Dr Tim Squirrell is a writer, broadcaster and researcher. He focusses on internet culture and extremism, specialising in the far right and misogynist extremists.

A definitive guide to Incels Part Three: the history of Incel

A definitive guide to Incels Part Three: the history of Incel

This post contains discussion of suicide, rape, depression and child sex abuse.

Previous instalments of my series on incels can be found here:

A definitive guide to incels Part One: Incelocalypse

A definitive guide to incels Part Two: the Incel A-Z

The creator of pro-rape, pro-paedophilia Incelocalypse is an admitted paedophile and is running for Congress in Virginia (Hi Nathan, I saw you subscribed to my blog. You disgust me and I hope the FBI kick your door down ASAP)

The history of incel communities

In previous posts, I've introduced the incel community as it stands today and given a glossary of the many and varied terms they've come up with in order to describe the world as they see it. Here I want to go on a deep dive into the history of the various communities that have constituted incel culture since the 1990s. I am deeply indebted to ReformedIncel, who got in contact with me after I posted my A-Z of Incel to send me two lengthy documents detailing his experience and understanding of incel communities since their mailing list beginnings. This post is also informed by a number of other sources, including web archives of old incel communities (though they didn't necessarily call themselves that at the time), the documentary Shy Boys IRL by Sara Gardephe, Sara's interview with the folks at Last Podcast on the Left, and the Reply All episode INVCEL. Each of these sources is highly interesting and I recommend listening to and watching them separately if this is something you'd like to learn more about.

As well as providing an overview of the evolution of the incel movement, the central thesis I want to put forward here is one that reflects upon the dynamics of internet communities more generally construed, and particularly those which have a tendency towards extreme opinions. In particular, I'm going to highlight the tensions between the comparatively feminist IncelSupport and the virulently misogynistic Love-Shy.com in the mid 2000s and early 2010s, bringing that into dialogue with contemporary conversations happening within the incel community and showing the tendency towards radicalisation on unregulated forums like incels.me (and the now-defunct Incelocalypse). 

The central themes you're likely to notice are an ever-dwindling emphasis on support and rehabilitation, and an increasing pressure to take the blackpill (that is, to accept that the world is fundamentally stacked against incels and that nothing will ever change for them). The "victory" of the camp that argued for the primacy of looks over those who argued that personality is the most important thing in terms of sexual and romantic success is also a point of inflection in this history, contributing to the concretisation of a culture for which the tagline is "it's over". Whilst misogyny and advocacy of really extreme positions (e.g. pro-rape, pro-paedophilia) were always present, they weren't dominant in the same way that they are on contemporary sites like incels.me

As well as sketching out a history of the communities, I'll try to draw some comparisons and contrasts between them and the contemporary incel sites as we go. 

INVCEL, Alana's Involuntary Celibacy Project, and Alt.Support.Shyness

Whilst people have always been involuntarily celibate - that is, they have gone for significant periods wanting to have sex but unable to have it - the formation of a community around this identity is a relatively new phenomenon. Reply All did an interview with Alana, who created a website and mailing list for people who identified as "invcel", which quickly became "incel" for ease of pronunciation. The website was created in 1998. 

The incel forums of today are obsessed with purity, gatekeeping, and paranoia. There are constant fears that they are being infiltrated by outsiders who wish to undermine them and paint them in a bad light. Moreover, they engage in periodic disputes over who is and is not a truecel, and who is a fakecel or actually volcel (voluntarily celibate). There is a general consensus that not only do you have to be a virgin, you also have to be ugly enough or disadvantaged enough in some other way that you could not find sex, despite wanting to. Some incels will even say that someone has to have "approached" women a significant number of times and been rejected every time in order to be truly incel. Women are strictly forbidden from the community, as all women are capable of having sex if they truly want to. 

This lies in stark contrast to the early incel communities. They began as mixed-gender projects, and there was little gatekeeping as to who could and could not post to the group. They initially went off of a definition given by an academic study of involuntarily celibate people which defined them as those who had not had sex for 6 months or more, despite wanting to or actively trying to. 

Moreover, there was a strong emphasis on support and overcoming one's incel status. Incel was a temporary state and not an identity that you defined yourself by. Alana's Involuntary Celibacy project had resources for trying to overcome. Eventually, Alana left because she felt the community was becoming too toxic. At the same time, the usenet group Alt.Support.Shyness had a number of regular contributors. In contrast with the fast-paced, low-quality content emblematic of sites like 4chan's /r9k/ and incels.me, posts were lengthy and thought-out. 

