It was not the trail of bodies but a drink splashed on the windscreen reducing visibility that eventually brought Alek Minassian’s rampage to an end, the Canadian mass killer told police.
Mowing down pedestrians on a busy Toronto pavement in a rented van for 1½ miles, the 25-year-old had killed ten people and wounded 16. The final stage of his plan, to be shot dead by the police, backfired when an officer arrested him after a tense stand-off.
Two years on, Minassian is standing trial, giving the involuntarily celibate, or “incel”, movement its day in court. In the intervening years, experts say, that online group — comprised of indignant, sexually frustrated men — has increased and become more hostile.
“Minassian is the first perpetrator of mass violence connected to misogynist incel ideology who didn’t die,” said Alex DiBranco, founder of the Institute for Research on Male Supremacism and a PhD candidate at Yale University. “So we haven’t had the opportunity previously to see somebody prosecuted for this cause.”
Minassian, now 28, admits to the killings but has raised a defence of not criminally responsible to ten charges of murder and 16 of attempted murder. The trial, before only a judge, began this week.
Inceldom can be traced to the misogynistic “pick-up artistry” movement, whose leaders taught seduction techniques, said Ashley Mattheis, a researcher at the University of North Carolina. By 2007, those who felt they would never succeed in forming relationships had splintered off, co-opting the term incel from an inclusive blog to support lonely people.
Today the movement intersects with far-right extremism and other forms of male supremacy and uses online message-boards.“While they share the same kind of ideal about what masculinity should be — the buff, strong dude with money that chicks want — their relationship to it is failure. Incels race to the bottom,” Ms Mattheis said. Their rules stipulate: “If someone touched your mouth with her mouth voluntarily you are not an incel.”
While most are unlikely to become violent, a small nihilistic coterie call for the violent overthrow of the “Stacys”, meaning shallow women, and “Chads”, the men they date. “They link that to some very strange social, economic ideas about redistributing women,” Ms Mattheis said.
Chief among them was Elliot Rodger, a 22-year-old who killed six people at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 2014 and left a manifesto.
Minassian, who had communicated with Rodger online, wrote on social media on the morning of his own attack that the “incel rebellion” had begun, adding: “All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”
In a police interview, Minassian said he had been laughed at by girls at a Halloween party in 2013. “I was angry that they would give their love and attention to obnoxious brutes,” he said, a familiar incel refrain. “I feel like I accomplished my mission,” he said after the attack, adding that he hoped to “inspire future masses”.
He joined the Canadian army in 2017 but left after 16 days of basic training, and was introduced to incel ideology at college. Eight of his ten victims were women, ranging in age from 22 to 94.
As many as 50 people have been killed in incel-related violence in North America since 2014. In May, Canadian police brought incel-related terror charges for the first time against a 17-year-old, following a deadly machete attack on a Toronto massage parlour.
Ms DiBranco said that extreme misogynist forums were becoming “more extreme and are growing faster”.
A recent Swedish report found that one incel website had 57,000 unique visitors a month in late 2019. “It’s a concern and it’s a threat,” Ms Mattheis said, “and it should be taken seriously.”