By Cerys Williams

In 2014, the world was introduced to Incels. Self-proclaimed “Incel”, 22-year-old Elliot Rodgers killed six people in Santa Barbara during a carefully planned stabbing and shooting frenzy, leaving behind a manifesto and a legacy within the Incel group. Since then, the online group’s popularity and presence has grown, as have the number of mass victim violent attacks in the West committed by Incels in name of their ideology. Despite this, so far, the only country which has prosecuted an Incel for terror charges following attacks is Canada. 

At a time where the discussion about gender-based violence gains more prevalence in world politics, it’s time we started talking about the growing threat of Incels and why we should be classing them as terrorists.


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What is an incel?

Incels are typically heterosexual men who cannot have sex despite wanting to. They are extremely misogynistic, and believe that women are to blame for this lack of sexual intimacy. The guiding beliefs of incels tend to be that men have an innate right to sex anytime and anyplace and blame women for not being able to engage in romantic or sexual relationships. Within the community the severity of beliefs is varied but Incels generally believe that women withhold sex from them due to them not being typically attractive, insecure, not masculine enough or due to mental illness.

Do they have an ideology?

Incels see the world in terms of “Stacie’s and Chads”. “Chads” are the ultimate alpha men, able to have sex with any woman they want, hence why a lot of incels don’t just hate women, but the “Chads” of the world too. “Stacies” are attractive, outgoing women who have regular sex with “Chads”. One quick search on reddit pulled up the thread titled “My fellow Gamer-Americans, it’s time that we said enough to the Chads and Stacey’s and seize the means of reproduction for all incels as a basic human right”.

Their ideology is based off the idea that they are victims of the “black pill”. The “black pill” is the belief that the sexual revolution has caused mass inceldom and that the only solution is reversing the sexual revolution, returning to traditions and enforcing monogamy. Therefore, incels promote and adhere to taking the “red pill”. The red pill philosophy professes to awaken men to “feminism’s supposed misandry and brainwashing”.

How do they operate and communicate?

The ‘Incel’ community primarily revolves between social media, chat rooms, 4chan, Reddit, and group-specific message boards. It is shockingly easy to find incels talking to each other online, in fact after just a few google searches it is possible to read and take part in these sites and discussions. 

In particular I went down a rabbit hole thread of incels discussing nurses and for some reason, incels really don’t like nurses. “I’ve never met a nurse that spits, they all swallow! They are the dirtiest freaks of society”. “Like gum, Chad chews on them long enough to take out the original flavour and then spits them out, leaving them mangled and somewhat bland”. Across these forums, the code “304” was repeatedly featured in incels’ comments, meaning “hoe”, these comments were on a YouTube video, for anyone to see.

Incels and their attacks are terrorism

The debate about whether incels should be classed as terrorists came to the forefront in 2020 when Canada became the first country to prosecute an incel for terrorist charges after he fatally stabbed a 24-year-old woman. Among security scholars, it is highly contested as to whether it is useful or even correct to class incels attacks as an act of terrorism. There are countless definitions of terrorism, but what most scholars would agree upon is that it is the use of violence against non-combatants in advance of a political, religious, racial or ideological cause by a non-state group. If we narrow this down further, according to the 2000 Terrorism Act, for something to be classed as terrorism, one of these specific actions must occur; serious violence against a person, serious damage to property, endangering a person’s life (other than that of the person committing the action), creating a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public or an action designed to seriously interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system.

Let’s take a look at Jake Davison’s attack in 2021. This was an act of violence against non-combatants. Jake shot five people, including a young child. He was a part of the non-state group and we have evidence of this. He was a member of several online incel and virgin groups making references to incels and how he “could not attract women”. Davison subscribed to YouTube channel Incel TV and had uploaded videos of himself to YouTube in the weeks before the shooting describing how he was “consuming the black pill overdose“. Remember incels ideology of red pill and black pill? Out of the specific actions needed to class an act as terrorism listed earlier, Jakes’ attack covers three of them.

Again, let’s look at the “OG” incel attacker, Elliot Rodgers. Rodgers, maybe even more so than Davison used violence to advance an ideological cause. Before committing his attack in 2014, Rodgers released a 137 -page manifesto which he posted online. Rodgers made it very clear in his manifesto that he wanted to make women afraid, repeatedly calling for violence against women, declaring himself “God like” and outlined, in his own words, “the perfect ideology” which includes quarantining women in concentration camps and artificially inseminating them occasionally to maintain reproduction. In this world free of women, men’s minds would be able to “develop to greater heights than ever before”. In relation to the specific actions required for something to be classed as terrorism, Rodger’s attack again ticks three of them.

In both of these cases highlighted, both were not classed as acts of terrorism nor their perpetrator a terrorist. But in both cases, we saw ideological violence, committed against civilians, to prove an ideological point or create psychological fear, and that makes it terrorism. 

