A new study by researchers at Rutgers-Newark and Penn State-Abington explores the radicalization process for “incels,’’ a term meaning “involuntary celibates,’’ and how their online community--where members define themselves by their inability to attract women--can lead to violence.
“Previous research on incels has largely been descriptive, just making the scientific community, legislators, and the public aware that this group exists. Our research goes the step further to uncover the way new members are recruited and radicalized using incels’ specific language,’’ said Kurt Fowler, an assistant professor at the Abington campus of Pennsylvania State University, who began researching incels at Rutgers-Newark School of Criminal Justice.
Along with two Rutgers University–Newark graduate students, Robert Green and Allan Palombi, he co-authored a study titled “The Black Pill Pipeline,’’ which was recently published in the academic journal, “Sexualities.’’
The researchers are calling for closer tracking of incels by the FBI and legislation to combat the subculture as a growing domestic terrorist threat.
Previous research by Fowler’s team has shed light on the subculture and jargon of incels, who in recent years have been linked to sexual assaults and mass murders, such as the May, 2023 shooting in Allen, Texas that left nine people dead and the 2018 Toronto killings, in which a self-identified incel murdered 11 pedestrians by running them over with a van.
Incels share a worldview that seeks to position white men at the top of a hierarchy that subjugates women. They often express the belief that white men are victims of minorities and feminists and claim that those who think otherwise have been duped.
According to the “The Black Pill Pipeline,” potential crimes can be be prevented if law enforcement monitors them more rigorously.
“There should be more resources dedicated toward this,’’ said Green. “They’re very vocal when they’re going to do something.”
Added Fowler, “Each year, a variety of governmental agencies and watch groups list extremist virtual communities as a clear and present threat, yet we've passed little to no legislation to combat these groups.”
Fowler, Green and Palombi analyzed nearly more 2,700 pages of incel posts from 2019. Their study explores how community members progress from a sense of solidarity to hostile radicalism, where violence is encouraged and sometimes carried out.
“More than 80 percent of the posts was them talking about women and what they would do. A lot of it regarded violence,’’ said Green.
Although many members of the often transient incel communities--which are frequently shut
down, only to pop up elsewhere on the internet--don’t harm anyone, others journey through a series of awakenings, leading them to conclude that their rage and powerlessness can only be relieved through violence against women and “normies,’’ their term for average people who follow social norms, according to the study.
“This is not a guaranteed pipeline,’’ said Green. “Some of them might hold these ideals but not all of them are going to be raging neo-Nazis. Some of them stay at that entry point, where they’re just really angry at women, and they find this community.’’
But those who become dangerous follow a similar ideological path, the study found.
“Incels are socialized along a series of increasingly radical “pills,’’ where the desired outcome is power, at first limited to self-actualization and the goals of sex and control of women," according to the study. “The pipeline process moves members closer to the 'blackpill,’ the most ideological pure and extreme position held by incels.’’
The first stage of incel indoctrination is “red pilling,’’ where incels realize the most powerful members of society are “Chads,’’ a term for strong, conventionally attractive men, who pair off with “Stacys,’’ attractive women who reject men, especially incels, who aren’t Chads. Because of this, women hold power over the majority of men and should be consigned to a subservient role or punished.
Like other incel jargon, the term “red pill” is derived from the movie “The Matrix,” in which characters can take a blue pill and remain blind to reality or a red pill to see how they are being deceived and controlled.
The aim of many incels, at least initially, is to “ascend,’’ meaning find a female sexual partner. But many eventually reject that goal as unattainable, based on a core injustice that will always leave incels disadvantaged because they can’t attract women.
The final stage is “blackpilling,’’ a nihilistic state that often includes rhetoric advocating violence, especially against women, as the incels only recourse against an unfair social order that renders them invisible or seeks their humiliation.
Green and his co-authors say it’s important to understand how incels reach the point of acting out. “We can’t lower the amount of radicalization and violence unless we can figure out how this is happening,’’ said Green.