This week, the town of Plymouth was rocked by news that a 22-year-old man had shot and killed five people before turning the gun on himself on a residential street.
Jake Davison murdered two women, two men, and a three-year-old girl in Keyham, sparking debate over his motives.
The gunman’s online footprint from before the attack seems to show that he may have been part of a radicalised group who consider themselves ‘blackpilled’, after he posted a YouTube video of himself saying he was ‘consuming the black pill overdose’.
He also subscribed to a number of channels on the platform – as well as forums elsewhere – for so-called ‘incels’.
These online communities have been criticised in recent years. Shooter Elliot Rodger (who killed six people and injured fourteen others in California in 2014) cited the philosophy as part of a ‘manifesto’ before his spree killing, and Toronto van terrorist Alek Minassian identified himself as an incel before carrying out the attack in 2018.
An incel is someone who defines themselves as involuntarily celibate. There are a number of communities online that are incel-adjacent, and the community is part of the so-called ‘manosphere’ alongside anti-feminism and men’s rights groups.
Viewpoints vary among supporters, but some believe that sex with women is their right, and others have been accused of promoting rape culture, violence, or misogyny.
The general outlook, however, is that to be an incel you must believe that your lack of sexual interaction is the fault of social constructs and warped standards. Statements like ‘women only have sex with Chads’ (so-called alpha males) or ‘women not choosing to sleep with me is reverse rape’ are not uncommon.
There have been a number of links over the years with incel culture and white supremacy, as well as so-called alt-right movements.
Not all incels will go on to commit violence. Not all will even espouse specifically misogynist views. However, the fact that a number of people professing to be incels have committed – or threatened to commit – atrocities has put the spotlight on the often-toxic ideology.
Black pill theory typically comes alongside inceldom and the manosphere, and is characterised by a fatalistic view of that person’s situation.
In the Wachowski movie The Matrix, the main character is given the choice of a blue pill or a red pill. Taking the blue pill keeps him unaware of the ‘simulated’ world he’s living in, while the red pill results in a new consciousness of the truth of reality.
For incels, taking the red pill means they’re aware of the perceived injustices of the world, whereas the black pill refers to the sense of unavoidability of their success – or lack of.
Those who call themselves blackpilled tend to have a defeatist attitude where they believe they are too unattractive (and that dating practices and standards are so rigid) to ever have a physical relationship.
Black pill theory essentially promotes the idea that, no matter which changes you make to yourself, your sexual capital is defined from birth and cannot be altered.
Zack Beauchamp of Vox described it as ‘a profoundly sexist ideology that … amounts to a fundamental rejection of women’s sexual emancipation, labelling women shallow, cruel creatures who will choose only the most attractive men if given the choice.’
Jake Davison’s past online activity strongly suggests that these theories may have contributed to his motives, and he’s one of a growing number of murderers who’ve been affiliated with incels and red or black pill theories.
Sites like Reddit have shut down forums dedicated to discussing these dangerous views, but users tend to simply switch to a different website or on to the deep web.
It may seem shocking to some people, but awareness of the manosphere and how these secretive communities can radicalise young people is necessary to stop it continuing.
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