On September 15, 2019, a truck bomb exploded outside of the Al-Rai Hospital in Syria’s Aleppo Governorate, killing 12 civilians and injuring many more. There were no immediate claims of responsibility.
It began as a discussion group for men and women struggling to establish lasting relationships. Over time, the Incel movement morphed into a sophisticated and lethal organized terrorist group that launched one of the deadliest attacks aimed at women in the history of Canada. Today, the Incel movement exists in the darkest shadows of online chat groups, challenging Canadian authorities attempting to gauge its scope and threat and stop future attacks.
This blog is the first in a three-part series on the presence of Incels in Canada. The second entry will analyze the phenomenon of the Canadian Incel Saints and how this idolizing may inspire more violent attacks. The final entry will examine how Canadian officials are working to counter this form of extremism and whether a law enforcement focus is the appropriate response.
Incel is shorthand for involuntary celibacy. Those who identify as members of the group are men who struggle with dating and relationships and blame their frustrations on women, feminism and a perceived deterioration of society. A majority of the group’s activities take place through online forums where men discuss their shared frustrations, their hatred for men that are socially deemed attractive (referred to as Chads), and their desire to re-structure social hierarchies in order to subjugate the men and women at the top of the social ladder.
Researchers have determined that hate is infectious and misogyny can act as a pipeline towards other forms of extremism. A researcher on hate groups in Canada who uses a fake name because of violent threats against them explained in The Guardian that misogyny is a “powerful undercurrent” in far-right and white supremacist online groups as well. While women may be Incels’ primary targets, their hatred has also curdled into antisemitism, racism, pro-violence and support for white supremacy. This has created an extremist intersection between Incels and far-right groups who wish to restore the patriarchal society and reject modernity. The ability to function while fragmented and reach out to other parties makes the Incel movement a dangerous actor in Canadian domestic affairs.
The threat of the Incel movement is heightened in the current pandemic environment. A study by the Canadian government called #CallItfemicide showed that femicide rates and violence against women have spiked since the beginning of the arrival of COVID-19.
The Involuntary Celibacy Project’s website was launched in Canada in 1997 as a “friendly place” for men and women whose efforts to form relationships were not bearing fruit. The site’s stated aim was helping its members find a community to feel less alone. The group was initially open to all people and it was not until nearly two decades later that women began to be excluded. Alana, the founder of the Incel Project, stepped away from the website when her dating life began to pick up. The pathway from its relatively innocent origins of this website to an extremist and violent movement is marked by a string of attacks.
A few days before Christmas in 1989, a young man named Mark Lépine walked into École Polytechnique in Montreal, carrying a semi-automatic rifle. He entered an engineering classroom brandishing his weapon and ordered the men to leave. “I hate feminists!” he told the remaining women before killing 14, injuring 14 others and shooting himself in less than 20 minutes. In his suicide note, Lépine wrote a list of all the feminists he would have killed if he had the time. Leaving behind such extremist manifestos has become a standard for Incels and Lépine is now praised for being an inspirational “saint” in the Incel “pantheon.”
The most notable attacks directly linked to Incels in Canada occurred after Elliot Rodger killed six and injured 14 in Vista, California in 2014. Rodger’s attack was meticulously organized, grimly effective and well documented on social media. His legacy in the Incel community continues to be celebrated and will be discussed at greater length in the next report of this series.
There is a direct line between Rodger’s killing spree and a burst of incidents in Canada. They include:
Since these attacks in Canada and the United States, Incel-related violence has resulted in a discussion about the concept of domestic terrorism in Canada. In America, Incel-related violence is currently not considered a terror threat on the scale of other phenomena. But this may be different in Canada, a country with stricter gun control and typically far less violence. For example, Toronto, the country’s largest and most populous city, had 84 homicides in 2021 (Toronto Star) making it the third-most deadly year ever. By comparison, Washington D.C., an American city with a similar population size, had 198 homicides in 2021 (DC Metropolitan Police).
The pandemic and the resulting school closings, job losses and economic dislocation has led experts to warn that more young men are vulnerable to being lured into the group and that social isolation and the mental health challenges it spawns may increase the threat to domestic security in Canada.
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