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Asking Incels (Part 1): Assessing the Impacts of COVID-19 Quarantine and Coverage of the Canadian Terrorism Designation on Incel Isolation and Resentment

Jesse Morton; Alexander Ash; Ken Reidy; Naama Kates; Molly Ellenberg and Anne Speckhard

ABSTRACT: Research and journalistic accounts of the involuntary celibate (incel) online subculture suggest that incel-related extremism is characterized by a resentment of women and society propelled within an isolated and radicalizing milieu. However, most insight into incels relies on the radicalization trajectories of the relatively small number of incels that have carried out acts of extremist violence and outsider analysis of comments made in incel forums or small samples survey research. Due to this violence, however, the incel community has over the last year become the focus of enhanced academic, journalistic and law enforcement inquiry, much of it contemplating whether isolation associated with the COVID-19 quarantine will enhance incel-related violence. This paper, based on first-hand survey data collected from incels themselves, the first of its kind, sought to explore whether two recent developments, the COVID-19 quarantine and recent terrorism charges against an incel by the Canadian government, may have exasperated incel ‘isolation’ and ‘resentment.’ To answer these questions, the owner of incels.co (co-author “Alexander Ash”) issued a short survey to forum members (n=427). Results indicate that quarantine made 34.6% feel more isolated, while the terrorism charge increased such feelings amongst 33.9%. Similarly, 30.2% of incels experienced increased resentment as a result of quarantine. However, over half (50.8%) of respondents reported that the terrorism charges enhanced resentment. These results suggest the need to explore the potential effects of public stigmatization and social exclusion on the incel community, as well as isolation and loneliness.

INTRODUCTION

Incels, a portmanteau of “involuntary celibates,” are primarily men who consider themselves unable to attract a romantic or sexual partner despite their desire for one. Self-identifying as an incel, therefore, revolves around a deficit; the lack of a sexual or romantic relationship with a female. This deficit is often experienced as an immense source of personal frustration and shame. Incels do not want to be incels, but identify as such because they perceive that modern society is established hierarchically, in a manner that favors appearance, social status and physical attractiveness, while casting out its “low-tier” members (Moonshot CVE, n.d.). Likewise, during the rather long period of widespread promiscuity between first sexual acts and marriage characterized throughout much of modern society, incels who cannot find sexual and romantic partners feel as a result, condemned to a life of isolation, loneliness and humiliation. These negative perceptions fuel resentment that, by extension, undergirds a deficit- and grievance-based worldview centered around a perceived moral wrongdoing inflicted upon them by unfortunate genetics, particular life circumstances and/or an unjust society which empowers some while marginalizing others. The incel worldview is typified by hostility toward women and, at times, sexually active men that they feel is justified by their own personal intimacy deficiency. 

The incel worldview has been referred to as an ideology, and while the incel ideology does not necessarily offer a ‘coherent system of ideas,’ (Oliver & Johnston, 2000) the repeated patterns and subjective experiences of self-identifying incels cement their core grievance and manifests as a seemingly coherent system of ideas. Incels are part of “the manosphere,” a conglomeration of online spaces (forums, blogs, magazines) related to masculinity and men’s issues, which has been referred to as “the most extreme corner of the misogynistic spectrum” (Basu, 2020). Other men’s groups that form part of the manosphere include MGTOW (Men Going Their Own Way), MRA (Men’s Rights Activists), and PUAs (Pick-up Artists).

According to the current literature, over the past five years there have been nine attacks, claiming over 50 lives, in North America attributed to perpetrators purportedly motivated by the incel ideology (Hoffman et al., 2020). Scholars of extremism have compared incel ideology, social mobilization and online activity to the “tools that have propelled the Islamic State and violent far-right extremists to increasing prominence and attention” (Hoffman & Ware, 2020). Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) classified incels as a type of Ideologically Motivated Violent Extremism (IMVE) in a 2019 public report (Canadian Security Intelligence Service, 2020). In January of 2020, the State of Texas Department of Public Safety generated a report which listed Involuntary Celibates as an emerging domestic terrorism threat – “as current adherents demonstrated marked acts or threats of violence in furtherance of their social grievance,” and includes this as an example of “single issue domestic terrorism” (Texas Fusion Center, 2020). The implications of these formal designations include new legislation, policy, and surveillance recommendations concerning people affiliated with the community. 

Since these reports, three additional attacks have been attributed to incels (Zoledziowski, 2020). The third attack, a stabbing which occurred on February 24th, (News Staff, 2020) led to an unprecedented legal decision by the Canadian Royal Mounted Police to charge the 17-year old perpetrator with terrorism offences on May 19th of 2020, a charge that had hitherto only been applied to members of the Islamic State or al-Qaeda (Lim, 2020). On May 20th, one night following the Canadian terrorism charge, 20-year-old Armando Hernandez Jr. was arrested after allegedly shooting three people at Westgate Entertainment District in Glendale, Arizona. According to prosecutors, the perpetrator identified as incel, and “specifically said that he was targeting couples,” in an interview with investigators (McLaughlin & Rose, 2020). 

Interest in the “incelosphere” has intensified over the past few years, to include journalistic and academic explorations aiming to better understand the ideology, community, and individuals that form it. Nonetheless, research has not sought to grapple with the antecedent conditions of this self-described frustrated life situation or to any potential long term consequences of living with this self-identification, whether as a result of the social alienation experienced by many incels, or of extended immersion in the contemporary incel subculture, which exists entirely online (Beauchamp, 2019). Many incels report experiencing depression and social anxiety (“Demographics of Inceldom,” 2020). Furthermore, an overwhelming majority do not discuss their incel status with family or acquaintances offline and just over one-quarter self-report as belonging on the autistic spectrum (“Demographics of Inceldom”, 2020). This suggests some level of dispositional propensity toward inceldom that has not been explored in depth. Instead, existing research is primarily concerned with the relationship between inceldom and violence without careful examination of the underlying issues and perceived grievances within this community.

During the past six months, as a result of the novel coronavirus, the world has been forced into various stages of quarantine and self-isolation, and emerging data portray the emotional and psychological toll these conditions can take on our collective mental health and ability to harmoniously coexist (Fitzpatrick et al., 2020).  As people around the world have endured the COVID-19 pandemic, many have questioned what impact quarantine will have on extremist movements (Ariza, 2020). As one terrorism researcher put it, “the first six months of 2020 will be a ‘watershed’ moment for these movements of angry young men as they are spending more time online amid lockdowns” (Russell & Bell, 2020).  

THE POLICY PROBLEM 

Radicalization is a burgeoning and complex avenue of research. Because there are far more avenues to investigate than conclusions upon which scholars agree,  defining and applying the term can be problematic. Nevertheless, radicalicalization is regularly used to denote a socialization process which impacts people to such an extent that they become affiliated with, or involved in (violent) extremism. Based on this understanding, countering (violent) extremism does not counter terrorism, but rather the process of ideological adoption and or socialization into a group that promotes acts of political violence. 

Yet, terrorism is a low base rate phenomenon – a product of there being very few actual terrorists relative to the number of those radicalized (Taylor, 2010; Taylor and Currie, 2012, p.11). Despite research documenting that only a small number of cognitively radicalized individuals go on to commit terrorist attacks, the tendency has been to pay a disproportionate amount of attention to the violent-extremist few (Davis et al., 2013) rather than investigate how or why the vast majority of similar others did not become (violent) extremists (Bosley, 2020; Erdberg-Steadman, 2020; Reidy, 2019). 

