threat? Should incels be treated as terrorists? Well, maybe. Elliot Rodger aspired with his shootings to start a mass movement. The goal was to kill as many women as possible. And the problem might be even more local than it seems. Anneli Häyrén, researcher in gender studies at Uppsala Universitet, has talked openly about the threats she is facing when holding lectures on the subject of gender. A guard is always standing ready by the door when Häyrén is holding an open lecture. Gender research is a subject that seems to provoke many, she says. Between 2004 and 2010, the threats would range from telephone calls to people actually carrying weapons. Today, the perpetrators act through their preferred way of communication: the internet. In an attempt to silence researchers, their names and contact information is shared on misogynistic forums, together with urgings to mock and silence said researchers. 

The Texas Department of Public Safety did express a note of warning regarding the new incel movement in January this year, that it is a growing threat to be reckoned with. Säpo has in Sweden expressed similar concern on this matter. The key subject for this warning is the possible escalation into violence. This perceived “incel-movement” is showing signs of radicalization, but at the same time, the individuals planning for violence are difficult to stop in time. In both the Swedish and American context it is clear that we have just seen the start of the incel culture. There have been around 10 deadly attacks worldwide perpetrated by individuals that to some degree have been nurtured by incel ideas. However, it is important to note the fact that there are no statistics over the amount of suicides, rapes and other sexual violence connected to incels. The question then arises, what can society do about this? One obvious answer is that more research is needed on the phenomenon. Gender research as a whole requires more exploration, but especially in relation to the incel aspect of it. It is also appropriate to mention that much of the incel development is not happening in a vacuum, and increased focus can be said to be needed on the platforms where these misogynistic and hostile ideas are growing. 

Toronto, April 23 2018. Minassian drives a van into a crowd, killing 10. He is motivated by a desire to kill and punish, after having been rejected by all women. Is he a standard-bearer for a new wave of terrorism to come? Or just a sad man, standing in front of unwilling women, demanding them to love him?

Illustration: Smilla Lind

Viktor Andersson is studying the bachelor program in Peace and Development. His favorite things include Lydia, liquorice, lasagna, llamas and Lisztomania. His best vacation memory was spending four awesome nights on a raft in Värmland.

Lydia Johansson Malm is a student of the Peace and Development Bachelor Program. She likes all things country, Christmas, cleaning and cold brew. Her worst vacation ever consisted of four awful nights on a raft in Värmland.

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