Self-identified incel Alek Minassian is currently on trial in Canada for the van attacks that killed ten in Toronto in 2018. His defense? That his autism made him do it, leaving him not criminally responsible for the killings.
One of the psychiatrists testifying on his behalf argued that his thinking was so distorted by “extreme autism” that he was virtually psychotic. The other argued that Minassian was so lacking in empathy he was unable to understand that what he did was wrong.
There are several problems with these arguments. For one thing, autism is not remotely the same as psychosis. For another, despite Minassian’s lack of empathy — a trait shared by many violent criminals — he made it clear in interviews with the two experts that he does indeed know the difference between right and wrong. It seems unlikely that the defense’s logic will convince the judge trying the case.
More broadly, the “autism defense” is distressing because it essentially throws every law-abiding autistic person under the bus, suggesting some sort of innate connection between autism and acts of extreme violence that simply doesn’t exist. As Autism Canada has pointed out in a response to the defense’s arguments, autistic people are far more likely to be the victims of violence rather than the perpetrators.
In an essay on the case, autism activist Sarah Kurchak wrote
The lingering idea that autism alone can make a person violent and dangerous, and the idea that autistic people can’t experience empathy—and that those who don’t experience empathy are dangerous and incapable of caring about others in alternative ways—affects everything from the way that people treat us socially, to our employment prospects, to whether we are able to access autism testing and services at all.
Reading about the Minassian trial, I’m struck by the similarities between his lawyers’ arguments and the ways in which Minassian’s fellow incels also use autism as an excuse for their own foul ideology.
Many incels claim to be autistic, or at least on the spectrum, though it’s hard to know how many of these people are legit and how many are self-diagnosed pretenders. And while it’s likely that the social awkwardness that tends to come with autism has led to romantic difficulties for some incels, autism doesn’t explain or excuse their adoption of a hateful, misogynistic set of beliefs, or the cheering on of mass killers like Minassian and incel “saint” Elliot Rodger, or the acts of outright harassment of women and girls that some incels indulge in.
Just as there is nothing inherent in autism that led to Minassian’s rampage, there is nothing inherent in autism that leads to the so-called “Black Pill.” Pretending there is some innate connection is an insult to the overwhelming majority of autistic people, who are as horrified by incels as the rest of us.
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