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What the media gets wrong about incels Coverage of the Plymouth attack has been reckless

Was Jake Davison an incel?


August 16, 2021   5 mins

The psychological backdrop to Britain’s first mass shooting in over a decade is, of course, deeply disturbing. Jake Davison, aged just 22, needed only 12 minutes to carry out his horrifying killing spree in Plymouth last Thursday.

In the days since, much of the coverage given to the attack — both in the UK and abroad — has focused on the new type of terrorist threat posed by “incels”, or involuntary celibates. The police, for now, have ruled out terrorism and links to far-Right groups as motives for Davison’s actions; what drove him to such violence remains unclear and the investigation is ongoing.

And yet, at least in the way much of the media has covered this tragedy, the matter is all but settled: Davison was an incel, another young man driven to violence by a nefarious online movement that breeds terrorists.

But as someone who has spent years researching incels, such assuredness leaves me uncomfortable. Though the language changes from one news outlet to another, their reports are all essentially the same: “Plymouth shooter was a product of a violent, misogynistic ‘incel’ subculture.” The pieces tend to include quotations from former or current government officials, or experts in terrorism or gender-based violence who explain the danger facing our communities when thousands of young boys are radicalised online, just like Jake Davison.

The source of all this speculation is Davison’s digital footprint, the collage of his social media presence, including a now-deleted YouTube channel and a now-suspended Reddit account that chronicles a long history of isolation and self-doubt. He was a frequent poster in various Reddit communities, known as “subs”. Some were popular with incels; a few were “photo-rating subs”, where users are encouraged to rate each other’s appearances.

Interestingly, despite the certainty of many who have described him as an “incel”, Davison was also active on an anti-Incel “watchdog” sub, and two others dedicated to debunking the tenets of the incel ideology known as the “Black Pill”.

Of course, these things are never black and white. Davison certainly talked like an incel, using their terminology  and citing concepts from evolutionary psychology popular in “black pilled” circles. He uploaded a number of confessional-style video bogs lamenting his lost youth and his inability to lose weight, as well as the crippling insecurity that prevented him from talking to girls. In one video, he spoke emphatically about why women are biologically hardwired to select men based on appearance, to be “picky” for reproductive reasons. Just days before the attack, he claimed that “women are arrogant and entitled beyond belief”.

But most of his videos just showed him lifting weights. In one, entitled “Older vid when I was a bit leaner”, he starts posing to the camera, with an Eminem track blaring in the background.

Still, according to the definition provided by incels themselves — a man unable to form a romantic or sexual relationship despite desiring one — Davison would have met the criteria. He was a virgin at the age of 22, and had never had any kind of a girlfriend.

But Davison himself did not self-identify that way. The one time he mentioned the word in a video, he paused to clarify that he did not include himself among their ranks, but considered them “people like [himself]”. This detail appears to have been lost on much of the media — as have Davison’s broader criticisms of the incel movement.

Three months ago, he described on a Reddit thread how much of the misogyny of the incel movement was “just toxic negative bullshit” and explained how he was excited for the end of lockdown, to begin driving lessons and start socialising more. Soon after, he responded to a post in the same subreddit by a depressed 17-year-old, encouraging him to overcome his insecurities, stand up to bullies, and not “let the blackpill or whatever shit you read online drag you down”.

Davison’s final post to the site, written just two days before the attack, was less optimistic. He explained that he was a loner by nature, something which he used to accept. But now he felt that he should have tried harder. “It’s vital you try your best to integrate with people, fit in and establish a solid social life and develop socially you can’t afford to be a loner as a young person it will only destroy your life,” he wrote. He sounded defeated but introspective, like someone taking accountability for his choices, not “echoing” an ideology.

None of this is to say that Davison wasn’t influenced by, or protective of, the incel community. But does that mean the media is right to ascribe his horrific attack to that relationship? I’m not convinced it’s as clear-cut as that.

Indeed, it’s striking just how inaccurate and irresponsible some of the commentary by self-appointed incel experts has been in recent days. Take the claim, made in the Guardian a day after the tragedy, that incels “actively recruit” young men, recalling the tactics used by extremist groups such as ISIS. I’ve spoken to dozens of incels for my research, and not one of them has suggested this happens. Overwhelmingly, these young men find the content on their own, which isn’t difficult to imagine for young people with internet access.

Most are “lurkers” who do not even interact with other members of the community. They also do not “actively incite” acts of violence, such as an “Incel Uprising” or the “Beta Rebellion,” as has been suggested. Unlike in other groups, who offer the promise of some kind of reward for such actions — the caliphate, the ethnostate, or eternal salvation — there is no common goal that binds incels together or mobilises them toward violence.

That is not to minimise the potentially toxic effect of a fatalistic, misogynistic echo chamber in which misery and failure are celebrated, or to deny the possibility that some very vulnerable individuals with a predisposition toward violence might come across their community and use it to ascribe their vengeance to some greater purpose. The murder of ten people by Elliot Roger in 2014 tragically demonstrated this is possible.

