New Zealand's intelligence agency has investigated the threat involuntary celibate men pose to Aotearoa, including the likelihood of committing violent extremism in Aotearoa, the Herald on Sunday can reveal.
The group are known as incels and are largely heterosexual men fixated on their lack of sexual and romantic success with women.
The misogynistic belief system rose to prominence in recent years following several vicious attacks that left dozens dead in North America and Canada.
New information, released to the Herald on Sunday under the Official Information Act from the NZ Security Intelligence Service, reveals a report was completed on the ideology and the threat level those who subscribe to it pose to New Zealand.
Security manager Rebecca Kitteridge confirmed to the Herald on Sunday individuals have been investigated by NZSIS, but said that did not necessarily mean the investigations were commenced because of the incel ideology.
"Many of the individuals investigated by our counter-terrorism teams display support for various violent extremist ideologies and often have overlapping ideological motivations."
While Kitteridge said she was unable to provide the number of people identified as incels in New Zealand for national security reasons, a 2021 threat assessment document noted it was "comparatively small".
The report - Involuntary Celibates in the New Zealand Context Threat Insight - from the Combined Threat Assessment Group (CTAG), a multi-disciplinary agency led by NZSIS, said there was a "realistic possibility" the absence of a distinct Kiwi incel community was driving them to white identity extremism (WIE) ideology.
"This progression from incel to WIE has the potential to motivate individuals to mobilise to violence because of WIE's overtly violent nature."
One of the most notorious incel attacks overseas came in 2018 when 25-year-old Alek Minassian intentionally drove a rental van into pedestrians on a busy pavement in Toronto.
Ten people were killed.
Minutes before the attack he shared a Facebook post claiming the "Incel Rebellion" had already begun and they would overthrow the "Chads and Stacys" - a term used by the group to describe young, attractive people who don't struggle to find a sexual partner.
He also praised 22-year-old mass murderer Elliot Rodger, who killed six people and wounded more than a dozen others in shooting and stabbing attacks near the University of California, Santa Barbara before killing himself in 2014.
Rodger's murderous rampage, though it was not the first misogyny-based attack, soon became a rallying point for other incels.
The NZSIS document said should a New Zealand-based incel mobilise to violence, the individual would almost certainly adhere to at least one other extremist ideology.
It reported that although the majority of incels were not violent, because the online subculture regularly converges with white extremist ideology equivalents, it was likely the incel ideology could be a "gateway" extremism to violence.
"CTAG assesses the convergence of incel and WE [white extremism] subcultures could result in individuals pursuing male supremacist ideologies deliberately, or inadvertently,
being indoctrinated into violent extremist ideologies."
The group wrote that incel individuals attempting to identify a root cause or "mastermind" behind their problems routinely reproduce anti-Semitic, racist and anti-immigration rhetoric.
In their assessment, there was likely a "small number" of incel adherents in New Zealand, but they do not appear to have formed a coherent community, online or in the real world.
However, the document also said the ideology would likely remain a motivating factor for violent extremist individuals in New Zealand.
"But is unlikely to be the sole motivation for a terrorist attack."
Kitteridge said in the case of incel ideology, the NZSIS would only have an investigative interest in an individual with incel views if they also demonstrated intent and capability to carry out violent extremism in support of extremist views.
"An individual with incel viewpoints, but no intent or capability to carry out violence in
support of these views, would not meet the NZSIS' threshold for investigation."
Victoria University of Wellington PhD candidate Angus Lindsay said incels feel marginalised for failing to live up to dominant ideas of masculinity and because they are socially and sexually alienated.
"The findings of my own and other recent research suggest that incel-related violence does not only constitute the extraordinary 'lone-wolf' violence that is often associated with the group."
More often, he said, incels lash out at women and other incels through online cyber-bullying or by harming themselves.
"This type of extremist behaviour is not only confined to online spaces but is exacerbated by digital technologies. Incels are but one component of a much broader male supremacist movement."
A shared state of "inceldom" is the "central unifying narrative" that unites individual incels and forms an important aspect of the collective Incel identity.
