Testosterone is also known as “T” in the incel community. A coping mechanism is called “a cope.” Turning violent in the way of Elliot Rodger, a man who killed six people and then himself in California in 2014, is called “going ER.”
This list of terminology is part of the growing body of knowledge on incel ideology, an area of research now being funded in part by Public Safety Canada. In the year since a van attack in Toronto that left 10 people dead, allegedly committed by a self-described member of the incel community, the department has granted almost $2-million to organizations that study right-wing extremism, including links to misogynistic violence.
In its 2018 report on the terrorism threat to Canada, the department said the Toronto attack "alerted Canada to the dangers of the online incel movement.”
Alek Minassian, the man accused of carrying out the attack last April, was allegedly responsible for a Facebook post celebrating an “incel rebellion.”
Incels are an online community – predominantly men – who believe they cannot attract women. Incels self-identify as biologically inferior to other men – and see no solution to this condition except suicide or public violence.
Researchers have rarely touched the topic of incels – a portmanteau of “involuntary celibates” – whose online rants often seem incoherent and insincere.
But now they are taking the warped thoughts seriously in a bid to prevent harm.
To help men leave the toxic online community, researchers are considering partnering with forums such as Reddit to advertise and send direct messages about intervention services to incels, said an analyst at Moonshot CVE – Countering Violent Extremism, an organization that received $1.5-million from Public Safety Canada in 2018 to introduce an online method of countering radicalization. As a woman, the analyst requested anonymity to avoid being targeted by incels.
The most respected incels, the analyst said, are isolated and flawed, while any attractive quality – being tall, fit or employed – is condemned. They respect other incels who are “NEET” – “not in education, employment or training" – said the analyst. And if an incel tries to make a friend or find a job, this behaviour is criticized as a coping mechanism.
Researchers have an ethical duty to study incels, the analyst said, not just to protect the public but to protect incels themselves, who are often at a higher risk of suicide – which they refer to as “roping.” She said they tend to mistrust mental-health professionals and doctors, who may tell them that nothing is physically wrong with them despite their belief in their biological inferiority.
In Quebec, the Center for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence has also become interested in incels since the van attack. “The intervention team had seen in a few cases this incel discourse,” said Benjamin Ducol, the centre’s research manager. “We are paying much more attention when we have a case that is referred to us.”
Mary Lilly, who wrote her master’s thesis at the University of Ottawa about online anti-feminist communities, also plans to study incels this summer, partly to determine if they are present on private messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Telegram.
“I think a big one that we hear pretty often is ‘These are sad, lonely men. If only a woman had paid attention to them,'” Ms. Lilly said. “I think that sort of ignores the power of the ideology in this.”