Incel Communities: Breeding Ground for Radicalized Violence?

By Franziska Kuehl

On February 19, 2020 23-year-old Ferhat Unvar met some of his friends in the Arena Bar, a 24/7 Kiosk in Kesselstadt, Germany. It was late at night, somewhere around 10:00pm, when an armed man arrived at the establishment and opened fire. He has just done the same, minutes before, at another Shisha bar. His next destination is his home, where he kills his mother before ending his own life.

A total of eleven people died that day because of the shooter. You will not find his name in this article. There will be no analysis of how he proceeded, parallels to other attacks perpetrated by right-wing extremists, or the aftermath. This article will focus on what happened years before, something that Ferhat’s mother described in an open letter to Chancellor Angela Merkel in which the shooter had openly expressed his ambition to commit such an act publicly, and described his racist worldview in great detail to German authorities.[1]

This behavior was not only confirmed by outsiders but by the perpetrator himself in his so-called manifesto. The document provides insights into the various facets of his beliefs, which ultimately concluded in the shooter committing an attack. One of those beliefs, misogyny, links him directly to the incel scene, an internet subculture consisting of people who are continuously rejected by love interests, triggering them to feel forced to remain involuntary celibates.[2] This article will examine the connection to that scene, the process of radicalization, and realistic approaches to how that process could be prevented.

Firstly, it is important to clarify a few elements of inceldom, because the community is a bit more complex than just identifying every involuntary celibate as an incel. As with many other areas of extreme beliefs or ideologies, such as forms of terrorism or conspiracy theories, it can be argued that inceldom is a spectrum. As a source of mine within the incel scene correctly points out, being an incel does not have an overarching definition. He defines it as “a person who desires to be in a romantic or sexual relationship but is unable to.”[3] Although not incorrect, that definition only covers the bare minimum.

It is dangerous to generalize members of an entire community, yet it is essential to provide a brief overview over what those other elements entail. In general, male incels believe that women will not sleep with them because they are only attracted to the “Chads” of this world. A Chad is a fictional character representing the perfect male stereotype, around 20 percent of all men according to incel ideology. “Staceys,” another fictional character symbolizing all women, are only drawn to Chads’ superficial attractiveness. This in turn leads to two main conclusions in inceldom: Firstly, 80 percent of men are non-Chads and are not able to pursue physical or romantic relationships because of this. Secondly, women are only pulled towards extremely attractive men and do not have the intellect to focus on sentimentality or other characteristics not attached to physical attractiveness. Consequently, what is implied is that females should not have the same agency as men in modern day society.

Let me repeat again that this is a very broad view of the elements of inceldom, not representing the opinion of an individual but rather an agglomeration of many. However, there are varying opinions about how much of the description above is true and to what extent.

When you scroll through forums, chatrooms, or live streams run by incels, you will quickly notice that some of their opinions could not differ more. Even the fact that you see female incels (femcels) managing their own forums, exchanges between male incels amongst forums highlight the contrasting sides of this internet subculture. Some posts are black-white pictures of couples, depicting the user’s wishes to belong to someone, whilst others openly encourage each other to commit attacks, harm Chads, women, or even themselves. Additionally, some male incels do not seem to accept that women can face similar problems. My incel source explains: “Most people would agree women have far less trouble finding mates than men do in today’s society. Thus, one would expect their experiences to differ.”[4]

Consequently, it is essential to differentiate between the vast majority and a very specific trend within male inceldom. According to Alex DiBranco, interviewed by Tech against Terrorism, the modern incel movement was heavily influenced by a 22-year old mass shooter and his manifesto. In 2014, Elliot Roger killed six people (then himself) and injured thirteen in Isla Vista, California. Before the attack he published a so-called manifesto, referring to women as “animals” and fantasized about punishing all females for denying him sex. This document contains many elements that have been a constant in the misogynistic incel movement, setting them apart from those described by my anonymous incel source.[5]

How does this connect to the attack committed by the shooter? According to Colin Clarke, a senior fellow and researcher at the Soufan Center, the misogynistic element of incel ideology provides the connective tissue to white supremacy and other right-wing extremist trends.[6] In fact, women-focused content in those online spheres blend misogyny with idolizing traditional female stereotyping.[7] However, he also highlights that misogyny is not the only major element. A recent short-documentary by the German Y-Kollektiv, an online platform which regularly publishes short documentaries and is publicly sponsored, claims that a significant part of the German incel scene consists of men with immigration backgrounds – an apparent paradox.[8] Clarke argues that social isolation is a major component pulling individuals into the incel scene. Furthermore, various ideologies can simultaneously impact an individual.[9]

The short documentary also showcases the admiration some incels have for Elliot Rodger. In some spaces, he is perceived as an idol for everyone, and members encourage each other to do the same.[10] My source appears to be behaving contrarily, claiming that most people view individuals like Rodger negatively and rightfully highlights that one person committing an attack does not represent an entire community.[11] Despite the two of us disagreeing on many points, that is absolutely true. Hence, it is essential to mention that most forums I have personally seen had negative world views and were somewhat aggressive but did not necessarily threaten violence. People agreed to answer my questions, despite knowing that I am female and would be critical but as fair as possible about the incel community. For this, I give my source a lot of credit.

