California Governor Gavin Newsom recently pointed out that mass shootings are almost exclusively perpetrated by men, adding that a discussion of this “is missing from the national conversation.” He got me wondering if this was true and if it was time to begin a conversation.
I started reading research about the fact that many of the gunmen in mass shootings share a history of hating women, assaulting wives, girlfriends and female family members, and posting misogynistic views online. Connor Betts, 24, who murdered nine people in Dayton, Ohio, included his own sister in his deadly assault. In school he made a list threatening violence against certain female classmates. The man who killed 49 people in an Orlando nightclub in 2016 beat his wife while she was pregnant. In more than ½ of all mass shootings in the United States from 2009 to 2017, an intimate partner or family member of the shooter was among the victims.
A number of these men have self-identified as “incels,” short for involuntary celibates, an on-line subculture of men who express rage at women for denying them sex. An example is Elliot O. Rodger who killed 6 people in 2014 in Isla Vista, California. Before his attack, he uploaded a YouTube video explaining his intent to punish women for rejecting him and punish sexually active men because he envied them. Alek Minassian, who drove a van onto a sidewalk in Toronto in 2018, killing 10 people, had posted a message on FB minutes before the attack praising Rodger stating: “The Incel rebellion has already begun.”
Research shows that the same patterns that lead to the radicalization of white supremacists and other terrorists can apply to misogynists who turn to mass violence: a lonely, troubled individual who finds a community of like-minded individuals online, and an outlet for their anger. Jillian Peterson, a founder of the Violence Project, a research organization that studies mass shootings, says, “They’re angry and they’re suicidal and they’ve had traumatic childhoods and hard lives, and they get to a point and they find something or someone to blame.” And like white supremacists, they are angry at “Others” who they perceive are getting what they think they deserve. They abhor the power women have and feel powerless to get what they want so they destroy what they cannot have.
It is also important to understand that these men find a sense of community online in their shared hate with other disaffected men. By posting or retweeting a racist or sexist meme or by using highly specific in-group jargon—incels deploring attractive, sexually desirable “Staceys”—these groups reiterate the narratives of hate around them. Like radical Islamists their hate gives them a sense of purpose, giving them a chance to participate in a cleansing fire becoming a hero who will be rewarded as martyr in heaven with 70 virgins. When they post about their frustrations with dating or their inability to find meaningful work, blaming immigrants, there are thousands of other disaffected men waiting to encourage them to take action. And that action is often deadly, making them martyrs to their cause.
What do you think? Do you agree with Governor Newsom that it’s time to expand the national conversation to examine and address the roots of misogyny?
For more info read:
Religious Hunger on the Far Right, Tara Isabella Burton
A Common Trait Among Mass Killers: Hatred Toward women, Julie Bosman, Kate Taylor, Tim Arango
As Marie-Claude suggests, perhaps there are two conversations here? Presumably other countries have incels too, but these men do not have access to military grade weapons. I would hate our conversation about misogyny to result in supporting Trump’s contention that the problem is mental illness rather than access to weapons.
So scary. But identifying the problem is so important. Thank you.
Maureen, this is an excellent exposition of a problem that has consequences for so many people, men and women, who suffer in the mass shootings. Our American culture should expect better behavior from men. Apparently it doesn’t. It has to start at a very young age, and be continually reinforced through the education system and beyond.
Hi Min – an important consideration which should get wider awareness, but I suppose if you posted it on FB you would start getting death threats – sigh – what a world we are living in 😔 Much love P
Thank you for your research and this writing. It is truly an important conversation. I have been thinking as I watch the news these last years that the conversations and education about sex itself are tragically missing. We have the #MeToo movement’s chorus of voices, the Catholic priest’s abuses, the athlete’s that have been sexually abused, the President bragging about sexual assault, the Jeffrey Epstein’s of the world, the mass shooters who are “incels”, having no idea how to live their sexuality, and on and on the stories go with confusion about sexuality itself at the root. How to be a wholesome, healthy sexual being should be a serious conversation at every level of our society. It is rarely even mentioned.
thank you for starting this difficult conversation. It has been so obvious yet no one will address this issue of men vs women. It is more than a “power grab” and control issue. these men are alienated for many reasons going back to their infancy/youth. Many were probably abused and continue that tragic cycle. Keep this conversation going as it is not going to go away unfortunately. What to do about this is the real questions… not that does it exist.
Maureen, this is very interesting and deeply disturbing research. I hadn’t put together this idea of misogyny, white supremacy and mass assaults. I do agree with Governor Newsom that we must address the hatred of women and the roots of this toxic and insidious belief system.
This makes the kind of sense we need – so we can take a deep breath as we understand why mass shootings keep happening.
Yes, starting that conversation is necessary, although addressing the roots of misogyny could take the focus away from banning the sale of assault weapons: Trump says mass shootings are due to mental illness and not to weapons…
A significant point is that these shooters usually had traumatic childhoods.
The conversation would perhaps need to start there, to find out which in that chain of deceptions was the turning point that would eventually lead these misogynists to… such madness.
The system may have failed them, but one could also wonder whether we are all responsible for that kind of outcome, starting with a lack of kindness/compassion/tolerance/ in early years – because many adults have no time anymore to instill it in children.
What do you think?
Thanks, Marie-Claude. I think you’re right about teaching compassion and empathy in the early years. We certainly have to change our approach to raising boys so that they don’t feel that they have to be aggressive and domineering to have value.