An introduction to the incel community with Naama Kates
An introduction to the incel community with Naama Kates
Mark Wilson: To learn more about how Janes can support you and your organization with social media research, email the team at intelligence. unit @ janes. com. Hello, and welcome to another episode of our podcast. I'm Mark Wilson. I'm a member of the Janes Intelligence Unit. Now on recent podcasts, we've been looking at researching fringe online communities. Today, we're going to continue that theme by looking at the incel or involuntary celibate community. Here to help us try to understand this community a little bit better is Naama Kates. Naama is an investigative journalist, who has been taking a deep dive into this world of incels for sometime now, particularly with her podcast, which goes by the name Incel. Naama, thanks for joining us.
Naama Kates: Thank you for having me.
Mark Wilson: A pleasure. So I was thinking maybe to get sort of kicked off on this topic, could you give us an insight into some of the key ideas of this world and talk a little bit about what individuals in this community believe?
Naama Kates: Sure. Well, for starters, I appreciate you referring to it as a community. Sometimes, instead it's called either a movement or a group or a gang or an ideology. While it might be any of those things, there's some sort of dispute over that, but community, it definitely is. They are community. As you said, they are involuntary celibates. So, they're men, overwhelmingly, almost entirely. Most of them don't believe that women can be involuntarily celibate. And mostly young men, but that ranges, who are unable to have sexual or romantic relationships, despite trying and wanting them. The group started to really form over the past five years, I would say. It started to really kind of gain popularity and momentum and stickiness. You talked about the language and their sort of lexicon being unique. I would say that is definitely one of the characteristics of the group that I found interesting, was their terms and their language. It's kind of, in my opinion, an internet phenomenon. So, they don't meet up in person. There aren't any physical, IRL incel cells, so to speak. I wouldn't say that they have any kind of real leadership, though there might be hubs or popular figures here and there. Unlike other kind of extremist groups that you might talk about, like jihadis or far right- wing extremist or left- wing extremists, they don't have a defined political goal. I don't think most of them have political goals at all. They believe in something called the black pill, which is a term that you may come across. Red pill and blue pill, those come from The Matrix, the blue pill being like the inaudible world theory and the red pill being the harsh truths.
Mark Wilson: So there's a black pill, as well as a red pill and a blue pill. Right? Okay.
Naama Kates: Yeah.
Mark Wilson: Just in case anyone was wondering out there, in terms of these different pills and what they mean to various different online communities, so the red pill, I mean, I've seen mention of the red pill in a far right context. Right? I mean, it kind of references the idea that if you take the red pill, if you believe in the red pill, you suddenly see the reality of the world around you, whether that's from a far- right context or whatever, depending upon the online communities that's talking about that. Is that a similar kind of meaning in an incel context?
Naama Kates: Yeah. Yeah. It is. It's the red pill, but it's kind of a step further, in my opinion, where the red pill is, I guess, prescriptive. The idea is that if you see this reality and then you behave in certain ways, you can kind of gain advantage or you can kind of manipulate it somehow, according to red pill beliefs. The black pill is sort of more defeatist. It's very depressive, cynical, hopeless. The way that incels would describe the black pill is just a collection of studies that point to truths about human nature, mostly about mating habits and things like that and studies from dating apps and studies about people that are considered more attractive doing better financially, et cetera, things like this. A lot from evolutionary psychology, these make up sort the black pill. The main thesis is just that people are lookist. Women especially are lookist, that they judge very harshly based on physical appearance and that determines where one ends up in life.
Mark Wilson: So just from looking a little bit about some of the terms that appear to be used by elements of this community, I hear the other terms, such as Chads or Stacys. I mean, correct me if I'm wrong, these are references in the eyes of incels, references to particular men or of particular women in their views. Is that correct? I mean, could you kind of help us understand the meaning behind some of those terms?
