‘Incels’ are a rising threat in the US, Secret Service report finds

·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Steve Cannon/AP</span>
Photograph: Steve Cannon/AP

Some behavioral themes identified include concerning online content, a history of being bullied and financial instability


A new US Secret Service report details a rising threat from men who identify as “involuntary celibates” or “incels”, due to their inability to form intimate relationships with women.

The report released on Tuesday and prepared by the National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC) highlights behavioral threat assessment themes identified in years of research examining targeted violence.

Themes include concerning and threatening communications, concerning online content, chronic and acute stressors, elicited concern in others, interpersonal difficulties, history of being bullied, financial instability, failed life aspirations and lack of consequences.

As a case study, the Secret Service examined a 2018 shooting at a yoga class in Tallahassee, Florida, in which a man killed two women and wounded six.

Related: Anti-stalking orders ‘fail to protect women from danger’

“The attacker was motivated to carry out violence by his inability to develop or maintain relationships with women, along with his perception of women’s societal power over men,” the report said.

The gunman, 40-year-old Scott Paul Beierle, exhibited numerous warning signs including a history of inappropriate and criminal behavior toward women and girls.

Steve Driscoll, a lead research specialist at NTAC, said: “During his teen years, the attacker was accused of stalking his classmates and he wrote stories that centered around violent themes.

“One of those stories was 81 pages long and involved the protagonist murdering several girls before committing suicide. The female characters in the story that were killed represented the attacker’s actual classmates from his high school, but he slightly changed the names in his writing.”

Beierle was arrested three times for groping women and was called “Ted Bundy” by his roommates, in reference to a notorious serial killer who targeted women.

On the day of the shooting, Beierle left a note in his hotel room that said: “If I can’t find one decent female to live with, I will find many indecent females to die with. If they are intent on denying me life, I will have no choice, but to deny them life … Their arrogance, indifference and treachery will finally be exposed and punished.”

According to the report, although Beierle did not adopt any specific ideological labels such as “anti-feminist” or “incel”, his behavior and beliefs aligned with many who do.

Another incident examined in the report is the 2014 killings in Santa Barbara, California, in which 22-year-old Elliot Rodger killed six people and injured 14. Before the attacks, Rodger lamented his inability to find a girlfriend and documented his contempt for women and interracial couples.

The report also cites the 2020 murder of the son of a US district court judge, Esther Salas, who was killed by 72-year-old Roy Den Hollander, a self-described “anti-feminist lawyer” who believed “manhood is in serious jeopardy in America”.

According to the report, NTAC research has shown no specific profile of an individual who plans or executes an act of targeted violence. Attackers vary in age, race, sex, education level, employment history and other characteristics. However, a unifying factor among most attackers is a set of concerning behaviors displayed before acts of violence.

Although the Secret Service is best known for its protection of US presidents, it has also extensively examined and implemented behavioral threat assessment programs designed to “identify and intervene with those who pose a risk of engaging in targeted violence”.

The agency noted that misogynistic violence is not restricted to high-profile incidents of mass violence.

Rather, “misogyny frequently appears in more prevalent acts of violence, including stalking and domestic abuse”. As a result, the report said, responses to threats need to be collaborative between law enforcement, courts, mental health providers and domestic violence and hate crime advocacy groups.

“The risk of future tragedies can be reduced if the appropriate systems are in place to identify the warning signs,” the report said.

Dr Lina Alathari, director of NTAC, said: “Traditionally law enforcement and other public safety officials focus on crimes … and so, if there’s no ‘direct threat’ or a criminal statute violated, they often feel that they can’t do anything.

“But what we know from the research and what we know from communities doing this successfully is that if you have a trained professional in threat assessment, in identifying warning signs and knowing what the proper resources are available … that’s when you have success stories.”

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