It's worth noting, however, that these groups did still play host to some misogyny. For Alt.Support.Shyness in particular, because it focussed on people for whom introversion and shyness were the primary issue, men often became bitter about sharing a space with women who wanted help with confidence in job interviews when they were decades older and had never been kissed. 

That kind of misogyny can be seen in this post from 2003:

“The disadvantage of being male is hard to quantify, Men have a more intense role to play. This takes 8 yrs off their life. For million of men who can’t find a mate, take off another 8 yrs. Women are accepted into society no matter what. Guys have to earn a place in society by getting a job in an economy where most jobs are more suited to females. Females are not shy and have much less social anxiety. They basically are given a free pass. This was fine in the days when women did not have jobs. Nature gave them a bunch of social and sexual advantage to compensate for their lack of resources. Now that they have resource and sex power, things are out of balance. We needs laws that prevent females from going to university or taking family supporting jobs from men. Our prisons are full of men who could not feed their families. The rape laws should be repealed. Females are artificially restricting the supply of available females in their reproductive years. Rape is the answer. Societies go to war over lack of females and jobs. Females have become a threat to society and must be put back in their place. Marc Lepine, you were ahead of your time.”

Marc Lepine was a Canadian mass murderer who killed 14 women at the École Polytechnique in 1989, claiming that he was doing so to fight feminism. 

The quote above demonstrates an attitude that would be seen as mainstream in a lot of the manosphere today. Even given its advocacy for rape, by comparison to the kinds of beliefs expressed by incels on a daily basis it's tame. But the key difference between this expression of misogyny in 2003, and the daily conversation on incels.me today in 2018, is that this was an exception rather than the rule. This user didn't have 6000 other men egging them on, applauding their extremism and adding their own, more extreme statements. They didn't have the manifestos of George Sodini and Elliot Rodger to draw upon for his ideology. He didn't have the vast, toxic literature of the manosphere to back him up, or the felt need to differentiate himself from his peers by saying more and more extreme things.

The argument I'm making here is that chan culture and incel culture have intersected to create something that can only end badly. Chan culture (most prominently displayed on 4chan) promotes saying more and more extreme things just for the lols. It abhors expressions of emotional vulnerability, and instead emphasises mockery and the externalisation of blame as the means by which one should cope with negative emotions. Posters can always claim that the things they're saying are ironic, or jokes, or meant just to provoke a reaction, but with enough posts and posters it becomes impossible to differentiate between those who mean it and those who don't. Those who genuinely mean the things they say have the imagined (and expressed) support of those who don't, whom they think are on the same page as them.

Incel culture, on the other hand, is not intrinsically toxic. The original incel communities weren't perfect, but they functioned as peer support groups in much the same way as AA, or NA, or anorexia recovery groups might. In the same way that the existence of pro-ana communities doesn't mean that those afflicted with eating disorders cannot support each other through recovery, the existence of toxic incel communities doesn't mean that lonely people can't help each other through the process of self-acceptance and self-love. And there are groups of people who do this, even today: the r/ForeverAlone subreddit, for example, is a relatively supportive zone for people who might be considered incels. The problem is that all of the communities that identify as incel (with the potential exception of the relatively inactive r/incelwithouthate) are by definition toxic buckets of crabs, because the label has been warped and policed and turned into something synonymous with hatred, misogyny, and the acceptance of a nihilistic ideology which leaves them no choice but violence or misery. 

When incel culture is crossed with chan culture, the result is a community that emphasises saying the most extreme things as a means of coping with their sadness. And because they've never learned how to process their emotions rationally (because that is a skill, and it's one that has to be taught or learned) they externalise blame on to everyone but themselves. Moreover, they end up defining themselves by their incel status, meaning that to transcend incel would be losing the only community they feel offers them support. They say things that are so extreme that they're difficult to take back or to move away from. They are, for all intents and purposes, a cult rather than a community.

