The dark possible motive of the Toronto van attacker

Two students comfort each other during a candlelight vigil held to honour the victims of Elliot Rodger in Isla Vista, Calif., in May 2014. Was Toronto’s van attack suspect inspired by Rodger? (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The dark possible motive of the Toronto van attacker

Like other Canadians, I was horrified upon learning of a van attack along Toronto’s famed Yonge Street this week. Struggling to make sense of it, my first question was: “Why?”

As it turns out, the attack was possibly a disturbing reprise of a similar massacre, targeting mostly women and perceptively “sexually active” men in the California community of Isla Vista in May 2014.

Facebook has confirmed that a final pre-attack post of the suspect in Toronto’s van attack is real, and was a salute to Elliot Rodger. The deranged American misogynist published his manifesto bemoaning his involuntary celibacy prior to his Isla Vista shooting and driving spree that killed six.

I wrote about that case and the earlier, lesser-known case of George Sodini in Pennsylvania in 2009 in my recent book, Murder in Plain English, and the signs that were missed about Rodger in particular.

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff walks past a board showing the photos of suspected gunman Elliot Rodger and the weapons he used in a May 2014 shooting that left six people dead. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Rodger has apparently now become, in a disturbing twist, the martyr for a larger “incel” (short for involuntary celibacy) subculture. He shot and killed himself in his BMW after colliding with a parked car during his rampage.

The Toronto case, as we know, ended differently. Const. Ken Lam was captured on cellphone video arresting the van attack suspect and doing so without firing a shot.


Read more: Why didn't he shoot? The Toronto cop who did everything right


This despite having his service weapon drawn, while the suspect pantomimed having a pistol of his own.

In fact, the suspect also announced he had a gun while engaging in what appeared to be a well-rehearsed quick draw involving a mobile device made to look like a handgun, all in a bid to have the officer shoot and kill him.

It’s what is often called “suicide by cop” and it’s a preferred ending among some of the odious and cowardly offenders out there, including lone-wolf terrorists.

Focusing on the motive

But Lam’s remarkable restraint has instead allowed the media to focus on the real subtext of this horrific rampage — the motive no one saw coming, but one with a series of disturbing antecedents that we all need to pay attention to.

While there has been a movement of late in the media to omit any reference to the name or image of mass murderers when reporting on these events, “incel” requires a conversation because it represents only the latest online movement catering to the disordered and the disaffected.

Incel has now claimed the suspect in the Toronto van attack, Alek Minassian, as its own.

It this April 24, 2018 courtroom sketch, Alek Minassian is seen, second from the left, accused of 10 counts of first-degree murder in a van attack that killed 10 people in Toronto. He’s also facing 13 counts of attempted murder. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alexandra Newbould

The devotees to this movement include those suffering from what is known as schizoid personality disorder. The biographical details emerging about the Toronto van attack suspect may fit some symptoms of this disorder.

While it sounds like schizophrenia, it’s not. In fact, unlike schizophrenia, schizoids know exactly what they’re doing. It might be best described as the closest thing to clinical misanthropy — a visceral hatred of people — as you can get.

It’s also a personality disorder, not an illness per se; in fact, it’s very rare in clinical settings, or among populations suffering from mental illness.

Schizoid red flags

As the latest edition of the DSM-5, the definitive text on personality disorders, reveals, along with a review of the literature on schizoids involved in school shootings, some of the disorder’s hallmarks and red flags:

—Disinterested in group or social activities.

—Solitary by nature, in part due to an overriding arrogance, anger at the world and sense of entitlement.

—Takes pleasure in few activities, generally solemn and inactive.

—A dull, cold affect, coupled with indifference to praise or criticism.

—Late onset of of formative life experiences or rites of passage, such as education, obtaining a driver’s licence or job and intimacy.

But while the schizoid is generally averse to sexual activity, we see a preoccupation with sex in a number of noteworthy cases. The objectification of women, an inability to distinguish between sex and real intimacy and a fixation on fantasy in the absence of real-life experiences can all prove to be a dangerous cocktail that fuels new and more violent fantasies.

This is especially the case when, for reasons not fully understood, the schizoid also exhibits psychopathic tendencies.

Many schizoids end up relegated to their parents’ basements and nurture their angry oeuvre as YouTube trolls — the same trolls who, in some unconscious manner, might have at least in part influenced Const. Lam’s decision not to pull the trigger in an otherwise justifiable shooting that day. Others take their anger into the real world.

Dark corner of the internet

With Elliot Rodger’s last will and testament published to YouTube before his massacre as a call to action, and his earlier manifesto, My Twisted World, as its script, it seems the incel is only the latest dark corner of the internet.

If ISIL has its soldiers of the calpiphate, we are possibly seeing the next iteration of deadly lone-wolf emissaries in the case of incel.

Const. Lam’s cool and measured apprehension of the Toronto van attack suspect may certainly mark the first occasion on record where a mass murderer purportedly armed with a deadly weapon was taken down with a night stick.

But Lam did more than simply refrain from shooting and using his expandable baton in order to bring about the arrest as he continuously assessed and reassessed the situation.

If the incel speculation about the accused Toronto attacker is true, the constable has left us with a living, breathing suspect who may help us to deepen our understanding of his heinous motives — and perhaps even prevent future such crimes.

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