Toronto van rampage throws spotlight on anti-woman vitriol
The deadly van attack in Toronto is training attention on an online world of sexual loneliness, rage and misogyny after the suspect invoked an uprising by “involuntary celibates” and gave a shoutout to a California killer who seethed at women for rejecting him.
The world of self-described “incels,” where sexual frustrations boil over into talk of violent revenge against women, has become a virtual home for some socially isolated men such as the 25-year-old computer-science student charged in Monday’s carnage on Toronto’s busiest thoroughfare.
Minutes before plowing a rented van into a crowd of mostly women, killing 10 people and injuring 14, suspect Alek Minassian posted a Facebook message that seemed to offer one of the few clues so far to what was on his mind. “The Incel Rebellion has already begun!” it read.
Police confirmed Minassian posted the message but have not discussed a motive. The post has revived concerns about the anti-woman vitriol embraced by California mass killer Elliot Rodger and invoked by Minassian in his post.
The incel community is “one of the most violent areas of the internet,” said Heidi Beirich, who tracks hate groups for the Southern Poverty Law Center. “It may seem to some people that this is kind of a group of pathetic, victimized white males who just are lonely. It’s not. It’s ugly.”
Some incel sites insist they don’t condone violence or misogyny.
Until Monday, Minassian had a life that never attracted authorities’ attention.
Living with his family in suburban Toronto, he studied at nearby Seneca College, where some fellow students told news media he had a way with computers. He joined the military last year but asked to leave recruit training after just 16 days, according to Canada’s Department of National Defence.
As a teen, he had an awkward personality, those who knew him then said.
“He was known to meow like a cat and try to bite people,” though he never was violent, wrote Alexander Alexandrovitch, who said in a Facebook post he went to high school with Minassian.
Others said Minassian had struggled socially, especially with women.
He’d intone, “I’m afraid of girls,” former high-school classmate, Ari Blaff, told news media. Another classmate, Josh Kirstein, told The New York Times Minassian “would cower and avoid eye contact when he saw a girl. ... He would shut down completely.”
Whatever emerges about his mindset and alleged motivations, his mention of an “incel rebellion” immediately put the virtual community under scrutiny. Discussion forums buzzed with reactions – some celebratory, some shocked, many wary of the attention.
The “involuntary celibate” identity dates to the 1990s, coined by a Canadian woman aiming to launch a supportive exchange about sexual solitude. But over time, “incel” has become a buzzword for certain men infuriated at being rejected by women and prone to float ideas for violent payback, according to sociologists and others who follow incel circles.