A February homicide in Canada is now being treated as a terrorist act after Canadian authorities announced the teenager who they say committed the crime was inspired by the online “incel” movement.
A 17-year-old boy was arrested and charged with murder and attempted murder Feb. 24 in the stabbing death of 24-year-old Ashley Noelle Arzaga at a Toronto erotic massage spa. The boy’s charges this week were upgraded to include terrorist activity, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Toronto Police Service said in a joint statement.
“Incels,” short for “involuntary celibates,” are men “who, having failed to find women either willing to have or to be coerced into sex, turn their anger into calls of violence,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. In an explanation of male supremacy groups on its website, the SPLC states incels feel “entitled to sexual attention from women.”
Who are incels and why can their actions be considered acts of terror?
The incel culture has only recently begun receiving in-depth study. The Department of Homeland Security in June awarded Georgia State University a $250,000 grant to study incel culture. The research is being led by Dr. John Horgan, a professor of psychology at the university.
"For me, incels are an online community of mostly heterosexual men and their self-worth is defined by what they would see as physical and sexual inadequacy," Horgan told USA TODAY. "Incels believe that most women deny them sex because those incels are physically unattractive relative to other men."
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According to the SPLC: “One of the incel community’s common complaints is that women prefer ‘Chads’ (empty-headed, good-looking men) to nice men like incels, and for this they deserve punishment.”
Many incels embrace a misogynistic worldview and embrace the "violent subjugation of women," Horgan said. While most of the activity incels embrace stays online, Horgan added some have engaged in public violence.
That, he said, can constitute terrorism.
It's a set of beliefs that gives meaning and justification and direction and importance to what incels do and the fact that incels are aspiring to change things up in a bigger, broader ideological sense, that's, for me, what make it a classic example of terrorism," he said.
"That's not saying all incels are terrorists. But violent incel activity is, unquestionably, terrorism in my view."
The evolution of the 'fascinatingly complex and disturbing' incel community
Incels have been around for several years, Horgan said. The group began as "essentially a support group for troubled young men who were finding it very difficult or challenging to get a girlfriend." The community, at first, was about men being able to talk about their experiences of loneliness and rejection.
"Where things started to change was that I think incels began to look for a sense of what was responsible for all of that," Horgan said. "There was a shift in perceptions of unfairness and that blame then became externalized to women."
Horgan referenced a 2014 incident in which Elliot Rodger killed six people and injured 14 in California before killing himself. Horgan said Rodger became a "lightning rod" for the incel community. The transition from online activity to real-world activity was "stark," Horgan said.
"The online incel community is a fascinatingly complex and disturbing place," Horgan said.
A man and a woman were also injured in February's incident in Toronto, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
"On behalf of the Homicide detectives tasked with bringing justice to the victims of these crimes, I would like to thank our partners at the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team for their efforts on this case," said Toronto Police Service Inspector Hank Idsinga in a statement regarding February's stabbing.
The misogynistic incel movement has been linked to violence in Canada in the past. In 2018, Alek Minassian, 25, drove a van into dozens of pedestrians, killing 10 and injuring 14. He had created a Facebook post citing an "incel rebellion" before the attack.
In the U.S., a shooting at a hot yoga studio in Tallahassee in 2018 prompted researchers at Florida State University to look into incel culture.
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