Yet, the ideology “inceldom” is very open to suggestion and interpretation, connecting to other, more violent corners in the internet, specifically right-wing ones, Jacob Ware, a research associate at the Council of Foreign Relations, explains that the main motivator for many incels is the conviction that they are not at fault for their circumstances. “They believe that there is something biologically wrong with women.” They blame feminism and modern society for their unfulfilled desires. That partly explains why incels usually do not accept femcels; in their minds, it is impossible for women to remain in forced celibacy. Additionally, femcels have not been as focused on in the media spotlight since they are not linked to public attacks in the same way male incels are. Hence, it could be said that femcels have not been perceived as threats by the public thus far.[12]

Yet, according to Renske van der Veer, neglecting femcels as potential perpetrators could be a mistake. She argues in a recent International Centre for Counter-Terrorism (ICCT) publication that although femcel groups appear to be less aggressive than their male counterparts, many of them subscribe to the same basic belief system and are just as radicalized as incels. Their growing agency within inceldom would allow them to emphasize anger or aggression against attractive people.[13] Despite their potential, femcels were not linked to so-called stochastic terrorism. Dr. Debbe Ging uses this terminology to explain the type of attacks committed by male incels in a recent podcast episode from Tech against Terrorism. She argues that the next attack can be predicted in type and modus operandi but not on an individual level. Ging also points out that many attackers are “impacted by partner violence,” creating “continuity” between those events and “public violence.”[14]

As Ware notes: “We know who the next attacker is going to be: He will most likely be male, of a certain age, and use an everyday object like a car or a knife to perpetrate the act,”, further describing stochastic terrorism and underscoring why he thinks that incels should be included in counter-terrorism efforts.[15] According to him, they do fulfil many of the above-mentioned criteria, describing the effects radicalizing materials can have on vulnerable or lonely people who are a product of our society. His idea of preventing radicalization is employing some sort of filter so the vulnerable groups would not be exposed to said content. For this, Ware recommends building cooperation between the public and private sectors. Thus, the scope of counter-terrorism approaches ought to be extended to include incel communities.[16]

Clarke argues similarly, believing that monitoring forums is of great importance despite the country-dependent legal frameworks. “I absolutely think it is critical to monitor this ideology, especially as it intersects and overlaps with other forms of violent extremism, acting as an accelerant to push individuals to move from behind the keyboard and toward action.”[17]

A British counter-terrorism practitioner who was interviewed for this article advocates for a different approach. He identified various perpetrators who showed signs of being dangerous well before committing attacks. Most notably, the case of the German Wings Pilot Andreas Lubitz exemplifies how poor communication can backfire. The pilot was diagnosed with severe mental disorders by two different psychiatrists, yet his employer was not informed and continued to let Lubitz fly. On March 25, 2015, he was the co-pilot on an Airbus flight from France to Germany that crashed in the Alps. All 148 passengers and crew died. An investigation unearthed that Lubitz single-handedly activated the plane’s descent, leading to its collision with a mountain.[18]

Some researchers, such as Renske van der Veer, and practitioners interviewed suggest that many incels suffer from mental health issues. Allowing healthcare professionals to report potentially dangerous patients is an option, but doctors are wary because it violates the Hippocratic Oath of the profession or the moral compass of other people in similar positions, such as priests.

In conclusion, how to address the seemingly growing threat from the incel scene or other online sub-cultures is highly complex, specifically because, from what we know, only a small number of incels become a terrorist threat. Yet, a dive into the scene allows us to exemplify the rise of self-regulating internet subcultures that provide gateways to more violent and radicalized scenes, particularly White supremacy and right extremist circles. However, the ultimate goal should be preventing vulnerable members of society seeking out those extremist internet spaces and forums in the first place.

[1] Der Spiegel, “Hanau Anschlag,”
[2] International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, “Male supremacy and the Hanau attack between online misogyny and far-right violence,”
[3] E-mail exchange with anonymous incel source
[4] ibid.
[5] Tech against Terrorism Podcast “7.Incels, misogyny and gender-based terrorism,” published on October 2, 2020,
[6] E-mail exchange with Colin Clarke
[7] The Soufan Center,
[8] Youtube,
[9] E-mail exchange with Colin Clarke
[10] Youtube,
[11] E-mail exchange with anonymous incel source
[12] Interview with Jacob Ware, September 3, 2020
[13] International Centre for Counter-Terrorism,
[14] Tech against Terrorism Podcast “7.Incels, misogyny and gender-based terrorism” published on October 2, 2020,
[15] Interview with Jacob Ware, September 3, 2020
[16] ibid.
[17] E-mail exchange with Colin Clarke
[18] E-mail exchange with anonymous counter-terrorism source