In this week’s Hate Report, we look at the online fandom around the “incel” mass killer the Toronto van attack suspect cited as an inspiration for his terrorism and a dispatch from our reporter from the scene of last weekend’s neo-Nazi rally in Georgia.
Shortly before Alek Minassian drove a van into a crowd of people in Toronto, killing 10 and injuring 15, he posted on Facebook. “The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys!” Minassian wrote. “All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”
The post was a reference to the 22-year-old Rodger’s 2014 killing spree in Isla Vista, California, that left six dead. Rodger, who died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the conclusion of his assault, posted an online rant, which has become a manifesto for some “incels.”
Incels are a community of men who see themselves as involuntarily celibate, blaming feminism’s influence on popular culture for their lack of sexual partners. In incel parlance, “Chads” are men who have frequent sexual partners, “Stacys” are promiscuous women, and “Supreme Gentleman” is a honorific bestowed upon Rodger.
In the years since Rodger’s attack, he has become a hero to many self-proclaimed incels.
Last month, we highlighted how social networks, like the gaming platform Steam, hosted hundreds of user-created groups glorifying mass shooters like Rodger. While Steam removed many of those groups in the wake of our report, fandom for Rodger continued to flourish online.
For example, we found dozens of groups on Facebook holding up Rodger as a hero in much the same manner as Minassian’s post. After we highlighted the groups in an email to Facebook on Wednesday, most were taken down. But Facebook representatives did not otherwise respond to our request for comment.
While Facebook has given these groups the boot, we were able to capture archived versions of some of the pages before they were taken down.
A page called Elliot Rodger-core posted memes glorifying Rodger.
This page regularly posts glamorous pictures of Rodger.
Another page, which described itself as a “motivational speaker,” posted memes glorying similar attackers who acted out of sexual jealousy.
A page prominently featuring a picture of Rodger wearing fashionable sunglasses, calling itself Would you fuck Elliot Rodgers? remained active on the site, as did a page called Feminism must be destroyed, which approvingly cites Rodger’s killing spree as an attack on feminism itself.
Until last year, Reddit’s user-created incel forum was the community’s primary online hub, boasting some 40,000 members. Reddit administrators shuttered the group in November for violating the site’s policy regarding violent content, charging that participants engaged in targeted harassment campaigns against other users, encouraged violence and advocated sexual assault.
An online petition urging Reddit to crack down on its incel group noted that users frequently celebrated Rodger as its posthumous figurehead.
“Users often canonize Elliot Rodger,” the petition reads. “Rodger claimed in his YouTube manifesto that being denied attention from women his whole life has driven him to seek ‘retribution.’ On the subreddit, Rodger is often referred to as ‘Saint Elliot’ with many praising his actions and claiming that they would like to follow in his path.”
Reddit also banned another, newer incel forum shortly after the Toronto massacre.
The discourse in online forums, such as the ones for incels, has a long history of not being entirely sincere. Users speak positively about mass murderers as part of a edgy in-joke to see who can post the most outrageous content. As researcher Whitney Phillips explains in her book “The Ambivalent Internet,” this often makes it impossible to delineate between smirking irony and sincere adulation.
However, even jokingly holding aloft figures like Rodger has the potential to spark future violence.
In an article titled, “Role Models, Contagions, and Copycats: An Exploration of the Influence of Prior Killers on Subsequent Attacks,” school shooting expert Peter Langman, who has treated young people at risk for committing acts of mass violence in his psychology practice, warned of a copycat effect:
One way of understanding the concept of contagion is the possibility that the more the taboo against mass murder is broken, the easier it becomes for the next perpetrator. Each time that threshold is crossed may lower the threshold for people already on the path toward violence. Thus, the phenomenon may be feeding on itself, growing with each new incident.
Adam Lanza, who killed 20 children in an attack on Sandy Hook Middle School, frequented an online forum initially devoted to a video game called “Super Columbine Massacre.” It also featured discussions about spree killers. “Serial killers are lame. Everyone knows that mass murderers are the cool kids,” Lanza wrote in a post that didn’t attract any pushback from other users.
In an interview, Langman said that not all mass shooters draw on the same inspiration for their attacks. Copycat killers are more likely to be younger, in their teens or early 20s, and tend to indiscriminately target large groups of victims rather than specific individuals they believe have wronged them.
Bringing this whole thing full circle, users on the incel forum Incels.me have begun celebrating Minassian.
