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  • Writer's pictureDiverting Hate

Operationalizing Loneliness: Incels and Violent Misogyny

TW: Violence, suicide mention

Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation | U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Office of the Surgeon General


Loneliness is becoming lethal — according to a 2023 U.S. Surgeon General publication, loneliness “can increase the risk for premature death by 26%” (1), a similar risk of smoking up to fifteen cigarettes a day. Incels, or those who are involuntarily celibate, structure an online identity based on their isolation from women. For some, loneliness and a lack of access to women act as a catalyst toward lethality.


More than five self-described violent misogynists have employed mass violence in the United States since 2010 (2). At least six mass shootings tied to the perpetrator’s affiliation with the incelosphere have occurred since the 2014 Isla Vista tragedy when Elliot Rodger killed six people and injured fourteen others (3). The perpetrator, notorious within the manosphere for his reputed acts of heroism, repeatedly mentioned suffering from chronic loneliness in a lengthy manifesto. In an assessment of documented violent misogynists who self-identify as incels, 10% of offenders with recorded manifestos (n=30) cite their historic failure to form intimate or sexual relationships with women as a motivation for their respective attacks (4).


It is important to differentiate between incels and violent misogynists, the latter of whom may self-identify as incels. Some incels — especially early pursuivants to the internet-borne communities — are not violent (5). It is also essential to situate misogynistic hate crimes within the manosphere as a whole, meaning that these crimes are specifically committed because of an individual’s specific grievance; relationship violence occurs inside and outside of applications of violent misogyny (6). Therefore, it is more accurate to refer to gender-based terrorism as committed by violent misogynists rather than incels in toto (7). Hoffmann’s seminal work on incel violence highlights the varying dimensions of violence within inceldom and asserts that while incel violence is a relatively new phenomenon— i.e. violence committed by a perpetrator explicitly driven by their inceldom (8)— violent misogyny has long since existed prior to the term’s operationalization. Individuals like the École Polytechnique assailant predate the concept of incels (9) yet were motivated by their resentment towards women, confirming that targeted violence against women has not disappeared, but has transformed significantly into vitriolic communities directly advocating for misogynistic violence.


Since its introduction, to be involuntarily celibate meant participating in spaces of commonality, an experience shared by those disillusioned by their lack of romantic or sexual encounters.


Now, the term incel is colloquially used to describe an individual seeking revenge against women for a “gynocentric” (woman-centered) world, motivated by their perceived victimhood.

Violence motivated by inceldom takes many forms; in April 2022, a self-identified incel was sentenced to prison for stalking, threatening, and harassing multiple victims (10). While researchers continue to agree upon what constitutes harm, especially on online platforms, 33% of women under 35 report having been sexually harassed online, and the percentage of women reporting having experienced sexual harassment has doubled since 2017 (11).


One could also consider that the creation of the term “incel” as a tool of self-identification is rooted in structures of male supremacy and patriarchal norms. While maintaining social connections positively contributes to one’s well-being (12), framing the importance of having a relationship as something that completes an individual implies that one’s sexual experience is tantamount to their intrinsic worth. The psychology behind basing one’s inherent value on romantic or sexual experiences, or lack thereof, must be investigated to understand why violent misogynists are willing to be violent. Feminist scholar Caron Gentry asserts that misogynistic terrorism — i.e., violence against women outside of “everyday terrorism” or domestic violence — “is perpetrated by individuals invested in a larger patriarchal system” (13) wherein the subordination of women necessitates violence. The strict categorization of “alphas” and “betas”, “Chads” and “Stacys” illustrate the incel perspective of upholding misogynistic, racist, and ableist structures while also encouraging violence against women to demonstrate “an ontology and epistemology that power belongs to the dominant.” (14)


What happens when incels’ extreme nihilism and self-hatred extend beyond the internet? Since the Isla Vista attack in 2014, more than 100 lives have been lost to incel-related violence (15). Eight people were killed in an act of violence linked to incel beliefs by the Allen, TX perpetrator, whose online profile demonstrated that he browsed and engaged with incel forums (16). While the already nebulous incel ideology continues to evolve, the dialectic core of both entitlement to and disgust towards women indicates how central heteropatriarchal belief systems are to those who escalate toward violence. Misogyny remains an ideological pillar among historic attacks affiliated with the inceldom, such that users on certain online platforms encourage aggrieved individuals to “go ER”. A study evaluating inceldom revealed that incel forum participants report high levels of self-dangerousness, making some users feel violent. In turn, users may report instances of self-isolation and increased levels of suicidal ideation. Current research suggests that individuals who regularly engage with misogynistic vitriol have an increased likelihood of self-reporting suicidal thoughts (17). Users who routinely expose themselves to misogynistic content partake in a process of self-radicalization that may frame violence or suicide terrorism as a solution to correcting a world that has denied them access to women.


