The comfort of
the mass

Incels and its group dynamics

Marta Bernardi
Current events

They cannot exit the group on their own but only dive deeper in a spiral of hatred that results into one thing only: violent male supremacy.

“If your friends jump off a cliff, does that mean you’re going to jump off, too?!”. Everyone has heard this sentence at least once in their lifetime, both as an unconcerned listener or as someone directly involved. Usually, it is used to end a heated argument that followed some kind of mischief done in the company of others. In these cases, the poor culprits often try to save their necks by saying “it wasn’t just me; it was them too”. By “sharing” the guilt and responsibilities, they try to divert the attention from themselves and redirect it towards the group in its entirety. Even though there is no scientific data on the effectiveness of such a strategy, one could assume that its rate of success – at least within the family circle – is quite meagre. 

Nonetheless, the fact of being supported by a large group, thereby feeling stronger, braver and more tenacious, does not only apply to the mischief of the youth. It is vital, in fact, for a whole other series of actions that can hardly be defined as such. The strength that comes from having a great number of supporters or people that share our same ideas is at the heart of the so-called ‘alt-right phenomenon’. In fact, the alt-right – understood as the prevalently digital far-right movement – is based on the number of its supporters as much as on its ideologies. It consists of a huge agglomeration of individuals, who are masked by the web’s anonymity; and thus, as affirmed by journalist Francesco Merlo, are completely free and unveiled. They are divided into countless different factions, supporting a seemingly infinite amount of chaotic and often contradictory vitriolic ideologies. These ideologies range from all the dark shades of Nazi-fascism to conspiracy theories, also encompassing men rights activists (or MRAs), the sphere of the alt-right movement that revolves around some highly controversial conceptions on the relationship between men and women.

This last group includes the so-called ‘Incels’. Their name comes from the expression involuntary celibate. Nomen omen, Incels consist of a group of mainly young males that identify each other based on their shared “bad luck” in love. Their inability to find a partner, be it sexually or romantically, is the glue that connects participants from all over the world, regardless of their religion or provenience (a quite uncommon feature for an alt-right group, as they tend to be primarily composed by white, Christian men). Therefore, the frustration deriving from this “deficit” is not directed towards themselves but, in a self-preserving fashion, it is instead focused on those that Incels believe to be the real culprits of their situation: women, firstly, but also both sexually and romantically successful men. It seems that their only way of survival is by redirecting their frustration and anger externally, toward women and sexually successful men, identifying them as the opposition, the enemy.

This movement employs a specific kind of language in order to appeal to the public – found also in other segments of the alt-right world – which is directly taken from the well-known movie The Matrix. In fact, in the Incels’ ideology there are many references to pills: blue, red, and black.
Now, in the movie, the blue pill represents the easiest solution, i.e. the acceptance of a satisfying life in a false world. Whereas, the red pill offers the chance to realise what the world really is, and it comes with the responsibility and power to fight the corrupt order of things. This concept of an eye-opening experience that allows the individual to understand how the world really works, is constantly presented inside the Inceldom, the realm of Incels. The starting point of such reasoning is that the moment one realises who the enemy is – women and sexually successful men – it is necessary to put their wits against it and fight it. That is the moment in which the black pill comes into play. Christian Mogesen, Incels expert, describes it as

[…] fatalism, nihilism, the acknowledgement that no matter what you do, it’s not going to matter. You might as well just kill yourself. And, well, if you’re killing yourself, you might as well kill a few others, like women or sexually active men.

It is quite apparent that these kinds of thoughts are profoundly disturbing. However, they are not groundbreaking at all. Indeed, identifying an external enemy, with an ‘us against them’ rhetoric, is typical of extremists’ groups, from which Incels gather their language, tactics, and ideologies. Furthermore, as it happens with extremists, violence does not generally emerge from a group effort, but on the contrary results from the actions of single individuals, the so-called ‘lone wolves’. As highlighted by the Radicalisation Awareness Network, since 2014 there have been six violent episodes – resulting in a total of 44 victims – in which the Incels’ ideology was traced. These numbers may not be particularly high, but they are nevertheless worrying. They are worrying mainly because, in the case of the Inceldom, a partial juxtaposition between Incels’ narratives and those belonging to far-right supremacists and Nazi-fascists can be noticed. Actually, many members of the Incel movement identify themselves with some of the latter’s ideologies. The abovementioned juxtaposition highlights a fertile ground for terrorist groups’ recruiters. At the moment there is a group of people profoundly frustrated, outraged and affected by dissociation issues due to their social isolation. It is, therefore, extremely easy for recruiters to offer an outlet, a goal, a sense of belonging and to obtain more followers.  

Such concerns become even more worrying given the fact that it is nearly impossible to leave these groups, especially if you are alone. The structure of such movements makes it tough for single individuals to distance themselves from the group. Members cannot do that since they feel reassured by the great numbers of the movement, even if they realise how toxic it is and how much they are dominated and dependent on it. They cannot exit the group on their own but can only dive deeper in a spiral of hatred that results in one thing only: violent male supremacy.

It is for this reason that an issue like Incels groups can be resolved on its own; it needs an external intervention in order to be fully managed. Such intervention should not only focus on the group’s targets – the people endangered by the movement – but it should also work on the democratic deficit that Incels represent due to their problematic ideology and – questionable – beliefs. It would ultimately act on the individuals concerned who do not have any chance of escaping this highly toxic environment that feeds on their anger, frustration and sense of inadequacy. The isolation and ostracisation of such individuals does not solve anything; on the contrary, it just makes the situation even worse.

[1]RAN In Focus ‒ Incels, podcast,

[2] Centre for Digital Youth Care, 2019. Social work in new media, Angry Young Men: A look inside extreme online communities,

[3] Romano, A., 2019. How the alt-right’s sexism lures men into white supremacy. The movement’s many online communities prey on male insecurity to advance a racist political agenda, Vox.

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