Is internet radicalization to blame for incel murders? The short answer? No. The long answer? Maybe.
Incels, cliché as it may sound, come in all shapes and sizes, and while the name may have somewhat techy connotations to anyone unfamiliar with the term, the word “incel” itself has no links to the internet. It’s derived from “involuntary celibate” – incels are simply men who desire sex and can’t acquire it.
The Incel Phenomenon
I’ve been fairly active on the internet for a few years and in that time have become incredibly familiar (and I daresay friendly) with incels, to the point where I’d consider a lot of these interactions successful too. From what I’ve seen, most of them are misunderstood, somewhat shy boys who express their feelings of romantic rejection and deep solitude to their peers online. Sometimes this can come off aggressive and hostile – there’s obviously little justification for this – but the dismissal from women and wider society can leave numerous men feeling hollow and lacking peace with the wider world. Your most common incel group consists of socially awkward teens and twenty-somethings who have yet to find love and feel like a failure as a result. For the most part, there’s a justified feeling of sympathy here.
But in the case of internet radicalization, there is, of course, a more prominent and contemptible subgroup. Whether they make up the larger majority is still in question, but this incel is probably the type you immediately think of when met with the terminology. This incel is the outrageously bizarre character who has a passionate and strong hatred for women and who makes absolutely no effort to keep it a secret.
Elliot Rodger’s Day of "Retribution"
There’s rarely a piece on incels without, at least, a brief mention of Elliot Rodger. While unfortunately, Rodger is not our most recent tragic tale, he’s certainly the most infamous. Elliot Rodger epitomizes the more widespread view of the “incel” - he’s your stereotypical, heated, bitter loser with the inability to attract a woman, only this one had a motive to kill.
Elliot Rodger carried out the Isla Vista, California killings in May 2014 where he murdered six and injured 14 others at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Rodger is widely known today as “the virgin killer.” Often left frustrated by his inability to attract the opposite sex, he would spend his days driving around in his expensive car, gazing at couples from afar and wondering what he was doing wrong, blinded by his ego and inability to understand human affection and why he was unable to attain it. His lack of love manifested into something deadly and evil – an envy-driven obsession with lovers and, more specifically, women. Unable to bear any more agony from his loveless and seemingly plain life, Elliot Rodger set out to perform a deadly attack to claim his “revenge” on the world.
Elliot Rodger, the virgin killer, murdered six people because he was angry he didn’t have a beautiful girlfriend.
Rodger called his 137-page plan for massacre "My Twisted World,” and described setting out to torture and murder his housemates in his first phase, then unleash his “war on women” in the second one. Rodger had stated in his plans that he’d “punish all females for the crime of depriving him of sex” and stated that in doing so they had “taken many years of his life away.” In this, his aim was to murder “beautiful blonde girls” who “looked down on him” promising to “slaughter every single one of them.”
Rodger’s deep misogyny and hatred carried on, brimming through pages and pages of self-induced grief and fury. One that stood out was a short story in which he stated, “On one of my very last days as a teenager, as I was sitting at my usual place at the food court outside Domino’s, I saw a sight that shattered my heart to pieces. A tall, blonde, jock-type guy walked into one of the restaurants, and at his side was one of the sexiest girls I had ever seen. She too was tall and blonde. They were both taller than me, and they kissed each other passionately. They made me feel so inferior and worthless and small. I glared at them with intense hatred as I sat by myself in my lonely misery. I could never have a girl like that. The sight was burned into my memory, and it caused a scar that will haunt me forever.”
Rodger had expressed similar tales on his YouTube channel, constantly plaguing himself with the visions of other happy couples. Though his viewership pre-shooting would have been small, it’s safe to assume those who did make the effort to watch through these video diaries probably also experienced similar (though much milder) feelings of grief and anger toward couples and may have created something of an echo chamber for Elliot. The forum may have given Rodger small comfort, but his willingness to share such angry feelings with strangers online should point out a much larger issue in society, one where young men can enter subgroups and be able to manifest and breed more irrational hatred within them. Even Elliot’s “day of retribution” document, where he had noted his past pain and his plot to kill, had been sent to someone he knew from an online bodybuilding forum, raising further questions on just how tight-knit and deadly seemingly innocent groups can become.
