Photo illustration by John Lyman



How People with Asperger’s are Stigmatized

It has been five years since Alek Minassian killed 10 people and injured 16 others in the streets of Toronto. When I first heard of the attack, I was mortified, but I was especially angry because Alek Minassian had Asperger’s. Shortly after the attack, it was reported that Alex Minassian also subscribed to ‘incel’ culture. I was afraid that I would get lumped in with the incel movement because I too have Asperger’s and have also struggled with dating and relationships.

For those who don’t know, the incel movement is an extremist movement consisting of sexually frustrated young men, who call themselves “involuntary celibate,” who complain about women rejecting them. As Vox explains: “Alek Minassian, the man who killed 10 people by driving a van down a busy street in Toronto on Monday, is a terrorist. We know this because he told us so. On Tuesday afternoon, Facebook confirmed the authenticity of a post in his name, in which he pledged allegiance to something called the ‘Incel Rebellion.’ This is not an organized militant group but rather an ideal developed by the so-called ‘incel’ movement — an online community of men united by their inability to convince women to have sex with them.”

For years, the incel movement was confined to the darkest corners of the web, but in 2014, a 22-year-old man named Elliot Rodger killed 6 people and injured 14 others in Isla Vista, California, but unlike Alek Minassian, Mr. Rodger left behind a manifesto titled, “My Twisted World,” along with an entire YouTube channel full of videos of him ranting about rejection and blaming women for his problems.

Unfortunately, the U.S. news media turned Mr. Rodger into a celebrity by playing his so-called retribution video posted on the day of the attack and this kind of journalism has not only given the incel movement excessive free publicity but has also inspired multiple copycat killers, including Alek Minassian who referenced Elliot Rodger in his social media posts the day of the Toronto attack.

What drives someone to commit such a heinous act? That’s the question that is on everyone’s minds every time there is a domestic terrorist attack or a school shooting. Let me tell you what doesn’t cause misogynist terror attacks: video games. Multiple studies have debunked the notion that video games cause violence and sexism, including one study from the United States Secret Service that concluded that the average school shooter plays fewer video games than the average American.

There have also been at least two studies, one from Germany in 2015, and one from the United States in 2022, that concluded that video games that feature graphic nudity and sexual content do not cause gamers to develop misogynistic views about women, contrary to what people like Anita Sarkeesian would have you believe. It is also important to note that news networks and politicians tend to only blame video games for mass shootings when the perpetrator is a young white male. They do this primarily to place the blame on anything besides the perpetrator’s race and religious affiliation.

But what really causes these people to commit such violence? Well, one factor that is present in many of these incel perpetrators’ backstories is that they were bullied mercilessly during their teenage years. Both Rodger and Minassian were bullied during their childhood and adolescent years for being different. Also, Adam Lanza, the perpetrator of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, had attended Sandy Hook Elementary as a child and was bullied at that school to the point where he would come home covered in bruises and his mother even considered suing the school. However, some activists claim that bullying has nothing to do with school shootings and incel attacks because they’re mostly perpetrated by white straight cisgender men, but revenge for bullying is the number one reason that school shooters give for committing their violent acts.

It is important to note that bullying isn’t the only factor that leads to people committing acts of violence in the name of the incel ideology. In the case of the Isla Vista attack and the Parkland school shooting, the guns used in the attacks were purchased legally and despite mass shootings becoming an everyday occurrence in the United States, Republicans in Congress are beholden to the NRA and the gun lobby, not to mention the U.S. Supreme Court is stacked with far-right judges, so the government is unable and unwilling to change gun laws.

Another factor in this equation is that Adam Lanza, Elliot Rodger, Nikolas Cruz, and Alek Minassian, all had Asperger’s, and Asperger’s people, including myself, face systemic discrimination, especially when it comes to employment as only 12 percent of Asperger’s adults have full-time jobs, and the rest are either unemployed or underemployed. Also, Asperger’s adults are often infantilized by authority figures, such as parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, bosses, priests, etc., and said authority figures will often violate their boundaries. Doctors and therapists often gaslight, berate, and belittle Asperger’s adults when they try and seek help.

Could legal prostitution have prevented the attacks in Isla Vista and Toronto? Take the Netherlands for example, where prostitution is legal and regulated. There have not been any recorded incidents of terrorist attacks committed in the name of the incel ideology in the Netherlands. The Netherlands offers their disabled citizens, including autistic people, stipends from the government for sexual services if they are unable to find a sexual partner. Perhaps if we tried something like that in the United States, then the number of incel attacks would go down dramatically.

If we have learned anything in the five years since the Toronto attack, it’s that we need to end the systemic discrimination against autistic people, that we need to put a stop to the bullying epidemic, stop turning mass shooters into celebrities, and that we need to ban assault weapons and legalize prostitution. If we don’t consider taking these actions as a country, and I fear that this kind of action is impossible right now in America because of the political climate, then incidents like what happened in Isla Vista, Parkland, or Toronto are going to keep happening. It’s high time that policymakers try something new because what we have been doing just hasn’t been working.