Five years ago this week was the first time most people in America had ever heard of an incel. For me, it was the first time I spent a week of my life explaining to those people what an incel was.
As soon as the news of Elliot Rodger’s killing spree in Isla Vista broke, as soon as they released his videos, I knew. At the time, I was working at Death & Taxes, and I announced in our work chatroom, “I know exactly what this is. He posts on PUAHate. I’d bet my life on it.”
Back then, PUAHate was the primary forum for men who had spent a lot of time and money investing in the pick-up-artist craze of the late aughts, with not particularly great results. Furious that the technique of wearing giant velvet hats and walking up to random women in bars and insulting them had not worked out as well as they had hoped, these men commiserated online.
But that wasn’t all. As the pick-up artist trend subsided, the forum evolved from complaining about pick-up gurus and became more about the horrible evil and shallowness of the women they had failed to woo with these techniques. They adopted the term incel—short for “involuntarily celibate”—from less overtly misogynistic parts of the internet and started referring to themselves as such. After George Sodini—a man who had also tried and failed to become a pick-up artist and was furious at women for his lack of romantic success—shot and killed 4 people at an L.A. Fitness in Collier Township, Pennsylvania, he became a PUAHate hero.
As it turns out, Rodger did post on PUAHate, and in his manifesto he even credited the forum with giving him a community of men who confirmed “many of the theories [he] had about how wicked and degenerate women really are.”
It sounds naive to say now, but as terrifying as PUAHate was to read, as much as you’d look at it and go “Oh shit, one of these nuts is going to kill someone someday,” it just didn’t seem quite as serious of a possibility as it does now. It was more of an “Oh god, have you seen this weird shit on the internet?” thing.
There was a lot of that in those days, actually. Shock sites were a thing. There was Goat.se, “Two Girls One Cup” (still have not seen it, thank you very much), the kind of sites you’d send people to in order to freak them out and see their reaction. Then there were message boards in which participants were constantly upping the ante to see who could say the most offensive thing, post the most abhorrent image, shock people already inured to the shocking. This is how things operated in PUAHate, but also how people saw PUAHate. It was shocking, but it wasn’t dangerous. Not yet.
A few months after the Isla Vista attacks, Gamergate happened. Women who wrote about video games had to go into hiding and feared for their lives because these asshats were scared they were going to steal “video games” from them. Soon, misogynistic 4Chan trolls gained support from more mainstream misogynistic sites like Breitbart, an alliance that would later help propel Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States.
I think it’s clear that Trump would not have happened without Gamergate, but I’ve also wondered a lot over the years about whether or not Gamergate would have even happened to the degree that it did if it were not for Elliot Rodger, and I have been leaning for a while now into camp “I don’t think it would have.” I think that as repulsive as Rodger’s actions and words were to normal people, a whole lot of men out there heard them and thought “that’s fucked up … but he’s not wrong.” I think that there are men who saw what he had to say and then went and joined those groups themselves. I think that while they may not have all gone on murder sprees, they did find other ways to lash out at women.
Not everything that happened since then is bad. When I look back at things I wrote back then in light of Isla Vista, I am genuinely impressed with the way the Left has aggressively fought against the misogyny and male entitlement that was coming from inside the house. We don’t dole out passes or progressive street cred to “lefty” men who are shitty to women, we don’t assume that men who are not the traditional, macho bro are not a threat. Good for us, damn the manarchists.
PUAHate disappeared after the murders, overwhelmed by bad publicity. Soon it became Sluthate. Now it’s Redpilltalk, though it’s much less popular these days than r/braincels, incels.co, 4chan’s R9K board, and other sites where men rage against being denied by the women they believe they are entitled to. They make references to St. Elliot, talk about “going ER,” gush over other men who have gone on murder sprees, and today they plan to go to Starbucks, order vanilla lattes — the drink he threw at happy young people he saw out and about while working himself up to their murder — and give their name as Elliot in his honor.
These days, rather than men who had been fed a diet of Girls Gone Wild, Tucker Max, Suicide Girls, professional pick-up artists and celebrity sex tapes, who had expected life to be a hedonistic sex buffet, many of the incels on these boards were raised in the heyday of sexual purity. They were raised to expect a virgin bride. They were raised to think of women who had sex before marriage as buckets of their classmate’s spit.
Since that day five years ago, there have been at least six other “incel murders” in the United States and Canada. At least 47 people, including Rodger’s victims, have lost their lives, more have been injured. Online radicalization is an increasingly serious problem and the way it happens is really not so different from the way it happened with PUAHate. People who feel they’ve been denied something they were supposed to be entitled to often want a target for the rage they feel, a group they can dehumanize.
The one thing I have learned in my years covering these groups is that they ultimately force themselves into a self-fulfilling prophecy. They create environments where they can be as repulsive as they like, where there are no consequences and only rewards for being horrible and offensive, and then they go and try to take that act on the road, only to find that other people do not feel this is an acceptable way of behaving. The things they felt entitled to become even further out of their reach, because they no longer know how to socialize normally. They get rejected even more, and they get angrier than before. They get more dangerous than before.
Five years ago I wrote:
Elliot Rodger was the product of a culture that teaches male entitlement. Men are entitled to women, to sex, to jobs, to money–and if they don’t get them, then women are to blame. He felt entitled to all these things and was livid over not getting them. You don’t see women committing crimes like this because we are not taught to feel entitled to these things.
The only way to stop more people like Elliot Rodger–or George Sodini who murdered women in an L.A. Fitness center for the same reason–is to stop teaching men to feel entitled. Start with not tel