"Incels have a preoccupation with sexual rejection, pseudoscientific explanations of 'sexual marketplaces' and the so-called 'crisis of masculinity'. This crisis narrative constructs the position of (white) men as in decline and situates themselves as a marginalised group in contemporary society. Despite holding a degree of privilege within society as typically white men and boys, incels perceive themselves as an oppressed and marginalised minority in comparison to the mainstream."
This perception that incels are an oppressed group serves as the bedrock of their shared "black pill" philosophy, said Lindsay.
"The black pill is a broad conspiracy theory that if metaphorically swallowed, awakens the consumer to the understanding that the world is stacked against so-called 'low-status' men (incels) in favour of women and alpha males due to unchangeable genetic wiring."
Through data unearthed in his own and international studies, Lindsay said it is broadly understood that the black pill philosophy simplistically categorises people into a three-tiered system, primarily based on physical attractiveness.
At the top of this hierarchy is the minority of alpha males and "desirable" women, a majority of "average-looking betas" or "normies" follow, and then a minority of physically "unpleasant" (exclusively male) incels are found at the bottom.
"Narratives that constitute the black pill often centre around a past 'golden age' – a nostalgic time of a patriarchal society where monogamy is the rule, traditional gender roles are accepted and followed, marriage is between a man and a woman, and adultery is prohibited."
While the "golden age" myths have some intersections with far-right worldviews, Lindsay said incels broadly blame feminism, multi-culturalism, and the film and media environment for representing unrealistic depictions of masculinity.
Essentially, he described men who were extremely frustrated with the prevailing system which is believed to be responsible for men's supposed economic, social and sexual alienation.
"They direct their grievances towards women who they paradoxically see as the source of, and solution to, all of their problems. When their advances are ignored or rejected, they have been known to lash out."
In most cases, this takes place within online echo chambers that are mostly frequented by other incels, but sometimes he told the Herald on Sunday this takes place in other online spaces.
"Extremely rarely, this has also taken place through offline violence – as the several instances of incel-related 'lone-wolf' violence since 2014 demonstrate."
Lindsay said people need to keep in mind that despite the shocking, unforgivable and uncommon instances of mass violence, these events also exist in an environment of permissive and normalised male aggression and violence against women.
Although incels are an extreme manifestation of misogyny, Lindsay said their harmful attitudes are not confined to the spaces that they frequent, rather they are symbolic of structural misogyny and patriarchal systems of socialisation.
"The ideology of incels is interwoven with the wider socio-political environment which discourages men to talk about their feelings and valorises instances of male aggression.
"The broader technical and social environment that allows these kinds of views to exist relatively unimpeded is concerning to me."
To his knowledge, Lindsay said, there has been very little research into incel groups or individuals in New Zealand.
"In my master's thesis I observed a few users of incel forums describe themselves as Kiwis, however, this was mostly in the post-Christchurch terror attack space. Incels claiming that they were Kiwis were discussing the terrorist's actions and providing context for their fellow incel forum users on the event."
The Herald on Sunday also requested the number of threats from people in the incel community or with incel beliefs that had been identified by NZSIS in the last five years, however, it declined the request, again as to do so would be "prejudicial to national security".
The 2020 Strategic Threats report, also released by NZSIS to the Herald on Sunday, noted while significant incel-related violence had not occurred in New Zealand, they considered it to be a potential threat.
"Due to the shared nature of incel grievances, their presence on multiple internet and social media sites, and wider hostile rhetoric concerning feminist causes, especially online," the document said.
Lindsay said assessing the composition of incel groups is difficult due to their use of pseudonyms in the public forums that they congregate on and the lack of data surveying the make-up of incel forum users.
The only data available, he said, was from unscientific community polls from late 2019 and early 2020 that attracted 550 and 665 respondents respectively, however, it's impossible to say how accurately the polls reflect the incel community.
Despite the incels commonly being presumed to be largely white, or white-presenting – in the polls in question, roughly 45 per cent are equally divided among a range of ethnic groups, Lindsay told the Herald on Sunday.
"The average incel appears to be in his mid-20s, of average height, white and European or North American. He has never had a relationship or kissed a woman."
He said the incel was deeply unhappy, probably depressed and has considered (but never had) surgery for aesthetic purposes.
"He believes that physical appearance is the most important element for his lack of romantic success, followed by his lack of social skills," said Lindsay.