Dismissing the ideology of incels like the Plymouth shooter is short-sighted and dangerous
Speaking at the World Counterterrorism Summit, Tim Jaques, deputy senior national counterterrorism police coordinator, said the Plymouth shooting in August was not a terrorist attack because the violence did not not been used to advance a cause. He said: “Incel in itself is not a terrorist ideology.”
First, there is no terrorist ideology. There are ideologies that lead people to terrorist violence. This is not just semantics, but it betrays a lack of understanding of how terrorism works.
The Terrorism Law of 2000 stipulates that an action can be considered a terrorist act if it is carried out for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause. None of these are necessarily “terrorist ideologies”, rather they are extremist ideologies that can lead to terrorist violence.
This is why it was so baffling that the counterterrorism authorities were so quick to dismiss the extreme misogyny of the incels as non-ideological. Mr Jaques argued that: “The attack on Plymouth was not motivated by ideology, even though that person was engaged in some kind of sparkling thinking. That doesn’t make him a terrorist.
Every ideology is “a kind of thought”, and incel thought is the one that often leads to violence. This is the kind of thinking that led Elliot Rodger to kill six people in 2014, which led Alek Minassian to run over dozens of people under his car in Toronto in 2018, killing 10, who led Scott Beirle walk into a hot yoga studio in Florida and open fire, killing two women in 2018. This is the kind of thinking that led to the machete murder in 2020 of Ashley Noell Arzaga, 24, in Toronto, a murder which was considered a misogynistic terrorist attack by Canadian authorities.
While Davison’s murder of six people was made to advance a cause is debatable, what shouldn’t be debated is whether or not there is an ideology that incels extreme misogyny, which turns some men into terrorists. .
As Laura Bates describes in her book Men who hate women, incels share a consistent worldview and language, which would indicate that these were not disparate cases of misogynistic violence, but that in fact, they were all motivated by the same ideology.
Elliot Rodger, for example, widely regarded as the first perpetrator of massive violence, is presented as a hero within the incel community. Hailed as “the supreme gentleman,” Rodger was cited as the inspiration for several of the attacks mentioned above, as well as hailed by Brenton Harrison Tarrant, the Christchurch 2019 shooter, in his manifesto.
The ruthless rejection of the extreme misogyny of incels as “some sort of thought” reveals that British counterterrorism is failing to contain the evolving threats. Terrorism is no longer confined to formal groups, with members, manifestos, leaders and a traditional terrorist ideology. The threat of terrorism has also become more nebulous, existing in multiple transnational online networks, expanding into unregulated forums, spreading hatred and violence across borders.
Incel’s ideology does not exist in a niche corner of the dark web, but is deeply entangled with white supremacy and far-right extremists. What does it say about our national security when senior counterterrorism officers seem unaware?
The legal definition of the Terrorism Act 2000 is notoriously broad enough to apply to anything and anyone, and this responds to the fact that terrorism is an inherently normative, value-judged category. Disagreements over what is and is not terrorism are common.
It was entirely possible for law enforcement to decide that the Plymouth shooting was not a terrorist attack, while also stating that they were at least taking steps to analyze the threat posed by extreme misogyny . They could have said, like recommended by the police watchdog, that violence against women is an epidemic which, if not terrorism, must at least be given the same priority as the fight against terrorism.
But they didn’t. Instead, they continue to present what happened in Plymouth as an isolated incident, rather than part of a larger pattern of extreme misogynistic violence. This is part of what Sian Norris calls the “World war on women”, evidenced by the recent murders of Sarah Everard and many others.
It is also an institutional question, not a matter of a few bad apples, or as Cressida Dick would have us believe, “a bad ‘one”. After all, a recent report found that almost all police forces have dealt with or are in the process of dealing with cases of sexual abuse of position, including officers abusing their powers to obtain sex and even sending sexually inappropriate text messages to minors. Furthermore, at least 15 women have been killed by police in the past 12 years.
This is not to say that all violence against women is motivated by incel ideology, but rather that the outright rejection of the extreme misogyny of incels as an ideology is in itself a form of violence against women. towards women. Failure to recognize extreme misogyny as an ideology that leads to deadly violence is a metaphorical slap in the face for all women, who will continue to be attacked and killed in the name of “some kind of thought”.