In online communities celebrating misogyny and decrying men's so-called “involuntary celibacy”, the suspect in the April 23 van attack in Toronto was being lauded as a “new saint”. This caused some on social media to urge a closer look at the link between such groups and mass violence.
Alek Minassian is the latest suspect in a mass killing to be linked to the “manosphere”. This is an online culture where men have spread misogynist rhetoric for years — often condoning rape and vehemently promoting the assumption that they are owed sexual relationships with women. Many such men declare themselves “involuntarily celibate", or “incel”, if they lack success in dating.
The often violent discussions that take place in such communities led Reddit to shut down its incel subreddit last November. It moved to ban content that “encourages, glorifies, incites, or calls for violence or physical harm against an individual or group of people”.
According to Toronto police and Facebook officials, minutes before he allegedly drove a van into a crowd of pedestrians walking along a busy thoroughfare, killing 10 people, Minassian posted a message on his since-deleted Facebook account, stating: “The Incel Rebellion has already begun!...All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”
Rodger was the attacker in a 2014 mass killing in Isla Vista, California. He killed six people after uploading a video to YouTube in which he described himself as “the supreme gentleman”. He explained he wanted “retribution” for women who had not been attracted to him.
Other recent attacks that have been linked to misogyny include a shooting at a Pittsburgh-area gym, where George Sodini killed three women after writing about his history of sexual rejection, and the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, whose perpetrator had “left a rambling note raging against women and rich kids” and had previously stalked and harassed women.
Law enforcement officials have pointed to Minassian’s reported mental illness as the motivating factor behind the attack. But critics stressed the suspect’s praise of an avowed misogynist and references to the “incel” community should not be dismissed.
“In the weeks to come we’ll learn more about the killer’s mental health, about his childhood, his education, his work, his social relationships,” wrote Emer O’Toole in The Guardian on April 24. "These are important windows on to the tragedy.
“But if involvement in misogynistic online communities is indeed part of the picture here, we need to resist any narrative that would push this into the background. Hatred of women is not a mental illness; it is a widespread and dangerous social problem. It is a problem we need to address before more people die.”
[Reprinted from Common Dreams.]