How Do You Deradicalise An Incel?

“Within your society, often you just don't see the wood for the trees,” explains Rottweiler. “You know, you're just so blind to sexism, because it's so around you, because it's so deeply ingrained in our society.” She was far from the only one rethinking the role of misogyny in terrorism in the aftermath of the rise of incels.

One government backed study in the UK earlier this year, Project Starlight, looked into the role domestic violence can play after pressure from author and journalist Joan Smith, who penned a book on the issue (Home Grown: How Domestic Violence Turns Men Into Terrorists). While full results are yet to be published, its early findings were stark. Almost 40 per cent of adult referrals to the government’s Prevent programme had a history of domestic abuse either as perpetrators, witnesses or victims, or all three. As Nazir Afzal, a solicitor and former chief crown prosecutor once explained it: “The first victim of an extremist or terrorist is the woman in his own home.”

But while more and more researchers are trying to put more focus onto misogyny, the authorities are less convinced. Rottweiler says officials she speaks to from government and counterterrorism forces are still largely opposed to the idea of looking at misogyny as a potential factor for radicalisation. Some allegedly felt the organisations they worked for were too sexist to properly address these issues. It’s worth noting many of these people are coming from very male-dominated, often quite sexist institutions themselves. Just in the Metropolitan police force, in the aftermath of the murder of Sarah Everard by off-duty police officer Wayne Couzens, there have been accusations of “widespread sexism” and a culture of fear for female officers. Some 2000 police officers nationwide have been accused of sexual offences in the last four years.

So while projects about specific things like domestic violence may get funding, wider studies into misogyny overall tend not to. They get labelled as too ideological. “We face a lot of resistance,” Rottweiler says. ”Because as soon as you say something like that, you're just like, ‘Oh, she's just a feminist’.”

FOR HORGAN, STUDYING incels and far-right terrorists more widely is like nothing he’s worked on in his career. “I have people calling my department chair saying that I should be deported and fired,” he says. “That kind of persistent threat. I've never experienced it as a researcher before, but it is very real.” For him, it’s an indicator of just how big these problems are becoming, and just how widespread they already are. Be it rising political extremism or even just misogyny itself, terrorists are at the sharp end of problems that affect every corner of society in different ways. In the long run, the hope for deradicalisation experts isn’t just to find a way to stop terrorism, but to help drive governments to start to deal with these much wider issues like domestic abuse and sexist violence, “everyday acts of terrorism” as one interviewee put it. But it’s a science still in its early days; prone to mistakes and in need of more support.

At the very least, in the short-term, the justification for deradicalisation for its supporters is simple; there is no other choice. There are roughly 25,000 men on the radar of police as potential terror threats in the UK. If you were to arrest all of them, not to mention breaching a huge number of human rights of many potentially innocent people, you would be increasing the overall prison population by around 30 per cent, an impossible burden. Not to mention just arresting people after they commit violence doesn’t go anyway towards preventing those attacks from happening and the loss of life that always comes with.

“We can’t simply arrest our way out of this problem,” explains Horgan. “Disengagement and deradicalisation aren’t the soft option, they’re the smart option. The sooner we realise that, the sooner we can get on with building the evidence base for doing this stuff in reality.”

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