As It Happens

Why some 'incels' are celebrating accused in Toronto van attack

Journalist Aditi Natasha Kini has covered the "involuntary celibate" culture referenced by Alek Minassian — and she says she paid a heavy price for it.

Journalist Aditi Natasha Kini has covered the 'involuntary celibate' culture referenced by Alek Minassian

Alek Minnasian appeared in court on Tuesday. He was charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder. (Pam Davies/CBC)

Aditi Natasha Kini wasn't surprised to see that the accused in the Toronto van attack, Alek Minassian, called for an "incel rebellion" on Facebook. She's seen that kind of rhetoric before.

The New York journalist wrote a feature about incels — or involuntary celibates — for Vice News in November 2017, and faced harassment and death threats because of it.

And now she says some members of that internet subculture are celebrating Minassian as a hero.​

Minassian was charged Tuesday with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder after a crowd of pedestrians was mowed down in Toronto on Monday.

A post on Minassian's Facebook said the "incel rebellion has already begun" and referred to "Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger." Rodger was the 22-year-old California man responsible for a deadly rampage in Isla Vista, Calif., that left six people dead.

Facebook has confirmed the post was real. On Tuesday police said it was published minutes before the attack unfolded. Minassian's account has since been shut down.

Kini told As It Happens host Carol Off about incel culture and why she believes it is dangerous.

Here is part of that conversation.

Can you tell us, first of all, what is an incel?

It stands for involuntary celibate. So an incel is a cisgendered heterosexual man who hasn't had sex, not out of choice.

Why has it developed into an online phenomenon?

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.

These are some of the messages that have appeared on incel forums after Monday's van attack in Toronto. (Submitted by Aditi Natasha Kini)

I understand what you're suggesting is that this incel isn't just people meeting online to compare notes and to commiserate and help each other get better dating skills. This is something that has an echo or a tone of misogyny and hatred toward women.

On the surface, incel sounds harmless. It sounds like someone who is trying to make sense of why they cannot connect with other people.

But the incel community purposely leaves out who they call "females" or "femoids" — women who they say cannot be an incel because women always get sex regardless of how ugly they are.

And they leave out gay people because they think gay people have easier access to sex.

So there is a high degree of misogyny in the community.

What was your first reaction when you saw this Facebook post?

That sort of rhetoric is common on incel forums online, and I've seen Elliot Rodger praised a lot in incel forums as a saint and the day that he killed those people is celebrated.

Just tell us how [Rodger] plays into this online incel community.

He did identify as involuntary celibate and he was very angry with women for not giving him sex. And he talked about this as his revenge.

Aditi Natasha Kini, now an editor at Oxygen, reported on the incel subculture for Vice in November 2017. (Submitted by Aditi Natasha Kini)

The other thing that I just read in that Facebook thing from Minassian — he says that "we will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys." Can you tell us what that's in reference to?

So Chads are cisgendered heterosexual men who are muscular, conventionally attractive, hot. They get whoever they want.

Stacy is someone who pretends to be virtuous and pure in front of an incel and won't touch an incel, but the minute a Stacy meets a Chad, then she will have sex.

Have you seen people responding within those communities to yesterday's attack?

I've seen actually a lot of discussion. It's just hard to parse how much people are saying things to be trolls [or] how much they mean it.

One reaction is that it's a faked attack, or it's fake that he's an incel and it's used to blemish the name of incels.

But then I've seen people talking about how ... this is an opportunity and it's good that they're in the mainstream.

I can read you some of the comments:

"It's a good time to be an incel. Our brothers are launching their counter-attack, getting their revenge."

"Well, he certainly got us noticed. It will be interesting to read about Alek's story as more details about his life unfold. I'd love to know exactly what made him think he was an incel."

"Prepare the way to incel sainthood for Sir Alek."

"One of us! One of us! One of us!"

Elliot Rodger, who killed six people in California in 2014, is hailed as a "saint" by some members of the incel community. (Facebook)

I know you have been following this for some time  and you've have written and published your article about the online incel groups. What happened to you after that? 

I had to basically lock all my accounts because I started receiving violent threats.

At one point a man called me and he had my address and he said he was outside. I was not there. It was an old address.

But when I asked the police for help, they said they weren't able to do anything because I didn't have a name and I couldn't identify who was calling.

I was told to go to the FBI but I felt like it was just too much to do, so I didn't.

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Chris Harbord. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.