It is vitally important when trying to determine motive for violence, including that of the terrorist variety, to corroborate evidence from multiple sources.
TORONTO, CANADA — I am used to people disagreeing with me. After all, when you write and talk about terrorism – a very emotional subject – you are bound to piss someone off every now and then.
But I cannot recall any time on which I was more crtiticised and called all kinds of names (some unprintable) than when I wrote about the van attack on Toronto’s Yonge Street on April 23, 2018 by a man named Alek Minassian. At the time, hours after the incident, everyone and his uncle was crying ‘terrorism’ and, more specifically, ‘incel (involuntary celibate) terrorism’.
I preferred at the time to keep my powder dry on two fronts: refraining from immediately calling it terrorism, despite the similarity with other attacks around the world which turned out to be so; and refraining from calling the perpetrator an incel terrorist. The second one stemmed from two issues I had: first, we had only one piece of intelligence (i.e. one Facebook post) that Minassian was incel, and secondly I am still undecided on whether incel violence qualifies as terrorist motivation (as opposed to hate crime).
The point I am trying to make here is that on April 23, 2018 we did not have nearly enough data to draw any conclusions. We are now a little more informed. Now, we can actually do some analysis.
In response to my (measured) hesitation, I was CRUCIFIED online. I was called an idiot and incapable of seeing terrorism for what it was. In spite of my calls for more time and data to better analyse what had transpired – i.e. getting more than one piece of evidence – there were many who quickly made up their minds that this was indeed terrorism and that Minassian was indeed an incel wanker.
Well it turns out that there is finally additional information to support the latter (although not necessarily the former): some of this came out last September. Minassian’s trial has begun in Toronto and we now know a little bit more.
Here are some extracts from the National Post on what has been heard in court so far:
- Minassian has agreed that he planned and carried out the attack “in retribution for years of sexual rejection and ridicule by women”;
- He told a detective he was part of the “incel movement”;
- He saw himself on the bottom rung of society as an incel, and wanted to be part of an “uprising” to change his status;
- He also told the detective he had “accomplished” his mission, which was “the day of retribution.”
All this is of course just evidence and we are a long way before the matter is decided. Note that the Crown (the prosecution in Canada) has charged him with ten counts of murder and 16 counts of attempted murder, NOT terrorism. For its part, Minassian’s lawyer has already argued that whatever Minassian said to Toronto police during his custodial interview should be inadmissible (although he was read his rights and declined to have a lawyer) and that it will be pursuing a ‘not criminally responsible’ defence. But as my brother-in-law Bob Walsh, who has significant experience with the mental health system, pointed out to me, just because a person may suffer from a mental illness does not necessarily mean s/he is not criminally responsible.
I have read some very good works on incel since that day almost two years ago and am much better versed on these losers. I am still not convinced it is terrorism (cue the hate mail, comment section is below!), although there are some worrying links with other far right terrorist ideologies, but have no problem calling it hate and misogyny. And yes it can get very violent. Minassian is looking more and more like an adherent to this vile ’cause’.
The point I am trying to make here is that on April 23, 2018 we did not have nearly enough data to draw any conclusions. We are now a little more informed. Now, we can actually do some analysis. That is how intelligence and assessment works folks.