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Plymouth Shooting Raises Questions about “Incel” Violence

Plymouth Shooting Raises Questions about “Incel” Violence

Categories: Latest News

Thursday September 02 2021

Jake Davidson, aged 22, shot dead five people in Plymouth, on 12th August 2021, before turning the gun on himself. Amongst his victims were two women, including his 51-year-old mother, two men and a 3-year-old girl.

Having described the murders as a “domestic” incident initially, subsequent investigations indicate the status of the case may be changed due to Davidson’s link to the so-called “incel” (or, “involuntary celibate”) movement. Days before the shooting spree, the 22-year-old ranted about his life on YouTube and made references to incel culture, as well as boasting about his knowledge of mass shootings in the UK. This attack has brought about many questions – including a significant discussion on whether attacks carried out by those using incel justifications should be classified as terrorism.

The incel movement is a small component of a larger online culture clustered around what is termed the “manosphere” – a movement promoting harder articulations of masculinity and strongly opposing feminism. Recent studies show that groups within the manosphere culture, such as Men’s Rights Activists (MRA), may act as a “slip board to more extreme parts of the far-right”. While the manosphere is generally controversial, the incel movement is considered potentially dangerous due to their sometimes significant overlap with ideologies of the extreme Far Right.

“Involuntary celibate” culture is a form of extreme misogyny – consisting of men who abide by a “black pilled” belief that women use their sexual power to dominate men. Such groups tend to exploit male insecurities to encourage abuse towards women, with linked Far Right groups known to have attacked female politicians with misogynistic and violent vitriol. Such active hatred towards women has also led to instances of vengeance against women in the form of mass violence, in countries such as the USA and Canada.

Whilst the spread of incel culture seems to be growing – with increasing concern about engagement with it worldwide – extreme misogyny itself has not yet been recognised as a driving force behind violence against women, nor as an ideology in its own right. However, in the wake of the Plymouth shooting, it is evident anti-women sentiments are on the rise and police are being urged to take misogyny more seriously.

Others are calling for stricter measures, stating that acts of violence linked to or justified by incel ideology should be treated as extremist – as seen in Canada, where incel-related offenders are pressed with terrorism charges. In the wake of the Plymouth attack, similar discussions have taken place in the UK, with some commentators suggesting that this and similar attacks should be treated as an act of terrorism. Such acts would, possibly, fit the UK Government’s definition of terrorism, which includes “the use of threat or action […] to intimidate the public”. As former chief prosecutor in the North West, Nazir Afzal explains:

“That kind of extreme misogyny if the type we have seen here and in terms of the incel community is a threat to all women and, ultimately, to all our communities.”

However, whilst it may be tempting to view the potential classifying of incel movements as an extremist or terrorist movement, this could have significant negative implications for civil liberties. This is partly because there are concerns that policies such as PREVENT are becoming so wide in their scope that thousands of people are being swept by it. Liberty, for instance, found this includes children engaging in innocuous conduct, people protesting climate change or a nurse who began wearing the hijab.  Furthermore, such schemes justify the on-going War on Terror, which is still acting to securitise British Muslim communities. The recent referral of a 4-year-old Muslim boy to PREVENT, over a reference to the videogame Fortnite, is amongst many of the cases that show the PREVENT strategy is predicated on Islamophobia. Therefore, it is problematic to consider the expansion of the label of terrorism as a corrective against the highly racialised logic of the War on Terror.

Although extreme misogyny has been linked to terrorism in recent discussions, misogynistic-linked domestic or street violence is often overlooked by the Criminal Justice System. Including incel culture within the rubrics of terrorism will not tackle the key issue at its grassroots by addressing the causes of misogyny. Rather, it will simply ensure the widening of highly controversial counterterror approaches, such as the PREVENT programme.  It is surely better for the UK Government to commit to adequately reviewing all counter-terrorism legislation, whilst also looking to tackle misogyny more broadly, in all its societal forms.


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