Radicalization in Young Men—Spreading Awareness and Taking Preventative Steps

drawing of man in dark room on the computer

Verywell / Theresa Chiechi

Key Takeaways

  • A number of young male mass shooters are thought to have been radicalized online through forums and social media platforms.
  • The accused Buffalo shooter adopted extremist views after visiting websites associated with racism and white nationalism.
  • There are things that parents and educators can do if they're concerned about a young man potentially becoming radicalized online.

Shortly after the mass shooting in Buffalo last month, news outlets reported that the accused, 18-year-old Peyton Gendron, had written a 180-page manifesto that primarily focused on mass immigration and the so-called "great replacement" theory, and promoted far-right and anti-semitic ideologies.

Gendron had visited the discussion board /pol/ on 4chan, which has been associated with racist, sexist, antisemitic, and homophobic viewpoints, and the white supremacist website the Daily Stormer. He claimed that his views developed as a result of visiting these sites. Chat logs from the social platform Discord also contained discussions of a plan to carry out a mass shooting.

His story is just one example of how young men can be radicalized online, regardless of what state their mental health is in. Still, the individuals who fall prey to violent, hateful rhetoric are often socially isolated in some way. Parents and friends should pay close attention if they suspect someone they love is falling down a rabbit hole with potentially lethal ends.

Patterns of Violence and Online Entanglement

Gendron is not the only mass shooter to have developed similar views online. The perpetrator of the 2014 Isla Vista killings in California, Elliot Rodger, had himself written a manifesto, and was a frequent visitor to a range of forums that form part of the ‘manosphere’. This refers to a loose grouping of movements that range from promoting certain ideals of masculinity to veering into outright misogyny.

In the United Kingdom last year, 22-year-old Jake Davison killed five people before taking his own life and was found to have made reference to the incel subculture online. In 2018 the perpetrator of the Toronto van attack, 25-year-old Alek Minassian, described himself as an incel and the attack has been referred to as misogynistic terrorism.

Not enough is known about Salvador Ramos, the 18 year-old gunman who murdered 21 people in Uvalde Texas in May 2022 but so far reports from people who knew him described him as a loner who didn't have many friends. He also posted flippant statements about his violent plans on Facebook shortly before committing the atrocity.

Particularly over the last couple of years, with various COVID-19 restrictions in place, young men may be spending more time at home—and more time online.

It can be easy for young people, in particular, to fall down online ‘rabbit holes.’ It may begin with a YouTube video here or a Reddit post there, with the algorithm pulling somebody further down the road to radicalization. Even something as innocuous as a bodybuilding forum could be a breeding ground for radical views—indeed, Elliot Rodger frequented some of these sites.

Insecurity and Vulnerability

Sarah Daly, PhD, Assistant Professor of Criminology at Saint Vincent College says, "Young men, particularly those who are loners or don’t have many friends in real life may be more prone to spending time online to socialize. These boys and young men are generally not socially successful and might seek out specific spaces that could provide them with support or an 'answer' of sorts about why they have failed."

"Many times, these explanations may blame others (or society more broadly) and create a victimization and retaliation mentality rather than asking individuals to look inward to examine and improve on their own failings," says Daly.

Amy Morin, LCSW

It's normal to want to feel a sense of belonging. Individuals who struggle to fit in at school, at work, or at home, may look for a sense of community in online forums.

— Amy Morin, LCSW

Amy Morin, LCSW and Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind, elaborates, "It's normal to want to feel a sense of belonging. Individuals who struggle to fit in at school, at work, or at home, may look for a sense of community in online forums. The communities they find may have extreme views but when adopted, make someone feel part of the group."

Dr. Daly describes radical or extremist communities as hoping to "recruit" young men by capitalizing on their insecurities. From here, they provide them with the sort of support and friendship they may not have received through school or work.

What Is the Manosphere?

There’s a lot of overlap between the manosphere and the ‘alt-right’ and far-right communities. The former can include incels (involuntary celibates), men’s rights activists, pick-up artists (PUAs), and Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW).

