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Understanding Incels: Angry Young Men or Terrorist Movement?
05 Aug 2020

In recent years, dozens of violent incidents linked to the Incel (abbreviation of Involuntary Celibate) movement have been committed by young men mostly in North America. While Incels are an active online community that is generally non-violent, an extreme, more militant fringe has on occasions expressed their sexual frustration and loneliness through lethal attacks that have targeted women, men, and children. These Incels blame social injustices they feel against themselves on genetic determinism and female preferences that have relegated them to the margins of society. They justify their acts of violence as revenge for women’s rejection of them.

The increasing violence perpetrated by Incels fits the broader trends observed in terrorist modus operandi — leaderless lone actors with heavy reliance on social media for radicalisation, networking, fuelling hatred, and posting of pre-attack manifestos, alongside commonly and easily available non-sophisticated weapons such as assault rifles (in the north American context), machetes, and vehicles.

There is some debate about whether Incel constitutes as terrorism. World renowned terrorism expert Dr Bruce Hoffman and Mr Jacob Ware provided a detailed overview of the group and its evolution. While the Incel worldview is not always political, its core ethos on the subjugation and repression of a group, who use violence designed to have far-reaching societal effects fit a broad trend of what constitutes terrorism. There is considerable definitional complexity to the question as some attacks are clearly Incel-motivated and perpetrated to advance a political or an ideological message and incite an “Incel rebellion”, while others are more opaque in their motive. These can seem more personal than ideological or political.

Worryingly, the Incel community’s anti-feminist, anti-semitic, and racist sentiments are increasingly converging with the larger far-right extremist scene. Counter-terrorism responses must therefore be prepared to tackle these two strands of extremism, violent Inceldom, and far-right extremism, and not one or the other. To learn more about the group, watch the webinar hosted by the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, RSIS, with Dr Bruce Hoffman and Mr Jacob Ware here:


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