The news of a deadly van attack in north Toronto spread across the city with shock and fury in the early afternoon of April 23 as we all tried to come to grips with what had just happened along that 2.2 kilometres stretch of Yonge street. It would be hours before we knew that the white rental van had taken the lives of 10 people, and later still until we learned the killer’s name.
In the interim, rumours spread across social media placing the blame on Islamist terrorism even though the authorities refused to fuel them. But those rumours soon unravelled. First, the suspect’s identity was confirmed and his name, Alek Minassian, was of Armenian descent and he was a 25-year-old student from nearby Richmond Hill.
Then his possible motivation emerged with a leak of his Facebook page, confirmed by the tech giant the following day, and it turned out he had apparently been radicalized.
But it was by misogyny.
Just like the biggest mass murder in Canadian history, Marc Lepine’s shooting of 14 women at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique in 1989.
Before Minassian’s vehicular murder spree, he reportedly posted the following 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!”
It seemed like gibberish to those lucky enough to not know what he was talking about. But Minassian was publicly declaring himself a member of a virulent online community that calls themselves “incels,” or “involuntary celibates.” They are primarily socially awkward young men whose inability to find love has calcified into hate. They blame women for not having sex with them.
And they want revenge.
These self-declared incels gather and become radicalized in virtual spaces like 4chan, Incels.me and Reddit–though the latter banned their message board last year when the misogyny grew greater than even their laisez-faire free-speech policy could handle–where they commiserate and hate, ranting about women and feminism and their own sexual frustration.
Though the term incel was, ironically, started by a queer Canadian woman back in the 90s as an Elle magazine article revealed in 2016, it was later taken over by the nastiest segment of the so-called “manosphere,” which also includes communities like Men’s Rights Activists, Pick-Up Artists and Men Going Their Own Way. As with other online communities that loosely make up what has become known as the alt-right, they are fervent but little known by the general public. Or rather, were.
To decipher the rest of the Minassian’s post, Chads and Stacys are incel terms for good-looking men and women who have casual sex, while “supreme gentleman” Elliot Rodger was another incel mass-murderer.
In 2014, the 22-year-old from Isla Vista, California, stabbed three men to death in his apartment and then drove to the University of California: Santa Barbara, where he opened fire in a sorority house, killing two young women. He left to go to a deli where he killed another man, and then got in his car where he shot at and drove over several pedestrians before crashing his car and shooting himself in the head. In the aftermath, we learned he had uploaded a YouTube video and emailed a manifesto explaining the motivation for his “war on women.”
“For the last eight years of my life, since I hit puberty, I’ve been forced to endure an existence of loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desires, all because girls have never been attracted to me. Girls gave their affection and sex and love to other men, never to me,” he said. “You girls have never been attracted to me. I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me but I will punish you all for it. It’s an injustice, a crime because I don’t know what you don’t see in me, I’m the perfect guy and yet you throw yourselves at all these obnoxious men instead of me, the supreme gentleman. I will punish all of you for it.”
Then he laughed.
Rodgers’ twisted mindset is not only apparently shared by Minassian, further details of which we will learn more about over the coming days and weeks, but a shockingly large segment of the population. When Reddit banned the incel message board last year for advocating rape and violence against women, it had 40,000 subscribers. Who knows how many more were lurkers of the so-called “support group,” reading the posts and becoming radicalized themselves, or participated in other incel groups. Already, other incels are celebrating Minassian as a folk hero. I’ve seen disgusting claims that this could have been avoided with “state-supplied girlfriends,” and the site We Hunted The Mammoth has found other incels advocating acid attacks and more mass murders and rapes.
The NY Times has reported that incels are an even more malignant outgrowth of the Pick-Up Artist movement and have a ‘male supremacist’ worldview that decries what they see as the feminizing of society.”
These men are extremists, yes. But they are also the extreme end of a long spectrum of men who believe, to varying degrees, that women owe them sex, and that they are less than human. This is what people mean when they say rape culture. There are consequences that go well beyond this week’s murders. Incels may be fringe, but they are also canaries in the coal mine. There’s more danger ahead.
What is important to take away from this tragedy, though, is that we can do something. We can call out sexism and misogyny, no matter where on the spectrum it falls. We can reject claims like Donald Trump’s that grabbing women by the pussy is just “locker room talk.” We can support the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. We can teach our sons and tell our friends that women don’t owe them shit and that being a man means respecting women.
It is too late for the ten lives lost in Toronto. But it is not too late to change our culture and ourselves.