Incelsite, IncelSupport, and Love-Shy.com

Here I'm going to bring in one of the key clashes that defines the incel community today. Incelsite, founded in 2004, was succeeded by IncelSupport in 2008. These were, as the titles would suggest, support communities. They were open to most people who self-identified as incel, including women, non-virgins, and people who had children but were now in sexless marriages. At the same time, we'll be looking at Love-shy.com, which was created in 2003. The original owner of this forum left after getting into a relationship, and the forum was taken over by a user named Rammspieler, who was deeply toxic. Under his leadership, the forum became a place that even 4chan users though of as extreme.

IncelSupport had a poll demonstrating the range of reasons members gave for their incel status.It included geographical isolation, social isolation, work-related stress, depression and "primacy incels", who had an otherwise fulfilling life but whose main issue was just the fact that they were incel. Whilst incels.me and other contemporary sites encourage their members to blame society and women for their problems, IncelSupport and similar sites always defined incel status as something that could be remedied by fixing the underlying issue. There was even debate over whether "primacy incel" was something they should accept, as a lot of members felt like there was always an underlying issue which was causing someone to be incel. The contrast, again, is striking.

The poll from IncelSupport, detailing users' reasons for being incel

The poll from IncelSupport, detailing users' reasons for being incel

IncelSupport also moderated their board fairly heavily, preventing users from engaging in what they called the seven deadly sins: apathy, excuses and justification, overanalysis, naivety, fear, rage, and shame. The issue this created was that the overtly misogynistic posters who were banned ended up migrating over to love-shy.com, creating and reinforcing an atmosphere of toxic misogyny on that site.

I've talked in other places about the important role that administrators and moderators play in regulating the dynamics of forums and internet communities. That capacity cannot be overstated. Here's an excerpt from a post by Rammspieler, who ran Love-shy.com:

I did encourage Alexius to go buy a gun and kill his crush. Yes, in fact I do admire Cho, The Columbine Duo, George Sodini and any other individual who has found the courage to do what they did and both deliver a warning to society and at the same time challenge our collective morality.

That's him expressing his admiration for mass murderers, including George Sodini, who shot up a women's gym in 2009 and was the community's Elliot Rodger before Elliot Rodger. The "Alexius" he's referring to is a man named Marjan Siklic, a Croatian who runs a blog on which he advocates that the government ought to provide men with girlfriends (pre-empting the crappy NYTimes and Spectator articles by Ross Douthat and Toby Young, as well as Jordan Peterson, by a number of years).

Importantly, Rammspieler goes on to say, "I'm the owner and I say what I want whereas at a moment's notice I can restrict your right to do the same". The owner's ability to control the discourse on a forum they moderate is limited only by what their users will tolerate. Whilst it is (and was) possible to start off a splinter forum for discontented members, doing so is a significant effort associated with a resource outlay that may never be recouped, with no guarantee of success. Therefore once a forum is well-established it becomes entrenched and it's very difficult to argue with or undermine those who moderate it.

The emphasis on love-shy.com was always on blaming women. The support and recovery section of the forum was quickly buried, lost, and forgotten about. The men interviewed in Shy Boys IRL say things like "for a support forum, it tends to have the opposite effect more often than it should, I think". /r9k/, a 4chan board which is populated primarily by men with significant social difficulties, described IncelSupport as "heavily moderated and overly PC", whereas love-shy was "r9k misogynists on steroids" and "makes /r9k/ look like tolerant women's libbers". In contrast to IncelSupport and Alt.Support.Shyness, which maintained a distance from pick-up artist (PUA) culture and Men's Rights Activists, love-shy.com had them in significant numbers and they would recruit from the incels there.

In addition, love-shy was split between those who believed that looks were the primary factor in their celibacy, and those who thought that personality was the major issue. Today, incels.me and other boards are entirely dominated by the belief that looks are the only thing that matters, and the vast majority of "looks" coming down to what one's face looks like. They argue that even going to the gym and becoming ripped and jacked can never really change your success with women (and is therefore a cope, and you're gymcelling), because your facial bone structure, particularly things like the angle of your jaw and your eyes, dictates your sexual success and therefore your life outcomes. That wasn't always the way. The documentary Shy Boys IRL shows the diversity of views in members of love-shy.com, with some of the relatively moderate users saying that their primary issue is their confidence, whilst others adopted the view that 95% of sexual success was down to facial features.

