Warning: Disturbing content follows.
Nine hours after he used a rented van to run down pedestrians on Yonge St., leaving a 2.2-kilometre stretch of death and carnage in his wake, Alek Minassian sat in an interview room at a nearby police station and calmly explained how he planned and carried out a massacre that he hoped would inspire more acts of violence.
“I feel like I accomplished my mission,” Minassian, now 26, said when asked by Toronto police detective Rob Thomas how he felt about the 10 people killed and 16 injured.
Minassian’s video interview was submitted to court during a pretrial hearing earlier this year. It can now be published after Superior Court Justice Anne Molloy rejected the defence request for a publication ban on the interview until the start of Minassian’s February 2020 trial before a judge without a jury.
There is no dispute that Minassian drove the van and killed eight women and two men. The trial is expected to centre on Minassian’s state of mind before and during the attack.
When asked by Thomas to explain what he did, Minassian said he just started “using (the van) as a weapon.”
Thomas asked what he means by that. Minassian replied: “The vehicle collided with several pedestrians some of who are no longer alive as a result.”
When the interview began at 10:46 p.m. on April 23, 2018, the devastating extent of the worst mass violence the city has ever seen was still being realized. Minassian had been charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 15 counts of attempted murder. That was later increased to 16 counts of attempted murder.
The pedestrians killed and injured on the sunshine-soaked afternoon in North York were local seniors, university students, tourists and employees on breaks. Many who survived still have catastrophic physical and mental injuries. First-responders and witnesses continue to be haunted.
In stops and starts over four hours, Thomas, a veteran police interviewer who heads up the Toronto police sex crimes polygraph unit, asks Minassian about his motivation for the attack, how he planned it and why he chose the location and the people he killed.
The defence has not yet had the opportunity to cross-examine Thomas about the interview. Some of Minassian’s claims in the interview — including that he communicated with two mass murderers — are not substantiated in available court documents.
Minassian initially declined to answer questions but eventually opened up to Thomas, often using bizarre and detached language to describe his actions and those of other mass killers.
He described feeling a growing animosity toward women after a “crushing rejection” in 2012 and said he became “radicalized” in the violent and misogynistic “incel” (short for involuntarily celibate) online forums starting in 2014.
Minassaian said he began daydreaming about committing a mass killing in 2014 but only started planning the van attack in earnest a month before, booking the van at the start of April. He did not describe a specific reason for why he started to make a plan or why he chose the date of the attack, other than that it would be “symbolic” if it happened after his exams for his software development degree at Seneca College.
Minassian claimed that he wanted to spark an “incel uprising.”
The term incel originated with a Canadian woman who founded a group for lonely people struggling to find love but has since morphed into the self-identifier for a mainly male online community that celebrates and glorifies violent hatred of women for — in their view — rejecting them or refusing to have sex with them.
The Southern Poverty Law Center began tracking the “incel movement” as a hate ideology in 2018 and considers it part of the “online male supremacist ecosystem.”
Minassian said he did not specifically pick the intersection of Yonge and Finch to begin the attack — in fact, he said, he only knew it started at Finch because he’d heard an officer mention it. His plan was to drive down Yonge because he knew it would be busy, he said.
“I knew it would be a busy area … and then as soon as I saw there were pedestrians, I just decided to go for it.”
Eight of the 10 people killed were women, which led to speculation that Minassian deliberately targeted women, but Minassian said he just saw “all these people” and thought “it’s time to go for it.”
He only stopped, he said, “because someone’s drink got splashed on my windshield and I was worried that I would crash the van anyways so I decided okay now I wanted to do more but I’ve kind of been foiled by a lack of visibility.”
At the end of the interview Thomas asked what Minassian would say to the families of the people who were killed and injured if they were in the room.
“I honestly don’t know what I would say,” he said.
“Would you apologize?” Thomas said.
Minassian replied: “I honestly don’t know.”
The video shows Minassian wearing a white jumpsuit that covers his feet given to him by police after his clothing and footwear were seized as evidence. He is not handcuffed or restrained and sits in a rolling chair a few feet away from Thomas.
Before Minassian is brought into the small interview room at 32 Division, a short distance away from Yonge and Finch, Thomas explains that he will be interviewing Minassian in order to understand “his involvement in this incident.” He notes that the conversation “is by no means meant to offend the individuals involved in this … investigation, the families, the victims or for that matter Mr. Minassian himself or his family.”
Before asking Minassian questions, Thomas spends several minutes making sure Minassian knows about his rights, including that he can speak to a lawyer, and going over how he has been treated in the hours he has been in police custody.
Minassian refused to answer questions about any “psychological issues” or medications he may have, or about being categorized as having “special needs” in high school.
Before asking Minassian about his experiences in school and feelings toward women, Thomas questioned Minassian about his brief stint in the army and his love of videogames.
Minassian was accepted into the Canadian Armed Forces in August 2017 and assigned to the infantry. However, he only made it through 16 days of basic training before he voluntarily withdrew. Minassian told Thomas he joined the army because he “was interested in how to use weapons” and assault weapons in particular though he never progressed far enough in his training to use any.
