ICYMI: Fringe internet culture can’t stay in the fringes

Useful and insightful commentary as usual Amarnath Amarasingam on “incel” radicalization:

Combine powerful online echo chambers, the perceived decline of the white male, a surge in online troll culture and groups of angry and alienated men, and you have a powerful cocktail for dangerous radicalization.

As of yet, we don’t have proof that these conditions led to the horrific van attack in Toronto that left 10 dead and 14 injured. But we do have a clue: a Facebook post on the page of Alek Minassian, charged in Monday’s attacks, talking about the “Incel Rebellion.”

Incels or “involuntary celibates” are those who are essentially forced into celibacy because they cannot find a sexual partner. Many of the young men who join this movement feel ignored, and the groups of which they are a part have likewise been ignored by mainstream society. That’s why many of us hadn’t heard the term “incel” until this week.

As we learn more about Minassian’s history, it might very well turn out that the incel movement was not the primary factor in his decision to get behind the wheel. But it’s worth discussing regardless, because as many of us are beginning to realize, fringe internet culture can cause real social harm.

Incels operate across the same platforms as a range of extreme right activists — platforms such as Reddit, 4chan and 8chan, and use communications channels such as Discord, the gaming chat application noted for its use by activists seeking to influence European elections in favour of far right groups.

In fact, the movement plays off of similar tropes and language as the extreme right, using terms like “cuck” and “feminazi.”

The ideological nexus that ties these groups together is the perception of (white) masculinity being under threat from external forces such as women, people of colour, refugees and the political left, combined with a hatred of social progressive values that empower previously marginalized communities.

Normies, Chads and Stacys

These incel individuals, who often suffer from a range of vulnerabilities including anxiety and autistic spectrum disorders, flourish in digital fora that provide them with the opportunity to embrace their identity as outsiders, relishing in their role as “beta male.”

In the confines of these incel echo chambers, they blame their social misfortune on their peers who have fewer issues engaging in social activities — people they label as “normies,” “Chads” and “Stacys.”

Normies, a term originating on 4Chan and referring to anything and anyone who is mainstream, includes Chads, a nickname used to describe good looking men who have no difficulty finding women who will sleep with them, and Staceys who are women who always reject incels in favour of Chads. The behaviours that the “betas” feel incapable of achieving offline — such as social confidence and intimate relationships — are projected onto these imagined boogeymen.

Many of these youth needed support, though some of them may have turned to established social institutions already for help in the past. Today, they’re increasingly finding it in these closed-off online collectives, talking with like-minded and equally alienated individuals, which ends up amplifying and reinforcing — rather than addressing and counteracting — their angst and anger.

As with all cases of radicalization, under the right set of psychological and personal conditions, individuals can be pushed to violence. Thousands of youth may feel these grievances, but only a few may ever decide that violence is a necessary way to express themselves. Even after decades of research in terrorist radicalization, the question of who might ultimately turn to violence is still beyond our grasp.

Elliot Rodger is the primary example of an incel radicalized to the point of violence. In 2014, the 22-year-old killed six people in Isla Vista, California, after posting a manifesto about his hatred of women and desire to punish them for rejecting him. His violence was later lauded on the fringes of the internet, fostering a range of distasteful memes and helping to reinforce the mythos of the group.

Academic discourse around “fragile masculinity” has long pointed out that we need to start taking these grievances more seriously, particularly among youth. Many of these online discussions are overflowing with worrisome levels of toxic masculinity and anger. In the mindset of those who occupy these spaces, they are trapped between the strong men they cannot become, and the weak men who reinforce the feminism that they see as ostracising and oppressing them.

Ultimately, these communities are providing a home to those who feel unable to find a place in mainstream society. The attitudes espoused therein must be challenged, but more importantly, these individuals must be offered an opportunity to engage with those outside of their echo chambers, through meaningful interventions and support.


Source: Fringe internet culture can’t stay in the fringes

Alt-right uses flimsy evidence to fuel jihad conspiracy theory in Toronto van attack: Graeme Hamilton

One of several articles picking up on this “too quick to fit into a narrative” approach of the alt-right and fellow conspiracy travellers:

When a van plowed into pedestrians over a long stretch of Toronto sidewalk Monday, many immediately assumed it was the work of a terrorist following in the tracks of lone-wolf jihadists in Europe and the United States.

A portrait has since emerged of the accused, Alek Minassian, as someone motivated not by radical Islam but more likely by sexual frustration and social awkwardness.