At the same time, there was a YouTube-based strain of incel advocacy. "True Forced Loneliness" was an ideology promoted by William Greathouse, Dwayne Holloway, and Steve Hoca. Each of them had a particular brand of politics which marked them out as extreme at the time, but all of their thought is easily recognisable in the incel communities of today. Bill promoted conspiracy theories, like the idea that feminism is preventing men from finding sex and love; Dwayne told men that they deserved sex if they were nice to women; and Steve was frustrated with the idea that women are "too picky". This combination of a victim complex, entitlement, and anti-feminism is characteristic of the bulk of contemporary incel communities. 

Eventually, the looks brigade won out, and so did the MRAs and misogynists. IncelSupport crashed in 2013, and all its resources were lost. The community never recovered. It also suffered significantly from the perception that it was too heavily moderated, and that it "wanted to ignore anything related to physical appearance or gender issues" (according to an r9k anon). The seductive arguments from evolutionary psychology won out over the belief in self-improvement. Those who wanted to improve themselves tended to move towards PUA and redpill forums, whilst those who were hell-bent on maintaining their loneliness and self-loathing gravitated towards love-shy and sites like PUAHate (now SlutHate).

Elliot Rodger and the incel uprising

In 2014, a man named Elliot Rodger uploaded a video to YouTube detailing his "manifesto". He was a 22-year old virgin who wanted to punish women for rejecting him. He was also an active poster on PUAHate. He then went on a shooting spree that killed six people and wounded fourteen others, before killing himself. This is an excerpt from his manifesto, in which he calls himself the "supreme gentleman":

Well, this is my last video, it all has to come to this. Tomorrow is the day of retribution, the day in which I will have my revenge against humanity, against all of you. For the last eight years of my life, ever since I hit puberty, I've been forced to endure an existence of loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desires all because girls have never been attracted to me. Girls gave their affection, and sex and love to other men but never to me.

I'm 22 years old and I'm still a virgin. I've never even kissed a girl. I've been through college for two and a half years, more than that actually, and I'm still a virgin. It has been very torturous. College is the time when everyone experiences those things such as sex and fun and pleasure. Within those years, I've had to rot in loneliness. It's not fair. You girls have never been attracted to me. I don't know why you girls aren't attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it. It's an injustice, a crime, because ... I don't know what you don't see in me. I'm the perfect guy and yet you throw yourselves at these obnoxious men instead of me, the supreme gentleman.

This attitude of entitlement to women's affections and bodies, of being denied something that he deserved, is commonplace in incel communities today. He was immediately hailed as a hero by the incel community. Today, they call him "Saint Elliot". His manifesto has become a rallying point for bitter incels who believe that women owe them sex. I would argue that Rodger was a galvanising factor in incel communities, giving voice to the frustration and hatred that many of them feel, taking action to further their cause.

Since then, there's been at least one other mass murder by an incel. Alek Minassian is accused of murdering ten people in Toronto with a van, having posted on Facebook praising Elliot Rodger.

Alek Minassian's facebook post

Alek Minassian's facebook post

It's worth noting that not everyone supports the actions of these men. Some of the incels say that they just want to be left alone, and that women don't deserve to die. Others believe that Minassian's attack in particular had nothing to do with incels, and that the facebook post is a fake planted by 4chan. As I noted above, there's a paranoia which characterises today's incel communities. They worry constantly about infiltration and smear campaigns.

At the same time, this praise for misogynistic killers is a consistent theme in these communities. Even in the earliest ones there were individuals who hailed Lepine, and Sodini, Rodger and Minassian have all received saint-like status within today's incel groups. When Alana, the founder of one of the earliest incel communities, read about Rodger's killings, she responded, "Like a scientist who invented something that ended up being a weapon of war, I can't uninvent this word, nor restrict it to the nicer people who need it."

r/incels, incels.me, r/braincels, Incelocalypse

The incel community became popular on reddit in the 2016-2017 period. At its peak, just before it was banned, it had over 40,000 subscribers. Whilst many of these were likely people watching for entertainment or other purposes, it was still extremely active. The community was eventually banned on the 7th November 2017 for inciting violence. As with many other communities banned by reddit, it had been breaking site-wide rules for a significant period of time before it was taken down, and the main thing that triggered its removal was unwelcome media attention it was bringing to reddit. A user went to r/legaladvice to ask a "general question about how rapists get caught", pretending to be a woman looking for advice. It made the news as a person asking about how to get away with rape, and reddit had little choice but to ban r/incels

After this, a whole spate of r/incels spin-offs were repeatedly banned by reddit. Eventually, r/braincels was established as a community to talk about "incel culture". Ostensibly a site for high-brow discussions of the intellectual underpinnings of the incel movement, there are few differences between r/braincels and r/incels except for a heavier moderation policy on the new forum. r/braincels has fewer subscribers than r/incels, at 25,000 as of June 2018.

