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Plymouth shooting: The latest of misogynistic terror attacks

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Comment editor Hanna Pham on the recent Plymouth shooting spree and the rise of the incel movement.

A young man, aligned with the incel movement, went on a shooting spree before killing himself.

No, this was not the Umpqua Community College shooter of 2015 who emphasized his lack of sexual relationships in his manifesto. It is also not the 2018 Toronto van attack in which the perpetrator proclaimed “The Incel Rebellion has already begun”, and during police, questioning chronicled his misogynist incel ideology. Unfortunately, there is a new case of an incel shooting spree. In August 2021,  Jack Davison a self-proclaimed incel who frequently complained about his mother and women in incel forums went on a murderous rampage and killed five people, including his own mother.

The fact that the description of an incel on a shooting rampage can be applied to a number of incidents, is a gross indication of how far-reaching this social movement is.

Incel stands for involuntary celibate, an online platform originally created by a university student named Alana, to bring together people who felt lonely. Since then, the incel community has evolved into a complicated ecosystem underlined by hatred for women, and in most extreme cases misogynist massacres. Simply put, more needs to be done to combat misogynist terrorist attacks. The threat is here, and has been present for a very long time but with little action to show for it.

There is a lot of information and jargon regarding incels online, so let’s break down the basics. I sat down with Dr Meredith Pruden, a fellow at the Institute for Research on Male Supremacism to explore the Plymouth shooting in the context of misogynist terrorist attacks and the incel movement en masse.

A domestic terrorist threat

In a report from the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, terrorism studies have missed the mark with incels, treating them as a fringe phenomenon when they should actually be recognised as part of the “manosphere”, a collective movement including incels, men’s rights activists, etc that are intensely misogynistic in order to better understand the digital ecosystem that leads into misogynist shooting sprees.

And as vocalized by Dr Pruden, “when somebody is committing mass violence with the intent to scare people into submission with ideological aims and political motivation, that is terrorism. And I would argue  that misogynist mas violence, definitely qualifies.”

Black pilling

Incels can fall on a spectrum of “pills” which correspond to their ideology. The idea of taking a “pill” was inspired by the Matrix in which the main character Neo is offered a red or a blue pill. In the incel community taking the red pill means to awaken to the reality that men are essentially oppressed.

Prior to the shooting, Davison claimed to have been identified as “black pilled”. According to Dr Pruden, black pilled is the “fatalistic and deterministic extension of the red pill.” When an incel identifies as black pilled they have come to the conclusion that “there is no hope, no way out of the incel identity.” As illustrated by the likes of Davison, Rodgers, Minassian those who identify as black pilled conduct the attacks.

Due to the complexity and largeness of the incel community, it is difficult to say, but “large enough to be concerning.” Above all, through Dr Pruden’s research, she tries to approach her analysis of incel networks with critical empathy. Not everyone in incel spaces is black pilled, the trick is to get to them before they do so.

Coded Language

Coded language is phrases that are used to target specific people, groups, things so that “the circumstances of a phrase’s use are blended into the phrases’ meaning.”  A notorious example of successful coded language can be seen in the rise of the online white nationalist movement. In the biggest white nationalist web forum Stormfront, racial slurs and obscenities are not allowed. So instead, “they’ve made their own way of talking” and are then able to keep an active community.

Similarly, the incel community has its own coded language that has allowed it so to spread so viciously. The discourse centred around pills is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of incel coded language. Another aspect that abets the growth of the community is that their bases are in public forums, available to anyone with an internet connection. They are essentially “hiding in plain sight.”

Where do we go from here?

There is no easy answer to curbing the rise of incels and misogynist violence, but there are emerging approaches that may help. For instance, perpetrators of mass killings, unfortunately, do gain traction and become idealised like Elliot Rodger who had acted as an inspiration for other misogynist terrorist attacks and is often referred to as the “Supreme Gentleman.”

Furthermore, the no notoriety movement has gained traction because it calls for more responsible media coverage of mass shootings. According to Dr Pruden, as of now, much of the coverage in media of incels focuses on killers being autistic or mentally ill and fails to identify that there are structural components to it at all namely misogyny. Not a lot of time is spent on victims and loved ones. And while it may cause a dent in combatting incels, it is by no means a one-fix solution, “a better education system, not just in school but in a global society.”

As aptly pointed out by Dr Pruden, “we’ve known this is a problem for a while and very little has been done.” It is clear that governments have a huge part to play in regulating social media platforms to prevent the rise of incel discourse. “There’s plenty of people out there whose job it is where they’re in think tanks or academic like me, or groups like the institute who are already doing this work They need to engage with these people in order to better understand how these groups work.”

And while it is critical to understand the nature of incels and to examine the movement in order to stop it, as aforementioned it’s crucial to hold in mind that misogynistic terrorism is a very real threat that has claimed the lives of many innocent people. Equally, media coverage needs to change in order to avoid the idealisation of incels and instead make clear that incel attacks to an extent, “amplify mainstream gender norms” that need to be overwritten. So then maybe, as in Plymouth no longer will three years olds be murdered in a rage of misogynist violence.



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