After the Toronto van attack, the world asks: what is an incel?
Tributes at the scene of the Toronto van attack (Photo: Getty Images)


After the Toronto van attack, the world asks: what is an incel?

Suspect Alek Minassian has been linked to the online group who blame women for their “involuntary celibacy”

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By Emily Baker on

One word has been floating around the internet in the days since a man drove a van into pedestrians in Toronto, killing 10 people and injuring 15 – incel. It refers to a community of men who deem themselves “involuntarily celibate”. They don’t have sex, they say, not by choice, but because of women.

The driver and suspect, Alek Minassian, 25, is thought to be a part of this misogynist group, indicated by the Facebook status he posted minutes before the attack. “Private (Recruit) Minassian Infantry 00010, wishing to speak to Sgt 4chan please. C23249161,” it read. “The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chad’s and Stacey’s! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”

In 2014, Elliot Rodger murdered six people in a stabbing and shooting spree in California. Like Minassian, he posted online before the attack, this time with a YouTube video and a 141-page document detailing his hatred for women and his frustration with his long-lasting virginity. In the video, Rodger can be seen saying, “girls gave their affection and sex and love to other men but never to me”. At the end of his self-proclaimed “manifesto”, Rodger wrote, “I am the true victim in all of this. I am the good guy.” He subsequently turned the gun on himself and since his death has become legend in the most violent underbelly of the incel group. As in Minassian’s Facebook post, he is often referred to as “The Supreme Gentleman”.

So, what is an incel? The term is shorthand for “Involuntary Celibate” and literally refers to someone who wants to have sex but doesn’t. Not because they can’t, or because they abstain, but because women “don’t allow” them to have sex with them. An incel is always a man; women (and gay men) cannot be incels because, according to the community rules, they have a much easier time securing validation and sex. Incels gather in online spaces – in Reddit threads (many of which are now banned), on the imageboard website 4chan, and on dedicated message-board sites.

The issue, as an outsider, is trying to decipher which posts are dangerous and which posts are 'ironic' – and working out whether there is a difference between the two

As per these boards and like many other online communities, incels have their own language. Stacys and Chads are women and men deemed conventionally attractive by the group, and who therefore find it “easy” to have sex. The terms are often used in a derogatory way to refer to the men and women who incels see as their oppressors. There are talk of blackpills, redpills and bluepills, inspired by The Matrix and referring to the different ideologies held by various incel members. Users of these message boards frequently employ highly misogynistic, racially charged and offensive words, none of which bear repeating here.

There is also a more obvious theme running through the language of incels – one of war, violence and uprising. The group might deem each other to be victims of the modern world, of beauty standards and the amount of power women have in deciding who, and who not, to have sex with, but they also see themselves as soldiers tasked with the mission of righting these wrongs. Each member is given a title on joining the group, starting at Recruit and building up to Luminary. It works on a star system – the more you post, the more stars you are awarded and the quicker you climb the ranks. As per Minassian’s Facebook post, there is often talk of an incel rebellion; some users talk about finding “solutions” to their problem.

It doesn’t take much to determine how dangerously misogynistic the incel ideology is, and many have pointed out that women are not surprised by the amount of hatred some members have for them. After all, organised misogyny is nothing new – think of Gamergate, MGTOW and often even Twitter – and, while it might be rare that groups encourage terrorist acts such as the Toronto van attack, we are all too aware that violence against women is a widespread epidemic. If anything, this makes incels increasingly dangerous and the threat all the more grave.

Public incel groups are now issuing statements distancing themselves from Minassian and his actions. A prominent incel message-board site claims that the suspect has never posted on their website and that no one connected to the site had heard of him. Again, it is unclear how the administrators of the website can be sure. If it is true, though, it shows just how far-reaching the incel narrative can be, pushing someone who has never even engaged with the community to such extreme violence.

The issue, as an outsider, is trying to decipher which posts are dangerous and which posts are “ironic” – and working out whether there is a difference between the two. But, as Minassian’s attack and the incel glorification of Rodger have proved, this group is capable of going much further than words. One thing is clear – the hatred is there.


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Tributes at the scene of the Toronto van attack (Photo: Getty Images)
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violence against women and girls

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