There have been 45 deaths attributed to incels in North America alone. A curious subculture which harbours hatred towards women and wider society, it lends itself to a murderous mindset. On 23 May, 2014, a lonely 22-year-old uploaded a video to YouTube entitled "Elliot Rodger's Retribution”. The same day, he carried out multiple gun, knife and car attacks.
An “incel”, Elliot Rodger was involuntarily celibate. He was slim, well-groomed and from a supportive family. Not short of money, he wore Gucci sunglasses, lived in southern California’s Isla Vista and drove a BMW 328i Coupé - the same car he would later use to mow down innocent bystanders.
Rodger had a number of psychological issues and is considered by at least one medical professional to have been on the autistic spectrum. In the YouTube video, he explains that he has been rejected by women and wronged by the world all his life. “I've been forced to endure an existence of loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desires,” he explains. “I'm 22 years old and still a virgin, never even kissed a girl.”
The online incel community saw Rodger as a hero and glorified his acts of violence. Shortly after uploading the video, Rodger emailed a 107,000-word document to 34 people, including his therapist. Shedding further light on his motivations, the incel community would come to call this his “manuscript”.
Originally “INVCEL”, the phrase was termed in 1997 by a college student known only as “Alana”. She created a community designed for people of any gender to discuss loneliness. However, the term was appropriated by misogynistic and often racist men who were bitter about their lack of sexual interaction with women.
The movement spread on platforms such as 4chan and Reddit where news of the self-styled “supreme gentleman" and his murderous attack - which specifically targeted sororities and college students - emboldened self-identifying incels who fantasised about seeking revenge.
As spree killings have become an ever more frequent occurrence, so too has the incel community claimed various perpetrators as proponents of their cause. This includes George Sodini, who carried out the 2009 Collier Township shooting, and Stephen Paddock who carried out the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, whose motives were unclear.
However, on 1 October 2015, Chris Harper-Mercer killed nine people at a community college in Roseburg, Oregon. He left behind a “manifesto” which made reference to the Isla Vista attack which Elliot Rodger had carried out the previous year.
Harper-Mercer had written separately about mass shooters as "people who stand with the gods". On the day of the attack, he posted a threat to a 4chan board with a number of links to the incel movement. When an online associate had previously suggested that Harper-Mercer was "saving himself for someone special" he replied: "Involuntarily so."
Many more killers would go on to explicitly reference either Elliot Rodger or involuntary celibacy. In July 2016, for instance, Sheldon Bentley kicked an unconscious man to death in an alleyway in Edmonton, Alberta. He blamed work stress and four years of involuntary celibacy.
In December 2017, William Atchison killed two people at Aztec High School in New Mexico. He applauded Elliot Rodger online and had used his name to post under. In February 2018, Nikolas Cruz killed 17 people in the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida. He carried out his attack on Valentine’s Day and had posted online that "Elliot Rodger will not be forgotten".
In April of the same year, a van driver suspected to be Alek Minassian killed 10 people in Toronto, Ontario. Minassian had previously praised Elliot Rodger and, soon before the attack, posted "the Incel Rebellion has already begun". Then in November, Scott Beierle killed two women at a hot yoga studio in Tallahassee, Florida. He had mentioned Elliot Rodger in one of his YouTube videos, amongst others where he complained of loneliness. He had a history of grabbing women’s buttocks and had recently posted numerous misogynistic, homophobic and racist songs to SoundCloud.
In all of these cases, the common theme appears to be a sense of entitlement; that, in some way, women owe men their bodies and their company. However, the stereotype of the lonely, misunderstood male has been part of college culture for decades. “There’s always one weirdo”first-year students repeat to each other, on the subject of their shared accommodation. That weirdo, it seems, is usually male.
Sadly, in 1999, the world received a firm reminder that disenfranchised and dangerous young men can also be high school students. Dressed in trench coats and tactical gear, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, 17 and 18 respectively, killed 13 people at Columbine High School in Colorado. They sought revenge on their classmates using an array of weapons and explosives procured from an older friend. The pair then turned their guns on themselves.
“I hate you people for leaving me out of so many fun things,” wrote Harris in his last ever journal entry. “And no don't fucking say, ‘well thats your fault’ because it isnt, you people had my phone #, and I asked and all, but no. no no no dont let the weird looking Eric KID come along, ohh f**king nooo.”
Isolation, frustration and the culture of jocks versus nerds is certainly not a new thing. However, the incel community appears to feed off of something different. Elliot Rodger, the Isla Vista killer who has since become a saint to the movement, made horribly racist remarks about Asian people despite being half Asian himself. It is a level of mindless hatred which, at once, does and doesn’t discriminate.
Similar movements have popped up, such as Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW). They form a community of men who have “vowed to stay away from women, stop dating and not have children" on the basis that romantic relationships with women fail a cost-benefit analysis and risk-benefit analysis. Other than being less extreme, the obvious difference is that these men choose to avoid sexual contact with women as opposed to enduring celibacy involuntarily.
A separatist subculture, incels have their own vocabulary. “Staceys” are sexually-active attractive women, “Beckys” are less attractive sexually active women and “Chads” are attractive, sexually active men. All of this, it seems is to objectify and dehumanise society at large.
For all incels believe they have achieved in cultivating this movement, its one key failure is that it acts not as an outlet but as an incubator - allowing men’s hatred of others to grow into something tangibly dangerous.
If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article, contact Your Life Your Voice on 1 800 448 3000 or Samaritans on 116 123. For recorded information, call Mind on 0300 123 3393