The incel movement has been thrust into the headlines since Alek Minassian allegedly ran down and killed 10 people in Toronto, most of whom were women, and injured 14 others. After a Facebook page (that was verified as belonging to Minassian) was found to feature a post praising the “incel rebellion,” as well as mass shooter Elliot Rodger who killed six women in California in 2014, many began to frame the Toronto van attack as a crime against women.
WATCH BELOW: Toronto van attack suspect linked to misogynistic “incel” movement
But Jack Peterson (not his legal name), a self-professed spokesperson for the incel community, claims the group’s misogynistic agenda is only representative of the “vocal minority” and that it’s a movement dedicated to truth.
“Despite all the violence and praise of misogyny, there’s a lot of truth in this movement that you won’t see elsewhere because people are afraid to speak up about it,” the Chicago resident tells Global News. “Not everybody has the genetics to succeed romantically and make it in the dating scene, and ‘inceldom’ provides those harsh realities.”
In other words, incel (which stands for involuntary celibacy) reinforces the belief that this particular subset of men may never find love or sex.
According to incels, romantic success is largely dependent on having certain genetic characteristics. Attractive men are described as being tall, with a full head of hair and especially “a certain bone structure and a strong jaw,” he says, while attractive women are more petite with an hourglass figure and long, flowing hair.
READ MORE: What is incel? Examining the ‘rebellion’ praised by Toronto van attack suspect
An incel, it is believed, will never be an attractive man (what they call a “Chad”), nor will he ever be able to attract a beautiful woman (a “Stacy”). In rare instances, Peterson concedes, an incel would be able to land a Stacy, but only in extenuating circumstances, like if he’s rich.
“There are certain things that might be genetic — like balding — that you can’t control, and those things will prevent you from finding a woman,” he says. “As a society, we have to reckon with the fact that if someone goes without love or sex their entire life, that’s going to be hard for them.”
In a preliminary interview, Peterson added: “It could cause more attacks like this.” (He denied making this statement in a subsequent interview.)
“I don’t condone violence or murder, and I don’t stand by this man [Minassian]. But the realities are that some men are genetically not capable of attracting a woman.”
The messages espoused by the community convey both a sense of bleak helplessness and a belief that women function strictly on a superficial plane. Forums often lament feminism and women’s liberation saying that it has taken power away from men, and paint women as whores who are only interested in casual sex. There are undercurrents of staunch right-wing beliefs, like women should be virgins before marrying, and crude terminology is used to describe the genitalia of women who have sex with more than one partner.
READ MORE: ‘He wasn’t a terrorist’: Those who knew Alek Minassian struggle to explain the Toronto van attack
But Peterson is keen to scrub the movement of these misogynistic associations, chalking much of the comments up to sarcasm, venting and “dark jokes.”
“Some people do lash out against women and there’s a lot of misogyny in the community, but I don’t think that’s justifiable,” he says. “My views are that women are people like everyone else, but it’s in their nature to reject men who are genetically inferior. I don’t blame them for it. It’s how they’re programmed.”
A deep dive into the incels.me website, of which Peterson was once a staff member tasked with moderating chat room comments, reveals thoughts that run the gamut from sad to downright alarming. In one thread, a number of members discuss what they would do if they ever had a girlfriend (“I won’t ever get one, so there’s no point in speculation”), while in another they spew racist rants about ethnic women and discuss getting revenge.
Peterson admits that the community is divided and emphasizes that the outspoken members who espouse violence are the vocal minority. He says they’re also the ones responsible for praising Rodger, and more recently, Minassian.
“There are people who praise Elliot Rodger, I won’t lie about that, but it’s just extremely dark humour; something that people talk about for a laugh.”
He says one of his long-term goals for the site is to ban this kind of discussion from the site (he no longer works for the site but says he’s still on good terms with the staff). That’s also why he hosts the podcast, The Incelcast, which he hopes will give the movement a different, more peaceful face.
READ MORE: The role entitlement, rejection can play in misogyny and violence against women
Peterson depicts the average incel as an 18- to 19-year-old university student who “can’t find a girl but will probably find one in a couple of years if they try hard enough.” He also says that they’re typically “meek, shy guys who wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
LISTEN: What is incel? Professor Ross Haenfler, an expert on subcultures, explains
However, one incel, who has also been described as “quiet,” may have hurt a lot more than a fly this week.
The fact is, even though Peterson describes his community as a place where like-minded men with similar experiences can go to vent or find solace and support, the insular nature of it makes it inherently dangerous, experts say.
“When people find a space where there are other people they can relate to, on the surface that seems like a productive use of an online space,” says Meaghan Peckham, a clinical social worker in Toronto. “But when there isn’t anyone challenging their experience with an external perspective, the validation can fuel aggression.”
“It’s not like they’re saying, ‘I’m feeling lonely and I want to improve my situation.’ It’s more that, ‘I’m involuntarily celibate because of these women and therefore I’m going to retaliate in some way.'”