Yet in the darker corners of the web, where conspiracy theories take hold, alt-right voices cling to the flimsiest evidence to suggest Canadian authorities are covering up what was actually an Islamist attack.

On Tuesday afternoon, Robert Spencer of the Jihad Watch web site drew on courtroom sketches to imply that the man who was charged Tuesday was not the same one arrested Monday. The key for him was that the sketches showed the suspect with hair while the man arrested had appeared bald.

“Was Minassian supplied a toupee in court today? . . . Was he wearing a bald wig yesterday? Or are authorities once again not being honest with us?” Spencer wrote.

“Again, I’m not saying that this is necessarily a jihad attack. But as oddities such as these court sketches multiply, we have to wonder what the Canadian authorities are trying to hide. And what else are authorities hiding when jihad attacks occur?”

In an earlier post, Spencer had written that it is “likely that this was not a jihad attack.” But after being asked on Twitter Wednesday whether he thought the man arrested and the man in court were different people, he replied, “I have no idea. But something very odd is going on.”

The internet provides fertile ground for those inclined to see a jihadi in every corner and a false flag on every ship. American mass shootings from Sandy Hook to Parkland have been fodder for conspiracy theorists, and Canada is not immune.

After the 2017 attack on a Quebec City mosque by a white francophone gunman, Alexandre Bissonnette, a theory stubbornly took hold that there had been a second, Muslim, gunman. Police clarified that the arrest at the scene of a Muslim man was a mix-up – he was a worshipper who had been helping victims and ran off thinking the police officer was the gunman returning. But the Canadian right-wing news site The Rebel repeatedly peddled the theory that there was more to the story. Even today, after Bissonnette pleaded guilty and a courtroom saw security video of the attack, the Rebel site asks, “What are the facts? And can we trust the mainstream media to tell us the truth about such a controversial and sensitive subject?”

The most vocal advocate of the theory that Toronto suffered a jihadi attack has been Alex Jones, whose InfoWars site is a breeding ground for alt-right conspiracy theories. Jones was in the middle of a Periscope live-stream Monday when Minassian’s name was first reported. He had been analyzing cell phone video of the arrest, concluding that the suspect spoke with “a classic Middle Eastern accent.”

When the name was published, and an associate informed Jones it was a common Armenian surname (less than one per cent of Armenians are Muslim), Jones dismissed the information and said it was an Iranian/Turkish name.

“So, another Islamic truck attack,” he concluded. “They’ll try to sweep it under the rug, but we won’t let it be swept under the rug. The truth will get out.”

As more of the truth came out in the following hours, indicating no Islamist connection, Jones stuck to his “Islamic terror attack” narrative. Pronouncing Minassian’s first name “Aleek” to make it sound Arabic, he suggested there was something suspicious in the fact that the arresting officer had not killed him: “I’m asking the question, why is this guy not dead? And why haven’t we learned his religion?”

On Wednesday afternoon, the fourth most popular item on the InfoWars site was: “Video of Truck Attack: Suspect Has Middle Eastern Accent.”

The fomenters of conspiracy theories often rely on the tactic of simply “asking the question,” letting their followers fill in the desired answer.

In Canada, a contributor to the Vlad Tepes blog — run by a frequent Rebel contributor who writes there under the name Victor Laszlo – commented Tuesday that the Toronto attacker followed the Islamic State modus operandi to the letter.

“(He) looked like an IS jihadi but our government released the clean cut school photo to push the mental illness narrative, which is patent BULL—-,” wrote contributor Eeyore, who is described as a “counter-jihad and freedom of speech activist.”

Many alt-right commentators were quick to declare the attack the work of a jihadi, including Rebel and InfoWars contributor Paul Joseph Watson, who accused Toronto Mayor John Tory of “virtue signalling” after “a jihadist has just killed nine people.” His Rebel colleague Katie Hopkins, a Brit, tweeted Tuesday morning mocking a message of sympathy from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and reinforcing the notion that it was an Islamist attack.

“You brought this. You are complicit in it. Politicians like you are terrorist shills,” she wrote.

On Wednesday, Trudeau declined to comment on the ongoing police investigation. “A lot of people have questions as to why, and there may or may not be actual answers,” he warned. Which is music to the ears of the conspiracy theorists eager to fill the void.

Source: Alt-right uses flimsy evidence to fuel jihad conspiracy theory in Toronto van attack

A similar piece by Stephen Maher: Toronto van attack: The rush to blame immigrants and Muslims after a mass killing