At first, because the “van” is so often lone-wolf jihadism’s preferred agent for carnage, many Canadians assumed the Monday’s sidewalk massacre in Toronto’s Yonge-Finch corridor was an act of terrorism.
Within 24 hours, enough details had been released about the suspect, 25-year old Alek Minassian, to dispel that idea.
This was clearly a disturbed individual attempting to exorcize private demons in a final act of dramatic violence, as tragically consequential as possible with the only weapon of mass destruction available to him.
In Facebook postings, Minassian, who is afflicted with what is apparently a severe form of Asperger’s syndrome – high school classmates remembered him as subject to strange tics and a compulsion to act out cat behaviour like meowing and biting – identified himself as an “incel,” a sobriquet for “involuntarily celibate.”
Young men who call themselves incels feel, and doubtless are, sexually rejected by women who in reality are put off by their weirdness, but whose rejection is interpreted as a deliberate and even sadistic form of humiliation.
Minassian referred to “supreme gentleman” Elliot Rodgers in one Facebook post. This is an epithet 22-year old Rodger, who in 2014 killed six people and injured many more during a shooting rampage in Isla Vista, California, applied to himself.
Rodger, who killed himself after his bloody spree, is credited with turning chronic sexual rejection amongst disaffected young men into the raison d’être for an online forum.
A martyr figure to followers like Minassian, he created a manifesto and a video to articulate his grievances, which fascinate and inspire self-pitying young men with low capacity for psychological objectivity and high levels of sexual frustration.
In one, Rodger states, “It’s an injustice, a crime because I don’t know what you don’t see in me. I’m the perfect guy and yet you throw yourselves at all these obnoxious men instead of me, the supreme gentleman. I will punish all of you for it.” Rodger also produced writings under the heading, “My Twisted World,” in which he envisaged killing male roommates, presumably enjoying satisfying sex lives, as well as sorority women who preferred “obnoxious slobs” to him.
A few observers of the Minassian rampage, noting that he killed more women than men, have brought the word “misogyny” into play, which I consider to be a grave mistake. Everyone wants to find a “reason” for this attack; that’s a normal human reaction to chaos, but it will not serve as an explanation. Killers like Rodger and Minassian cannot be reduced to a single, focused impulse.
Anyway, in the strange world of the incel, certain types of both males and females are objects of loathing, even referred to as “Staceys” and “Chads.” The Staceys are the women who reject them; the Chads are the popular boys the Staceys prefer. Rodger killed two women and three male roommates.
As a psychology professor I consulted told me, “these killers have complex psychological dynamics with isolation and paranoid thinking…they think of themselves as martyrs, as another favoured group as unjustly getting the goodies and deserving to die and a third group as doling out the goodies. Many have a recent failed armed services experience…Minassian’s Asperger syndrome would have contributed to his social isolation.” Minassian was, briefly, a military recruit (how he passed mental muster for entry is a mystery), as was Marc Lepine, the 1989 Polytechnique Montreal massacrist.
Lepine, whose superficial beef was that his candidacy for a spot at the Polytechnique was denied in order to privilege women entrants, did carefully segregate his victims by sex in order to ensure those he killed were women, so it is fair to say that he was a misogynist. But what is rarely noted in that case is, gender-wise, how freakishly singular it was.
There are many massacres in which both men and women are killed wholesale. There are also many massacres in which men and boys are singled out for death, such as the 1995 genocidal massacre of 8,000 Bosniak boys and men in Sbrenica.
But the deliberate separation of men and women in order to kill the women is virtually unheard of, which is why the Montreal Massacre stands out so boldly in the history of massacres. Certainly in the West, I cannot think of a similarly gendered prequel or sequel in which only females were selected for death.
If there is a “culprit” to blame in this senseless tragedy, it is social media. Once Minassian found his way to an Internet incel forum, what was an individual grievance that may have smoldered on for a lifetime without bursting into flame was now invited to become a raging bonfire: the self-pitying guy who thought he was alone in his misery suddenly found himself amidst a band of brothers with a galvanizing cause. And with an inspirational “leader” in Rodger.
Just as the school massacrists are inevitably revealed as obsessed with the Columbine killers, Rodger is the Ur-martyr for the highly specific type of male pathology we have apparently witnessed in Toronto.
This story is not about “misogyny” in any ideological sense. Incels are rare, very screwed-up social misfits who find each other on the Internet, and together, facilitate a pathological sum that tragically amounts to more than its disaffected parts.