Naama Kates: Yeah. A Chad is an attractive, top tier man, an alpha male. Usually, they'll rank people on looks on a scale of one to 10, so a nine or a 10 male. Chads, a lot of incels believe that they don't suffer, that their lives are exceedingly easy, that they have no worries or concerns and that only Chads get almost all of female attention. Everything below that is either a normie, a normal person... That can also be used to just refer to someone who's not an incel or who's blue pilled, who doesn't know about this stuff or an incel. For women, a Stacy is kind of the equivalent of a Chad. It's a very attractive, nine or 10 female. They talk about Beckys sometimes. These are considered maybe a bit less conventionally attractive, but still deemed desirable by incels, maybe sometimes more feminist or intellectual presenting female. And then there's all sorts of other very disparaging terms for things lower than that.
Mark Wilson: Sure. Sure. So your podcast on this topic, I mean, I've listened to a few episodes and it's fantastic. So, I recommend anybody out there to check you out. We'll provide you with the links at the end of the podcast, for anyone who's listening. But in your podcast, Naama, how did you come about beginning to want to research this community? I mean, how did your interest in this topic start?
Naama Kates: I think it was rather happenstance, the way I remember it. Though, my deeper reasons for connecting to it are still things I'm figuring out, I guess. I was just really enjoying podcasts at the time. I was listening to a lot of true crime podcasts. I've always kind of been interested in storytelling in that way. I found the medium of audio storytelling to be very exciting and intimate and also practical. Around the same time, I was introduced to this topic here and there. There was a TV show, Law& Order: SVU, that mentioned incels. It just stuck out to me. I guess the language, like we've mentioned before, is part of what interested me, that they have this unique language. I was coming across comments about them here and there. This was three years ago, maybe even a little bit more than that. So, there wasn't nearly as much out there. And then I also ended up talking to someone casually over social media, that turned out to be an incel. I just found it really interesting. I started looking into the subject and saw that there really wasn't very much written about it. I was recording our conversations and I found them interesting to listen back to. That's how it came about.
Mark Wilson: So would you say that your research into this community is... I mean, because you said earlier, didn't you, that you feel primarily it's an online community. But yet, your research I guess, is partly based online, isn't it? But also, partly through speaking to individuals within this community themselves. Is that a fair assessment, would you say?
Naama Kates: Definitely. The main theme of the podcast and the main focus of my research is through speaking to incels themselves. Early on, as I was looking into it, I decided to try and reach out to some authors of certain posts and things online. It took a little detective work sometimes, to get to them. I found their writing often very engaging and very intelligent, very funny after a while, even. I was enjoying spending time on these forums. When I made the first contact with an incel, on the grounds of being someone that was researching the community, their response to me was this really long, articulate email back. They agreed to talk on the phone. So, that was the beginning of it, and now I've spoken to hundreds of them.
Mark Wilson: Wow. Okay. So from what you're describing there, we're talking about this incel community, aren't we? Now, there are individuals within this community in the past, haven't there, that actually maybe represent, would you say a more violent edge to the community? There's been individuals in the US and Canada, wasn't there, that have kind of taken forward violence or committed violence in the name of what some of them may have seen as an incel worldview, perhaps? Could you tell us a bit more about, I guess the violent fringe of this community? Because I want to kind of caveat that with the point that I guess, the vast majority of this community is not violent. Right? But nevertheless, there is a violent fringe. Could you kind of just sketch out for us, that violent fringe for us?
