Should the Plymouth shootings be declared an act of terror?

If Davison’s identification with extremist ‘incel’ ideology led to the shootings that’s terrorism, say critics

The mass shooting in Plymouth was committed by an individual who appeared to have an ongoing interest in an extreme ideology, prompting many to ask why the police have not declared the tragedy an act of terrorism.

Jake Davison, who killed five people and then himself, had shown sympathies towards people who class themselves as incels, an abbreviation for “involuntarily celibate”.

At the root of the online subculture is a violent misogyny and belief that women should be held accountable for depriving men of sex and relationships, to which they have a human right.

The incel movement has been associated with killings and acts of violence, particularly in the US. However, there have been recent terror convictions in the UK with alleged incel links, such as that of Gabrielle Friel in Scotland – though in this case the charge that Friel was motivated by incel ideology was considered “not proven”.

There have also been cases in which terrorism was a borderline issue. In 2019, Anwar Driouich was jailed for 20 months for having an explosive substance. Driouich had an unhealthy interest in incels but ultimately was found not to have a “terrorist mindset”.

In a YouTube video, Davison said he did not “clarify” himself as an incel but talked of how “people similar to me have had nothing but themselves”.

He also appears to have signed up to “IncelTV” on YouTube, which calls itself a channel for “black pill and lookism content” and has more than 17,000 subscribers. Lookism is described as prejudice or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s appearance.

Despite this clear interest in a violent ideology, Devon and Cornwall police said within hours of the killings that they are not being treated as a terror incident.

Laura Bates, a feminist writer and activist, questioned the decision. “This is terrorism,” she wrote on Twitter. “If news reports about the shooter are accurate we are talking about an individual radicalised online into an extremist belief system who then acted on those beliefs to massacre people. This is terrorism. It is extremism. It is radicalisation.”

So why has the attack not been classed as terrorism, and could that change? There are still a number of unknowns.

The Crown Prosecution Service defines terrorism as the use or threat of action “for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause”. It is not clear that Davison killed in the name of incel ideology or if it was a domestic incident that escalated, or both.

Jonathan Hall QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, has written about the incel threat in reports to parliament. He told the Guardian: “Incel(dom) definitely can be an ideology for the purposes of terrorism.

“It always depends on the evidence, but if you kill people in a symbolic way because you hate what they represent within your ideology – it’s not a big stretch to conclude that killing them is in pursuance of an ideological cause.

“In any case of this nature, the police will be looking for evidence of a plan or plot as well as any signs that others were involved.”

Hall said defining the attack as terrorism is a “call for the police” but added: “You don’t want too many people being labelled terrorists because then people get demoralised.”

Devon and Cornwall police has said it is keeping an open mind as to motive and the picture could change.

Another potential area of interest for the police is whether Davison had a “mixed, unclear or uncertain (MUU) ideology”, an official category used by counter-terrorism specialists to describe a radicalised individual without a specific doctrine.

In his social media posts he expresses homophobic views, while misogyny is often seen within far-right extremism.

In 2019-20, 51% of the 6,287 referrals to the government’s flagship counter-extremism programme, Prevent, comprised individuals with MUU.

Hall added: “Things to look for are any indication of plotting or indication of mindset. Mindset is really hard. This is where you might start looking at MUU. Let’s say there’s stuff on incels, stuff on far right, all sorts of stuff, what was the ideology?”

Contributor

Jamie Grierson Home affairs correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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