Back in the day, we used to feel sorry for the geeky guys who couldn’t get a date to the prom. These days, some of those geeks have gotten together, created a “movement” of sorts, and labeled themselves “Incels,” short for involuntary celibates.
And they’re dangerous.
The Guardian recently ran an article about a report from the U.S. Secret Service, detailing the growing threat posed by these men who are angry over their inability to form what the report delicately terms “intimate relationships” with women. (Although the Secret Service is best known for protecting US presidents, the agency also examines and implements behavioral threat assessment programs designed to “identify and intervene with those who pose a risk of engaging in targeted violence”.)
The report enumerated the troubling and telltale behaviors of the Incels, which included the sending of concerning and threatening communications, and the posting of “concerning” online content.
Characteristics of Incels include a history of interpersonal difficulties, a history of being bullied, financial instability, and failed life aspirations.
As a case study, the Secret Service examined a 2018 shooting at a yoga class in Tallahassee, Florida, in which a man killed two women and wounded six.
“The attacker was motivated to carry out violence by his inability to develop or maintain relationships with women, along with his perception of women’s societal power over men,” the report said.
The gunman, 40-year-old Scott Paul Beierle, exhibited numerous warning signs including a history of inappropriate and criminal behavior toward women and girls.
Steve Driscoll, a lead research specialist at NTAC, said: “During his teen years, the attacker was accused of stalking his classmates and he wrote stories that centered around violent themes.
“One of those stories was 81 pages long and involved the protagonist murdering several girls before committing suicide. The female characters in the story that were killed represented the attacker’s actual classmates from his high school, but he slightly changed the names in his writing.”
Beierle was arrested three times for groping women and was called “Ted Bundy” by his roommates, in reference to a notorious serial killer who targeted women.
On the day of the shooting, Beierle left a note in his hotel room that said: “If I can’t find one decent female to live with, I will find many indecent females to die with. If they are intent on denying me life, I will have no choice, but to deny them life … Their arrogance, indifference and treachery will finally be exposed and punished.”
Other examples cited in the report included the Santa Barbara killings in 2014, in which a 22-year-old killed six people and injured 14. (The perpetrator had previously lamented his inability to find a girlfriend and spewed his contempt for women and interracial couples), and the 2020 murder of the son of Esther Salas, a federal District Court judge, by a man who described himself as an “anti-feminist lawyer” and warned that “manhood is in serious jeopardy in America.” (Senator Josh Hawley evidently agrees with him...)
While research has yet to identify a profile of those among the Incels who are likely to engage in violence, it has pinpointed a set of concerning behaviors that are commonly displayed before violent or deadly assaults. That said, the report emphasized that misogynistic violence isn’t restricted to the sorts of high-profile incidents that make headlines.
Rather, “misogyny frequently appears in more prevalent acts of violence, including stalking and domestic abuse”. As a result, the report said, responses to threats need to be collaborative between law enforcement, courts, mental health providers and domestic violence and hate crime advocacy groups.
Police will often feel that they can’t intervene in a situation until or unless a law has been broken. Research, however–especially research focused on communities that are successfully coping with these behaviors–has found that the presence of a trained professional in threat assessment can avert many of these assaults by identifying warning signs and deploying the proper resources.
In the wake of the COVID pandemic, we’ve been hearing a great deal about the need for additional mental health resources. That need has clearly grown, but groups like the Incels, QAnon believers, Neo-Nazis and the like were part of the American landscape well before the advent of the pandemic, demonstrating that the inadequacy of mental health resources is not new.
Of course, that shouldn’t surprise us. The United States doesn’t even ensure access to physical health care…