EXTREMISMThe ‘Incelosphere’ and Incel Violence: A Worsening Problem?

By Lewys Brace

Published 29 March 2023

Should incel ideology be considered as extremist? Here is a summary of the research on how violent extremist language has increased over time as different online platforms have emerged and shutdown within the incel online ecosystem.

At around 1800 local time on 12th August 2021, a man carried out a spree killing in Plymouth, UK, that resulted in the deaths of five people, before ultimately taking his own life. The perpetrator, Jake Davison, was an active member in online spaces hosting incel content.  In 2020, two UK teenagers who also engaged with the online incel community to some degree, faced trial for possessing terrorism-related materials.  

Inevitably, these and other cases have sparked discussions in the UK regarding whether the incel ideology should be considered an extremist one, and whether those who are motived by its ideas to carry out acts of violence should be considered terrorists. The UK is not alone in this debate; Canada, for instance, listed Inceldom as a violent extremist ideology in 2019. The existence of these discussions is testament to the way in which the incel subculture and worldview is amorphous in nature, which makes it hard for researchers and practitioners to frame this worldview, and those who subscribe to it, in the traditional language of terrorism and counter-terrorism. The issue is exacerbated by the way in which ideas that are now associated with the ‘incel’ label have motived other forms of violence that do not constitute an act of mass-violence. For instance, a series of stabbings in Portsmouth, UK, in June-July 2014 resulted in the serious injury of three women, with the perpetrator stating in a letter to the police that “I am still a virgin, everyone is losing it before me, that’s why you are my chosen target.”, and further notes including misogynistic language and detailing a perceived need for revenge against women for his lack of sexual relationships. 

An Extremist Ideology? 
Most researchers analyzing incel online communities agree that discussions taking place on these digital spaces contain highly problematic language. Some studies have argued that the incel subculture exhibits all of the characteristics of an extremist ideology (Baele, Brace and Coan, 2019; Jaki et al., 2019), structured by an opposition between an in-group and harmful out-group(s), with intergroup competition being presented in the form of a crisis-solution narrative (see Berger, 2018a, 2018b).