Veronika Kracher, born in Munich in 1990, is an author and journalist. She writes about feminism, antisemitism, pop culture and the US-American alt-right for publications such as konkret, Jungle World, and Neues Deutschland. Her debut book, Incels: Geschichte, Sprache und Ideologie eines Online-Kults, was published in November 2020 by Ventil Verlag.
Belltower.News: You’ve spent years researching the incel scene, a global online cult of self-proclaimed “involuntary celibates” united in their hatred of women and their misogynistic worldview. Now, you’ve written a book about this misanthropic ideology. As you yourself write on your website: “Somebody has to do it”. How did you come across the scene?
Veronika Kracher: In the context of Donald Trump’s election as president in 2016, I was examining the alt-right and the relationship between right-wing populism and masculinity. During my research on imageboards like 4chan or on Reddit, I increasingly came across incels. After the 2018 van attack in Toronto, I realised the potential for violence lurking behind this ideology and I began to study it closer.
Do you see a global political shift to the right as a symptom of toxic masculinity?
Antifeminism has always been a reaction to feminist struggles and the crumbling of patriarchal hegemony. Hedwig Dohm already described this at the beginning of the 20th century in her book Die Antifeministen (The Antifeminists), a polemic against antifeminists. The emancipatory struggles of marginalised groups have always been met with a backlash and massive violence from the ruling classes out of fear of losing their hegemony. Antifeminism plays a huge role in the right-wing backlash that we are currently experiencing. It functions as a gateway drug to radical far-right thought. And the demographic group most susceptible to fascist ideologies is young men between 15 and 30 years of age.
Does this demographic also apply to the typical incel?
I mainly work with a survey by the website “incels.co”, one of the largest incel forums. Every six months, the website conducts a survey of its users. Three-quarters of the users say they are under 24, making it a comparatively young subculture. 45 percent live in the USA, 40 percent in Europe, the rest in Latin America, India or Southeast Asia. It’s not a hegemonically white subculture: just over half of the users are white. But it is primarily young men from first-world countries.
How large is the community?
The “Incel” and “Braincel” subreddits had about 40,000 users before they were deleted. The larger forums have about 13,000 users. Of course, there are also double memberships. There’s no member registration on imageboards like 4chan, 8kun or Kohlchan – all users are “anonymous”. There are also several incel servers on the platform Discord. In total, I would say there are tens of thousands of incels worldwide.
How would you describe the worldview of incels?
Three aspects in particular characterise the incel scene: misogyny, self-pity and an almost pathological self-victimisation. Incels see themselves as victims of nearly everything. Central to their world view is the so-called “black pill” ideology – a reference to the conspiracy ideology concept of the “red pill”, which is used in various milieus ranging from the alt-right to pick-up artists and men’s rights activists, and which originally comes from the film The Matrix. The “red pill” ideology functions as a revelation: you’re supposed to open your eyes, restore a strong natural notion of masculinity, and show women their place – namely as a housewife, mother and fuckable object. Both ideologies share the hypothesis that the white, heterosexual, cis-man is oppressed and that we live in a “gynocracy” or “femocracy” caused by “cultural Marxism”. According to this hypothesis, women dominate men because of their uncontrolled sexuality, for example by making false rape allegations and generally discriminating against men. The “black pill” ideology takes this way of thinking to a nihilistic, fatalistic extreme with the belief that the only form of oppression in society is lookism, i.e. discrimination based on appearance.
And women are supposedly to blame for this?
Before the sexual revolution, before feminism, the world was supposedly built according to the principle of “looks matching”. People had partners with a similar level of attractiveness, so the incel way of thinking goes. Moreover, they think the instinctive, hypergamous and superficial nature of women was kept in check by patriarchal rule. After the sexual revolution, according to incels, patriarchy ceased to exist, and women are now able to satisfy their need for as much sex as possible with so-called “Chads” – as “alpha-men” are called in incel slang. “Chads” are prime examples of hypermasculinity and supposedly make up 20 percent of men. Since women only care about “Chads”, there aren’t any women left for the poor incels. In short, incels consider themselves the greatest victims of our time because they don’t have sex – and they suffer horribly as a result. At the same time, they make their salvation completely dependent upon female affection. But they hate women so much that if a woman were to be nice to them or talk to them, they would interpret it as a disingenuous provocation.
This sounds deeply contradictory. Incels want a sexual partner and because they cannot find one, they reject sex and women completely.
Incels have dug themselves into a hole of their own misery – and that makes this scene so dangerous, even for incels themselves, because they have simply reached a dead end. They say, “I want love and affection”, but only from a completely idealised idea of women, usually underage, submissive and a virgin. Incels don’t really see women as human beings, but only as a screen on which to project their own insecurities and neuroses. They feel persecuted and threatened by female sexuality and therefore cannot deal with women as autonomous subjects. Every contact with a woman reminds incels that they don’t have sex – which they then translate into misogyny.
Often, this hatred against women is representative of a hatred against themselves. According to a survey on the forum incels.co, 67.5 percent of the users describe themselves as suicidal, 85.4 percent as depressed and 74.5 percent suffer from anxiety. However, is it not too simple to claim that incels are only misogynists because they’re mentally ill?