While investigating the violent extremist few may seem a logical tract, the problem is that low base rate bias may exaggerate assessments of the likelihood of extremists engaging in violent terrorist activity (Horgan, 2012). This bias may produce counter-effective consequences (Sageman, 2015). For example, countering violent extremism (CVE) initiatives have been accused of stigmatizing Muslims, (Brennan Center for Justice, 2017) which plays into the militant jihadist narrative that Muslims and Islam is under attack by the West, thus unintentionally facilitating greater rates of radicalization and violent extremism, (Sjøen & Jore, 2019) cementing a victim mentality that enhances in-group, out-group bias, (Whitbourne, 2010) further dehumanizing out-group members (Kteily et al., 2016) and justifying the turn to violence for potential extremist actors (Varvin, 2005). Ergo, second-order consequences of labelling a diverse and largely non-violent group as “terrorist” premised only upon a cognitive or rhetorical affinity may backfire. 

Therefore, there is a legitimate concern regarding the consequences of enhanced scrutiny and subsequent generalization of small violent subsets of the incel community. Indeed, research on incels has paralleled an evolving shift in the focus of radicalization and extremism studies and practice, from one primarily concerned with violent extremist acts motivated or carried out by individuals influenced by foreign terrorist organizations such as ISIS and al-Qaeda, to one that increasingly examines domestic threats, such as far-right wing, white supremacist, racially and ethnically motivated violence (Mattheis et al., 2020) and what the United States Department of Homeland Security recently designated as “targeted violence.” That is to say, any incident in which a known or knowable attacker “otherwise lacking a clearly discernible political, ideological, or religious motivation” attempts an act commensurate in severity and magnitude to known terrorist tactics. 

However, it appears that this shift has positioned incels within a national security and terrorism prevention paradigm that has at least temporarily converged on the domestic arena. Under this paradigm, incels have been categorized as part of “a growing trend of radical-right movements that are anguished by the success of neoliberalism (e.g. the sexual revolution and women’s empowerment),” (Gilmore, 2020) and a more “toxic and misogynistic” extremist gateway plucking recruits from the manosphere, (Ribeiro et al., 2020) “a decentralized network of websites, gaming platforms, and chat rooms imbued with a heavy sense of misogyny and significant overlap to other violent ideologies, including but not limited to, right-wing extremism and white supremacy” (Clarke & Turner, 2020). This categorization occurs despite the racial and ethnic diversity of the general incel community, (“Demographics of inceldom,” 2020) even existing amongst the handful of  violent extremist actors with apparent incel-ideological influence (Louis, 2018).

While misogyny and support for violence against women have been correlated with an increased likelihood of support for violent extremism, (United Nations, 2019) such an oversimplified conflation between incels and far-right wing extremism, combined with the fact that only three incel-affiliated perpetrators have been designated as primarily driven by their inceldom, (Hoffman et al., 2020) has not gone unnoticed by the incel community (“Why does media keep pushing the “incels are far right extremists” narrative?,” 2020). Therefore, as those tasked with understanding  call for incel securitization, (Tomkinson et al., 2020) the risk of inducing further exclusion, stigmatization and similar counterproductive responses should be apparent. This does not mean however that one should ignore the cheerleading that goes on among incels for these few perpetrators, or ignore the possibility of copycat crimes given the strong feelings of grievance and celebration over acts of misogynistic violence that exist in echo chambers of frustrated anger.

Notwithstanding enhanced scrutiny, the scholarly literature on incels “remains sparse,” and mostly unempirical (Hoffman et al., 2020). Additionally, none of the research, and little of the journalistic coverage, has been derived from primary, first-hand data collection. Instead, most is based on secondary interpretations largely focused on the ideology, with an overreliance on evidence related to “incel killers” (Silke, 2004) which are few. Similar concerns were highlighted by several critical voices as interest in terrorism studies increased after 9/11 (Gunning, 2007).

This research project sought to begin to address these, and other related issues. It is (as far as the authors know) the first to analyze actual primary data collected from incels themselves, the collection of which was made possible by the research team’s close communication with Alexander Ash, administrator of the Incels.co forum (and report co-author).  

METHODOLOGY

This paper sought to explore whether two recent events, the COVID-19 quarantine and the recent terrorism designation by the Canadian government, may have exacerbated incels’ feelings of isolation from and resentment toward society. To do so, survey data was collected from incels.co (https://incels.co/), currently the largest forum with an exclusive incel demographic on the internet (Alexa ranking ~60,000 worldwide, ~34,000 in the US). Incels.co was created in 2017 immediately following the ban of the “/r/incels” community on the popular social media platform Reddit (https://reddit.com). Its membership is male-only, reflecting the belief held by a majority of the community that women cannot self-identify as incel. The survey was sent exclusively to active users of the forum (i.e., membership-approved users with activity on the forum within the past 30 days and having at least 5 posts). Therefore, respondents are representative of incels.co rather than incels writ large. As such, the administered survey did not seek to establish a base rate, it only sought to establish potential variance.

From August 1 to 8, 2020, members of www.incels.co were posed two questions. Has quarantine made you “more” or “less” isolated or “no difference” (Q1a)? Has quarantine made you “more” or “less” resentful or “no difference” (Q1b)? For each, why and how so (Q1c)? And then, has the terrorism designation of incels made you “more” or “less” isolated online or “no difference” (Q2a)? Has the terrorism designation made you “more” or “less” resentful or “no difference” (Q2b)? Designation was utilized here to refer not only to the case in Canada but subsequent calls to designate the entire incel movement as terrorist and a consequential flurry of social and mainstream media activity that was emblematic of the low base rate bias aforementioned. For each question, a qualitative ‘why and how so?’ (Q2c) was included. In all, 427 incels.co members responded. For question 1, 422 members provided complete responses and for question 2, 424 members provided complete responses. Question 1c and 2c proceeded through two rounds of coding in order to capture the essence of the respondents’ reasoning for their answers to the first parts of the questions. 

RESULTS

Aggregate Forum Data

Prior to analyzing the results of the survey, we reviewed the aggregate data on the incels.co forum activity from January 1 through August 1, 2020, when the forum surveys were issued. We broke the aggregate data into three time periods. Period one covered January 1 to March 11, 2020, when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, (Kelley, 2020) thus setting forth quarantine conditions and subsequent concern that isolation would enhance radicalization. Period two covered March 12 to May 21, 2020, the day after Canadian authorities charged the Toronto teenager with terrorism, (Godin, 2020) and period three ran from May 22 to August 1, 2020, a period when quarantine conditions persisted but that might reflect any alteration in forum activity as a result of the terrorism designation. The chart below details averages for incels.co posts, threads, user registrations and active users across each period.

Table 1: Average Posts, Threads, Active Users and User Registrations on Incels.co from Jan. 1-Aug.1 2020:

PeriodDatesPostsThreadsDaily User RegistrationsActive users per day
Prior to COVID QuarantineJan.1 – March 11, 20206,35223918800
During Initial QuarantineMarch 12- May 21, 20208,32729020785
After Terrorism ChargeMay 22 – Aug. 1, 20207,16029024719

If the initial period is taken as a baseline representative of general Incels.co forum usage prior to the COVID-19 global pandemic, then we see, as might be expected, that activity on the forum enhanced substantially as conditions of quarantine set in. In the second period, average posts per day rose by a third while active threads increased by nearly the same margin. This while new user registrations per day increased from 18 to 20 but average active users per day decreased from 800 to 785. 

In the third post-terrorism label period, there was still an apparent increase in forum activity related to period one: an increase in average daily posts from 6,352 to 7,160, in new threads over the time period from 239 to 290 and in average daily user registrations from 18 to 24. However, the average active daily user number dropped substantially between period one and three, from 800 to 719. This decrease to 719 after the terrorism designation represents a decline from the 785 average active daily users in period two. While this is not altogether alarming, it does suggest a decline in activity from amongst a number of users which could have been the result of concerts related to believing that enhanced scrutiny associated with the terrorism label may subject them to monitoring or investigation. This seems more probable when considering a substantive decrease in average individual forum posts between period two and three, from 8,327 to 7,160. 

