Maybe Alek Minassian wasn’t an ‘incel’ terrorist after all

I am not a “I told you so” kinda guy. I have been wrong enough times in my life, even as an intelligence analyst, to know that thinking I am always right is not a good strategy. Not too mention annoyingly arrogant.

Still, I want to return to the attack on Yonge Street in Toronto one year ago today that many – not me – hailed as the work of an ‘incel terrorist’. For the uninitiated (as I was back then), an ‘incel’, short for ‘involuntary celibate’, is the term used to describe men (mostly men that is although the originator of the phrase was actually a female former Carleton University student) who are ‘unlucky in love’ and hence develop a hatred for women and for men who are more fortunate with the fairer sex. The incel ‘hero’ is a US citizen named Elliot Rodger who wrote a 141-page manifesto entitled My Twisted World to family and friends, posted a video on YouTube complaining that he was still a virgin, and went on a killing spree, stabbing his two roommates and one of their friends, shooting two women outside a sorority house and another man, before turning his gun on himself.

Mr. Minassian was labelled as an incel by just about everyone because of a FaceBook post he wrote just before he ran down 26 people, killing 10:
“Private (Recruit) Minassian Infantry 00010, wishing to speak to Sgt 4chan please. C23249161. The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!” Sounds pretty convincing, doesn’t it?

Except that this one posting is all we have to the best of my knowledge linking him to the incel crowd. Unless the police have more that they got off his computer for example, this is it. As they say ‘one robin does not a spring make’. I’d add as an ex-intelligence analyst ‘one piece of information does not an assessment make’. In other words, I am not so sure Mr. Minassian was really an incel.

Now, thanks to a great piece in Toronto Life by Katherine Laidlaw it looks even less likely there is any tie to incel at all. She paints a picture of Alek Minassian that shows a lot, but little about sexual frustration. Among her discoveries (you really should read the whole piece) we see a young man with Asperger’s Syndrome who was bullied severely in school, a gifted computer programmer, and a failed Canadian military recruit. If anything, it seems that his autism may have played a major role in his eventual decision to act.

And there is the problem. As I have written on far too many occasions, there is no one pattern to those who act out violently. It is not all about exclusion or marginalisation or poverty or anything. And it sure as hell is not about Asperger’s Syndrome or autism. That one man who happened to be autistic killed ten people says very little about the relationship between the two elements. We all know that just because you are autistic that doesn’t mean you are at greater risk of running people over on a spring afternoon.

As Ms. Laidlaw writes: “No one knows exactly when or why Alek Minassian became involved in the online incel community.” Maybe that is because he wasn’t. I’d love to see more, much more, data on this before I feel comfortable making this call and ascribing any definitive link between incel and this incident. In other words, I still am not sure this was a ‘terrorist’ attack, since terrorism requires a underlying idea and autism is not an idea.

If there are those out there that follow me and have more to say on this please weigh in. I’d love to consider what you have found. And, if the ‘evidence’ is compelling I will admit my error – again. Until such time I refrain from casting my vote on just what happened a year ago on Yonge St. 

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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