“I feel like I accomplished my mission”: Alek Minassian’s twisted confession interview

“I feel like I accomplished my mission”: Alek Minassian’s twisted confession interview

Photograph by Daniel Neuhaus

On April 23, 2018, Alek Minassian drove a white rental cube van down a sidewalk, killing 10 people and injuring 16. It was the deadliest mass murder in Toronto’s history. What we knew then was only what he’d posted to Facebook moments before taking the wheel, a cryptic message that referenced an “incel rebellion” that would overthrow “the Chads and Stacys.” I spent months reporting on the story for Toronto Life, trying to determine how involved Minassian had been with an online community called incels (a portmanteau of “involuntary celibates”) that consists mostly of men who feel they’ve been unfairly deprived of sex with women. The anonymity of the forums where incels gather—Reddit, 4chan, incels.me—made it almost impossible to confirm Minassian’s involvement. I followed every lead, and contacted more than 100 people. If Minassian was a misogynist, I couldn’t find proof. His military colleagues, classmates and friends told me the story of a bumbling man who lived with autism spectrum disorder, struggled to fit in, loved video games and seemed utterly non-violent. “I feel sorry for him,” one of his friends told me, and he was not alone. Others told me the van attack was so incongruous with the Minassian they knew that they initially thought he was framed and now think he was goaded—that there was no way he could have done this on his own.

Not only was I the woman reporting this story, I could have also easily been one of the women walking down that sidewalk—any of us could have been. I’d spent so much time on Minassian, so much time wading through the darkness of the incel community, and I still felt like I didn’t understand what happened.

A month ago, I was in court reporting on a different story. More than a year had passed; Minassian had declined every interview request, as had his parents. I knew there was a transcript of the interview he’d given to police detectives the night of the attack, which hadn’t been in evidence when I was reporting my story. I walked down a dim corridor to the criminal intake office. I explained who I was, and asked if I’d be able to take a look at whatever was in the file. The clerk disappeared, and returned with two enormous folders, thick as bricks. Inside was information I’d been desperate to procure. I was so hungry for answers, and here they were in my hands. I sat in the courthouse, flipping pages, scanning desperately. I’d wanted so badly for the narrative to be different: more comfortable, easier to digest, easier to address. As I read, my hands began to shake. I felt sick with anger—at myself, at Minassian, at a world that allows this hatred to fester, to erupt. What I learned that day terrified me. It wasn’t as dark as I feared it would be. It was darker.

Today, a judge’s order unseals the interview Minassian gave to Toronto Police the night of the van attack. It offers the first clear insights into Minassian’s motivations, mental health and connection to the online incel community. And it’s ugly. Minassian’s delivery was dispassionate. He sounded like a 4chan board come alive. He discussed red pills (rejecting what you’ve been taught and embracing society’s harsh realities, including that men are the real victims) and black pills (the nihilistic and hopeless stance that no amount of self-improvement will make a less-than-conventionally-attractive man appealing to a woman). He referred to his van as a tool for rebellion. He talked about converting people’s “life status” to “death status”—an oddly codified reference to mass murder. Minassian refused to answer questions about his mental health or special needs, except to say that he wasn’t on any medication at the time of the interrogation. He did, however, delve into his history with women. When the detective asked if Minassian had ever been intimate with a woman, he said, “Unfortunately I haven’t.” In 2012, he asked a girl out on a date and she declined. The next year, at a Halloween party, he tried chatting up some women and they laughed at him as they held the arms of “the big guys instead.” “I was angry that they would give their love and affection to obnoxious brutes,” he went on. He found incel forums when a college classmate also active on the boards introduced them to him in 2014. He’d spent hours, up to five every day, playing video games and perusing 4chan’s /r9k/ and Reddit’s ForeverAlone subreddit. He took solace in the candour of the alt-right, and for years daydreamed about a violent attack that would help incels overthrow the men and women in society keeping them down.