Admittedly, there is no way to causally attribute these aggregate alterations to the significant events that demarcate each period. However, the aggregate data does document that the incels.co forum saw an increase in forum activity under initial quarantine conditions, and while increased activity may indicate a possible means of facilitating further radicalization as was suggested as a primary concern above, the subsequent decline in activity coincident to the incel terrorism charge application perhaps indicates a withdrawal of forum activity as a result of enhanced scrutiny. As such, the survey responses may shed some additional light. 

SURVEY DATA:

The survey received 427 responses in total. Of these, the Quarantine section received 422 full responses and the Terrorism Designation received 424. The results of the quarantine and terrorism designation sections will be discussed separately. 

Question #1: Quarantine (Q1a, Q1b and Q1c):

Figure 1: Has quarantine made you more or less isolated? 

With regard to quarantine, respondents reported limited impact. For question 1a, “Has quarantine made you ‘more’ or ‘less’ isolated or ‘no difference’ (Q1a)?” 61.2% reported no change, with 34.6% reporting an increase and 4.2% claiming an decrease in feelings of isolation. This result may explain the increase in postings seen during this time period as for one third of the group isolation had increased. It’s noteworthy however that the majority of incels found the strict lockdowns that made most people suffer emotionally similar to life as normal regarding social isolation–a result that dramatically illustrates how isolated many incels feel.

Figure 2: Has quarantine made you any more or less resentful?

For question 1b, “Has quarantine made you ‘more’ or ‘less’ resentful or ‘no difference’?” 54.1% reported no change in resentment, with 30.2% reporting an increase and 15.7% reporting less resentment. When considered separately, question 1a and 1b highlight that quarantine has  resulted in similar increases for both isolation and resentment (34.6% and 30.2% respectively). However, mapping the interrelationships and coding qualitative responses (Q1c) for each question lends additional insight valuable to better understanding the potential impact of quarantine on the community, identifying the community’s complexity and recognizing that members of incels.co are clearly not monolithic. Those results are detailed in the sections and  charts below.

Interrelationships between Responses to Q1a and Q1b: 

Figure 3 documents a wide range of interrelationships between responses to Q1a and Q1b. It is particularly noteworthy to document that 42% (n=179) of respondents reported no change in their experience of isolation or resentfulness. Of these, 5 respondents reported not being under mandated quarantine. For the remaining categories, we isolated and coded the qualitative responses to the questions below in order to identify more on the nature of these connections. 

Higher Isolation and Higher Resentfulness (quarantine):

16% (n=69) of respondents reported higher levels of both isolation and resentfulness. Of those 69 individuals, 51 detailed a rationale for their responses in the qualitative section (Q1c). Of those 51, 64.7% (n=33) commented that negative personal experience led to the enhancement of both variables, while 18 respondents attributed the cause to negative existential perceptions. 64% (n=21) of those categorized as reporting “Negative Experience” indicated that this was a result of less social contact. For example, “What little social life I had was gone. I have just talked to roughly one person in the last few months” (respondent 170). In equal measure, other respondents reported less extracurricular activity (specifically gyms being closed) and the domino effect that quarantine had on their lives. For example, “because my life routine has been fucked up I couldn’t even go to gym for 4 months my goals are fucked up and I feel like i’m not doing anything to improve my life” (respondent 164). 44% of respondents (n=8) within the Negative Perception category described their higher isolation and resentfulness in a comparative manner. For example, “Seeing people go through what I went through (for 6 years and counting) for 3 months and complain” (respondent 188). 39% of these respondents (n=7) reported a loss of autonomy. This included combinations of routine loss, perceived loss of freedom, mandatory mask wearing or other factors associated with well-being or a perceived decline in their experience of being.  

No Change Isolation, More Resentful (quarantine)

12% (n=51) of respondents reported no change in their isolation but higher levels of resentment regarding quarantine. Increased levels of resentment were driven primarily by negative perceptions (34 of 51 or 67% of respondents). Of those reporting negative perceptions, 65% (n=22) concerned negative perceptions of others. For example, “Seeing normies complain about being inside temporarily when I’ve been forced into seclusion my whole life makes me angry. They can’t social distance for a few months yet I’ve been forced to do so all my teenage years???” (respondent 16). For others, the 18% (n=6) whose levels of resentfulness were compounded by isolation, mandatory quarantine was a negative introspective experience. For example, “there is no change in isolation. i’m more resentful because i had more time to think about my shitty life” (respondent 111). 

14% (n=7) reported higher levels of resentfulness driven by negative experiences, while three respondents reported negative perceptions around a loss of autonomy (including mandatory mask wearing and/or restrictions on movement) and another three reported on the lack of extracurricular activities (specifically gyms being closed).

More Isolated No Change (resentfulness) 

12% of respondents (n=49) reported being more isolated with this having no impact upon their levels of resentfulness. While 29% (n=14) in this category reported that quarantine amounted to “more” of the same (isolation) i.e. “Same General Experience” and “Same Perception”, another 29% found more isolation a negative experience, particularly because of less social contact (64% [n=9]).

Figure 6: No Change (isolation) Less Resentful

7% of respondents (n=30) reported no change in levels of isolation and lower levels of resentfulness. Of these, 60% (n=18) reported a positive perception of quarantine. The reasons behind the lower levels of resentfulness are displayed in the following pie chart. 

The “General” category functioned as a dropbox for various perceptions. For example, the circumstances of quarantine played to the strengths of some respondents’ circumstances; “My job as a farmer has kept me busy, I actually earned more, and had a sense of purpose by being in an essential service” (respondent 21). Others took quarantine as a respite; “I was already isolated before quarantine so no change, im less resentful because i dont have to see or talk to other people anymore” (respondent 294). 22% of respondents hoped that others’ experience of quarantine would foster a better understanding of their lives. For example, “Nothing has changed. I was socially isolated before the quarantine as well as now. If anything I feel a lot less resentful as people are knowing how it feels to be isolated just as I’ve felt for most of my life” (respondent 211). Similarly, “First one, I had no social life anyway, so nothing really changed. Second, some people kind of started to understand my lifestyle, which is always nice to see…” (respondent 391). Three respondents (17%) felt uplifted by others’ reactions to quarantine; “Watching normoids [non-incels] suffer with isolation has been based” (respondent 377). 3 respondents found the opportunity during enforced quarantine to engage in constructive endeavors; “Quarantine has gave me time to reflect on my life. I’ve never had this much free time in my adult life, and I’m glad I spend even a little bit of it changing in a positive way” (respondent 251).

Figure 7: More Isolated Less Resentful

6% of respondents (n=26) reported higher levels of isolation with lower levels of resentfulness. 

Although 34% (n=9) did not provide further elaboration, 31% (n=8) reported a more favorable perception and a further 34% found quarantine a positive personal experience. Regarding the latter,  33% of those respondents reported not having to go outside as a generally positive experience, 56% (n=5) found less social contact beneficial claiming, for example, “…due to being away from them [people], I feel significantly less animosity towards them” (respondent 106) and “I pretty much don’t have to leave my house at this point, less negative interaction = less resentment” (respondent 368). With regard to those reporting positive perceptions (n=8), half of the respondents in this category found increased levels of isolation a less stressful experience. Two engaged in schadenfreude which lowered their resentment; “Bruh i love to see normans suffer in isolation” (respondent 72). A final two respondents found their resentment decreased due to shared experience with others; “Isolated because of lockdown; less resentful because everyone else is just as physically isolated” (respondent 29).

Figure 8: Less Isolated Less Resentful

Two of the respondents in this category became friends with others during quarantine and this accounted for their positive experience. Positive perception of quarantine was a result of lower levels of anxiety and FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).

