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