Many predominant figures in these movements oppose reproductive and voting rights for women, and promote traditional gender roles and femininity.

The incel subculture is one that has received considerable media attention, particularly since the Isla Vista killings eight years ago. Other incels have often praised Rodger in the years since and portrayed him as a martyr. Overall, at least eight mass murders have been carried out by men who either identified as incels or were associated with the subculture.

The term ‘incel,’ meaning ‘involuntary celibate,’ has been in use for almost 30 years. However, it's been in the last ten or 15 years that the overlap between far-right groups and the incel movement has become apparent.

Alongside incels are communities like pick-up artists and Men Going Their Own Way, as well as ‘alt-right’ and far-right subcultures that are associated with if not part of the manosphere itself. 

It appears as if the Buffalo shooter sympathized with far-right views more broadly, promoting the white nationalist Great Replacement conspiracy theory. However, there’s a great deal of overlap between the far-right and the manosphere.

While these movements might be fringe, we can look at the rise of the alt-right in the late 2010s and the views expressed by many people holding positions of political power—as well as the mass shootings previously mentioned, and suggest that there are more people holding these views that we might think. But what can we do?

What Are the Signs to Look Out For?

"The simple notion of young men spending too much time online should be an indicator to parents that there may be a problem...If parents and educators can limit the time that children spend online and be fully aware of the sites that they are visiting when they are online, they can be more likely to prevent and catch any troubling behavior," says Dr. Daly.

Something else to watch out for is young men blaming other people—or groups as a whole—or their shortcomings. "This is what researchers have called 'aggrieved entitlement," explains Dr. Daly, "It’s not just that these people have been harmed socially, emotionally, and psychologically, but it’s that they are entitled to exact revenge against those who have hurt them."

Sarah Daly, PhD

The simple notion of young men spending too much time online should be an indicator to parents that there may be a problem.

— Sarah Daly, PhD

With incels, in particular, there’s certain slang used by the community. However, somebody using this slang doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re part of the subculture; much of the slang popularised by the community has worked its way into the popular lexicon.

Incels and others involved in similar subcultures may describe other men as alpha or beta males or talk about ‘taking the red pill’ or ‘black pill.’ Incels specifically often use words like ‘femoids,’ ‘stacys’ or ‘beckys’ to describe women, or ‘chads’ to describe conventionally attractive men.

What Can You Do if You Have Concerns?

If you have concerns about someone in your life – be it your own child, your student, or even a friend—and are worried that they may be vulnerable to online radicalization, there are things that you can do.

"Educators (including teachers, administrators, and counselors), unfortunately, have the daunting task of recognizing these signs amidst a variety of demands," says Dr. Daly, who highlights that this can be difficult—especially as educators may not be very well-equipped to do so.

"Schools should provide training for this type of behavior, much in the same way they are often required to train employees about suicide prevention or bullying.

"They do, however, need to identify a clear process or procedure for notification when there are concerns, and they should involve school psychologists, community mental health organizations and resources, and assistance for parents."

As well as educators, parents, and guardians can play an important role too: "So many times, parents may be too busy or unwilling to even consider the fact that their children may be susceptible to radicalization or capable of violence. Yet, in many of these instances, there were notable warning signs that parents ignored or dismissed," explains Dr. Daly.

Online radicalization is something that we can’t turn a blind eye to. As Dr. Daly says, "Communities and schools often want to think 'that couldn’t happen here', but it’s becoming increasingly evident that it can. A mere understanding of the worst-case scenario and a desire to prevent that can be helpful, particularly if parents want to protect and help their children before it’s too late."

It’s important to voice any concerns you might have—the earlier an issue like online radicalization can be addressed, the better.

What This Means For You

Anyone could be susceptible to radicalization online, but young men are among the groups particularly at risk. If you have concerns, don't keep them to yourself – by reaching out, you'll be able to protect your child and potentially other people too.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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