Later in the conversation, Minassian admitted something striking, something that suggested this online insurgence is more dangerous and less fractious than it appears. He said he didn’t just revere Elliot Rodger, the Isla Vista misogynist and incel hero responsible for killing six people before shooting himself in the head on May 23, 2014. He knew him. They became friends in January 2014 through the ForeverAlone subreddit, exchanging private messages through the site. “We were plotting certain timed strikes,” he said. Did you ever visit him or meet him? the detective asked. “Ah, no, but I wish I could have.” Three days before the Isla Vista slaying, Minassian wished his comrade luck. When he saw the news of the massacre later that week, he felt proud. “For his acts of bravery,” he said. Minassian also struck up an online friendship with Christopher Harper-Mercer, who killed nine people at an Oregon community college in the name of inceldom a year later. The problem with the world as it moved toward gender equality, Minassian explained to the detective, was that incels didn’t get the sex they deserved. “I feel that it’s illogical to be dating such men when [women] can be dating a gentleman instead,” he said.

Three weeks before the attack, Minassian called Ryder Truck Rental and reserved a van for April 23, 2018. He wanted to finish his college courses first. He didn’t tell anyone about his plan, but he was thinking about it most of the time. He intended to go downtown, to attack there, but when he got to Finch Avenue, driving south on Yonge, and saw so many people walking, he “just decided to go for it.” He only stopped the van, he said, because someone he hit was holding a drink that splashed all over his windshield, his killing spree cut short due to poor visibility. Minassian hoped the cops would shoot him dead that day, a martyrdom by suicide. He waved around a cellphone, hoping they’d think it was a gun. But when the sergeant didn’t buy his ruse, he dropped to the ground. It would be easier to be alive without being hurt or tased, he reasoned. Near the end of the interview, at 3 a.m. on April 24, 2018, the detective asked him how he was feeling. “I’m feeling good.” And then: “I feel like I accomplished my mission.”

The interrogation lasted for hours, as Minassian laid out his methodology to the detective. He displayed a rare moment of humanity when he admitted to lying to protect his father, an out-of-work software developer. His dad was the one who dropped him off at a Starbucks down the street from the rental shop. Minassian initially told police that he took the bus to pick up the van, out of fear his father would be deemed an accomplice. (He was not.) He’d grown up close to his parents, who’d emigrated from Iraq, and he and his older brother led comfortable lives in Richmond Hill. The day after the attack, his father would sit alone and cry in the front row of a packed courtroom. When the swarm of reporters waiting outside asked if he had anything to say to the people of his city, he offered a soft, hoarse “sorry.”

In the months following the attack, I spent hours on the 4chan board /r9k/, the board Minassian told police he frequented. The posters there sounded like cartoon villains, grim infantry in a battle taking place largely in their minds. Spending hours, days and weeks poring through vitriolic posts is dissociative to the point of hallucinatory. I walked around the city wondering if the men and women I passed on the street were writing in the forums, or daydreaming about murder.

These hateful and insurgent underworlds exist, and they are growing. Here’s something that women have known and homicide statistics have shown for decades: rejecting sexual advances is, in many communities, punishable by death. As author Jessica Valenti astutely observed in the weeks after the attack: “Incels are not a community of sad men that reflect a societal problem with loneliness; they’re a community of violent misogynists that reflect a societal problem with sexism and sexual entitlement.” The incel movement is not about a few psychotic lone wolves gone rogue. It’s about how some men believe they deserve the sexual attention of women for merely existing. When the detective told Minassian he’s not a bad-looking guy, he replied with a simple, “Thank you.” Even as he sat in a room charged with 10 counts of murder, he explained that his struggles with girls were the result of him being “too nice.”

The contents of Minassian’s two laptops and mobile phone are so deeply encrypted that even a year later police cannot access them. Minassian, from his cell in a maximum-security prison, refuses to turn over his passwords. It’s a dichotomy that emerges in the layers of this story, too: his actions, so public yet inscrutable, and his feelings, locked and buried.

More critical than Minassian himself are the consequences of his actions: the people celebrating his slayings across the Internet, the 10 people who died for leaving their homes and offices and schools that day, the 16 people whose lives are irreparably changed for being on the wrong sidewalk at the wrong time. As I spoke to Minassian’s classmates, colleagues and friends, I had hoped—if there is hope in such a place—that his act was an aberration, some errant neuron misfiring, and surely that’s part of it. What his friends told me is true: that Minassian was ostracized, isolated and bullied, unable to function in the world. But I know, now, from the pages in my hands, that the narrative of Minassian as a hateful misogynist who drove a van down a busy street because he couldn’t get laid is also true. His attack was borne of a deep hatred of women, self-loathing flipped inside out, contorting into violence. And it is endlessly frustrating and horrifying that those truths can coexist—that when a person loses a tiny shred of power and privilege, they in turn arm themselves using the basest of evils they contain.