But the coverage thus far has focused on the “incel angle” to the exclusion of everything else, at times even cherry-picking details in a way that feels intellectually dishonest. For if we’re going to look at the case of Jake Davison honestly, we have to look at the whole picture.

We know that an assault allegation from September of 2020 led police to seize Davison’s firearm and revoke his licence the following December. It was returned just a week before the attack, for reasons that are unknown. The Independent Office of Police Conduct is investigating the decision to do so.

We also know that Davison’s mother, Maxine, and other relatives reportedly “begged police and NHS to help him with mental health problems — he had been diagnosed with autism and attention deficit disorder — though the timeline is unclear. Neighbours have commented that he was “a troubled soul”, who had always been very quiet and close to his mother, but had recently begun to clash with her.

For now, that is all we know about this devastating atrocity and the man who committed it. Yet somehow, armed only with (understandable) indignation and a few hot takes from social media, we seem to have lost sight of the perpetrator behind this awful attack, preferring instead to blame the atrocity on incel culture. In some ways, this is an understandable response to tragedy. It is more comforting, after all, to seize upon a simple explanation — in this case that incel culture is to blame — than accept that the situation is more complex.

But doing so makes it impossible for us to have the more important discussion about how we got here in the first place — and why certain men are drawn to incel culture. What is it about these communities that makes them appealing? Is it our increased isolation and lack of human contact? Or is it, as incels suggest, the fact that they feel marginalised in our current “woke” culture? I don’t have the answers to these questions, but if my research has taught me anything, it’s that we can’t help incels — and, in turn, protect our daughters — until we have that honest conversation.


Naama Kates is a writer, producer, and creator of the “Incel” podcast.

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Simon Denis
Simon Denis
2 years ago

This whole “incel” business is bread and butter to the left, desperate to conjure into existence large “movements” of variously racist or misogynist thugs, when quite often we really are confronted by no more than a disturbed individual on a bad day. Conversely, when real patterns of ideological violence present themselves – as in Rotherham – the left turns the blindest of blind eyes.

David Morley
David Morley
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

a disturbed individual on a bad day

along with a lot of harmless but unhappy people that nobody cares about.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

It is also part of the campaign to claim that the major terrorist threat to civilians’ lives is not from Islamists but from the ‘Right’.

Jonathan Ellman
Jonathan Ellman
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

Rotherham, or Afganistan.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

Why is it bread and butter to the left rather than the right? I do not see a political angle here.

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago
Reply to  Judy Johnson

Because in the U.S. some believe, or purport to believe, that the biggest single threat to our society is right-wing extremism.
https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/jihadist-plots-used-be-u-s-europe-s-biggest-terrorist-n1234840
https://pjmedia.com/news-and-politics/robert-spencer/2021/02/20/dhs-right-wing-extremists-committed-most-deadly-terrorist-attacks-last-year-n1427092
Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. The Left is doing a fine job of helping to bring down the U.S. all by themselves.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
2 years ago
Reply to  Warren T

Thanks for the links.

MJ Reid
MJ Reid
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

Has to be the “Left” who put labels on people then ignore them. In the UK, politics are not the black and white of the US. But keep perpetuating the myth.

Society has turned inward. Partly due to lockdown, partly due to Brexit and possibly partly fmdue to having Boris and Nicola in charge.

But stop blaming “the Left” as though everyone with left leaning politics are one homogenous group. We are not. Anymore than the “Right” are.

Society as a whole has to take responsibility for its poor, its weak, its mentally unwell. And social media needs to be policed by adults not similar people who do not have a mature grasp of the world and the people in it. If you allow young people to police their own, this is ehat we get back.

Peter LR
Peter LR
2 years ago

Thanks for this, Naama, and risking criticism for showing that human tragedies are complex and nuanced. One strange aspect of the reporting is the use of ‘virgin’ as a pejorative almost implying that having had a sexual relationship is essential for healthy mental development. Such a peculiar view is an indictment of any culture.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter LR

Lack of sexual relationships can lead to frustration, anger and depression though

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

What about the Catholic priesthood?

Sharon Overy
Sharon Overy
2 years ago

Considering that incel means involuntarily celibate, I don’t think it can be really described as a ‘movement’ at all. I mean, nobody is choosing to be eligible for this category, yet so many seem to think they are, one has to assume that they don’t understand the meaning of the word involuntarily.

Every person, woman or man, who is single but would rather not be, is an incel. As is anyone stuck n a sexless relationship.