Naama Kates: Sure. So that's another thing that, kind of the more you look into it, the more complicated it becomes. The association between incels and violence, or as sort of domestic terrorists begins in 2014 with Elliot Rodger, who was a 22 year old, recently dropped out college student. He committed an attack in Isla Vista, California, at the Santa Barbara campus at the college where he went. He ended up killing six people and then himself. There was a lot of media attention on that case. That was the first time that the term incels sort of came into the public sphere. He wrote a long manifesto that most incels are familiar with, My Dark, Twisted World. It's like 150 pages, kind of well- written, really lists out every grievance he's ever had. A lot of narcissistic injuries and slights in there, about how he could never get a girlfriend and how unfair that was. I have my own theories about him and about that, but he is kind of... To make an analogy with terrorism, most movements have a charismatic father of a movement. I'd say that Elliot Rodger could be considered that. That movement, as it is today, didn't exist at the time. He personally didn't hang out on a ton of really incel fora and another places. On Reddit and things like that he did, but he has become associated with incels. Some people, I think usually wrongly, believe that he is celebrated in the incel community. They have kind of a term, Go ER, about going on a rampage.
Mark Wilson: What does that mean, Go ER?
Naama Kates: ER, his initials, they're ER. People will refer to Saint Elliot, refer to him, or they'll say Go ER, which is mostly as they would call it, it's usually said ironically. It's a meme. It just means go on a rampage. A lot of them do this with the knowledge that journalists, researchers, people in counter- terrorism and in law enforcement are watching. Normies are looking and it's just to be shocking. I got a lot of that. Very few of them actually either approve of or espouse violence, but some of them will say that they just understand it or understand how he felt the way he did and why he felt the way he did. His act was followed by another one a year later, Chris Harper Mercer. He was another one in Oregon, who also wrote kind of a manifesto, killed people on a college campus. And then every year following that, there has been some incident that's been related in some way or other to this ideology, but the associations aren't always very strong, I would say.
Mark Wilson: Got it. In terms of, you mentioned a couple of platforms there as well, that individuals in this community can frequent. I mean, are there specific areas online where this community gathers? And I guess a kind of a sub- question within that would be, does the violent fringes of this community occupy the same areas online as the rest of the community?
Naama Kates: Yes. I do. They used to hang out on Reddit, mostly. The first really popular incel forum was a subreddit called r/ incels. That was banned as a result of what Reddit moderators kind of saw as glorification of the Las Vegas shooting, even though that was not an incel. That was a anti- government nut. So anyway, Reddit banned this community as a result of what they saw as a glorification of that attack. That led to the biggest forum for incel right now, which is incels. co. That was formed as what the moderator and creator of that site would call a refuge from Reddit and from what he believes is censorship. I talk to people from that forum, the administrators, the moderators, a lot on my show. That's the biggest one. It has some 10, 000 active members. There are other smaller ones. The Reddits, they still had subreddits up until pretty recently, but a lot of them have been banned recently. This can be a segue just for me to mention the Alek Minassian case, which went to trial in Canada. That was in Toronto. That was, in 2018, a vehicle ramming attack. So, that was the other, I would say, very prominent incel attack. They don't meet up on the dark web. It is on the open web, but whereas they used to meet up on places like Reddit and Facebook, they've been banned and permitted from having little meet spaces there now. So, mostly they create their own websites. They find web hosting and web security companies that are open to working with more controversial sites, like Gab and these kinds of places. They deal with a lot of calls for censorship, I guess understandably, but it is open to the public. I wouldn't say that there are specific violent fringes that get together and meet up. From what I know, all of the attackers were not actually active posters or popular figures in their communities, leading up to their attacks. They were what they would call lurkers. They would read the content and not really comment on it.
Mark Wilson: Got it.
Naama Kates: Yeah.
Mark Wilson: Yeah. I mean, is there any evidence of those individuals who have committed attacks based on this worldview, is there any evidence of them communicating with each other online?
Naama Kates: No, there isn't any evidence of that. Minassian, he's one of the few that didn't end up taking his own life. Possibly, because it was in Canada, he didn't have access to a firearm. So, this is an example of someone that we can actually talk about and get information about in the aftermath. He claimed in his interrogation to have communicated directly with Elliot Rodger and Chris Harper Mercer, but those claims are very unlikely to be true. They don't really make sense time- wise and he sort of got the platforms wrong. So, there's absolutely no evidence that they communicate with each other at all.
