A 17-year-old boy in Toronto, Canada is being charged with terrorism for a knife attack he allegedly committed in February. The suspect, whose name has not been released, is accused of killing a woman and injuring two others. Now, Canadian police are saying the boy was motivated by ideology connected with online “involuntary celibate” or “incel” culture.
Incel Terrorism in Toronto
On February 24, the teenage suspect allegedly went to the Crown Spa in Toronto armed with a knife. There, he seriously injured an unnamed man and woman, as well as 24-year-old Ashley Noelle Arzaga. While the unidentified man and woman ultimately survived, Arzaga succumbed to her injuries at the scene.
At the time, the suspect was arrested and charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder. However, on May 19, the Toronto Police Service and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) released updates to the charges.
“Shortly after the incident occurred, the Toronto Police Service contacted the RCMP Integrated National Security Enforcement Team (INSET) after uncovering evidence that this crime was potentially a ‘terrorist activity,'” the statement read. It went on to say that the suspect was inspired by the online “incel” movement.
What Is an ‘Incel?’
The term “incel” comes from the phrase “involuntary celibate.” The movement revolves around men who feel unable to enter into sexual relationships. According to Dr. John Horgan of Georgia State University, the movement originated as “essentially a support group for troubled young men who were finding it very difficult or challenging to get a girlfriend.”
Dr. Horgan leads a study commissioned by the US Department of Homeland security on incel culture. His institution received a $250,000 grant from the department last June to investigate the phenomenon.
“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,” Dr. Horgan told USA Today. “Incels believe that most women deny them sex because those incels are physically unattractive relative to other men.”
While the movement began as a support network for lonely hearts, it has morphed into something much more sinister, says Dr. Horgan.
“Where things started to change was that I think incels began to look for a sense of what was responsible for that,” he said. “There was a shift in perceptions of unfairness and that blame then became externalized to women.”
A Movement Turned Deadly
The attack in Toronto is not the first time a violent incident has been connected to incel culture. The most infamous example may be the case of Elliot Roger, who recorded a “manifesto” with incel talking points before killing six people and injuring 14 in a shooting at University of California, Santa Barbara in 2014.
Four years later in Toronto, 25-year-old Alek Minassian drove a van into a crowd, killing 10 people. Earlier in the day, he had shared a Facebook post referencing an “Incel Rebellion” and praising Roger.
Violent incidents such as these led the Southern Poverty Law Center to track incels as a hate ideology in 2018. According to the Star, the organization has called it part of the “online male supremacist ecosystem.”
Meanwhile, a paper published in the journal Studies in Conflict & Terrorism linked the movement to “increasingly serious incidents of violence” in the US and Canada. The paper referenced a “series of shootings and vehicular homicides that have occurred at universities, high schools, and on city streets.”
The BBC reports that the suspect in February’s attack is Canada’s first to be charged with terrorism in connection with the incel movement. The boy appeared before the court on Tuesday to hear his updated charges and is reportedly still in police custody.
Incel Terrorism Toronto — Sources
Royal Canadian Mounted Police
USA Today – “A Canadian teenager has been charged with terrorism inspired by the online ‘incel’ movement. What is an ‘incel?'”
USA Today – “Incel: What it is and why Alek Minassian praised Elliot Rodger”