Of all of the weird, extremely online terms I thought would never escape the dusty corners of the internet, the phrase “incel” and its associated communities is one that I was downright shocked to hear someone mention in real life. 

For those of you lucky enough not to know, the term incel is a contracted version of the phrase “involuntary celibate” and describes a person who defines themselves as unable to find a romantic or sexual partner despite desiring one. In its current use, self-described incels are overwhelmingly white and male, and their behavior centers around a seething resentment towards women, girls and conventionally successful men.

Incel communities are some of the most vile, hateful places on the internet, brimming with a gross sense of entitlement to women’s bodies and endorsements of wide-scale violence against sexually active people. Although major platforms have played a great deal of whack-a-mole with incel communities, they just keep coming back. The internet’s largest incel community was formerly /r/Incels of Reddit, but it was shut down after real-world violence was connected to the ideology. Self-described incels are responsible for at least 45 murders in the United States and Canada, with women and their partners as explicit targets, according to an April 26 L.A. Times article

Incel jargon is largely impenetrable to outsiders and downright horrifying when translated to normal human thoughts. For incels, most men can be safely separated into three categories. First, you have “Chads,” conventionally attractive but dull men who women are insatiably attracted to. Next, you have “betas,” unremarkable men who women will ignore but eventually marry for their money in a practice referred to as “betabux.” Lastly, you have the incels, who suffer from some horrible flaw that leaves them eternally cursed to be ignored and scorned by women. Of course, if you ask incels, non-males should be instead be called “femoids” because they’re not fully human. 

What terrible defect do these incels claim makes them modern-day pariahs? Incels come in all shapes and sizes, and each self-applied appellation describes another supposedly fatal flaw holding them back. A lot of these are based on supposed physical defects that have little to do with what actual humans consider character flaws. “Heightcels” blame their short stature, “wristcels” blame their small wrists, “chincels” blame their jaw structure and “fatcels” blame their weight. “Braincels,” a rather hefty subset of the incel sphere, are those whose supposed intelligence makes them unpopular with women, who in the incel mindset abhor thinking and logic. “Racecels” are those who claim their non-white status makes them outcasts, as women naturally seek power and therefore attempt to find it exclusively with privileged white men. 

All of these subsets have a shared loathing of so-called “volcels,” otherwise known as voluntary celibates. While in standard English celibate is usually reserved for the likes of ordained Catholic priests and those abstaining from sex before marriage, to incels a “volcel” is anyone not actively pursuing sex or a relationship at all times. Even those in relationships get slapped with the “volcel” label if they focus more on emotional rather than physical intimacy. For incels, people are far less important than bodies. 

Filled with an unending amount of resentment over their present state, some incels have set themselves on drastic and violent methods of change. The first camp believes in “taking the red pill.” The term was borrowed from the broader women-hating sphere and refers to the scene in “The Matrix” where Keanu Reeves takes the titular medication and is then able to see that the world is run by robots that all look like Hugo Weaving. In the misogynist context, taking the red pill allows you to see that women are actually the dominant class and that men are living under the shackles of feminism. If all men knew the truth about modern gender roles, incels argue, proper gender roles could be restored and their inceldom would be at end. 

Of particular concern is those “red-pilled” incels who claim that they’re on the verge of “going ER”; if you see anyone do this in anything that could remotely be a serious manner, report it to the FBI or local authorities. The “ER” is Elliot Rodger, better known as the Isla Vista shooter. Rodger, a self-described incel who posted lengthy video manifestos outlining his hatred of women and romantically successful men, murdered six people and wounded 14 others before taking his own life in 2014.

As a result, he has become something of a dark folk hero for incels, a role model whose manic ramblings have become words to live by. Alek Minassian, another incel terrorist who killed 10 people in a van attack in Toronto earlier this year, called Rodgers “the Supreme Gentleman” and proclaimed he was leading an “Incel Rebellion” in Rodger’s honor. Horrific acts of violence like Rodger’s and Minassian’s aren’t lone outbursts but rather representative of the complete moral decay at the heart of incel communities. 

On the other end lies the so-called “black pill,” the supposed realization that absolutely no action will ever liberate incels from their loveless purgatory. A combination of extreme cynicism and an incredibly botched interpretation of Nietzschean philosophy, black-pill advocates suggest that the only option for incels is to, in their own words, “lie down and rot.” This profoundly nihilistic, damaged worldview is being pushed on young, impressionable minds. Many incels are high school age or even younger, and their formative years are being spent around the most toxic thoughts imaginable.
The mere existence of the incel phenomenon is sadly unsurprising. The presence of jaded and hateful men in early adolescence is hardly a unique phenomenon of the Internet Age. Instead, what’s truly scary about this new breed is the degree of constant connectivity that creates incels and the echo chamber that they naturally form for each other. It’s the old crab bucket metaphor at hand but in the most depressing manner possible. Incels would rather see each other fail, piling on additional resentment to the ever-growing influx of hatred, than give their fellows reasonable advice to escape their current fate.