Mark Wilson: Got it. Now, you mentioned there a little bit about some of the incel related subreddits being banned, et cetera. I'm just wondering, as someone who is researching this topic, have online crackdowns on sections of the incel community, for example, have they provided you with any kind of impediments to your own online research? By the same token, if... You kind of already touched upon that a little bit. When, say for example, you have an online crackdown and then an element of the community moves to another social media platform that perhaps is a little bit more difficult to access, a little bit more closed perhaps, does that also present you with any kind of barriers or do you just follow them down their various different rabbit holes? What's your thoughts on that?
Naama Kates: Personally, I find that the crackdowns, they do make it a bit more difficult. You can follow them down the rabbit holes, as I try to do. If you know enough people in those communities, they can point you in the direction of another platform, another screen name, something like that. You might eventually be able to get to these folks. But when it's not on a platform like Reddit or one of the more mainstream ones, like Facebook, where there's an identity very firmly associated with an account name, it is more difficult to do. This person's not an incel, actually. He was kind of a bad actor in the community, who was recently arrested for kidnapping a child. He would go on the incels. co forum and places on Reddit a lot and talk as an incel and post pro- pedophilia material. I don't know what he would get out of doing this with incels, but I guess he would manage to recruit them over to his own little sites that he would create. When he'd make these sites, they used very strange suffixes, like. fun or. sui. There'd be a lot of little ones. They'd kind of disappear and pop up again almost overnight. They were small. It was really hard to keep track of which of these were him and who was who. So, I think it makes it more difficult.
Mark Wilson: So in terms of what you see online, Naama, do you see any links between the incel worldview and other violent ideologies online? Do you see any kind of overlaps between different communities online? What's your view on that?
Naama Kates: Yeah, there's a lot of overlap. I think some of it is kind of inherent in a way, to the type of person that would be drawn to any of these extremist movements. There's certain, I guess characterological propensities to think in black and white ways, to want to rank things, to be anti- authoritarian and feel like an outcast and some degree of misogyny also, some degree of anti- progressivist kind of streaks. Yeah. So there's certain personality traits that I would say are common to all of these groups. Jihadis and far right- wingers and incels might all have kind of a traditionalist streak. They think that modern society is hell and is the cause for a lot of their... Their grievances have to do with their circumstances and modernity. Right?
Mark Wilson: Right.
Naama Kates: All of these would lend themselves to a certain type of thinking. I also think that there's a certain internet culture, a way of being shocking and trolling that came about with all of these movements, that originated with sites like 4chan. A lot of the language that they use kind of evolved mutually. So, there are certain commonalities that just exist for that reason. Beyond that, I do think that there is some recruitment, in a way, that happens in incel spaces, by maybe members of other kind of movements. There's one interview that I have... or it's a two episode arc with an incel named Bummer Drummer, who moved from being a jihadi to a white nationalist to an incel in the space of three years.
Mark Wilson: Fascinating.
Naama Kates: Yes. All of these were only online. They were online identities. This is a very isolated person. He said he was initially recruited into the jihadi group from a gaming platform, Steam. It was just, I guess, a place that he found community, even though he had been raised in an Evangelical Christian household. He tired of that at one point or lost contact with one of his friends there and somehow moved into the white ethnostate. The founder of this group died. And then he was over it, as he said and he found incels. So, there's this cult hopping that happens. And then I think incels are sort of... they're kind of an ideal space for recruitment because these are lonely, angry, frustrated young men, who already feel that they have nothing to lose and who feel very isolated and don't feel or experience a lot of pro- social ties or coping strategies. So it's, I would say maybe easier to recruit someone who already has this type of thinking into a movement like that. You start to see some crossover, in terms of the terminology, I've recently seen. So that the incels already use a lot of terminology from right- wing extremists. They also use some from jihadis. There are threads about [ Islamacels 00: 25:45]. They talk about Sharia or White Sharia. They romanticize the past and think that women would have been more subservient. So, they already used a lot of that terminology. I've recently started to see right- wing groups use terms like Chad and normie and incel. They get some of the language from there now, too. So, it kind of goes back and forth. There are sort of porous boundaries.
