I have always believed it important to own up to an error, especially an error in analysis. A good analyst is ALWAYS open to learning, to considering new information, and to changing his or her mind in the face of that new info. A bad analyst sticks to his or her guns irrespective of new data, stubbornly clinging to original conclusions despite the fact that doing so is no longer tenable.
A few years back, as I shared some time ago, I blew it when I called the massacre in Norway by Anders Breivik a possible Islamist extremist attack. I do not need to go over how that happened – read my blog if you want – but I did see that as a nadir in my career as an intelligence analyst. Those of us in that profession do not want to have too many days where your analysis is completely off if for no other reason than it makes you, and undoubtedly many others, question your worth as an analyst.
Today I am willing to concede that I erred somewhat when I said that I did not believe that the so-called ‘incel’ movement was supported by an underlying ideology. I felt that those who hew to this world were just hateful losers who usually stewed alone in their anger at women who would not have sex with them (and the men who were supposedly getting all that sex) although a few acted out their frustration violently (Elliot Rodger is the poster boy for the latter).
Which brings me to my quasi admission of error. When Alek Minassian drove a rental vehicle down Yonge St in Toronto last April, killing ten people, and it turned out that he had at least some sympathy for incels, I did a lot of media interviews in which I stated that I did not know a lot about these people but what I did know at the time did not strike me as a fully fledged ‘ideology’. As terrorism is crucially tied to ideology, I did not think that that heinous attack was terrorist in nature. Boy, did I ever get slammed online for not calling it terrorism!
It turns out I was wrong. After having coffee with an old colleague today at a local Timmies I learned that there is indeed quite a developed ideology amongst the incel crowd and that the movement is all about hateful and violent misogyny. In other words there is a ‘there’ there. I thus admit my error. And yet…
We still do not know whether Mr. Minassian was incel. We have one FaceBook posting in which he praised Elliot Rodger and that is it to the best of my knowledge. One robin does not make a spring and one posting does not make one an ideologue or an adherent to a movement. Maybe more will come out in the months to come to better flesh out what Mr. Minassian believes in.
Nor do we really know why he drove that van into the crowds on the sidewalks or whether he did so because of his incel obsession (if he were indeed obsessed). Just as we have no idea so far why Faisal Hussain went on a shooting spree in Toronto’s Greektown last Sunday (mental illness? IS? wanted to kill? ???). Again, we have to possess a lot more information before we can draw any conclusions.
So I guess I am partly apologising. Yes, I did not do my homework on the incel phenomenon before I ruled out ideology. But no, I still don’t know what was in Alek Minassian’s head last April 23. So no, I don’t know and neither do you whether that incident was terrorist in nature. True, incels look to be capable of committing terrorism if that is really the raison d’etre for their acts. That much I will concede, but nothing more – yet. My mind does remain open to new possibilities though, as should yours.