Figure 9: Less Isolated More Resentful

While 5 respondents found quarantine a good opportunity to spend more online time with others (who were also in lockdown), respondents perceived this as a temporary affair. For example, “I chose “less isolated” for the first question because 100% of my friends are normies have extensive social but I met them online and thus we only interact over the computer. So the quarantine has allowed me to interact with them more due to most of them being online far more often due to lockdown. I have absolutely zero social life outside of online interaction though. I chose “more resentful” for the second due to nerotypical [sic] types constantly complaining about the “lack of socialization” because of the quarantine. For them it’s just a transitional thing and when this all mellows out they’ll go back to socializing and experiencing intimacy while I continue to rot. I’ve got a whole life of quarantine awaiting me and for the average nerotypical [sic] this is just a minor inconvenience if that makes any sense” (respondent 158). 

Less Isolated No Change: This category received two respondents. One did not elaborate and the other reported schadenfreude which was tempered by his ailing health – hence no change in resentfulness. 

Isolation and Resentment under Conditions of Quarantine: 

In summary, if conditions of COVID-19 quarantine do indeed represent “a ‘watershed’ moment for these movements of angry young men as they are spending more time online amid lockdowns,” (Russell & Bell, 2020) we might expect a more substantive increase in resentment related to enhanced isolation and/or increased immersion within a radicalizing milieu such as the incels. As the author of a New York Times opinion piece on the dangers of radicalization and quarantine put it: “[I]t is my fear, as a researcher of far-right and anti-feminist digital spaces, that continuing mass anxiety and material depression will combine with the contemporary digital landscape in an ugly fashion,” (Kelley, 2020).  To justify such concern, the author quoted a post on incels.co that embodied this sentiment:  

“Normies now feel what we feel all the time. Alone, bored, sad, aimless, horny, empty, desolate, disconnected from the rest of humanity — the endless drone of whining and moaning I’m seeing on the social media timelines is the hellscape we have to endure constantly all the time during ‘normal times’, I can’t help but have a huge dose of schadenfreude over this — welcome to our world normiescum,” (“Normies now feel what we feel all the time | Incels.co,” 2020).

Nevertheless, the author’s interpretation of the post’s implications seems inconsistent with the relatively low number of respondents that reported enhanced resentment as a result of quarantine. In fact, only 34.6% of the incels surveyed found conditions under quarantine to be more isolating, while 30.2% increased resentment and 14.5% actually decreased their resentment over the period. These results suggest that any potential increase in incel-related violence is unlikely to be the result of heightened stress and anxiety associated with life under shelter-in-place quarantine. 

In fact, incels may outperform the general population in regard to dealing with the distressing aspect of quarantine in some respects. After a mere three weeks of quarantine, one study asked U.S. adults to complete a validated loneliness scale and found loneliness significantly elevated, with 43% of respondents scoring above published cutoffs, and with such loneliness strongly associated with greater depression and suicidal ideation (Killgore & Cloonan, 2020). Other surveys of the general population in the United Kingdom revealed widespread concerns about the effect of social isolation or social distancing on wellbeing: increased anxiety, depression, stress and concern about the practical implications of the pandemic response, including financial difficulties. The prospect of becoming physically unwell with COVID-19 ranked lower than these issues related to the social and psychological response to the pandemic (Holmes & O’Connor, 2020).

Changes to the usual way of life can make people feel anxious and unsafe, but the survey data makes clear that, for incels, conditions of quarantine are usual. While incels reported “very high levels of negative mental health” before COVID-19, (Research2Reality, 2020) the need for social support is greatest in times of adverse circumstances such as the current pandemic. Hence, severing social support as part of an imposed quarantine or isolation strategy can threaten an individual’s sense of connectedness and may take a considerable toll on mental health. If we reflect back to the charts showing enhanced use of incels.co in the period between the onset of stay-at-home orders and the terrorism designation, we might ask whether incels.co functions as a sort of psychosocial support mechanism that prevents isolation from turning to loneliness or for providing an outlet to express extreme frustration. If we reflect even further into the decreased use of incels.co after ther terrorism designation, we might ponder whether the designation itself induced decreased forum involvement and/or even severed incels from the only social support they experience, thus potentially removing the limited social engagement that possibly differentiates between isolation and loneliness and that may be providing a much needed venting of frustration over real grievances. That inquiry was explored further with question #2: Has the terrorism designation by some sources made you feel more or less isolated? 

Question #2: Terrorism Designation (Q2a, Q2b and Q2c):

Figure 10:

With regard to the terrorism designation of incels in the Canadian case and the wave of critical commentary in academic and mainstream and social media that followed, respondents reported similar sentiments with regard to the impact on isolation, but significantly higher percentages regarding resentment. For question 2a, “Has the terrorism designation of incels by some sources made you feel ‘more’ or ‘less’ isolated or ‘no difference’?” 63.1% reported no change, with 34.6% reporting an increase and 2.3% claiming an decrease in feelings of isolation.

Figure 11:  

For question 2b, “Has the terrorsim designation of incels by some sources made you ‘more’ or ‘less’ resentful or ‘no difference’ (Q2b)?” 47.5.1% reported no change, with 50.8% reporting an increase and a mere 1.7% reporting less resentment. The rise in resentment for over half of respondents to question 2b is substantially higher than the other three variables (which average 30%). Additionally, only five of 427 respondents reported a decrease in resentment as a result of the terrorist designation, with respondent 6 explaining, “I love seeing triggered NPCs (non-playable character) (“NPC,” 2019) who have no clue what they are talking about,“ and respondent 375 proclaiming, “Hatred towards incels is better than derision or indifference. That which is hated is feared, noticed, known. If we can’t have society’s sympathy, let us have their hate!” Interestingly, Speckhard found similar responses made by Belgian Moroccans of second generation immigrant descent who resented being seen as terrorists, but coped by deciding to be empowered by it, remarking, “Okay then let them fear me.” Recalling that there was a drop in resentment for 15.4% of respondents to question 1b is also of compelling import as it is indicative of a substantive portion of incels being able to empathize with the general public’s plight in quarantine but almost no ability amongst respondents to be affected similarly by a legal designation meant to “send an important signal to the broader incel community.”

 Figure 12: Interrelationships between Responses to Q2a and Q2b: 

Paralleling the results of the quarantine condition, the top-four most reported responses were “no change – no change”, followed by “more isolated – more resentful”, “no change – more resentful” and “more isolated – no change”. Each will be discussed separately below.  

Figure 13: No Change (isolation) No Change (resentfulness) 

181 respondents reported no change in both isolation and resentment as a result of the terrrorism designation. The rationale and reasoning varied, but the qualitative responses were coded and are categorized in the chart below.  

29% (n=54) of respondents in this category did provide further elaboration. 27% (n=50) “don’t care what normies think” (respondent 38). Others (18% [n=33]) did not believe it would impact their lives. For example, “I don’t exactly have “incel” written over my face, so people didn’t start treating me any worse. And until I actually start having problems from incels being labeled as terrorists, it’s unlikely that I would care much about it” (respondent 37). 15% (n=27) of respondents in this category viewed this as “nothing new”; “Everyone already thinks that we are scum. The designation changes little” (respondent 230). But 9% of respondents (n=17) found the designation wholly uninformed on the part of the nation state. 

Figure 14: More Isolated More Resentful

130 respondents reported increased isolation and resentment as a result of the terrrorism designation.  

39% of respondents in this category (n=51) discussed the demonizing effect this designation would have on incels. For example, “It made me feel more resentful because people refuse to try understanding our group and instead focus on cherry picking the hyper-aggressive mad ones and obvious trolls. Biases create resentment, making an attempt at understanding should be the key” (respondent 23). Within the same category, others expressed how the demonization could impact upon a potential social circle; “It makes me afraid to be honest about my inceldom and feelings to people so there are less people I can feel truly connected with” (respondent 49). 36% of respondents (n=47) argued that the designation was uninformed. For example,

“I feel as if the people that assume all incels are “terrorists and literally advocate for the genocide of women” have completely no idea what it’s like to have feelings of inadequacy, feeling like you still haven’t emotionally matured because you’ve missed out on an important aspect of life, becoming isolated beyond the 10th degree for a majority of your life, and feeling like you’re at the the absolute bottom of society. I have the right to be upset and angry, and I have the right to vent my frustration on the internet freely and anonymously, and I should have that right without being labeled at a terrorist” (respondent 423). 