Extreme Views

As described and mentioned earlier, Incels have a very extreme view of the world. This extreme view is often what we see with extremist terrorist groups. Instead of viewing not having had a girlfriend or had sex as something minor, simply just how life currently is for them or that it’s just the women around them that aren’t interested, Incels declare it must be all women and that all women have these extremely high unrealistic standards for men. They don’t see any rational solution other than forced monogamy and violence. We see this sort of extreme fundamentalist way of viewing an issue and the world with Islamist and far right terrorist movements.

Not just lone wolf attackers

Ask yourself, if Rodgers or Davison hadn’t been white, do you think authorities and the world would’ve actually seen them as the terrorists they are and not just mentally ill lone wolf attackers?  Both the UK and US government have classed these individuals as “lone wolf attackers” with mental health issues. Incels do display high levels of mental health issues, but these attacks carried out come from an ideology, not a psychological disorder. Not every young male with mental health problems decides to commit a terror attack. By viewing these attacks across the globe as “one offs”, policy makers and governments are blind sighting themselves to a potentially deadly terror threat. These incel attacks are not “one offs” and we have evidence of incels admiring previous attackers and corresponding with others before their attacks.

In 2020, Toronto Incel Alek Minassian drove a van into a busy pedestrian area, killing 10. Minassian openly admitted to admiring Rodgers, calling him the “Supreme Gentleman”. Additionally, Minassian claimed that he had actively corresponded with at least two other incels before their attacks. In the same way that these individuals are not just “lone wolf attackers”, the incel movement does not just target “lone” individuals who have wronged them. Incel ideology seeks to instil terror across society, with as many casualties as possible, making incels more than just “one off” random attackers with mental health issues.

Incels and the Far Right 

What is really important to note here in relation to why Incels should be classed as a terror threat is their link to the far right and far right ideologies.  Far right extremism has grown significantly in recent years as have the number of terrorist attacks committed in the name of the far right. According to the Global Terrorism Index 2019, since 2014, the number of incidents of far-right terrorism in Western nations has grown by 320%. This is an alarming statistic. If we have seen this severe increase in far-right terrorism, are we going to see this sort of increase in Incel terror attacks? Incels share many of the same views as the right wing.

White supremacy, misogyny, anti-government sentiments and racism are all integrated into Incel ideology. Going back to the “OG” Incel, Elliot Rodgers, he expressed disgust at interracial relationships and part blamed his inability to get a girl because of competition from another race. Jake Davison shared his misogynistic and homophobic views on Reddit forums used by Incels. An interesting case to note here is that of Tobias Rathjen. He went on a killing spree in Frankfurt in 2020. In simple terms, his views and reasons detailed in his manifesto for committing this attack was a mix of far-right extremist conspiracies, racism and incel ideology. 

Could we see a rise in Incel terror attacks?

We are all very well aware of the global pandemic which has dominated our lives for the past two years. In particular, young people have suffered due to schools, colleges and universities being moved online and social activities, bars and clubs being closed. Schools, employment, friends and family are all protective factors that are essential in noticing changing behaviour within an individual being radicalised online. Family members, teachers and friends are often the ones who report concerns to authorities and notice changes in behaviour first, so there is a real chance that young men have been radicalised online but nobody has noticed it. The lack of human contact throughout the pandemic has meant people have had less opportunities to meet a romantic partner and engage in sex, leaving young people feeling lonelier and, in some cases, more sexually frustrated than ever.

This loneliness, not being allowed to meet with others and the psychological effects of lockdowns has meant many people are spending their time isolated and online, turning to forums and chat rooms to create connections and meet others. Although the world is now learning to live with Covid and our lives have returned to some form of normality, the lockdown induced school closures and the global move to online learning led to a dramatic increase in unsupervised internet activity among young people. Over the past two years there has been a higher chance that young men have been exposed to Incel messaging, beliefs and memes on social media, chatrooms, and gaming websites. Interestingly, in September 2020, almost 40% of reports sent to Prevent, the UK’s national scheme for identifying people on the verge of violent extremism, were for “mixed ideologies”. Incel beliefs were part of the mix.

Concluding thoughts

One of the main arguments made by some scholars is that because incels world view and aims are not as united as other forms of extremism or groups, we cannot class attacks carried out by incels or in the name of incel ideology as terrorism. Incel ideology is incredibly varied and the level at which the individual believes or agrees with the ideology varies too, much like with other forms of extremism.  The issue is trying to compare incels to traditional terrorist groups or ideologies we’ve seen before. This is a new threat, from a different group in society, spreading and operating on social media and accessible online spaces. 

As much as critics don’t want to admit that incels are carrying out terror attacks, if we compare attacks that have been carried out by incels and those who have been involved in the incel ideology and community online, these previous attacks do fit the criteria of a terrorist attack. Not just this, but the violence carried out by Incels seeks to terrorise and repress women as part of the ideologies vision of a patriarchal society. By committing and advocating violence as a means to achieve political and ideological cause, Incels and Incel ideology are consistent with the core definitions of terrorism.

If the world started to class Incels as a terrorist threat and subsequently investigate this online group, it would warrant more resources to be put into monitoring online radicalisation on the websites and chatrooms used by the group, potentially preventing a future attack. 

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Last Update: July 27, 2022