Other than acknowledging that individuals are profoundly affected by their grievances, what can be done to redirect individuals away from violence? While experts begin to better understand pathways of online radicalization, initiatives and programming worldwide tackle isolation and community strengthening. Incremental change is starting to take place. Groups like EVRYMAN host retreat programs thoughtfully designed to destigmatize vulnerability and encourage emotional connection among men. Organizations like Moonshot are leading the way in threat-prevention research in efforts to thwart online radicalization in the United States and Canada. At Diverting Hate, we’re working towards reducing the proliferation of hateful misogynistic behavior by using digital advertising and partnership-building. Hope grows in both directions: Subreddits like r/exredpill and r/incelexist exist for ‘post-ideology’ incels looking to reject the ‘blackpill’ and healthily engage in a supportive and rehabilitative community. At large, current research suggests that a community-oriented approach is an effective tool in combating radicalization; the Building Resistance Against Violent Extremism initiative developed by the World Organization for Resource Development and Education (WORDE) emphasizes research-driven strategies to utilize a community-based approach in countering violent extremism.


 

References

  1. United States. Public Health Service. Office of the Surgeon General. (2023). Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Office of the Surgeon General. https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/surgeon-general-social-connection-advisory.pdf

  2. Everytown Research, “Misogyny, Extremism, and Gun Violence”, (2022), https://everytownresearch.org/report/misogyny-extremism-and-gun-violence/.

  3. Ibid.

  4. Julia Kupper and J. Reid Meloy, “TRAP-18 Indicators Validated Through the Forensic Linguistic Analysis of Targeted Violence Manifestos”, Table 6, 186. https://drreidmeloy.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/2016_TheLoneActorTerrorist.pdf

  5. Megan Kelly, Alex DiBranco, and Julia R. DeCook. “Misogynist incels and male supremacism: Overview and recommendations for addressing the threat of male supremacist violence.” New America (2021), pg. 5.

  6. A recent study shows that most mass shootings are related to domestic violence; in 68.2% of mass shootings, the perpetrator either had a history of domestic violence or killed at least one partner or family member. For further information, see Lisa B. Geller, Marissa Booty, and Cassandra K. Krifasi, The role of domestic violence in fatal mass shootings in the United States, 2014–2019 (Washington, D.C.: Injury Epidemiology, 2021).

  7. Kelly, Megan et. al.

  8. Bruce Hoffman, Jacob Ware, and Ezra Shapiro, “Assessing the Threat Of Incel Violence”, 7(43), 565-587. https://doi.org/10.1080/1057610x.2020.1751459

  9. Mia M. Bloom, “The First Incel? The Legacy of Marc Lépine”, JICW, 1(5), 39-74, https://doi.org/10.21810/jicw.v5i1.4214.

  10. United States Department of Justice, (2022), “Peekskill Man Who Identifies As An “Incel” Or “Involuntary Celibate” Is Sentenced To 30 Months In Prison For Stalking, Threatening, And Harassing Multiple Victims”, Justice.gov. https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/pr/peekskill-man-who-identifies-incel-or-involuntary-celibate-sentenced-2-and-half-years

  11. Pew Research Center, “The State of Online Harassment”, Washington, D.C. https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2021/01/13/the-state-of-online-harassment/.

  12. United States, Office of the Surgeon General, “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation.”

  13. Gentry, “Disordered Violence”, 177.

  14. Ibid, 179.

  15. Rachel Fugardi, Southern Poverty Law Center. “Nine years after deadly incel attack, the threat of male supremacy is growing.” https://www.splcenter.org/news/2023/05/23/after-incel-attack-male-supremacism-growing

  16. Ibid.

  17. Georgia F. Hollewell. and Nicholas Longpré, "Radicalization In the Social Media Era: Understanding The Relationship Between Self-radicalization And The Internet", (2021), International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology.


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