Similarly, “Because some idiots went on a killing spree everyone thinks all of us are rampaging idiots” (respondent 364). 

No Change (isolation) More Resentful

79 respondents reported no change in isolation with increased resentment as a result of the terrrorism designation. 39% of respondents in this category (n=30) outlined how the terrorism designation amounted to an unjust persecution. For example, “No change in isolation cause people here don’t know what incel is, let alone designing it as being terrorists. But I do feel more resentful with the designation cause I experience it online and it’s like being incel is my fault to them. As if it’s both a choice and a crime” (respondent 206). Similarly, “It hasn’t made me feel isolated as I’ve been alone for how long it’s been now. Resentful though? Yes it has because I find it idiotic that because I’m already pushed away so far that I’ve locked myself in quarantine years before this shit go down and now you’re still want to come after me just because I’m an incel? Yeah it got me more resentful easily” (respondent 366). 36% of respondents (n=47) found the terrorism designation uninformed. For example, “It hurts me intellectually that incels are seriously designated a “terrorist” organization. We’re a bunch of sexless men, there is nothing political about being unable to get laid” (respondent 248). Similarly, “It does not make me more isolated since I know I’m no criminal or anything but it upsets me since it’s a misleading and unfair label” (respondent 154). Others (11% [n=8]) were concerned with the potential consequences of the label. For example, “I remain inconspicuous of my status as an incel, so no one knows that side of me. Although it makes me resentful, because as media demonizes incels further and further, normies will start to treat us even worse. Not only that, but i can see all kinds of bad consequences happening to someone who has been outed as an incel in the future” (respondent 173). 

More Isolated No Change (resentfulness)

Finally, eleven respondents reported more isolation with no change in resentfulness as a result of the terrrorism designation. Five of these reported general negative consequences of the terrorism label revolving to various degrees around self-censorship. For example, “I feel like I have to be more quiet about my inceldom” (respondent 360) and “Being labeled ‘terrorist’ makes me less able to express my opinions or to inform others of my existence without fear of repercussion, this is isolating” (respondent 219). Two respondents reported that focusing on the violent few rather than the non-violent majority skews understandings of inceldom. For example, “Designating incels as terrorists is horrible. Yes Elliot Rodger killed some people six (6) years ago and alek minassian like 2 years ago. Willfully concentrating on these strikes instead of loneliness, depression, desperation and numerous other issues is evil” (respondent 298). 

Isolation and Resentment as a Result of the Terrorism Designation:

Specific attention to these responses should be drawn to the increase in resentment associated with the terrorism designation, figures that nearly doubled those of the quarantine condition. Assuming that increased levels of isolation and resentment are important factors for incel radicalization, these responses suggest a negative second-order consequence of the terrorism designation – one which may inadvertently propel and/or compound incel radicalization. Indeed, the third most cited response option (“no change [isolation] – more resentful”) under the terrorism condition largely revolved around the designation being “unjust” and “uninformed” which may serve to (further) erode the legitimicacy and authority of those who apply this designation. Such is the real world implication of base rate bias when it comes to radicalization. Concentrating on the minuscule base rate of incel lone actors might so too lead to an implicit conflation of cognitive radicalization and violent extremism, thereby violating the first principle of any counterterrorism (CT) or countering violent extremism (CVE) mechanism, ‘do no harm,’ (Williams, 2015) or even more appropriately ‘do no violent extremists favors,’ (Reed & Ingram, 2019).

While both radicalization and extremism are propelled by ingroup-outgroup bias, distinguishing between cognitive radicalization and violent extremism (behavioral radicalization) is an imperative. After much debate, (Borum, 2011) extremism has been differentiated from radicalization and terrorism by highlighting distinctions in the underlying belief systems of social movements. Scholar J.M. Berger provides a demarcated definition for extremism that states, “Extremism refers to the belief that an in-group’s success or survival can never be separated from the need for hostile action against an out-group. The hostile action must be part of the in-group’s definition of success. Hostile acts can range from verbal attacks and diminishment to discriminatory behavior, violence, and even genocide,” (Berger, 2018, p. 44).

With regard to incels, it is clear that ingroup-outgroup bias lies at the core of the incel grievance. Whether the general sentiment expressed in the community clearly necessitates hostile action against an out-group, however, is less definitive. In fact, we might even go so far as to question whether there is an incel “ideology” at all, or whether incels merely hold a “shared grievance.” Only more primary research will help us better understand the movement and the “ideology” that comprises it.     

Regardless, the ramifications of designating a radicalized milieu as a violent extremist one are significant. Exclusion from society has been demonstrated to have a radicalizing effect; increasing rates of exclusion can push those on a radicalized trajectory to more readily and willingly use violence (Pretus et al., 2018). This has overtures to Sunstein’s (2009) work on how groups move to extremes; deliberating enclaves (groups of like minded people or those with similar experiences such as members of incels.co) may be positive or negative depending on how isolated they are from other views and/or how excluded they are from the public forum. 

Additionally, empirical research into intergroup conflict has shown that individuals who hold beliefs that include differentiation from out-groups heighten radicalization as intergroup tensions escalate  (Leonardelli et al., 2010). To go one step further, dehumanization of an outgroup has been shown to unleash reciprocal dehumanization from that outgroup that are perceived to be stigmatizing and victimizing the aggrieved community. This opens the door to negative perception and violent actions being further justified in the minds of an in-group that considers the outgroup as illegitimately dehumanizing them, which can manifest as a greater willingness to support hostile action against those outside the radicalized ingroup (Kteily et al., 2016).

As reports and papers continue to come out recommending enhanced scrutiny (Lewis & Ware, 2020), securitization (Tomkinson et al., 2020), and intervention for incels (Moonshot CVE, 2019), those studying or working to prevent and counter violent extremism (P/CVE) would do well to reflect on the initial wave of P/CVE policy and programming, efforts that were perceived to be stigmitizing, dehumanizing and securitizing of Muslim communities. Early P/CVE programming showed little impact and left behind the very real possibility that they created more, not less violent extremism, for example by restricting non-violent alternative spaces to air grievances and thus inducing lone actors to believe they had no recourse other than violence (Barbari, 2018; Brennan Center for Justice, 2019).

As it pertains to incels, ample evidence of this possibility is indicated in both the individual survey results and responses and the aggregate data associated with incels.co forum usage. From the time of the terrorism designation unto August 1, 2020, the average active daily user number and individual forum posts dropped substantially from the onset of quarantine conditions. That, alongside the significantly higher percentage of respondents that increased their resentment as a result of the terrorism designation should warrant that caution be applied when applying this label, particularly when violent incels are unrepresentative of the broader incel community and when the “ideology” which underpins it is not uniform. 

CONCLUSION

The main focus of incel research is concerned with the tiny minority who have committed violence against the public and the potential for others to do so. Regarding the latter, the concern is that incel grievances may be harnessed by nefarious actors and converted into violence. The problem is, without thoroughly understanding the grievances which provide the scaffolding to inceldom, posturing on what may (or may not) transition an innocuous incel to an “incel-killer,” failing to recognize low base rate and other cognitive biases in academic analysis and risk assessment, banning incel communication fora online or suggesting a primary reliance on investigation, interdiction or terrorism designations to prevent such a turn are fraught with difficulty. They also risk replicating mistakes made with regard to terrorism research and countering violent extremism programming in their nascent days, when the enemy was Osama bin Laden’s jihadism.  