At the same time, former moderators of r/incels created the site incels.me as a new home for the incel community. They argued that reddit was no longer safe for them to express their beliefs, and so they needed an independent community on which they could speak freely. Incels.me, as a result, has far more graphic and violent content than r/braincels. Incels.me users say that r/braincels is "cucked", that is has a "femoid moderator", and that they can't express themselves there.

Whilst incels.me contains a host of violent content, including advocacy of rape and female slavery, there are still some users who end up banned for crossing the line. These are the kinds of users recruited by Nathan Larson, the paedophile running for Congress, who set up the site Incelocalypse where users could actively discuss how to "psych themselves up to feel entitled to rape", as well as child pornography.


There are a few things I want to emphasise here. The first is the continuity of thought amongst incel communities. Whilst the earliest communities were support groups, the title "incel" now refers to something almost entirely different. I would make a distinction between the IncelSupport and love-shy.com communities, and say that they represent two almost entirely separate worldviews. IncelSupport (and its short-lived successor IncelTemporary) represented continuity from Alana's site in the 1990s, and it died in 2014. There is no real trace of that community or that kind of incel community left. Love-shy.com represents a different strain of incel, created through a combination of MRA, PUA, and other misogynist groups. Its ownership and loose moderation model led to dominance from the most radical and extreme voices. Its users consumed themselves with bitterness and hatred of women, and whilst they've become more radical since 2003 (including the owner I talked about above disowning the pro-rape comments of one of his disciples), the basic framework of a worldview that blamed women and feminism for their woes was in place.

The "tipping point" for Rammspieler, who used to run love-shy.com

The "tipping point" for Rammspieler, who used to run love-shy.com

The second key takeaway is that this kind of tendency towards the most extreme opinions is not inevitable. The IncelSupport websites demonstrated that men (and women) who were incel but were told that it was something temporary, that was permeable to hard work, were often able to overcome or at least confront their issues. The blackpill ideology which says that incel status is forever, the world is completely unfair, and nothing you can do will change your fate, only comes about and proliferates through the leadership and domination of particularly toxic people, combined with the infiltration of chan culture into the incel communities. Moderation and administration practices are hugely influential in the shaping of the atmosphere of a community, particularly one filled with so many people for whom the internet is their safe place.

Late in May this year, the founder of r/braincels is thought to have killed himself. He posted a suicide note to the forum that he used to run (he stepped down earlier in the year, citing mental health reasons) which said that America was responsible for his death. He said that all the mental health care in the country was useless at best and actively unhelpful at worst.

It took ten days for anyone to realise what had happened. In the meantime, his post was downvoted and r/braincels users egged him on, telling him that life wasn't really worth it anyway. They said "you being a big ass bitch is responsible for your death", and "fuck you, i have no respect for you, you cunt". After ten days, the moderators of the forum finally discovered what had happened. The users of r/braincels and r/inceltears took the opportunity to remind their members that help for those who are feeling suicidal is available, and that the users they're talking to through text are real people.

The thing that sticks out about the post is a comment that tells the user, AnathematicAnarchist, to "utilise the sub you created as the only coping mechanism you have left". Right now, that "coping mechanism" primarily consists of men joking about killing themselves and talking about how much they hate women. That's not a support group, or a coping mechanism. It's a bucket full of crabs, tearing down anyone who wants to get out. They tell each other that "it's over", that society hates them and nothing can ever get better for them. They're wrong, but they're never going to learn that from the communities they've built for themselves.

This is the third part of a series of posts on the incel community. As they say on YouTube, don't forget to subscribe to receive new updates as they come out.

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New article at The Independent: Nathan Larson, the self-described incel paedophile, is running for Congress. This is how he groomed vulnerable young men

The creator of pro-rape, pro-paedophilia Incelocalypse is an admitted paedophile and is running for Congress in Virginia

The creator of pro-rape, pro-paedophilia Incelocalypse is an admitted paedophile and is running for Congress in Virginia