On Wednesday, May 20, a man named Armando Hernandez Jr. entered the Westgate Entertainment District in Glendale, Arizona and fired on the crowd, injuring three.
It is an unfortunate reality in the United States that such mass shootings are common enough that the attack only briefly garnered media attention.
Yet, as more information has come out about the shooter, it’s become clear that Hernandez’s connection to a misogynistic group known as “incels” links him to a series of other attacks by unstable men.
Last week, Canadian authorities took the unprecedented action of charging a 17-year-old boy with terrorism based on the incel philosophy that led to a February attack in Toronto. While that represents the first official incel terrorism charge, it is not the first attack to have been directly inspired by the philosophy.
Who are incels?
The term “incel” is a shortening of “involuntary celibate.” The effects of involuntary celibacy – not being able to have sex as a result of perceived external forces instead of one’s personal choices – has been an area of psychological study for decades.
A 2001 study of involuntary celibates linked it to depression, stating, “Participants reported suffering from depression, and many celibates were dissatisfied, frustrated or angry about not having sexual relationships.”
In the last few years, the focus has increasingly turned to the violence associated with the philosophy.
The reason for this focus is the growing number of incel communities online where men discuss their frustrations with not being able to find sexual partners, often in violent terms. These forums, many of which began on anonymous posting sites like 4Chan and Reddit, also include violent fantasies of raping and humiliating women.
Within the incel philosophy, men and women are grouped into specific categories, which are then labeled with stereotypical names, “Becky” and “Stacy” for women, “Chad” for men.
Beckys are “average” women who incels believe should be grateful to be pursued by them. Stacys are considered unattainable for their beauty and “hyperfeminine” sexual traits.
Chads are the ultra-masculine “alpha males” who end up marrying (or at least bedding) Staceys. They are also the focus of the Beckys’ attraction, undeservedly so in the view of incels.
Incels see themselves as being left out of this sexual pecking order altogether.
One common view, propagated on “TheRedPill” subreddit, is that 20% of men are having sex with 80% of women, leaving the remaining 80% of the male population to fight it out for the remaining 20% of females.
The use of “the red pill” analogy – taken from the 1999 film, “The Matrix” – is also common among Men’s Rights Activists and QAnon adherents. The analogy is meant to suggest that members of these respective in-groups have been awakened to the reality of the world and now understand a greater truth about the world that regular people do not.
The Westgate attack
Prosecutors have said that when Hernandez entered the Westgate shopping center on May 20, he was looking to specifically target couples. The 20-year-old male shot and injured three people – a 19-year-old man, a 30-year-old woman, and a 16-year-old girl – but did not kill anyone. It isn’t yet clear if any of the three victims were part of a couple present that day at Westgate.
According to Edward Leiter, a prosecutor with Maricopa County who spoke at Hernandez’s first court hearing, the purpose behind Hernandez’s attack was “taking out his expressed anger at society, the feeling that he has been bullied, the feeling that women didn’t want him.”
Hernandez must pay a US$1 million bail to be released from jail. He awaits trial for over a dozen charges, including three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and three counts of aggravated assault with serious physical injury.
Canada’s first incel terrorist
The timing of the Westgate attack is notable because only a day later, Canadian authorities officially charged a 17-year-old boy with terrorism for a February attack on a Toronto erotic massage parlor. The terrorism charge was added last week because the boy had allegedly been inspired by the incel philosophy and online culture.
The boy, who has not been named due to his age, used a machete to attack the Crown Spa massage parlor, killing one woman, 24-year-old Ashley Noell Arzaga. The owner of the parlor was injured in the attack after she attempted to grab the weapon from the attacker.
The attacker appears to have been motivated by his hatred of women. Though the parlor attack is the first in history to be officially charged as an incel-inspired terrorist attack, Canada has experienced another similar attack.
In 2018, Alek Minassian drove a van into pedestrians in Toronto, killing 10 people and injuring 16 others. Minassian later claimed he attacked the crowd because he was “radicalized” by incels online. Minassian’s trial has been postponed multiple times, most recently because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Elliot Rodger: hero of incels
Minassian is among the many incels who have expressed admiration for Elliot Rodger, the first known mass shooter whose motivations were directly tied to the incel community.
In a Facebook post prior to the van attack, Minassian said, “The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”
On May 23, 2014, Rodger used an assortment of guns and knives in Isla Vista, California to kill six people and injure 13 others. Prior to the attack, Rodger had recorded a video and written a manifesto that, among other things, discussed his hatred for women and his failure to find a girlfriend.
Rodger’s victims were both men and women. According to the video he recorded prior to the attack, he intended to enter “the hottest sorority house” at the University of California at Santa Barbara. He did not succeed in that effort. After taking fire from police officers responding to the attack, Rodger was found dead in his car as the result of a self-inflicted gunshot.
An entry in Rodger’s personal journal said of sex, “I would always covet it, I would always fantasize about it. But I would never get it.” Other entries expressed frustration with girls who preferred “the wrong kind of guy” to him.
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