In a video posted online before he shot dead five people in Plymouth on Thursday, Jake Davison reflected on how some men his age had wives and children.
“Does an incel, a virgin, get that?” he asks, apparently referring to himself. “No.”
Why exactly this 22-year-old crane operator went on his deadly rampage – which included killing a three-year-old girl – remains, for now, unknown.
Detectives have suggested it may have started as a domestic incident and spiralled out of control.
But whatever the ultimate motive, Davison’s fascination with “incel” culture – which involves men expressing anger towards women because they find themselves involuntarily celibate – will come under much scrutiny.
Questions will inevitably be raised about whether the carnage he unleashed on Thursday night – in England’s worst mass shooting in 11 years – was encouraged by the culture of the online spaces he inhabited. Crucially, given that there have been six mass shootings carried out by self-proclaimed incels in the US, some will wonder if this is now a new terror threat facing the UK.
“Incel subculture is littered with misogyny in which violence against women is often glorified,” says Florence Keen, research fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation in London. “That’s not to class everyone that belongs to the incel subculture as necessarily approving of violence, but I would say that misogyny online in general is something that needs to be taken more seriously – you know, anonymous spaces where we see females dehumanised – because the tail end of that can be real-world violence.”
In the more disturbing forums, contributors can be found justifying – and discussing how to get away with – sexual violence. Their enforced celibacy, they say, is a kind of “reverse rape” enacted on them by the entire female population.
If Davison’s own online mix of blog posts and videos do not appear to have signposted opinions quite so extreme, they still came brimming with both an antipathy towards women and a sense of self-pity at the idea that his physical appearance was holding him back.
“I’m almost 23,” he wrote in one Reddit post. “Don’t even know how to meet even 1 women haven’t [spoken] to one at all since I was 17.”
In another, he complained that females were “very picky”. A third shows him complaining about having spent a year working out at the gym only to find himself still overweight. “F***ing fat ugly virgin,” he declares.
Tellingly, he also refers to something called the “black pill” – an incel term referring to the idea that a lack of success with the opposite sex comes down to simple genetics.
All of this matters because of what has gone before in North America. There, some 46 people have been killed in shootings carried out by “incels”, perhaps the most notable example being when 22-year-old student Elliot Rodger murdered six people in California in 2014 after posting a video saying the attack was revenge for continual romantic rejection. He then killed himself.
“It’s not unanimous, but some people that operate in online communities do sanctify him,” says Keen. “It’s important to say we don’t know what motivated [Thursday’s killings] but, online, there are people praising it by saying he ‘went Elliot Rodgers’.”
How much this translates into a new terror threat in the UK, however, remains uncertain.
In March last year, Anwar Driouich was jailed for possessing an explosive substance. The 22-year-old from Middlesbrough had written about carrying out a massacre after trawling the internet reading about incel culture, the Old Bailey was told. Yet whether he and Davison really signify the start of a new menace is very much open to question.
“I personally probably don’t think so” says Keen. “But I think the sort of rolling violent misogyny that filters down [from incel culture] into more mainstream online forums – that is rife, and it is concerning, and we do need to pay more attention to it.”
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