Allie McBeth
Allie McBeth
2 years ago
Reply to  Sharon Overy

Nice point there. Perhaps it should stand for ‘indignantly’ or ‘infuriatingly celibate’. Lots of us are ‘incels’ at some time or other! On a serious note, this boy obviously sufferied a complete mental breakdown that in other circumstances might have led to him perhaps killing his mother then himself – bad enough – but an American type of gun worship seems to be part of the equation here, enabling him to join the school shooters types who get a dark following online, as per Elliot Rodger. Why on earth a man whose mental health issues had been flagged up by his mother and others to the authorities/police was allowed to have a shotgun is, to me, quite astounding, and must be investigated at the highest level.

Last edited 2 years ago by Allie McBeth
Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Allie McBeth

I imagine he found a sense of belonging among his fellow incels who understood how he felt. Being in an echo chamber will only ever reinforce and amplify those feelings.

David Morley
David Morley
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

Being in an echo chamber will only ever reinforce and amplify those feelings.

well yes – but who else was he supposed to speak to.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 years ago
Reply to  Allie McBeth

The percentage of people who have common sense based upon a broad experience of life who make decisions in Politics, The Law, The Police, Academia, The Media, etc is very small and uninfluential, plus is declining.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
2 years ago
Reply to  Sharon Overy

Defined that way it should include women then?

Karl Juhnke
Karl Juhnke
2 years ago

I have been away a few days and didn’t hear of this tragedy. Once the cogs that made the machine turn, many young men have been replaced by cheap overseas production and technology and thrown on the rubbish heap to be despised and ridiculed. So they turn inward.

Their time is then wasted on more technology that soften’s their bodies, brains and will to live. They are unable to attract a partner for obvious reasons and unsurprisingly some of them turn on others. Isn’t that what you would expect?

Yes. I know this is not the full picture, but it is certainly a significant part of that picture.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  Karl Juhnke

Idleness is super destructive to young people, and more so to males. Young men evolved to work hard from dawn to dusk.

I spent a good bit of time in the far North where the idleness brought by government assistance and bought goods has wrecked many remote peoples communities. Reading of the past lives there – the Native American boy was the hardest working thing in the world. In winter he snowshoed ahead on the light snow to ‘Break Trail, ran ahead to build the lean-to and get the wood – if an animal shot he dressed it and carried it, made camp, broke camp, and hauled loads all day, ran the trap lines, began work first, finished last…In ancient days till recent civilization boys began work at a young age and worked 12 hours a day every day (modern boys, school is work, it uses their energies) – this is what genetics have us geared up for. Young males who have nothing to use their energies become self destructive or antisocial. This is my great fear of UBI, we are just not made for idleness.
I do not know this guy’s situation, but I have a great fear of what not working will do to society – working construction I know young men and how the hard work civilizes them – because they are tired, felt some satisfaction they did a days work, and have some money for it. They also get older men ordering them around, teaching them, straightening them out, and that is a very good thing too.The young men who just sit around – they have more issues than the ones who go to work.

Karl Juhnke
Karl Juhnke
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Yes Sanford. I enjoy your commentary. I was 12 when my parents allowed me to walk 5km out in the Australian bush and camp with my mates. Helicopter parents now cling on till their ‘child’ is in his/her mid thirties. Pathetic and we are paying the price.

Richard Powell
Richard Powell
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Davison was reportedly an apprentice at Babcock International, “an aerospace, defence and nuclear engineering company”. Other than joining the armed forces, I doubt he could have found a more traditionally masculine role.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Powell

A 22 year old apprentice is someone who is starting late in life.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Powell

I did not know his situation – but just that so many young men are being left to go anti-social and self destructive because loss of structured male work – I see it a lot, the young unemployed, how they just become ‘Lost Boys’ like in Peter Pan. Single mother, violent and absent father, there are so many things young must undergo now days.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

I absolutely agree.

Sue Whorton
Sue Whorton
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Sometime ago I did the visit to Robbin Island. One of our guides was a young prisoner housed in a dormitory. They refused to work. Word came down from Nelson Mandela. It s good for young men to work so they did. From that work they progressed to study. He attended Cape Town University while still a political prisoner.

ralph bell
ralph bell
2 years ago

Really insightful and thought provoking article.
From my experience of listening to others, it is very common to ‘still be a virgin’ at 22 and be still waiting and yearning for that 1st relationship.
I would also not that despite the media promoting the idea of him despising women and the attack being an ‘attack against women’, his actions appear to be completely indiscriminate, aside from his mother, with actually more male victims.
It is a desperately sad story of a struggling young man exploding with appalling loss.
Worryingly I would imagine lockdown and the increasing isolation of people through technology, there may me many other people feeling desperate. I certainly see few younger people out and about in busy suburbs and town centres.

