Experts are warning that a dangerous online subculture known as the “incel” movement is gaining traction after Jake Davison, the gunman behind the shootings in Plymouth that left six people dead, referenced the group and expressed deeply misogynistic ideas.
Davison, who posted numerous videos on YouTube weeks before the massacre, appears to have been active on several online platforms linked to the sexist internet community, despite stating in a video that he “wouldn’t clarify [sic] myself as an incel”.
What is an incel?
A member of a sprawling online community. Incels are men who describe themselves as “involuntary celibates”.
“In other words, they’re not having sex and they want to be,” said Laura Bates, who researched incel culture while researching her book Men Who Hate Women. “They see women as completely commodified and dehumanised sex objects [that] are there purely for male sexual pleasure. And they blame women for the fact that they’re not having sex.”
What is a ‘black pill’ mentality?
Within the incel movement, there are a variety of different attitudes, said Bates. “Gymmaxxing” or “Looksmaxxing” incels believe they can improve their attractiveness to women by working out or otherwise improving their appearance.
Those who describe themselves as black pills have a bleak, defeatist and nihilistic worldview. Within that layer of the community, expressions of violent misogyny are common, she added.
“They actively incite what they describe as ‘incel uprising’ or a ‘day of rebellion’, where they will go offline and massacre women. This is not a generally nice, supportive community for lonely men with a few people inciting violence; it is a community specifically focused on and obsessed with inflicting violence on women.”
Is it a far-right movement?
Incel culture in the US has links with the alt-right movement, and is considered by some to be a far-right, extremist ideology. But Bates argues that the belief system is sometimes subsumed into the bracket of the far right “by people who don’t know a great deal about it”.
“In this particular case, we’re not talking about the far right at all, we’re talking about extremist misogyny.” There is still, she says, a worrying lack of knowledge about the ideology in some major counter-terror organisations.
“The men who repeatedly carry out massacres in the name of this ideology are almost never described by the media or by police or seen by the justice system as terrorists,” she said. “Until we see it as extremism and radicalisation, we won’t be able to commit the resources that we need to tackling it.”
Is it growing?
Tim Wilson, director of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St Andrews, said the rise of social media and the internet had helped to create a movement.
“This isn’t sophisticated, but the problem is the volume of people who might be flirting with this kind of scene,” he told the Press Association.
Bates estimates that the incel community in the UK could be as large as 10,000, with hundreds of thousands more worldwide. “They’re very actively and deliberately grooming and recruiting and radicalising young men,” she said.
“Without even explicitly being a member of these communities, you can still very much be affected by that ideology, particularly as a teenage boy online.”