Calling for the “world to start treating” incels as terrorists and for prosecuting incel killers as such in order to “send an important signal to the broader incel community” (Davis, May 20, 2020) reads reminiscent of quotes from the early years of the War on Terror. For example, on September 6, 2006 then U.S. President George Bush III issued an Address on the Creation of Military Commissions to Try Suspected Terrorists in which he said,  

“With these prosecutions, we will send a clear message to those who kill Americans: No longer — how long it takes, we will find you and we will bring you to justice. These men will be held in a high-security facility at Guantanamo.”  (George W. Bush Archives, 2014)

Now nearly 20 years into the War on Terror, there are more jihadists on the planet than there were on 9/11 (Jones Et. al., 2018). Guantanamo Bay detentions and more rarely prosecutions, far from deterring more terrorism, have been “used by terrorists around the world to help recruit jihadists” (Postel, April 13, 2013) while Muslims around the world, “do not believe the United States in promoting democracy in the Middle East” (Schumacher and Wike, 2020). 

Clearly incels do not pose a threat on par with jihadists. However, as such sentiments are similar, they would likely produce similar outcomes, perhaps inadvertently creating more, not less resentment amongst incels and/or incel terrorism. The case and trial of “incel-killer” Alek Minassian, who killed eight women and two men and injured 16 more in Toronto on April 23, 2018, is a case in point. Prior to the attack, Minassian posted on Facebook that, “The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!” (British Broadcasting Corporation, 2018) Yet, Minassian began fantasizing  about conducting a school shooting long before he knew of the incel community.  He later told a psychiatrist that reading hateful comments about women on the internet made him feel better, but that he only passively read incel commentary online and did not actively engage with the community. He also stated that he did not feel anger towards women and that if he had a girlfriend he might have postponed the attack but could have gone ahead with it anyway for other reasons, like losing a job. Instead, he claimed that he announced the attack on Facebook to gain maximum media coverage (Hasham, Jan 4, 2021). It seems it wasn’t the incel community or ideology at all that actually drove him to commit the attack. Perhaps, if he had engaged in incel discussions online, as opposed to passively reading them, he may have found the interactions to be a kind of venting and the community a psychosocial support that prevented his turn to terrorism. 

Therefore, we must first and foremost become acquainted with the unique conditions of inceldom before we can hope to understand how an extremely fringe subset of incels allegedly engaged with the community and/or ideology turns to violence. In fact, little evidence suggests that any of the incel-killers had much engagement with the community online whatsoever.  Understanding why the vast majority do not engage (and have no intention of engaging) in violence may provide insight into the form effective interventions may take rather than relying on the assumption that protective factors against violence are merely the opposite of risk factors. 

In conclusion, we return to reference the research on dehumanization that documents intergroup retaliation can result in a downward spiral of contempt, antagonism and violence and highlight that this body of research also documents that exposing people to information that they were regarded as quite human by others was successful, in turn, at humanizing outgroups (Kteily et al., 2016).  While some incels dehumanize women, society’s reciprocal animosity or labeling the collective as a terrorist outfit absent some empathy for their condition and/or evidence-based understanding of their grievances is likely to  make them feel dehumanized as well (as evidenced by the data included here and the sentiments expressed in the appendix below).  Any dehumanization of incels as a collective will only make matters worse.  As incels have been rejected for romantic and sexual relationships online and in real life and turn to online forums for companionship and airing of grievances, it seems that  the most effective way to reach them and provide psycho-social support (when needed) would be online and ideally on the platforms they frequent. The authors are exploring various means of gaining a more comprehensive understanding of inceldom in order to design non-stigmatizing mechanisms to mitigate the potential risks of violence against the public as well as to reduce self-harm. 

Appendix : In Their own Words: Selected Qualitative Responses for Q2c

Respondent 1- Shows no interest in bettering the lives of unattractive men, instead furthering the demonisation. Also exaggerating the danger of incel men by tying them to shootings that were committed by men who never actually referred to themselves as incels.

Respondent 23-  I don’t care. I feel kinda unified in a way. I personally think incels should do more terrorism but don’t worry Sarge I keep that off the forum and to myself. No fbi bait from me

Respondent 24- It made me feel more resentful because people refuse to try understanding our group and instead focus on cherrypicking the hyper-aggressive mad ones and obvious trolls. Biases create resentment, making an attempt at understanding should be the key. 

Respondent 32-  Because i am a lonely male and im justly mad at how i’ve been treated i’m the terrorist? What about the guys who picked on me for no reason for a laugh? With me being terrorized? Where the fuck is the terrorism charge on bullies, and scum of the world? 

Respondent 33- It makes me upset when we are bullied by wider society, when we know / I know that most incels wont hurt people. Also I have to be more hush hush about the blackpill.

Respondent 37- A terrorist just because I didn’t get my dick wet? At this point I should just join ISIS and abuse sex slaves, geez.

Respondent 40- Society continues to segregate ugly men even further. The fact that we’ve been declared “Terrorists” means that there’s no grounds which society will sympathise with our issues – Does anyone ever ask “Maybe the Terrorist has gone through a lot?” It won’t be long until ugly men (Incels) are rounded up and put through forced mental centres.

Respondent 44- I feel more isolated because inceldom is being put in a very bad light and it could become a crime to say you’re one soon. It’s made me more resentful since the media controls how people see us and they refuse to recognize our ideas which are backed up by science.

Respondent 49- It didn’t make me feel more isolated because I always knew people hated virgins. But it certainly made me angry to be designated a terrorist group. The absolute ridiculousness, 2 people who never even posted on incel forums designated all of us as terrorists.  Its a narrative they were begging to paint. 

Respondent 51- I’m more concerned about how Government agencies monitors me and might punish me.

Respondent 53- Firstly the media trying to put this new stereotypes of incel terrorists in a mainstream view really made me know that i will be mistreated even more harshly in the future as i have had no girlfriend whatsoever. So that made me feel more isolated. Second of all it did infuriates me that they see all of us as terrorists and really it absolutely increased the anger and resentment to all these bluepilled normies

Respondent 55- They think we are the enemy without a single fact to back that up.

Respondent 56- Inceldom is a symptom and not a disease. It disappoints me that society attacks incels, not realising that the root cause of inceldom lies within society itself.

Respondent 60- I’m used to be isolated so I do not expect any change from anything regarding this.

On the other hand, being labeled as terrorists is harmful, unfair and makes me quite furious.

Respondent 68- Imagine thinking lonely pathetic meek losers are terrorists .

Respondent 73- The bitches try to label us as terrorists meanwhile arabs are exploding here and there.

Respondent 74- Incels are terrorists is propaganda to divert attention from and/or justify legitimate social problems that effect low status men.

Respondent 76- I can’t feel more isolated than I am already. Did make me more resentful, because my own mother saw a documentary about some “incel terrorattack” on TV and believed it completely. That made it worse for me and my situation.

Respondent 79: I believe that it is very wrong for incels to be labeled as terrorists. Incels like myself are just lonely people who want sex and relationships. Just because we vent out our frustrations on forums doesn’t mean we are terrorists.

Respondent 83- I’m being demonized for something I desperately wish I could change. I’m on the bottom rung of society and I’m getting kicked because 2 incels shot a bunch of people. 

Respondent 90- I feel more isolated and more resentful towards foids and cucks, it feels bad to be labeled a terrorist when you did not do anything wrong. Most of us dont even go outside yet foids and cucks still want us locked up.

Respondent 91- I am an Islamic brown man, I get associated with terrorism by default. At least Asian, black and white incels can pretend not to be an incel (and therefore not “a terrorist”) but brown men like me do not enjoy that privilege. 

Respondent 92- I’m a Muslim, so being labelled like that is just another day.

Respondent 97- i want to  be able to express myself, but now that im a terrorist i guess people like me are suppose to be hanged. well my ancestors where niggers who got hanged, so i guess its only ironic that this new society still wants to hang the lower class people of the world (i.e) ugly men and avg to blow ethnic men.