Last edited 2 years ago by ralph bell
David Morley
David Morley
2 years ago
Reply to  ralph bell

From my experience of listening to others, it is very common to ‘still be a virgin’ at 22 and be still waiting and yearning for that 1st relationship.

obviously he was no big success with women – or perhaps generally – but why would someone of 22 think the game was all over and that he was one of life’s permanent losers.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
2 years ago
Reply to  David Morley

The onslaught of images and articles in the media suggest that everyone (but you the incel) is having great sex, often changing partners at regular intervals. In film and TV dramas, when two people discover they have a mutual attraction to each other, they immediately rip each others’ clothes off and consummate their lust. No worrying about contraception. No getting to know each other better first. And then there’s porn. Where women are projected as always desperate for sex. And yet not desperate enough to have sex with you.

Alan Osband
Alan Osband
2 years ago

I suspect that teenage girls like to sleep with boys who have slept with girls they admire .This results in a few super promiscuous boys getting a huge amount of sex . And a large number of incels .

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  ralph bell

There seem to be quite a few explosions of antisocial behaviour and violence since coming out of lockdown, like some people have been like caged animals. The Euros sprung to mind.

David Slade
David Slade
2 years ago

Thanks for the first level headed commentary on this story I’ve seen so far. It’s such a shame it’ll be the last for a while.

It’s bad enough that other journalists and authorities substitute an investigation into a person’s motivations for a simplistic look at their online activity. It’s even worse when – as the author highlights – they even do this selectively.

The so called ‘incel’ movement is just too juicy a modern day bogey man for the press and the vested interests to ignore, it ticks too many boxes for them.

Ironically, however, the forums sound like they have more in common with twenty first century upper middle-class liberal victim culture than it does with traditional male values or their ‘toxic’ manifestations.

Alas, I can hear the clamour of moral panic coming over the horizon, thus ensuring that any underlying causes of this tragedy (or whether there are truly any societal issues or rather centred on an individual’s mental health), will remain burried under political obfuscation and other group’s preconceived narratives.

It’s for that reason I’ve bookmarked this article for posterity.

David Morley
David Morley
2 years ago
Reply to  David Slade

Ironically, however, the forums sound like they have more in common with twenty first century upper middle-class liberal victim culture than it does with traditional male values or their ‘toxic’ manifestations.

yup – just not the right colour, gender or sexual orientation to get any victim status or sympathy.

David Morley
David Morley
2 years ago

I suspect the reason for the Guardian et al jumping on this to have a go at incels is:

  1. They don’t like the idea of (white) males claiming to be in some way disadvantaged
  2. incel culture tends towards biological rather than social explanations for how society works.
  3. its another “far right” bogeyman to frighten their rich but anxious readers with.

Incels don’t really sound that different to overweight girls who can’t get boyfriends and blame the patriarchy and it’s beauty standards for their misfortune. Except nobody really runs to the incels support.

Last edited 2 years ago by David Morley
jill dowling
jill dowling
2 years ago
Reply to  David Morley

Except I’ve yet to hear of a girl running amok with a pump action shot gun killing innocent people

Mel Bass
Mel Bass
2 years ago
Reply to  jill dowling

I know of one young girl who tried, but her attempt to get hold of a firearm on the dark net was fortunately thwarted. She was quite chilling to talk to and probably would have carried through, given the opportunity. Serious mental illness, in her case, rather than any ideology.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  jill dowling

The action that results is certainly different, but the underlying claim is the same. Unattractive women decide that it’s everyone else who’s wrong, and that the solution is for the definition of attractive to change so as encompass themselves.
Blokes like this decide that it’s women who are wrong, and the definition of attractive to women needs to change so as to encompass himself.
The latter view gets deservedly short shrift, so why not the former?

Christian Moon
Christian Moon
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Where has this man or any incel asked society to change? The women complain as a way of seeking help, as is their way. This man accepted the hopelessness of his situation as he saw it, and found a practical way to bring it to an end.
As a society however, we would do well to try to help such men before they can reach such levels of despair. Think of his victims.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago

This bloke clearly had some significant mental health issues to begin with: by definition, shooting people because you are unhappy is not a mentally stable thing to be doing.
However, he looks a complete mess, like a 16-year-old who’s forgotten to shave. A few years ago I read a letter in an online agony column from a 16-year-old boy wanting “to get laid”, in which effort he was having zero success, and seeking advice. The very sound advice given was to forget about getting his 16-year-old self laid, and focus instead on making his 20-year-old self more appealing.
So, get a decent haircut, get rid of that awful scruffy beard, lose the weight, add some muscle, buy some decent clothes, and organise his life to have one or two interesting and fun things going on. If I were him, I’d have learned Spanish and how to surf and windsurf, and then I’d have gone off and worked summers as a windsurfing instructor in Majorca. These all make you look confident and happier, the opposite sex does notice appearances, and things then just fall into place.
You wouldn’t apply for a job by sending in a CV that’s illiterate and full of typoes; it just gets your job application ignored. In the same way, looking like an angry bag of 54it with a piece of string round the middle, and having nothing to say, was always going to get him looked through. Many of these incels must simply lack the self-awareness to notice this stuff and / or the friendship circle to point them out.

