What's an 'incel'? Unpacking the disturbing Facebook post linked to Toronto van attack
Published Tuesday, April 24, 2018 4:22PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, April 24, 2018 11:27PM EDT
A Facebook post that police allege was written by the Toronto van attack suspect contains militaristic language linked to an online group of men who feel victimized because they are involuntarily celibate, experts say.
The post was allegedly written moments before the Monday afternoon attack, which killed 10 people and injured 14 others. Alek Minassian, 25, appeared in court Tuesday to face charges in connection with the pedestrian deaths and injuries.
The Facebook post, which appeared on the account for a user named Alek Minassian, reads: “The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”
Facebook told CTV News that the post appears to have been made from the suspect’s account, which the company has since shut down. CTV News cannot conclusively confirm that Minassian himself wrote the post.
However, Toronto Police Det. Sgt. Graham Gibson said Tuesday that the suspect is alleged to have posted the “cryptic” message “minutes before he began driving the rented van.”
The Facebook post started with the sentence: “Private (Recruit) Minassian Infantry 00010, wishing to speak to Sgt 4chan please.”
Minassian was briefly a recruit with the Canadian military, but he left training after just over two weeks, CTV News has learned. The number 00010 is the Canadian Armed Forces trade code for infantry.
The strange language used in the post is connected to an online community of self-described “incels,” a portmanteau for “involuntarily celibate.”
The word has a complicated history. The term “incel” was invented in the early 1990s by a Toronto woman as a means to define a certain type of loneliness and confront it. However, it was later co-opted to represent something darker, according to University of Toronto sociology professor Judith Taylor.
“’Incel’ was actually a group for the involuntarily celibate that was started by a young Canadian woman in 1993 of all things, meant to be a kind of therapeutic group for people to get together to talk about loneliness and what it meant to succeed socially in the way that they wanted to,” Taylor told CTV News Channel on Tuesday.
“But it seems that this moniker got taken up by many young, mostly white men who felt victimized by their celibacy and wanted to come up with groups that they could blame. So any men who were socially successful, women, and in fact weirdly, people of colour.”
The word eventually evolved from something “therapeutic” to “something that was violent and quite angry,” Taylor said.
Elliot Rodger, a 22-year-old mass murderer who killed six people in Isla Vista, Calif. before killing himself, identified as an “incel.” In a seven-minute YouTube video recorded before the 2014 massacre, Rodger said he carried out the killings because he was still a virgin.
In the Facebook post on Minassian’s account, Elliot Rodger is described as “the Supreme Gentleman.”
The post also makes mention of plans to “overthrow all the Chads and Stacys.”
According to Taylor, “Chads” are considered “socially successful men” and “Stacys” are “women who are withholding their sexual opportunities from men.”
Toronto police confirmed Tuesday that the victims in the Toronto van attack were “predominantly female.” However, Det. Sgt. Gibson said it’s too soon for police to determine whether the suspect deliberately targeted women.
‘Barely more than a meme’
While police investigate a motive, the director of the Toronto Sexuality Centre, James Cantor, said it’s too soon to extrapolate any significant meaning from the Facebook post.
However, when it comes to the “incel” community, Cantor called the online group “barely more than a meme.”
“This is a group of people who usually lack sufficient social skills and they find themselves very, very frustrated. But now that it is so easy for groups like this to gather together in large groups, people who have very poor social skills, this becomes their only means of social input,” Cantor said.
“And when they’re surrounded by people with similar frustrations, they kind of lose track of what typical discourse is and they drive themselves into more and more extreme beliefs.”
Cantor, a clinical psychologist who specializes in sexual behaviour, said that those in the “incel” community may simply need “good, old-fashioned social skills building in therapy.”
“These people need opportunities to be able to learn those skills. Sometimes that is, as I say, psychotherapy -- but we haven’t made that very available.”
A lack of relationship skills may stem from childhood, Cantor suggested, adding that more attention should be paid to helping boys develop social skills early in life.
“We’ve recognized, appropriately, that women – girls, earlier in life – really need help sometimes overcoming a natural inhibition in order to express, for example, leadership potential,” he said.
“But we haven’t done very much of that on the other side, where sometimes boys need extra help in order to navigate social and relationship skills even though those don’t always feel very natural to them.”