Respondent 103- I am more resentful because incels are not terrorists. When a terrorist commits an atrocity, people never mention that he/she is a sex haver. In fact most incels are quite ”high inhibition”. Such designation is simply false and pure slander.

Respondent 118- If incels are terrorist than world need such terrorists. 

Respondent 121- Incel is not a terrorist organization. There’s no ideology to follow or anything or that sort. I’m just a lonely guy and I happened to find a community of guys who are also lonely, that discuss the cause of their loneliness. All the accusations that incels are a far-right terrorist organization make no sense to me, because for starters I’m not white, and I don’t want to do any violence. If anything, the designation makes me feel more of an outcast because it’s essentially the government saying that if I cannot get laid then they want me dead or in prison. I didn’t choose my genetics.

Respondent 124- Being labeled as a terrorist organization makes it hard to talk with others about your problems. Being a lonely and loveless man is already taboo, so being labeled as a terrorist on top of that only makes it worse.  

Respondent 125- I’m no terrorist, their strawman names dont affect me in the slightest. Blackpill Forever. 

Respondent 135- The western governments of the world are controlled by Jew primarily whom are allied with libtards whom are their brainwashing victims. Jews purposefully created the incel problem to weaken an entire generation of males because they fear strong healthy males who would be able to easily breed would quickly overthrow their system/government control. Jews and their libtard allies accomplished all of this via vaccinations which cause autism, putting soy in the food products which likely increase estrogen levels and feminism males who otherwise would have grown up to be healthy high or normal testosterone ranged men. By putting high fructose corn syrup in the food as well they caused many males to grow up fat and fat creates/promotes higher estrogen levels as well that only aid in the feminizing emasculation of males who otherwise would’ve grown up to become men. 

Respondent 161- Because those are the first steps to criminalizing Inceldom. That will make even the meager and brief social interactions Incels have even more difficult and rare. Since people will completely stay away from them with fear of being associated and therefore labeled as terrorists as well. I also fear that, soon, they will put us in jail and kill us.

Respondent 172- To label Incels as “terrorist” is a fucking joke, I was myself treated as a terrorist in Europe, just for possesing legaly owned firearms and a European Firearm Passport, and spent time in jail for this, I believe because I was a single and was too much honest. Was almost shot by the cops, and the next day threatened by another dirty cop that if it was him I would be shot in the spot even I fully cooperated and followed the cops directives, no posing any threats whatsoever. Now, I can’t even go out of home, and sometimes have thoughts that I would suffer far less if I was shot dead by a murderer cop.

Respondent 174- I remain inconspicuous of my status as an incel, so no one knows that side of me. Although it makes me resentful, because as media demonizes incels further and further, normies will start to treat us even worse. Not only that, but i can see all kinds of bad consequences happening to someone who has been outed as an incel in the future.

Respondent 188- ugly men have demonized throughout history. Nothing new. But even in this era where people rant about body positivity and shit, we are still viewed through the lens of ugly subhumans. And on top of it they are generalizing us as terrorists. Instead of trying to understand what we go through and figuring out ways to end hypergamy they are hell bent on dehumanizing and exterminating us. It has made me feel more resentful and isolated. I can’t even talk about the blackpill with my incel in denial friends without being seen as a potential terrorist. 

Respondent 193- Same people who claim not all Muslims are terrorists for the actions of a few are now trying to paintbrush anyone who hasn’t had sex with the same paintbrush as an Elliot Rodger (since incel literally means person who can’t get laid, it’s not a movement). 

Respondent 196-Incels are the most beaten back, disaffected, and comprehensively fucked over subset of the population and now these assholes are just piling it on, even though there are tons of groups (antifa, muslims) that are 5000 times more deserving of this designation and who don’t get it.

Respondent 199- How am I then supposed to talk and be open about my feelings and problems? II feel unreciprocated love towards a woman, this makes me upset, and that emotion apparently makes me a terrorist.

Respondent 202- A quick google search of the word incels leads to a foreignpolicy article headlining that we’re “radicalized and dangerous”. You do not see this overwhelming public shaming towards groups who commit actual organized social and political violence. Incels face a literal witch hunt with no mainstream signs of compassion in sight.

Respondent 208- No change in isolation cause people here don’t know what incel is, let alone designing it as being terrorists. But I do feel more resentful with the designation cause I experience it online and it’s like being incel is my fault to them. As if it’s both a choice and a crime.

Respondent 220- Being labeled “terrorist” makes me less able to express my opinions or to inform others of my existence without fear of repercussion, this is isolating.

Respondent 230- I feel like I’m being hunted down. Like I am not even a human with feelings anymore. They make me a criminal without doing anything.

Respondent 239- I feel that a terrorism designation of incels would pit the society against incels due to the increased attention and demonisation brought to incels. There are some incels on the more extreme side talking about raping and killing women so honestly I’m not surprised the louder minority creates this image that shows incels as terrorists perceived by normies. Some of us just wants to be left alone to our copes and rotting or just perhaps a very minute chance of ascending. I am one of these less extreme incels who feel more isolated and resentful that we are being painted as supposed terrorists.

Respondent 253- More isolated because now people think I’m a terrorist ontop of being a virgin loser so they discriminate even more. And more resentful because the same faggot government that fucks over my life in dozens of other regards is once again taking a fat shit on my reality – fuck you faggots I never agreed to be governed by ANY of you. WHAT ABOUT MY CONSENT CUCKTARDS?

Respondent 256- I understand that the media wants to act like we incels are terrorizing people most of the time ,but we only going terror within ourselves emotionally and mentally uh I personally wouldn’t physically hurt anyone or blame them for my lack of a social circle and uneasiness with women. It sucks that random people on social media  think our issues aren’t real and we should just try to fight our problems alone and see loneliness as a blessing others wish they can have. I fought with acne and won but I can’t fight through loneliness by myself and pay for people to support me 😔

Respondent 263- Being labelled a terrorist by gynocentric society is a badge of honor. Only under collective persecution can action by low sexual value males be achieved. I feel more connected to my incel brothers, similar to jews feeling more connected to each other from constant shared persecution.

Respondent 272- It makes me furious to see how uneducated some people are. If you think incels are terrorist, then you know nothing about incels. It angers me when someone labels incels terrorist. It’s the easy way out for them, and it makes for good headlines, but it isn’t true. “These incels are terrorist, omg they post misogynistic things” That’s all they have to say. Incels are a symptom of a broken system. This really is common sense, but everyone focuses on troll post and “bad incel terrorist.” 

Respondent 273- Because society created these problems by openly discriminating against incels and most incels have been treated like shit their whole lives and now society wants to further isolate us by calling us terrorists.

Respondent 288- I understand that the label is probably born from misunderstanding and fear of the unknown, it is an expected knee-jerk reaction I was never expecting anyone to really bother and understand incels. More isolated because this label, I suspect, will only serve to divide and make it more difficult for incels to socialise normally. I predict that it will become a sort of vicious cycle.

Respondent 293- Society labeling incels terrorists instead of giving a helping hand only makes one hate society further.

Respondent 299- Designating incels as terrorists is horrible. Yes Elliot Rodger killed some people six (6) years ago and alek minassian like 2 years ago. Willfully concentrating on these strikes instead of loneliness, depression, desperation and numerous other issues is evil.

Respondent 301- Since society considers me a terrorist, I tend to isolate myself more.

Respondent 304- It is common for the worst of a group to be the most remembered, but with incels there is a seems to be a concerted effort to malign even those that are nonviolent. I believe this is because incels present society with problems they cannot and do not want to contend with. They focus on the worst of us so they they can discredit our best.

Respondent 311- Designating incels as terrorists will turn virgin men into scapegoats. It will also be impossible to discuss issues with the modern dating market without being labelled as a terrorist. 