Last edited 2 years ago by Jon Redman
David Morley
David Morley
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

You wouldn’t apply for a job by sending in a CV that’s illiterate and full of typoes

You obviously haven’t read many job applications!
That aside, we have to ask what it is that is holding incels back from taking advice of the kind you offer. Not everyone is attractive, but most people can make themselves more attractive than they currently are. And shyness can be overcome with time.
and let’s face it, overweight women have found their way into adverts and onto the covers of magazines, but I don’t see unattractive incels featuring on the cover of Men’s Health anytime soon. So there is little point in them hanging around waiting for society to change its opinion.

Edward De Beukelaer
Edward De Beukelaer
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Dear Jon, you are absolutely right … but only if the individual has the freedom to do so. Freedom meaning in some people the right support from society due to a lack of capabilities/adaptability: but there is little support from society: social care and medicine are just tailored to serve a system of government and accounting rather than individual people needing help to find their way (book to read: Radical by Hilary Cottam)

Ken Maclaren
Ken Maclaren
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Sound advice for many of the young men like him. Above all it’s changing the system that allowed him to get a gun licence and own a gun.

Sean Penley
Sean Penley
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

It’s very good advice of course, but often hard to follow for those it doesn’t come naturally to. I was kind of a hopeless case as a teenager too. I really wanted to be different and made some attempts, but just didn’t seem to have it in me and didn’t really know how.
Fortunately I really wanted to go into the Army, and that of course forced me to make a lot of changes, and–at least back then, and hopefully still–they would indeed guide you through. Forced me to get in shape, socialize more (still not a natural at it, but got better), get better at getting along with others, just having interesting things to talk about, etc. I certainly never got to the point girls were throwing themselves at me, but I had a couple short-term relationships–the biggest problem back then is you were constantly working and constantly moving to a new post or deploying; you rarely had a chance to meet someone or go on a date, but then again you didn’t have a chance to mope online about it either and you really felt you were part something and had a sense of belonging to a larger group.
I honestly hate to think how hard it would be for a young man in a normal job to make these changes now, especially given how many businesses are jumping on the bandwagon that guys should be ashamed to act like guys and traditional male interests and pursuits are “toxic.” It’s almost as if there are a lot of different elements in society accidentally conspiring (there has to be a better word but I can’t think of it right now) to create people like him. And I don’t just mean the violent ones, but the nonviolent ones the author mentions who are just in despair.

Jason Smith
Jason Smith
2 years ago

This is a fascinating article, and a welcome insight into a tragedy hysterically and badly served by the rest of the media

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago

This kind of thing is a prime example of a way in which the internet is demonstrably a bad thing. Not a net bad thing, necessarily, but clearly an actual bad thing in some specifics.
It enables very small groups, that may include outright fringe nutters, to coalesce online in numbers like they can’t in real life. In the case of recherché or slightly furtive hobbies, like cross-stitch or building spectacularly elaborate Airfix, Lego or Meccano models, the shared fringe interest clearly entails impressive skills, the odd virtue, such as persistence, and is probably therapeutic. The internet means it need no longer be undertaken alone.
Unfortunately it is also possible for people to find others who share and affirm appalling vices, while mistaking themselves for normal, or a legitimate demographic. There is a website called “house price crash” which is dedicated to the idea that the housing market is about to collapse, so nobody should buy. There are people on that site who have been waiting for that to happen for twenty years – almost as long as a mortgage term – whose economic position will never recover. That website has caused immense damage to individuals’ prosperity and personal relationships.
Where these groupings become dangerous is when they start to identify and rage against an out-group that they blame for their situation. Among porn users it’s probably women, among the house price crashists it’s everyone who owns a house, and among the religion of peace types it’s, well, everybody.
I fear this is a feature of the internet like car accidents are a feature of roads.

Adam Wolstenholme
Adam Wolstenholme
2 years ago

The last thing lonely young men need is to be further demonised by a society from which they already feel excluded. Therefore moves to classify ‘incels’ as terrorists should be resisted. There’s also a risk that the entire online ‘manosphere’ gets stigmatised, whereas at least some of what’s out there is offering sound advice from older men who’ve learnt, often the hard way, that self-improvement is the best way to attract a woman. The incel issue is an easy way of not facing a more glaring issue – the lack of father figures in many young men’s lives.

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
2 years ago

He sounds more like a depressive than anything else. It’s unfortunate that so many “proper” journalists are ready to jump aboard where they detect an opportunity to advance some ideology.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
2 years ago

LBC presenters Shelagh Fogarty and Natasha Devon were desperate to use the murders as evidence of widespread misogyny. In doing so they failed to explain why two men were amongst the five victims. (One man was middle-aged and the other elderly, so neither were ‘Chads’ who might have infuriated an incel steeped in the ideology). The implication is that to Fogarty and Devon men’s lives matter less than women’s lives.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago

3 men were shot – one survived.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
2 years ago

Blaming women for their perceived problems is something misogynists and some incels do. Misogyny is rife in much of modern discourse. Meghan blamed for Harry, Carrie blamed for Johnson -you might not see the link but it’s worth exploring.

