On 12th August a 22-year-old man named Jake Davison killed his 51-year-old mother, Maxine Davison. He then left his house with a gun.
Just after 6pm, officers from Devon and Cornwall Police were called to a "serious firearms incident" in Biddick Drive, in the Keyham area of Plymouth near the river Tamar.
Officers arrived at the scene within six minutes. But by then Davison, an apprentice crane operator, had also shot dead a 3-year-old girl named Sophie Martyn and her 43-year-old father, Lee.
He then progressed down the street and shot two more local residents, a man and a woman. They are both being treated in hospital for non-life-threatening injuries.
According to witness reports, Davison then left Biddick Drive and began shooting at people on nearby parkland. Police have confirmed that here he shot and killed 59-year-old Stephen Washington. He then shot and fatally injured Kate Shepherd, 66, in nearby Henderson Place, before turning the weapon on himself, police have said. It is the worst shooting event in Britain since 2010 when taxi driver Derrick Bird killed 12 people in Cumbria.
Davison was a licensed firearms holder who used a legally held shotgun to carry out these killings. As things stand, the shootings are not being referred to as a terror incident but questions ought to be asked about why he is not deemed an extremist.
Why? Well, what does Davison have in common with mass murderer Elliot Rodger who, in 2014, at the age of 22, killed six people and injured 14 in a stabbing and shooting spree in California before taking his own life?
Rodger was a self-described incel (short for 'involuntary celibate'). Before he died, he uploaded a racist and misogynistic 'manifesto' and a YouTube video detailing his hatred of women and claiming that he had "no choice but to exact revenge on the society" that had denied him sex and love.
In the years that followed, there was a string of similar attacks as Rodger became something of a figurehead for the incel movement. In 2018 another incel named Alek Minassian killed 10 people after ploughing a van into pedestrians in Toronto. He expressed admiration for Rodger before his attack. In 2019 Brenton Tarrant killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. He had also published a so-called 'manifesto' full of misogyny, racism and xenophobia. Just last month, 21-year-old Tres Genco, another self-described incel from Ohio, was charged with plotting a mass shooting targeting women in university sororities.
Incel ideology is a worldview that justifies viewing women as objects and justifies extreme violence against them.
In the weeks before the Plymouth attack, Davison referenced toxic misogynistic internet ideologies which fall under the 'blackpill' movement. This runs adjacent to the 'red pill' movement, which takes its name from a scene in the 1999 film The Matrix where Keanu Reeves' character, Neo, is offered a choice: "You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes."
That rabbit hole, according to incels, is the reality that women are in charge of everything but take no responsibility for it and that men – their victims – are discriminated against and never allowed to speak out about it. This view is perpetuated on various websites and YouTube channels which make up an online network known as the manosphere. Blackpill, which you’ll also find there, is defined by academics in a new study published in the journal Men and Masculinities as the fatalistic and nihilistic notion that "it’s over" because "inferior" men have no chance of ever establishing sexual relationships with women.
Davison subscribed to YouTube channel Incel TV and had uploaded videos of himself to YouTube in the weeks before the shooting describing how he was "consuming the black pill overdose". He also uploaded videos of himself weightlifting and recorded himself explaining his frustration about being a virgin. He regularly posted about his admiration for guns, particularly models that were legal to own in the US but not the UK, and spoke of his desire to move to the US or Canada.
In spite of all of this, Jake Davison was not stopped. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, as The Times has reported, "the police are too busy to check shotgun applicants" and the firearms licensing unit that granted Davison’s shotgun certificate is manned by civilians, it was claimed this week, raising fresh questions about the process. Secondly, Refinery29 understands that, until recently, various government bodies have not considered incels and so-called men's rights activists as extremist terrorists. That may be about to change.
"The UK has one of the most robust counter-terrorism frameworks in the world. Our definition of terrorism includes an act or the threat of serious violence to advance an ideological, religious, racial, or political cause. The Terrorism Act 2000 definition is sufficiently broad to capture modern causes of terrorism, including 'incel' violence. It is this definition that is applied when determining whether specific individuals are engaging in terrorism and if incidents should be classified as a terrorist attack."
A Home Office spokesperson told Refinery29 that they couldn't specifically comment on whether this incident would be classed as terrorism.
"The government is committed to tackling those who spread views that promote extremist ideology, violence and hatred in our society, and that radicalise others into terrorism," they said.
"Whether an incident is determined to be terrorism-related is a decision for Counter Terror Police who are operationally independent of government."
The ambiguity surrounding whether incel ideology is considered extremist and their attacks deemed to be terrorism poses a huge problem, according to Callum Hood, head of research at the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH). "[Incel ideology]," he explains, "is a worldview that justifies viewing women as objects and justifies extreme violence against them."
"I can’t say why the police in this case have not judged this to be a mass shooting or a terrorist incident but there is a very strong case to be made that it should be considered alongside other forms of terrorism or extremism," he added.
"To consider it as such would highlight the seriousness of misogynistic violence, which is far more widespread than many people appreciate,” he continued, "and it highlights the fact that domestic violence is also a very strong indicator of all kinds of violent extremism, whether that’s incel violence, Islamic extremism or far-right extremism."
Hood said that if we were to label incel violence as terror and extremism it would "engage extra resources across government agencies to actually be able to address the problem in a more serious way."
Resources are urgently needed. During our conversation Hood told me about several websites (which will not be named to avoid driving traffic to them) being monitored by CCDH which have, in the last few months alone, seen vertiginous growth in their user base. We are not talking about hundreds or even thousands of visitors but tens of thousands and, in one case, over two million visits.
The team at CCDH spent last week digging into Jake Davison's presence on Reddit and other platforms, and the incel movement he was embedded in. They found several references to 'blackpill' and 'red pill' ideologies (as well as broader themes common in the incel movement). They found a conversation in which Davison referred to himself as an incel and a post in which he is alleged to have told a 16-year-old girl that "women are arrogant and entitled". He also wrote that "women's main privilege’s [sic] is that they can never fail". In another post, he expressed concern for the damage that blackpill ideologies were doing to his mental health: "I wish I never came across all this BS [it’s] just toxic negative bullshit… it also makes you feel like any self improvement you do is never going to be enough does anyone else feel this way."
Incel ideology is not niche and it is not confined to online forums. As the grim history of attacks listed above shows, it regularly spills over into the offline world. It is a cohesive political movement and unknown numbers of young men have been radicalised by it. Yet it is still not taken seriously and recognised as extremism.
Incels have killed scores of people across the world. What, one wonders, will it take for them to be classed as extremists?
Countless charities, experts and think tanks have tried to warn the government about this. In 2019 a research report from campaign group Hope Not Hate, called "State of Hate", revealed that a hostility towards feminism was feeding directly into far-right movements online. It found that a third of young British people believed that feminism was marginalising or demonising men and warned that these beliefs were a "slip road" to other far-right ideas. In 2020, Hope Not Hate published another study, entitled "Young People in the Time of COVID-19", in which they reported that half of young men in the UK believe that feminism has "gone too far and makes it harder for men to succeed".
Until the government takes incels or so-called men's rights activists and the deadly threat they pose seriously, a handful of websites (all of which make money from their existence because of advertisers willing to pay for the huge traffic they drive) will be tasked with self-regulating and proactively moderating. Which, Hood notes, isn’t really happening. I know this all too well myself. In 2019 I wrote an article which angered the manosphere and a violent video about me which incited people to abuse me online was uploaded to the internet. It took almost two weeks to have it taken down.
Incels have killed scores of people across the world. Others have posted in praise of Davison, celebrating his attack. What, one wonders, will it take for them to be classed as extremists?