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07th Sep 2021

‘Not all incels are violent’: Meet the people helping woman-haters see sense

Maddy Mussen

Jake Davison posted endlessly about his hate of women before going on a killing spree. Meet the former incels helping men like him escape this warped ideology

Keith is a 29-year-old virgin. Not long ago, he was incredibly resentful of this fact. He thought the very nature of dating was unfair, blamed women for his lack of success, and hated the idea of “playing the game”. Moving out of his mum’s house, losing weight, fixing his teeth and hairline, and learning to drive were all top of Keith’s to-do list. “It felt like I had to do a thousand things in order to get women to even remotely notice me,” he says. Keith is an incel.

Men who identify as incels believe that, for whatever reason, they are being denied sex with women. They tend to blame this on their looks, society’s standards, women’s perceived tendency to choose “chads” (alpha males), anything. But usually, something that isn’t their fault. Jake Davison, the 22-year-old who last month carried out Britain’s worst mass shooting in 11 years in Plymouth, was an incel. 

But unlike Davison, Keith has found a path out of inceldom. For the past few months, he‘s stopped blaming women for everything that is wrong with his life. “Once I realised that being so negative was making people resent me, I started trying to self-improve instead.” Keith’s self-improvement plan is as follows: lose weight, speak to women more and join r/IncelExit on Reddit.

Incel Exit is a forum for people, like Keith, who got sucked into the Incel community but are now looking for a way out. It has 8,500 members and is one of the few pages directly referencing incels which isn’t banned on Reddit. It’s allowed to continue because it’s not deemed to breach the platform’s policies prohibiting content that promotes hate or glorifies or incites violence.

It also provides support to Alex*, 22, who describes himself as a “kissless virgin”. He has been part of the incel community for four years and at his lowest point suffered from suicidal thoughts. He’s getting better now, but still struggles to escape what he calls the “dogmatic hopelessness” of incel culture. “That’s not something that goes away easily,” he says. He wants to help others struggling with similar feelings of despair and anger.

“I try to discourage other incels from cultivating feelings of hatred. I’m upset that all incels end up being lumped together with criminals [like Davison]. I want to remind people that not every incel is the same.

‘Most incels are decent dudes who don’t support violence… I’m reaching out to them and saying they’re not alone’

“Thousands, maybe millions, of guys worldwide identify with the word – meaning unwillingly sexless – and the overwhelming majority of them are decent dudes who don’t support violence. By calling myself incel too I’m reaching out to them and saying they’re not alone.”

But it seems that not everyone on Incel Exit is a “decent dude” looking for a way out. Jake Davison was posting there just days before he went on to kill five people including his own mother and a three-year-old girl. In one comment he wrote: “I personally believe my scars and damage will follow me forever.” Reddit suspended Davison’s account on August 11, one day before the mass shooting.

One of the ways in which spaces like Incel Exit can help, says relationship psychotherapist Silva Neves, is because incels are likely to avoid therapy – even if they really need it. 

“When men get closer to an incel ideology, they tend not to go to therapy,” Dr Neves tells JOE. “It’s part of toxic masculinity – going to therapy is perceived as weak.”

Dr Neves believes that incels who get help with their mental health at an early stage are less likely to develop a deep hatred of women. While those that are left to sink into this dangerous ideology are likely to respond to anyone who challenges their behaviour with “anger or even violence.” 

Davison had reached this point of no return, as is clear in some of his more recent responses to posts on Incel Exit. He berates people who are looking for help and says that incels who get girlfriends will leave the incel community, become a “millionaire Chad” and never post again. He also pours scorn on the idea that therapy could help people like him feel better, writing: “Therapy is imo [in my opinion] mostly for women complaining about their relationships or body image problems, very little of therapy is really set up for young single ‘’incel’ type men.”

The first responders of Incel Exit are a mix of ex-incels like Alex* and Keith, and good natured strangers like Liam, 33 who lives in Melbourne. He spends several hours a week responding to people. He used to run workshops with troubled teens and knows how resistant young men can be to the idea of therapy, or getting any help whatsoever. “I’ve spoken to young men who were vulnerable to that sort of stuff. I would have been too at that age,” he says.

He was like, ‘I’m developing unhealthy fetishes around pornography’. That triggered an alarm bell’

Most of the men Liam speaks to are battling anxiety and depression. A few are self-harming. None have made violent threats to others. The worst experience he’s had was when someone confessed to dabbling in violent porn. “The way he worded it suggested that he was watching something hardcore and violent. He was like, ‘I’m developing unhealthy fetishes around pornography’. That triggered an alarm bell.”

Liam isn’t the only Incel Exit responder who struggles with being exposed to the twisted emotions of its posters. “Lots of incels are unpleasant to communicate with,” says 26-year-old Cam, another Redditor who helps out, “although whether that personality existed before they got sucked down the rabbit hole or not, I couldn’t tell you. They can be dismissive, egotistical, awkward or just outright hostile.”

Cam joined Incel Exit after hanging out in anti-incel groups. He started off mocking incels but then was repelled by his own bullying behaviour. “After a while it began feeling malicious, which I didn’t like. It rubbed me up the wrong way. Incel Exit is a much more understanding community,” he says.

“I was also a jerk in the past, like an anti-SJW [social justice warrior] dickhead, but I had friends who were able to pull me out. I think other people should get a second chance too.

“Most [incels] have trained themselves to assume the worst. That’s the most difficult part, because I kind of want to shake them and be like ‘your toxic brain is the liar, wake up!’” 

Cam’s learnt to disconnect his own emotions from what he experiences in the subreddit. “I can’t make them do anything. If they refuse my advice for any reason – that’s on them,” he says.

“If incels want to change, they’re better off doing it in therapy… rather than social media platforms.”

Dr Neves notes that while Incel Exit may be better than getting no help whatsoever, it has its limits. “I think peer-led groups can be helpful for some – but damaging for others. If incels want to change, they’re better off doing it in therapy… rather than social media platforms.” 

But access to therapy is still limited in the UK – NHS mental health wait times are only supposed to be 18 weeks maximum, but some patients report a wait of over six months). And in England alone, 1.6 million people are currently on the waiting list for mental health treatment. So, in the minds of those who help – this subreddit is better than nothing.

There are days where just being there, on that subreddit, instead of a darker one, is enough. Twenty-nine-year-old virgin Keith has moved his focus from r/foreveralone to r/IncelExit and rebranded himself from “incel” to “The Positive Virgin” (it’s his Reddit username now). He says things are getting better every day, and he’s making his way through the list. “Talking to women is easier now. I’m losing weight and I’m gonna go to the gym soon.” Keith hopes to meet a woman soon who might take his virginity, but, he says, “only time will tell”. 

Even when Keith is ready to close his laptop and log out of inceldom for good, Liam will remain on the other side of the screen. “You’ve got to pull them out one by one,” he says. “It’s easy to hate them, but it just makes it worse. It can be difficult to show understanding to someone with such awful views, but it’s worthwhile, because helping someone out of that mindset means there is one less incel in the world.”

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article help and support is available from The Samaritans, click here or call 116123.