David Slade
David Slade
2 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

I’m not sure either of those two are blamed for anything because they are women. Carrie is the partner of the PM, no one voted for her so they object to her exerting undue influence. There simply isn’t the evidence to suggest that same objection wouldn’t also have arisen in the event of a male partner influencing a female PM.

As for Meghan, well – everyone in the country practically watched the royal family grow up, if there was no evidence of one of them ‘going off the rails’ until they married someone who is – undoubtedly – a self publicist then Occam’s razor points to the obvious conclusion.

I just don’t think the sex of the protagonists in those scenarios has anything to do with the perception of them. You could just as easily make the case they wouldn’t have so many people defending them if they were male and doing the same things.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Perhaps, but we also live in a society where women are permitted everything and men are forgiven nothing.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
2 years ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

That Sounds like something Jake Davison might have agreed with.

Christian Moon
Christian Moon
2 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Surely everyone agrees with the thrust of it?

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

Was Lockdown a big contributing part of the mess of this young man’s life? I wonder if the consequences of lockdown will ever be understood fully. “and explained how he was excited for the end of lockdown, to begin driving lessons and start socialising more.”

‘Troubled soul, ADD, Autistic’

But I must say, Social Media has a lot of very dirk sides to it, it is a huge psychological experiment, one which so far has not been good for young minds. The Japanese Hikikomori have an aspect of his issues – most, but not all, Hikikomori are single male youth. The dark side of the solitude of the web has sucked them in.

Richard Riheed
Richard Riheed
2 years ago

Good article. Thank you Naama. Clearly a deeply troubled young man and not helpful to see him as part of a movement.

hayden eastwood
hayden eastwood
2 years ago

Great article.

One point seldom discussed is that, in a world without social strictures, the sexual marketplace is a winner-takes-all model.

This means that the top 5% of men sleep with 70-80% of women all the time (OK Cupid research shows this). Women, it turns out, prefer to be part of the harem of a high ranking male than to have commitment from a low ranking one.
As such, our “sexually liberated” society produces rather ancient outcomes, where powerful men are as polygamous as they like, but without any of the ancient customs that required them to make material or physical sacrifices for those partners.
There is an added knock-on of this which is also little discussed, the mirror image in women, who I call Inrels – those who are involuntarily relationship-less, and who have no hope of finding a relationship that fulfils their expectations.
With apps like Tinder, low ranking women are able to sleep with high ranking men, but are unable to convert sex with them into meaningful relationships, because those same men have unlimited options and have no reason to settle.

The breaking of social boundaries and the commodification of sex is a set of tradeoffs with consequences, not a one way road to Utopia. Incel men will only grow in number with this model, as will their inrel counterparts.

Last edited 2 years ago by hayden eastwood
Alan Osband
Alan Osband
2 years ago

The inrel girls /women deliberately choose sex partners with a provenance from the beds/bottoms of the more attractive girls in their neighbourhood and then bellyache about men not being grateful or wanting a relationship .
They are lucky these guys don’t send them a bill and haven’t noticed any connection between affection and gratitude .
For their chosen partners it must be like someone with a draw full of designer sunglasses being given yet another pair of sunglasses . ‘Lovely ,just what I always wanted’

Last edited 2 years ago by Alan Osband
Stephen Portlock
Stephen Portlock
2 years ago

I fear that focusing on Incels will draw us away from disscussions of the broader social context – a highly sexualised culture. To give an example I do stand-up comedy and a pet hate of mine is when MCs during small talk with the audience assume that any couples in the audience must be having sex. The implication is that chastity whether voluntary or due to unforeseeable or unforeseen circumstances is somehow abnormal.

David Slade
David Slade
2 years ago

I’ve never been convinced by the idea that society is ‘sexualised’ – for a start, compared to what? What is the optimum level of sexiness in society before we all apparently helplessly degenerate and why is that? Arguably for much of post industrial human history sexuality was heavily regulated instead, so we just don’t have a baseline of what is normal

Aside from this, our culture now – if anything – is more infantilised than sexualised. Attitudinal surveys seem to show young people becoming increasingly puritanical about sex (making their obsession with sexual identity all the more ironic). There was more sexual entitlement amongst young men when I was coming of age in the nineties, yet we had no Incels or any such analogue for them.

I think if you want to explain a modern phenomenon you can’t fall back on anything that was much more prominent in the past, before that phenomenon existed. Correlation may not equal causation; but causation can’t exist without it.