That’s a very good question. Misogyny is of course something which constitutes society at large. In my book, I refer to the gender researcher Rolf Pohl, who writes that the heterosexual male view of female sexuality always has pathological traits. The average heterosexual man feels challenged and threatened by female sexuality. He must therefore surrender himself to male dominance. Under patriarchy, men are told that they must be autonomous. But the fact that heterosexual men desire women shows them that they cannot be autonomous and still need women. As a result of his hegemonic masculine socialisation, they must break away from their own femininely connoted sides. Ingeborg Bachmann already wrote the beautiful sentence in her book Malina: All men are sick. All of them. And incels aren’t an exception – they’re the tip of the patriarchal iceberg.
In the case of the incels, it would seem that it’s the toxic community that makes them sick.
In these forums, they’re constantly told that they are ugly, that everyone hates them and that no one will love them. Under the term “looksmaxxing”, users upload pictures of themselves to receive tips regarding their looks. Plastic surgery is almost always recommended. It’s no wonder that a community that says you have to go under the knife leads to body dysphoria. For my book, I talked to an ex-incel who said that his mental health severely deteriorated while he was active in the community – because it’s so incredibly toxic.
The incel community comes across as primarily anti-women and misogynistic, but are there also links to far-right ideology?
Absolutely. These forums are seeping with antisemitism. Antifeminism is always also an antisemitic conspiracy ideology, since it is assumed that “cultural Marxism”, which always has Jewish connotations, is partially to blame for feminism, women’s emancipation and modernity in general. But there’s also an explicit racism towards black men, who are called “Tyrones” in the scene – the black “Chad”. “Tyrone”, which itself is a stereotypical and cliched black name, is generally portrayed as a gangster or drug dealer, who is hypersexualised and has a large penis. The scene regurgitates classic sexualised, colonial, racist stereotypes. But there’s also the Indian “Chad”, “Chadpreet”, the Arab “Chadam”, the Latin American “Chadriguez” and – my personal favourite – the Asian “Chang Long Wang”. Many non-white incels have internalised this racism. For example, incels with an Indian-Pakistani background call themselves “currycels”.
The scene uses a specific language that often seems inaccessible to outsiders. How would you describe it?
In my book, I included a glossary with all terms used in the incel scene. The language has a certain function. It says, we are a conspiratorial community with its own codes and its own language that only we understand. This is how they distinguish themselves from “normies”, i.e. non-incels. Furthermore, language conveys a certain ideology. For example, the term “Tyrone” evokes a racist, cliched image of a black man within the community. Language also conveys the scene’s treatment of women: they are called “femoid” or “foid”, which stands for “female humanoid”. This has a dehumanising function. Women are also referred to with the neuter pronoun “it”. Attractive women are called “Stacys”, the female counterpart to “Chads”.
There are hardly any official statistics on the incel scene in Germany. The BKA – Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office – has “no knowledge” about it and the Verfassungsschutz – Germany’s domestic security agency – doesn’t feel responsible for monitoring them. Is the danger posed by incels underestimated in this country?
Absolutely. But this is also because misogyny is generally underestimated in Germany. Femicides are played down as “family dramas”. Sexual harassment has only been a punishable offence since 2017 and less than 30 years ago, rape in marriage was still legal. In general, we also have a problem with discrimination against minorities within the authorities themselves. Unfortunately, the policemen who know what Kohlchan is are usually the ones who hang around there themselves.
Many mass shooters appear to have links to incel ideology, for example the attackers in Christchurch, Halle and Toronto. Do these murderers act out of a primarily far-right motive or does the incel ideology also play a decisive factor here?
My theory is that such acts of terror are compensation for their narcissistic wounds – and are thus a key moment in “becoming a man”. These are men that feel permanently aggrieved at the fact that they are not having sex. They believe that they are owed something and want to go as soldiers into their war against modernity – be it a war against migrants, Jews or feminism. These men see themselves called to greater things in life but are constantly reminded that they are mere worms in the compost of late capitalism – and that’s devastating. The American sociologist Michael Kimmel writes that this humiliation is also always a form of emasculation. The act of violence, on the other hand, is something with a masculine connotation. The mass shooter behind the Isla Vista attack in California, a role model in the incel scene, wrote in his manifesto, “Who’s the alpha man now bitches?” By weaponising himself, he becomes a man – so the logic goes.
How does the incel community view these killers?
In an incel post that I often show in my lectures, a man asks if “Stacys” get wet during school shootings, because women apparently go for dominant men and in such a shooting, the perpetrator is the most dominant of all men. So “Stacys” would have to be totally aroused to even be in the same room as the perpetrator, because at that moment, he becomes a “Super-Chad”. There is also a meme in the scene where the mass shooters of Christchurch, El Paso and Poway are depicted as “Chads”. So you can definitely speak of a glorification here.
How can we combat radicalisation through incel ideology?
We need critical youth outreach work with boys and gender-sensitive education. Masculinity is often based on the degradation of anything feminine. We have to teach boys that they can develop identities that aren’t based on this degradation. We also have to teach boys and men that they don’t have a right to sex or a partner. At the same time, misogyny is deeply rooted in patriarchal-capitalist society. This leads to the development of an authoritarian and competitive structure of personality. The result: men punch down, not up, and they harass or even kill women to compensate for their own weaknesses instead of recognising the real problem. Incels suffer from a hegemonic masculinity produced by capitalism. This means that we generally have to overcome these power structures.
Translated by W.F. Thomas.