After the Plymouth shooting, key questions remain – why wasn’t it treated as a ‘terror attack’?

Terrorism is also about creating and spreading a sense of fear, as the name suggests – the actions of the shooter have certainly done this

Harriet Williamson
Saturday 21 August 2021 09:51 BST
‘Davison shot and killed five people and then turned the gun on himself’
‘Davison shot and killed five people and then turned the gun on himself’ (PA)

In the aftermath of the Plymouth shootings on 12 August, there are still questions that need to be answered. One of these questions is why the tragedy is still being treated as “non terror-related”, even though it has come to light that the perpetrator, Jake Davison, aligned himself with what is clearly extremist ideology.

Davison, who shot and killed five people and then turned the gun on himself, was part of the “incel” movement. “Incel” stands for involuntary celibate, and refers to men who are unsuccessful at forming sexual relationships with women, and blame them and wider society for their personal failings.

Incels are misogynists. They cultivate a deep hatred of women, believe that women owe them sex and that physical intimacy is something they have a right to. Davison engaged with incel forums on Reddit, sharing his misogynistic and homophobic views on the social media platform.

He made hateful comments about his mother and single mothers in general, and expressed a desire to have sex with teenage girls because they would be unsullied by relationships with more sexually successful men, known in the incel movement as “Chads”.

Like Elliot Rodger, the incel-aligned murderer who killed six people and then himself in Isla Vista, California, in 2014, Davison also took to YouTube to post disturbing rants about the perceived unfairness of life. The incel movement has been linked to at least six mass shootings in the US alone.

Under UK law, terrorism is defined as: “Use or threat of action, both in and outside of the UK, designed to influence any international government organisation or to intimidate the public. It must also be for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause.”

It’s obvious that the incel movement pushes a specific ideology, where those inside the vortex believe women manipulate men, that the world is biased towards women and – in some cases – that “success” with the opposite gender comes down to genetics. The latter is known as “blackpill” philosophy, which conveniently relieves incels of any responsibility regarding their lack of intimate connections with women.

It’s also about power. Incels think they’re powerless in gender relationships and that they have been somehow shortchanged. While most are happy to spew bile online, some turn to acts of extreme violence as a way to redress this perceived imbalance.

Terrorism is also about creating and spreading a sense of fear, as the name suggests. Davison’s actions have certainly done this, affecting not just the community in Keyham, Plymouth, but across the country and even further afield.

Davison was radicalised online into a hate-filled, extremist ideology. Failure to view this as terrorism and part of a wider movement is at best short-sighted, and at worst, linked to the inherently racist idea that terrorism is just shorthand for Islamic extremism.

If we took the hatred of women seriously, Davison’s actions would have been classed as terrorism as soon as law enforcement looked into his online presence.

For Davison’s victims – his mother Maxine, three-year-old Sophie Martyn, her father Lee Martyn, Stephen Washington and Kate Shepherd – we have a responsibility to learn lessons from the Plymouth tragedy.

This means not burying our heads in the sand over Davison’s radicalisation, his affinity with a highly dangerous misogynistic movement and his utter lack of respect for women as human beings who make their own decisions about who to be sexually and romantically involved with.

The toxic waste dump of incel forums erases a basic truth for men like Davison, and that’s the fact that women don’t owe you s**t.

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