Alan Osband
Alan Osband
2 years ago
Reply to  David Slade

I am sure incels existed but were unable pre-internet to form a self validating group and were more ashamed .
While driving a year or so ago I listened on the radio to Isy Suttie relating how she and her sisters ( one now a lib-dem peeress ) enjoyed humiliating some young man at their ‘young people’s Christian holiday camp ‘
She was totally unashamed glorying in how she and her sisters made up funny songs about this guy , singing them in earshot ‘
Her justification was he was a class enemy from a (non -state) boarding school.
Oh ,I forgot, they hated his clothes (obviously bought for him by his mother so he’d be properly attired for his holiday where he’d meet such ‘nice friendly Christian girls’ hee hee)

This was on radio 4

And why did the Lib Dems make Sluttie Soeur a lady ? Services to the heroin dealing community /poppy farmers of Afghanistan possibly.

Last edited 2 years ago by Alan Osband
Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago

He was likely already disturbed and the subculture just encouraged him. An unattractive young man, a virgin, sexually frustrated, depressed. A white male – no sympathy for him, he’s ‘privileged’, he’s an ‘oppressor’. I imagine he felt very sorry for himself. It is said that in a population of a certain size there is a probability that you have x serial killers running around, x paedophiles, x rapists. When a guy like this ‘pops’ once in a while why is it such a surprise? Statistically speaking we probably have way fewer than we should, thanks to our strict weapons laws. My only question is why on earth was he allowed to have a gun?? Very few people need guns, why did he need one, and why was he given one back after a previous red flag??? This guy shouldn’t have been able to take his rage out on so many people so brutally. But then again, if he hasn’t done it this way, maybe he’d have just found another way and become a serial killer or something instead. Sometimes people are evil, or become evil, sometimes bad things happen to good people. We’re only shocked because it happens relatively rarely here, we should be grateful for that and glad Jake Davison is dead, rotting in hell where he belongs and the taxpayer isn’t paying for his high security prison and 3 squares a day until he gets let out aged 45 with absolutely no chance of ever having a productive life. Incels only exist because they’re lonely, frustrated and impotent in a world they see as dominated by women. So many SJWs are apologists for jihadists, because apparently the West has ‘driven them’ to violent retribution. Are they going to have the same sympathy for Jake Davison?

Hugh Oxford
Hugh Oxford
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

It struck me reading your post that in the Islamic world incels join the Taliban or they migrate to the West. Our incels have no such options.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

You hsve some good posts today.

Alan Osband
Alan Osband
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

To judge by the adds on TV (I rarely go out) Jake Davison had no chance of getting a girlfriend because he wasn’t BAME

Alex Stonor
Alex Stonor
2 years ago

The media has a tendency to turn news into narcotics: cherry picking facts and conjecture to amplify danger & atrocity; ’modelling’ & speculating on the inevitable impact on our families & communities. Terrified & enthralled we become addicted to learning of the extreme ramifications of growing radicalisation, sexual misery & dysfunction, death & disease. All stories are manipulated to maintain consumer ‘loyalty’, via the style & content, not to give a balanced appraisal of conditions or events. 

Alan Osband
Alan Osband
2 years ago
Reply to  Alex Stonor

Not always , regarding some social threats the media goes out of its way to minimise the danger .
As when Islamic terrorism is downplayed or misdescribed while largely fictitious right -wing terrorism is some omnipresent threat , though perhaps biding it’s time ready to spring up ,if no action is taken .

Rob Britton
Rob Britton
2 years ago

This is actually a very sad case of someone who was bitter about not being able to get a girl friend. It was probably his weirdness that meant he was unable to attract a girl friend rather than vice versa.

Adam Bartlett
Adam Bartlett
2 years ago

Great to see the phenomenal Naama Kates writing here – it’s just got unherd another paying subscriber.
Not sure about the last sentence though. There’s two ways Incels are already being helped without any need for an honest conversation, which is rather difficult to have publicly, at least outside of refined circles like this site.
1) Some cels will be helped by existing anti loneliness initiatives. NGOs have been active in this space for decades, to a degree it’s a fight that probably precedes history (Loneliness being the first evil mentioned in the Holy Bible, ect.) But since about 2018 it’s become a government led thing, with us in GB leading the way. Incels dont tend to come up in the commitiees discussing this, but there is a lot of recognition of the special problems faced by men, including romantic loneliness (you get female incels too and they need attention to, though that’s a partly separate sub culture, but its mostly men). Theres all sorts of initiatives going on, some of which catch incels in the net. (Allbeit only a small percentage, and I guess its very rare they get helped enough to ascend.)
2) Technology – emotionally aware AI therapy/ social facilitator / chat bots, along with sex bots. Even now some incels are aided by these, and they’re swiftly getting better & more accessible. I’m more optimistic about this one, even though I’d admit the Tories are doing just as good a job against loneliness as we would in Labour, and as a Keynesian I often prefer public to private sector fixes. But loneliness is such a difficult issue to tackle effectively, especially the extreme forms faced by Incels, which are driven by deep social forces. People suffering from chronic loneliness can take a huge amount of time and energy to help. Human energy is finite, the processing power available to AI bots is effectively unlimited. (in the context of tackling loneliness I mean)
That said, if ever it does become possible to have an honest public conversation about incels, Naama’s Incel podcast might be what made it happen. Perhaps we’ll eventually reach the point where we can develop the sorts of  genetic engineering most needed by the true cells among them.

