Little more than four years ago Elliot Rodger, 22, went on a killing rampage that involved stabbings, shootings, and running his car into pedestrians. The result was six deaths and fourteen injuries in and around the University of California Santa Barbara. He then shot himself in the head in his BMW. At the time of the deaths, media outlets like CNN chalked the horrifying spree up to wealth envy. But in the wake of the murders, a more alarming story came to light: young men with seemingly pathological ideas about sex and women were radicalizing each other online.
On Monday a man in Toronto named Alek Minassian drove his van into a crowd of people, killing ten.[*] New York magazine published Minassian’s Facebook posts, which state, in part, “Private (Recruit) Minassian Infantry 00010, wishing to speak to Sgt 4chan please. The Incel Rebellion has already begun!”
Some have called the Facebook posts’ authenticity into question, but the platform and the Toronto police have confirmed that they are in fact real.
“Incel Rebellion,” we were reminded yesterday, refers to (almost exclusively) men who are involuntarily celibate and “distraught with their lack of sexual experiences, and often expressing this disappointment as anger towards women,” Bryan Menegus wrote at Gizmodo.
In “The New Man of 4chan,” a piece published in The Baffler‘s Issue No. 30 from March 2016, Angela Nagle described the online places where men like Rodger and Minassian plot, hate, and commiserate. Here is an excerpt:
On men’s rights sites and in some geeky subcultures, “beta male” is a common term of identification, one of both belonging and self-mockery. It has become a popular meme on 4chan’s recreationally obnoxious /b/ board, a precursor to /r9k/ that produced hacker collectives such as Anonymous while also incubating scores of anti-feminist online attacks in recent years. Know Your Meme records the earliest use of the term “beta uprising” in 2011, on the men’s rights movement blog Fight for Justice. From around 2013, the beta-male uprising was a regular topic among 4chan users; it encompassed elaborate fantasies of revenge against attractive women, macho jocks, and other “normies” with majority tastes and attitudes.
The post alleged to be Harper-Mercer’s school shooting alert came with an image of Pepe the Frog, a character lifted from the Matt Furie comic strip Boy’s Club, angrily brandishing a gun. This, too, was a trope of the beta rebellion: in his original cartoon form, Pepe was a sad sack, prone to bouts of humiliation. But as his froggy visage got meme-fied on 4chan, he took on a distinctly more menacing aspect. Pepe became a favorite icon of last-straw ranters spewing extreme misogyny, racism, and vengefulness. Much to the irritation of geeks, Pepe also became popular among normies, which is why you can find videos on YouTube of angry Pepe in a red rage accompanied by variations of the male scream, “Normies! Get the fuck off my board!”
Overwrought digital threats and confrontational online rhetoric are nearly as old as the Internet itself. Posters on 4chan/b/’s more transgressive threads regularly claim that they are about to do terrible things to themselves and others.
[*] Correction: We deeply regret our misspelling of Alek Minassian’s name in an earlier version of this post. According to the Toronto Sun, both Alek Minassian and Alex Minassian live in Richmond Hill and the similarity of their names–and, we suspect, spell check’s propensity to change Alek to Alex–has caught out a host of news outlets. The Toronto Police Department has confirmed the proper spelling of the suspect’s name.