“That moment when this random dude killed more people than the supreme gentleman Elliot,” wrote one user. “I hope this guy wrote a manifesto because he could be our next new saint.”
We went to a neo-Nazi rally in Georgia, and the racists were a complete mess
Reveal traveled to Newnan, Georgia, last weekend to observe a rally “organized” by the neo-Nazi group the National Socialist Movement. The NSM is “one of the largest and most prominent neo-Nazi groups in the United States,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. From our view on the ground, the group is a disorganized mess.
I (Will Carless) was the only reporter embedded with the NSM as they prepared for the rally in a small public park. The park had been barricaded off by hundreds of police officers, some of whom used questionable tactics against counterprotesters, arresting them for wearing masks and, in at least one case, pointing a gun at unarmed protesters. The neo-Nazis arrived in a convoy of vehicles about 35 minutes late for their own event.
Here are five things that happened next:
1. The neo-Nazis couldn’t figure out how to march in formation:
Included in the group of about 35 neo-Nazis was a handful of women. NSM “Commander” Jeff Schoep attempted at one point to organize his crew in formation, with the women protected in the middle of three marching columns. This proved surprisingly complicated. I watched as the neo-Nazis tried for about 20 minutes to figure it out. At one point, one of the leaders screamed, “I said three rows, not five!”
2. The NSM’s leaders didn’t know where to go for their rally:
Walking toward the park where the NSM had organized its rally, I heard Schoep asking another NSM member where he was supposed to go. None of the neo-Nazis within earshot knew where they were holding their rally, and police had to direct them toward the park (the one the NSM had chosen and for which it already had a permit).
3. The neo-Nazis were confused about whether or not they are neo-Nazis:
In his rambling speech, Schoep told the crowd that the NSM has been unfairly labeled as neo-Nazi. But a few minutes later, members of the group delighted in throwing up Nazi salutes toward their leader, while shouting, “Heil.” Several of the NSM also had tattoos referencing the Nazis and Hitler, such as “88” (code for “Heil Hitler, because H is the eighth letter in the alphabet), swastikas and the number 14, which references the “14 words,” a neo-Nazi motto. Confronted about NSM members’ use of Nazi salutes, Schoep claimed to reporter Chris Mathias that the gesture is a “Roman salute.” Pressed, he threatened to kick Mathias out of the event. Oh, and the evening of the rally, the NSM burned a massive swastika.
4. They also were confused about what their organization’s name is:
The most ridiculous moment of the day came when a woman introduced Schoep at the rally. Despite being dressed in NSM garb, she clearly didn’t know what the group’s name was and introduced him as “the commander of the Nationalist …” before looking around, confused, and then being corrected by another NSM member that the group’s correct name is the National Socialist Movement.
5. The speeches were borderline incoherent:
There’s no other way to describe Schoep’s speech other than embarrassingly shambolic. I’ve viewed other hateful speeches and at least had been somewhat impressed by the speaker’s oration, or ability to spin an argument, however loathsome. Schoep’s speech appeared to be off the cuff. It bounced around from screeds about opioids and the dire threat of men wearing skinny jeans, to perfunctory statements about the men on stage being “the vanguard of the white race.” Other speakers rambled incoherently about Jews and brainwashing.
As journalists, we often struggle with whether we should even cover events like the NSM’s jaunt in Georgia. I traveled there thinking this might be a group with a sizeable following, or a structured message. After all, the Southern Poverty Law Center lists the NSM as the largest neo-Nazi group in the country.
What I found was a sad little group that seemed to barely understand its own message, let alone how to effectively communicate it above the voices of the hundreds who showed out to chant, “Newnan strong,” while standing on sidewalks graffitied with messages of love and disgust at the racists who came, briefly, to their town.
That’s not to say that individual neo-Nazis don’t pose a threat. Several of the NSM rally attendees sported red bootlaces, neo-Nazi code for having spilled blood in their cause. And there have been numerous documented instances of violence by NSM members. Former NSM leader J.T. Ready, for example, killed his girlfriend, his girlfriend’s daughter and her fiancé and the daughter’s 15-month-old baby before shooting himself in 2012.
But we saw little sign that the NSM is anything more than a loosely affiliated group, without much organization, shared philosophy or political clout.
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Have a hate incident to report? Tell us about it here, or contact The Hate Report team: Aaron Sankin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and Will Carless can be reached at email@example.com. Follow them on Twitter: @asankin and @willcarless.