Hugh Oxford
Hugh Oxford
2 years ago

There are two kinds of incel, intimately related although barely aware of one another: the young male incel and the older female incel. They are two ends of the same long rope, or perhaps a better analogy would be a ladder.
The young male incel can’t get on the mating ladder. The old female incel thought she didn’t need to bother climbing it until it was too late.
The young male incel is in a much better position. He has literally decades ahead of him to sort himself out, to become successful, to work on himself, his education, his experience, his life.
It’s almost comical to hear incels complaining about their lot. A physically unattractive young man can almost completely compensate for his physical unattractiveness in other ways in a way that women can’t.

Christian Moon
Christian Moon
2 years ago
Reply to  Hugh Oxford

Hear, hear, but it’s not comical, it’s tragic and even wicked.
The message you spell out is the most important one to communicate to both sexes as youngsters. It would save boys from despair like this, and save girls from overestimating the number of years they have in which to make a match and have a family.
Instead we have a narrative that denies the difference in the experiences of the sexes at different ages, and which tries to protect women from unwelcome feelings about the loss of their looks.

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago

“Indeed, it’s striking just how inaccurate and irresponsible some of the commentary by self-appointed incel experts has been in recent days.”
Is this the biggest “DUH!” ever written? The same can be said of virtually everything found online these days.

Ronny Collins
Ronny Collins
1 year ago

I think we should address incels by challenging males in their senior year of high school to produce a female to tell government agents, “Yes, I have had sex with him. See, his life MATTERS.” All high school senior males who fail to accomplish this task should be either FORCED INTO THE MILITARY, or EXECUTED UPON HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION!!

I think that will drop the amount of incel-induced violence against women, AND make life a whole lot better for women in general, by increasing the chances of the only guys they run into being ones they will either want to f**k, or feel safe around.

Besides, women can’t say that they are going to MISS these guys, or that they NEED them around in their lives or even in their companies. We all know that the only men who deserve to be in this world are the ones who women actually WANT to f**k, because straight women always want to be a part of f**k-boys’ harems and shit.

Who’s with me on this?

Last edited 1 year ago by Ronny Collins
Ronny Collins
Ronny Collins
1 year ago

I think we should address incels by challenging males in their senior year of high school to produce a female to tell government agents, “Yes, I have had sex with him. See, his life MATTERS.” All high school senior males who fail to accomplish this task should be either FORCED INTO THE MILITARY, or EXECUTED UPON HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION!!

I think that will drop the amount of incel-induced violence against women, AND make life a whole lot better for women in general, by increasing the chances of the only guys they run into being ones they will either want to f**k, or feel safe around.

Besides, women can’t say that they are going to MISS these guys, or that they NEED them around in their lives or even in their companies. We all know that the only men who deserve to be in this world are the ones who women actually WANT to f**k, because straight women always want to be a part of f**k-boys’ harems and shit.

Who’s with me on this?

Last edited 1 year ago by Ronny Collins
Brendan Newport
Brendan Newport
2 years ago

One area missing from this essay is the recent revelation that incel thought-and-belief has now appeared in academic institutions.
Indeed just a fortnight ago, LSE (the London School of Economics) were able to claim, triumphantly, to be the countries first official incel-encouraging academic institution, having identified a students paper chock-full of incel threats towards women to be worthy-of-praise;
“Picture this: I hold a knife to your throat and spit my transness in your ear. Does that turn you on? Are you scared? I sure f*****g hope so.”
As Jenny McCartney noted in her Unherd article of 29th July, ‘It’s the type of statement frequently found on Twitter, now immortalised in an academic paper.’ 
Obviously those who are alumni of LSE, or rather the LSE of-the-past, might be a bit annoyed to find that their likely-beloved university is now a haven for extremist woman-hatred. Times change of course, and so apparently has the LSE.

Alan Osband
Alan Osband
2 years ago

Are you sure Jenny McCartney isn’t being a tiny bit selective in her ‘typical incel’ quote ?

Hugh Marcus
Hugh Marcus
2 years ago

An excellent piece. What I’ve noticed about all the stuff written around this is that no one mentioned the elephant in the room for young men like him – the porn industry. Sat alone & depressed a lot of the time, he’s almost certainly developed a porn habit. If at a young & impressionable age, all you see about sex & intimacy is a daily diet of ‘bitches getting a good seeing to’ then should we be surprised? Add to that the absence of role models, then we have a recipe that never turns out well.