Respondent 323- Nothings changed. The SJW mafia and cancel culture CHOOSES what group of people they want to attack. It’s not really about social justice at all. I can’t take them seriously. 

Respondent 333- It shows clear disdain towards lonely men by the public and a large collective thought to not educate oneself, and instead choose hate.

Respondent 352- It has certainly made sharing my situation much harder and that makes me angry. 

Respondent 357- All muslims are not terrorist, likewise not all incels commit violence.

Respondent 358- It is because just criticize the hypocritical nature of women is enough to designate you as a “terrorist”, while there are so many more killings from ISIS or the drug cartels the media won’t bat an eye on it. 

Respondent 367- It hasn’t made me feel isolated as I’ve been alone for how long it’s been now. Resentful though? Yes it has because I find it idiotic that because I’m already pushed away so far that I’ve locked myself in quarantine years before this shit go down and now you’re still want to come after me just because I’m an incel? Yeah it got me more resentful easily.

You can’t get more isolated than when you cut yourself off from the world. Unless you rope, which I’m not going to do. They want me to, but I’m not going to.

Respondent 369- The absolute lack of empathy towards us is pretty crazy. I’d say that the way society treats incels is more terroristic in nature than the other way around.

Respondent 375- Hatred towards incels is better than derision or indifference. That which is hated is feared, noticed, known. If we can’t have society’s sympathy, let us have their hate!

Respondent 384- It is a stark reminder that, no matter how much suffering we go through, people will always hate us no matter what and there’s nothing that will ever change their opinions on us. There’s no point in trying to make them like us. 

Respondent 385- I feel more isolated and resentful because I know that I am hated not only by my peers but by everyone only because of inceldom. It also makes me furious to see that this disgusting agenda from the lgbqt and women is being accepted by everyone enough that incels are labeled as terrorists

Respondent 401- They can’t address our issues so they figure they would wipe us out by labelling us as terrorists, and most normies would cheer knowing that some ugly women haters are getting killed off based on false assumptions, little do they know that no matter how many incels they manage to kill, society will continue to have incels whether they identify as one or not, when we’re down, they’re going to be next, cause someone has to be at the bottom to be used as scapegoats

Respondent 424- I feel as if the people that assume all incels are “terrorists and literally advocate for the genocide of women” have completely no idea what it’s like to have feelings of inadequacy, feeling like you still haven’t emotionally matured because you’ve missed out on an important aspect of life, becoming isolated beyond the 10th degree for a majority of your life, and feeling like you’re at the the absolute bottom of society. I have the right to be upset and angry, and I have the right to vent my frustration on the internet freely and anonymously, and I should have that right without being labeled at a terrorist.

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About the authors:

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D., is Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) and serves as an Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine. She has interviewed over 700 terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including in Western Europe, the Balkans, Central Asia, the Former Soviet Union and the Middle East. In the past five years years, she has interviewed 245 ISIS defectors, returnees and prisoners  as well as 16 al Shabaab cadres and their family members (n=25) as well as ideologues (n=2), studying their trajectories into and out of terrorism, their experiences inside ISIS (and al Shabaab), as well as developing the Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Project materials from these interviews which includes over 200 short counter narrative videos of terrorists denouncing their groups as un-Islamic, corrupt and brutal which have been used in over 150 Facebook and Instagram campaigns globally. She has also been training key stakeholders in law enforcement, intelligence, educators, and other countering violent extremism professionals, both locally and internationally, on the psychology of terrorism, the use of counter-narrative messaging materials produced by ICSVE as well as studying the use of children as violent actors by groups such as ISIS.  Dr. Speckhard has given consultations and police trainings to U.S., German, UK, Dutch, Austrian, Swiss, Belgian, Danish, Iraqi, Jordanian and Thai national police and security officials, among others, as well as trainings to elite hostage negotiation teams. She also consults to foreign governments on issues of terrorist prevention and interventions and repatriation and rehabilitation of ISIS foreign fighters, wives and children. In 2007, she was responsible for designing the psychological and Islamic challenge aspects of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq to be applied to 20,000 + detainees and 800 juveniles. She is a sought after counterterrorism expert and has consulted to NATO, OSCE, the EU Commission and EU Parliament, European and other foreign governments and to the U.S. Senate & House, Departments of State, Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, Health & Human Services, CIA, and FBI and appeared on CNN, BBC, NPR, Fox News, MSNBC, CTV, CBC and in Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, London Times and many other publications. She regularly writes a column for Homeland Security Today and speaks and publishes on the topics of the psychology of radicalization and terrorism and is the author of several books, including Talking to Terrorists, Bride of ISIS, Undercover Jihadi and ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate. Her publications are found here: https://georgetown.academia.edu/AnneSpeckhardWebsite: and on the ICSVE website http://www.icsve.org

Follow @AnneSpeckhard

Jesse Morton, ICSVE Senior Researcher and Practitioner, was once a jihadist propagandist (then known as Younes Abdullah Muhammad) who ran Revolution Muslim, a New York City-based organization active in the 2000s and connected to a number of terrorism cases. He connected al-Qaeda’s ideology and transformed it for America, creating English language propaganda and collaborating with the most notorious jihadist preachers of that era. Morton deradicalized in 2011, following his arrest in Casablanca and then incarceration in the U.S. Since then, he has worked to become a leading commentator and researcher on jihadist, far-right and far-left extremism and reciprocal radicalization. Before joining ICSVE, Morton ran Parallel Networks, an organization he co-founded with Mitch Silber, the former NYPD official that monitored and ultimately incarcerated him. Morton leads ICSVE/Parallel Networks’ Light Upon Light project, an off and online ecosystem of holistic programming that utilizes a unique transdisciplinary approach to combat polarization, hate and far-right, far-left jihadist extremism and targeted violence in the American ambit.

Molly Ellenberg, M.A. is a research fellow at ICSVE. Molly is a doctoral student at the University of Maryland. She holds an M.A. in Forensic Psychology from The George Washington University and a B.S. in Psychology with a Specialization in Clinical Psychology from UC San Diego. At ICSVE, she is working on coding and analyzing the data from ICSVE’s qualitative research interviews of ISIS and al Shabaab terrorists, running Facebook campaigns to disrupt ISIS’s and al Shabaab’s online and face-to-face recruitment, and developing and giving trainings for use with the Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Project videos. Molly has presented original research at the International Summit on Violence, Abuse, and Trauma and UC San Diego Research Conferences. Her research has also been published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Trauma, the Journal of Strategic Security, the Journal of Human Security, and the International Studies Journal. Her previous research experiences include positions at Stanford University, UC San Diego, and the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland.

Naama Kates is a writer, producer, and creator of “Incel,” a popular weekly podcast for Crawlspace Media. The show is a deep dive into the involuntary celibate community, and features dozens of interviews with incels, as well as researchers and practitioners in mental health, law enforcement, and security. The show has been featured in the New York Times, Vulture, NY Magazine, CTV, and News 4. Naama has a background in computer science and linguistics.

Alexander Ash is the administrator of http://incels.co, currently the biggest incel forum on the web. The forum has remained controversial throughout the years, and it has increasingly become the focus of research by academia as interest in the community intensifies. Ash has retained a scholarly interest in incels since he became aware of the community in 2017, and has attempted to explain the incel world since to a public that tends to conflate the general incel community to incel-affiliated extremists. He is actively engaged in attempting to help the incel community deal with issues such as mental health and social isolation.

Prior to completing his Ph.D. at Northumbria University, Ken Reidy was an English teacher in Germany. Before that, he engaged in various social and commercial projects in the Middle East. He’s currently writing a book proposal which expands upon the theme of his doctoral thesis by bridging it with disparate topics to include adaptive psychopathy, rescuers during the Holocaust, extreme environments as well as Jung’s concept of the shadow.

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