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The incel movement was discovered by the general population in 2014 after a mass murderer posted on Facebook, “The Incel Rebellion has already begun…” Starting as an inspirational social movement, incels has been tied to at least four mass murders and, most recently, as a mass shooting threat for the October 2019 movie premier of The Joker. Like with other hate groups, radicalized young men use incel ideas to boost their tattered egos and justify sexist and even violent behavior. How can we prevent our kids from being victimized or radicalized by this crazy movement?

What is an incel?

The term incel was first coined in 1993 and is short for “involuntarily celibate,” a non-derogatory term for people who’ve had a hard time finding an intimate relationship.

The incel movement began when a young woman named Alana was working in a university math department. While she was at her desk, a man walked up and said, “I am 27 years old and have never been on a date.”[1] Alana noticed the man needed someone to talk to, so she listened. She discovered that she too could identify as an involuntary celibate. After she found love, she created an online support group for “INVCELS” who were distressed due to intimacy problems.

Early in the group’s development, a primary rule was adopted that members could not blame others for their problems. Instead, each member was required to commit to self-improvement. At that time, haters and blamers were kicked out of the group.[2] Over time, Alana left, the movement grew, and different sub-groups of incels formed.

Social Movement to Hate Group

Researchers believe that the boasts and posts of social media feed into a hopeless cycle of compare and despair for some users.[3] For the more radical of social media users, there are online forums where one can find validation for their despair. Radicalized incels adopt hateful belief systems typical of a broader online manosphere on forums like 4chan, Reddit, and Voat. Incels overlap with extremist men’s rights vlogs that offer pickup artistry tips and espouse the hateful rhetoric of alt-right and white supremacy groups, inciting suicide among fellow incels, the assault of sexually successful women, and violence toward sexually successful men.

Further spurred by the #MeToo Movement, radicalized incel groups spew hate and use their comradery to threaten and intimidate others. Some stereotype people who have successful relationships as “Chads” and “Stacys.” With young people unsupervised online hours every day, hate group forums can influence vulnerable teens. In my book, Screen Time in the Mean Time, I describe how “the Internet platform is the perfect tool for grooming, behavioral manipulation, and coercive thought control.”

The Black Pill

The black pill is an analogy from the movie, the Matrix. In the Matrix, Neo has two options of pills to take, the blue pill to stay in the Matrix, and remain in the comfort of blissful ignorance or the red pill to face life’s harsh realities.[4] Incels use the term black pill to describe the fatalistic perspective that women control the world, and incels are hopeless to get sex because of biological determinism, meaning they were fatalistically born with intimacy-crippling features like low attractiveness, small penis size, or shyness.[5]  They believe they lost their chances of intimacy at birth because they lost the genetic lottery.[6]

Group Think & Radicalization

Online forums offer violent incels a community of like-minded individuals to escalate hateful philosophies. In psychology, we call this groupthink, reflecting the dynamic of one’s ethical, moral, and rational values eventually dissolving into the group’s character. Individuals joining a group in search of support are vulnerable to a group’s coercive and sometimes irrational group opinions.  Groupthink differs from individual opinions in that members ultimately fail to think for themselves, instead of becoming dependent on group principles.

Mass Murder

In May 2014, a member of the incel group shot and killed six people in Isla Vista, California.[7]  His name was Elliot Rodger, and he was 22 years old. Fueled by the philosophies of other members of the group, he felt revenge was his only solution. Rodger felt rejected by women. He blamed handsome people who were happy for his lack of intimacy with women. The Incel community saw him as a hero.

In April 2018, Alek Minassian killed ten people driving through a crowded street. He posted on Facebook, “The Incel Rebellion has already begun… All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”[8] Alek carried out the attack for the same reasons Rodger did, hatred for those who did not have intimacy problems.

In October 2015, Christopher Harper-Mercer killed nine people at his community college campus in Roseburg Oregon before killing himself.[9] He too identified as an incel.

In February 2018, another man who was part of the incel community, Nikolas Cruz, was charged with killing 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.[10]


In September 2019, the FBI reported to partners in the private sector about a threat from online incel communities regarding unspecific mass shootings threatened to occur at the premiere showings of ‘the Joker’, slated for October 4, 2019. A September 2019 report by the Department of Defense reported on the same threat.

Those making these threats were reported to be a side group of incels who identify as clowncels. They chose this movie because they resonated with the beliefs of the main character, Arthur Fleck. Arthur is a poor, mentally ill stand-up comedian who is a victim of violent thugs and a society that views him as a freak. In the movie, he retaliates against society by becoming a criminal mastermind known as The Joker.

How to Innoculate Your Child from Hate:

Here are some tips from Screen Time in the Mean Time to protect your kids from online hate groups, like incels:

  1. Support positive online and offline peer relationships rather than restrict unhealthy friendships.
  2. Teach your teen how to avoid cyberbullying by teaching empathy, social and netiquette skills, and complex problem-solving.
  3. Just as parents keep an eye on their teens’ school and after-school activities, they must also monitor their virtual activities.
  4. Model healthy balance and self-care.
  5. Implement healthy eating, sleeping, and exercise habits and explain why that is so important for strength and health.
  6. Love and compliment your kids loudly and unapologetically for all they are.
  7. Reinforce that the self is made up of far more facets than a beautiful face.
  8. Remind your teen that what they see on social media and in advertisements isn’t always the real deal.

Thank you to CSUCI intern, Andrew Weissmann, for teaching us about the incel movement, and how it has splintered off to be a hate group with coercive access to kids. For more information about how to protect your kids from the grooming techniques of cults and hate groups, check out the GKIS article “White Supremacists or ISIS? Are Hate Groups and Cults Seducing Your Teen Online?

I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetKidsInternetSafe.

Onward to More Awesome Parenting,
Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty

Works Cited

[1] ReplyAll Gimlet

[2] ReplyAll Gimelt

[3] bbc.com Facebook lurking makes you miserable by Sean Coughlan

[4] medium.com by Ethan Jiang

[5] medium.com by Ethan Jiang

[6] bbc.com/news/blogs-trending Toronto van attack: Inside the dark world of ‘incels’ by Jonathan Griffin

[7] The New York Times What is an Incel? A term used by the Toronto Van Attack Suspect, Explained by Niraj Chokshi

[8] The New York Times What is an Incel? By Niraj Chokshi

[9] The New Yorker The Rage of the Incels by Jia Tolentino

[10] Babe.net by Harry Shukman

Photo Credits

Photo by Mehrdad Haghighi on Unsplash

Photo by Pedro Gabriel Miziara on Unsplash

Photo by Gigi on Unsplash

Photo by Matteo Grobberio on Unsplash

Photo by Specna Arms on Unsplash

Photo by Pierrick VAN-TROOST on Unsplash

Andrew Weissmann
Andrew Weissmann