Kin of the Cold – Broken Parental Relationships
Though much of the focus on the killing revolved around the misogynistic motives of the killer, there’s one very curious character in this tragic tale, and that is Elliot’s father, Peter Rodger. Peter is a wealthy British filmmaker and photographer whom Elliot had inherited all his wealth and riches from but had developed a strong and obvious disdain for.
As stated previously, Elliot had outlined his deadly intentions in a 137-page document, and within it, he had written: “On the morning before, I will drive down to my father’s house to kill my little brother, denying him of the chance to grow up to surpass me, along with my stepmother…as she will be in the way. My father will be away on one of his business trips, so thankfully I won’t have to deal with him.” Fortunately for Peter’s wife and son, Elliot was unable to access them on the intended day, so they were both left unharmed. But here, we see that Elliot follows a common pattern seen in the world’s most notorious killers – a lack of love and a strained relationship with a parental figure, alongside hatred for other family members.
A man named Bob Weiss, whose daughter, Veronika, was tragically killed in the shooting, has famously blamed Elliot’s father for giving him too much money and not enough supervision. Weiss even stated he had no ill feelings toward Elliot himself as he was clearly “mentally ill” and that the “system did not protect him.” In an interview from 2015, Weiss stated, Elliot’s family “knew he had serious problems, so why did they set him up in Santa Barbara when they lived in LA? Was it to get him out of their hair? That way, they can see him within a two-to-three hour car ride, but far enough to not just show up at their house?”
Could Elliot’s massacre have been prevented by a healthy relationship with his father?
Following the shooting, many had voiced similar feelings toward Peter Rodger. His interviews were deemed to be insincere and unfeeling by many, and some commented on the fact that Peter seemed relieved to finally have his son out of his life and off his back. With this, many would wonder whether Elliot’s actions could have been prevented by having a loving, healthy, strong, male figure in his life. Likewise, this theme is prevalent in many murders, especially those carried out more recently.
In August of this year, Jake Davison, 22, shot and killed five people in Plymouth, England, injuring two others before fatally shooting himself. One of the fatalities was Jake’s mother, with whom he lived. There has been no sign of a father figure in Jake’s life, so we can only assume that she was his main parental figure. Just days before the shooting was carried out, Davison had taken to the internet to rant about women and how they were “arrogant” and “entitled beyond belief,” also telling a U.S. teenager on a subreddit forum that he was “bitter and jealous” and expressed how women “treat men with zero respect or even view them as human beings.”
Incel Culture “Solutions”
Since the shooting, the topic of “incel culture” has grown in the UK, with many eager to take to their platforms and call out this behavior, being firm on these men being “societal rejects” and that they’re “unwanted by society.” The problem? These men already know this, in fact, it’s what facilitates and justifies their loathing of the wider world. Calling people what they know they are, and even self-proclaim themselves to be, does nothing; it’s just an opportunity for people to state the obvious and feel they’ve accomplished something. Incels don’t need you to tell them what they are, most are accepting of their lifestyles and nature. It’s incredibly simple to condemn the actions of subgroups you think are strange and peculiar, but think about what that actually contributes to solving a wider issue because, odds are, it does nothing.
Incels crave love and attention, and if they can’t get it, some will settle for infamy.
It's easy to look at these young, violent men and blame an internet subculture for their radicalization. In fact, many feminists believe these young men's crimes are just further proof of the wider society's hatred of women. And while there's certainly still plenty of misogyny in the Western world, it's not a sufficient explanation for these random and extreme acts of violence.
The fact is that the home in which a murderer is raised is a much bigger predictor of how he turns out than the wider society. Ignored, abused, or indulged by their own families, these men grow up craving attention. They conflate attention and power with love and affection. Unfortunately, this often includes infamy (as we saw catastrophically with Elliot and Jake). Like many other murderers, Elliot's violence against the students was a cover for his deeper intention to kill his family members.
These men live lives where they’re hidden in the shadows, outcast, desperate to feel seen, and seeking ways to keep their memory alive. They have a fervent and ardent craving for recognition from a certain person and project those feelings into aggression and destruction – they want their names on the news, they want to be feared, they want you to hate them because, in their minds, they’d rather you felt hatred for them than nothing at all.
Incels exist. They’re part of internet cultures and manifest in all types of online (and real-life) spaces. Most are innocent, isolated men with a desire to be seen, while others seek to be monsters in a world where they’ve always been small. There’s no excusing the actions of violence, but we can’t be scared to acknowledge when such situations may have been prevented. Far too often, we forget the simplest way to fight hate is by showing love.
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