Mark Wilson: So yeah, perhaps indications of different communities influencing each other with ideas and terms. Yeah. That's really interesting. Coming from the perspective of those who are looking at... like yourself, researching things, communities online, particularly communities with violent [inaudible 00:26: 35 ], shall we say, you mentioned some of that already, perhaps the Islamist extremist world or the extreme right- wing world. For researchers looking at that, sometimes it can... particularly if you're exposed to violent content on a daily basis, sometimes it can have a negative impact on the research. I'm just wondering in this topic, in your experience, I mean, have you come across a similar kind of dynamic with this subject area? Do you have any tips, I guess, out there, in terms of how you kind of mitigate issues that might come up in the area, as a researcher?
Naama Kates: Yes. I've heard researchers talk about the impact of being exposed to this kind of material as being traumatic and very negative. I can understand that. I guess, whatever you use to sort of keep yourself grounded and healthy in normal life, as long as you don't forget that, then that's important. There's a lot of risk, actually of trolling, of criticism. Sometimes that can feel very threatening. There are certainly threads about me that I just don't read. So, if you become a figure that's known in these communities, chances are, they'll probably catch on pretty quickly. They do. And then they will attack you in these ways that might be more bothersome to some people than others. As far as the psychological effects of just being exposed to the material, for me, it's a pretty subtle kind of pernicious thing, that I'm not easily bothered by reading dark things, I guess. I would guess a lot of researchers into this topic probably feel the same way or they wouldn't be drawn to it. But it's important to keep some ground wire, some kind of compass for yourself, that if you begin to feel like maybe you're being deceived or led astray or brainwashed even, that you can think about and that kind of reminds you of your and the other's humanity.
Mark Wilson: Thanks for the really useful tips there. I mean, just to finish up on your podcast really, maybe you could give us a bit of an insight into your future plans for your podcast and maybe your wider future research in this area. Have you got anything interesting coming up?
Naama Kates: Well, I plan to keep doing the podcast. I still am putting out episodes. I have friends from my past life in media and film, who have talked about making a documentary or something. I'm not sure how interested I am in that. I've come to like audio only, but I plan to continue with that and maybe write about it. As for research, I actually have worked on some research recently with the organization I mentioned before, Parallel Networks, headed by Jesse Morton and ICSVE with Anne Speckhard, where we and the administrator of this forum that I mentioned put together a survey. I was only marginally involved in that. That was just kind of a basic demographic survey and to look at in- group and out- group biases and feelings about violence. These are very educated people I was working with. So, they knew what they were doing, in terms of phrasing everything. The community already sort of was conducting internal polls. So, it was pretty easy to get a lot of them to answer the survey and it's very detailed. So there will be a paper coming out about that at some point soon. Hopefully, that can lead to some possibility of, I don't know, maybe working with this group in a positive way or just understanding them in a way that is more empathetic, less demonizing and can lead to, I guess, interventions or off- ramps.
Mark Wilson: Got it. Yeah, understood. Yeah. Are you on inaudible or anything like that, where folks can find out about your podcast?
Naama Kates: Yeah. The podcast is available pretty much anywhere where people listen to podcasts. The discussion hub for it is my podcast Twitter, which is @ incelproject.
Mark Wilson: Excellent. Well, I think that brings this podcast to an end. So thank you, Naama, for your time. It's been super interesting listening to your insights on this community. I'm sure for many of our listeners, it's a super useful introduction into another online community. So, thank you once again.
Naama Kates: It's been great talking with you, Mark. Thanks for having me on.
Mark Wilson: Thanks, Naama. To learn more about how Janes can support you and your organization with social media research, email the team at intelligence. unit @ janes. com.