Facebook post linked to Toronto van attack points to insular, misogynistic world of 'incels'

The deadly van attack in Toronto is shining a spotlight on the controversial, often misogynistic world of "incels" — a group of predominately men who identify as "involuntarily celibate."

Alek Minassian, 25, facing 10 counts of 1st-degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder

People leave signs, cards and flowers at a memorial on Yonge Street on Tuesday. (Galit Rodan/Canadian Press)

The deadly van attack in Toronto is shining a spotlight on the controversial, often misogynistic world of "incels."

The term incel is short for "involuntarily celibate," and the community that uses the label is typically dominated by men voicing frustration online about their lack of sexual relationships, sometimes blaming women for their failures with the opposite sex. 

Ask your questions about the incel subculture with University of Toronto professor Judith Taylor.

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​Toronto police said Tuesday that Alek Minassian, the 25-year-old suspected of driving the van that plowed into pedestrians on a busy stretch of Yonge Street in Toronto's north end Monday, killing 10 people, is alleged to have published "a cryptic post on Facebook minutes before he began driving the rented van."

Minassian has been charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder. Fourteen people remain in hospital.

"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!" reads the post.

Facebook confirmed the authenticity of the public post, created under a profile on the social networking site belonging to an Alek Minassian that has since been deleted by the company.

"It's something that we'll take into account in this investigation," Toronto Police Det.-Sgt. Graham Gibson said of the post, before declining to speculate on a motive. 

Police said the victims in Monday's attack were "predominantly women."

The suspect is 25-year-old Alek Minassian, who is facing 10 counts of first-degree murder and 14 counts of attempted murder. (LinkedIn)

Incel group banned on Reddit

Members of the incel community are active on online platforms associated with the alt-right, including 4chan, Reddit and sometimes Facebook groups, said Maxime Fiset, a former neo-Nazi who now tracks extremist websites at the Montreal-based Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence.

Alt-right is an umbrella term, coined by U.S. by white supremacist Richard Spencer, used to refer to a movement that takes in elements of the far-right and white-nationalism and has been associated with misogynistic and homophobic views.

In the incel community, the names "Chad" and "Stacy" are used as a stand-ins for conventionally attractive men and women who have few problems when it comes to sexual relationships.

A number of incel-related posts have idolized Elliot Rodger, a 22-year-old California man who killed six people and injured a dozen more during a deadly rampage in Isla Vista, Calif., in 2014.

In the wake of that attack, police found a trail of YouTube videos and a 140-page manifesto in which Rodger ranted against women and lamented the fact he remained a virgin in college.

The Facebook post referenced Elliot Rodger, who killed six people in Isla Vista, Calif., in 2014, leaving behind a trail of YouTube videos and a 140-page manifesto ranting against women. (YouTube/Associated Press)

The term incel grabbed headlines last November when the online discussion platform Reddit banned the community and its main thread — r/Incels — for violating its policy against content that glorifies or incites violence.

At the time, the group had more than 40,000 members.

But other forums are laced with suggestions that at least some of the discussions are merely satire or a way of blowing off steam.

Fiset said the majority of people who are active in incel groups are not violent, but the online discussion can sometimes act as incubators for radicalization by justifying the ideologies being shared among members.

It's a very toxic environment of people who seem to be disfranchised with society.—  Maxime   Fiset , Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence

"It's a very toxic environment of people who seem to be disfranchised with society and who may, [or] who have actually, in the past, tried to seek revenge against society or those they think are responsible for their ills," said Fiset.

"They have this huge resentment towards society and women, mostly women, because they feel that women are rejecting them even though they see themselves as nice guys. And that is the feeling of injustice that can fuel radicalization," Fiset said.

In the wake of Monday's attack, one online forum, incels.me, published a short statement, saying that being incel has "no relation whatsoever with violence, aggression, misogyny or any other negative connotation."

It also said Minassian had never posted on its site and they don't believe that any in the forum had previously heard his name.

"While he may have called himself an incel, he does NOT in any way represent the community. One person does not represent communities, this should be known by now," the statement said.

Sociologist discusses what might drive alienated men to commit acts of violence:

Judith Taylor, associate professor of sociology at the University of Toronto, talks about what might lead disenfranchised men who feel rejected by women and society to take their anger out on others through violent means. 8:24

The origins of the word "incel" can reportedly be traced back to the 1990s and a Canadian woman known in the media by only her first name, Alana.

Alana told Elle magazine in 2016 that she came up with the term while trying to find a label for her own sexual solitude and create an inclusive online space for people who didn't fit the conventional pattern of adult experiences and relationships.

"I was trying to create a movement that was open to anybody and everybody," she told the magazine.

'High degree of misogyny'

Aditi Natasha Kini is a New York-based journalist who wrote about incel culture for the news website Vice — and faced a deluge of harassment and threats online as a result.

She describes incels as cisgender heterosexual men who haven't had sex — "not out of choice."

"On the surface, incel sounds harmless," Kini told CBC Radio's As it Happens. "It sounds like someone who is trying to make sense of why they cannot connect with other people."

But, she says, there's "a high degree of misogyny" in the "self-created" incel community.

"There is a growing faction of men who have found outlets for their anger against women and dating culture in general online. And that's been codified into a sort of indoctrination," she said.

"They have lingo. They have educative documentation. And I think it just reifies and confirms itself [or] establishes itself through these echo chambers online."

The damaged van was seized by police after striking multiple people along a northern stretch of Toronto's busy Yonge Street. (Saul Porto/Reuters)

According to Kini, such communities intentionally leave out women and gay people because they believe those groups have easier access to sex.  

Incels, on the other hand, believe themselves to be so undesirable that they'll never be successful when it comes to love or sex "because of how they were born and how they look," she said. Gaining dating experience or learning pick-up techniques won't help, they believe.

While incel forums may sometimes be used as a space to vent, Kini said she's also seen a lot of discussion about revenge in such communities, including in the wake of Monday's attack. 

The problem with such forums, she said, is they can exacerbate feelings of isolation and rage when that's the only sentiments being discussed.

"When they create these echo chambers online, instead of actually finding help to solve their problems, they kind of devolve into this pessimism," she said.

Little else is known about Minassian, who is from Richmond Hill, Ont., and was attending Seneca College in the north of Toronto.

The Department of National Defence confirmed Tuesday that the 25-year-old joined the Canadian Forces last August and was 16 days into his basic training before he requested to be voluntarily released.

A senior official with the Forces said Minassian wasn't adapting to military life, including  in matters of dress, deportment and group interactions in a military setting but that "there were no red flags and nothing that would point to anything like this."

A mourner attends a candlelight vigil at a makeshift memorial on Yonge Street in Toronto Tuesday following the deadly van attack. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Corrections

  • This story has been updated to state that Minassian requested to be voluntarily released from the CAF. A previous version said he was asked to leave.
    Apr 25, 2018 9:00 AM ET

With files from Cedric Lizotte, Diana Swain, As It Happens and The Associated Press