Minassian, who described himself as a “hard-core gamer,” said firing real weapons would be different from a game like Call of Duty but that he enjoyed “violent video games” because he could let out his “violent urges into the TV screen.”
As Thomas asked Minassian about his experiences with school and with relationships, he offered up stories about his own struggles with bullying and dating while in school. They discussed how things like height and looks cannot be controlled.
“You’re not a bad looking guy,” Thomas said — one of several times he flattered Minassian in the interview.
“Thank you,” Minassian said.
When asked about his feelings toward women, Minassian began with a milder version of what he would later say. He was “sometimes a little bit upset they choose to date obnoxious men rather than a gentleman,” he said. Later, when asked if he had had an intimate relationship with a woman, Minassian said no. “I feel it’s because I’m too nice,” he said.
Minassian said his resentment toward women who date “obnoxious men” began in college. He described a “crushing rejection” by a woman in 2012 and going to a Halloween party in 2013 where he “attempted to socialize with some girls, however they all laughed at me and held the arms of the big guys instead.”
After that, he said he was “very angry” that the women would “give their love and affection to obnoxious brutes” instead of a “supreme gentleman” like himself. The phrase “supreme gentleman” is a reference to a video uploaded to YouTube by Elliot Rodger, 22, who killed six people and injured 14 others in a shooting and stabbing spree in May 2014, near the University of Santa Barbara campus in Isla Vista, California. Rodger then killed himself.
“I know he used a gun as well as a vehicle to convert the life status of certain individuals to death status … only to carry the message that incels can’t be oppressed,” Minassian said.
In the interview Minassian echoed the incel veneration of Rodger, describing him as the “founding forefather” of the incel “movement” and claimed to have communicated with Rodger online from January 2014 until three days before Rodger committed what Minassian described as a “mission.” He said he didn’t know exactly what Rodger was going to do at the time but wished him luck. When he saw the mass murder on the news, Minassian said he “felt kind of proud of him for his acts of bravery.” He said he was starting to “feel radicalized at that time.”
Thomas asked what he meant by that.
“I felt it was time to take action and not just sit on the sidelines and just fester in my own sadness,” he said.
Minassian also claimed to have communicated online with Chris Harper-Mercer. In 2015, Harper-Mercer killed nine people and wounded seven using six guns at the Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. He also then killed himself.
There is no evidence in the available court documents that Minassian actually communicated with either man.
Minassian said he met Rodger on Reddit’s r/ForeverAlone subreddit. There and on the anonymous message board site 4chan he met others who felt the same way as him but were “too cowardly to act on their anger,” he said.
Minassian explained 4chan as an anonymous online message board and said he was active in two sections, one focused on incels and the other on the alt-right. Minassian said he did personally not have any political views but enjoyed the “blunt and honest” style of the alt-right forum where misogynist and toxic discussions about women were frequent.
“We discussed our frustrations at society and being unable to get laid and we were plotting certain timed strikes … on society in order to confuse and shake foundations just to put all the … normies in a state of panic,” he said.
Minassian explained the incel belief system as people “like myself who are unable to get laid, therefore we want to overthrow the … Chads … which would force the Stacys to be forced to reproduce with the incels.” He explained that Chads and Stacys — terms used to refer to “alpha males” and attractive women respectively — think they are better than “normies” or normal people. Below that, in this hierarchy, are the “oppressed” incels.
Thomas, who sometimes accidentally referred to incels as “celibs,” asked Minassian to explain who the incels want to kill. Minassian said it was the Chads and the Stacys who don’t want to give their love and affection to incels. And while they don’t want to kill “normies” they do want to “subjugate them” by imprisoning them or reducing their “position in society.”
For the month leading up to the attack Minassian said he spent 80 per cent of the time preoccupied with what he was going to do, but “didn’t need to make any further preparations.” It was “nothing … else out of the ordinary.”
He said he only spoke about his plans on 4chan, wanting to “inspire future masses to join my in my uprising as well.”
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At 3 p.m. the day before the attack Minassian said he posted a coded message on 4chan that said there will be a “beta uprising tomorrow” and encouraged others to “follow suit” in his quest to “overthrow society.” He said a few people congratulated him and one anonymous poster replied and said he was planning a similar act in the future.
The next day, Minassian said, he followed his normal morning routine though his planned attack was “pressing” on his mind.
He said he slept well for eight hours and woke up about around 7 a.m. He checked his emails for “school related stuff” and job offers,” and then went for a walk around his neighbourhood, where he “was thinking about life.”
He returned home around 9 a.m. and played some “random” computer games on the internet to pass the time until the 1 p.m. van pickup.
Minassian initially lied to Thomas about how he got to the Ryder van rental location, claiming he’d taken the bus. But when confronted by Thomas, he admitted his father dropped him off.
Minassian said he lied so the police would not “think he (his father) was an accomplice.” He told his dad he was meeting a friend to “catch up on old times, talk.”
When questioned about why he chose a Ryder van, he said it was because he had seen positive reviews online.
He arrived at the Ryder location at 12:30 p.m. He produced his driver’s licence and paid for the rental using his Visa card., which included a $400 deposit. The Ryder employee retrieved the van and turned it over to Minassian. Behind the wheel, he tucked the paper receipt in the rental agreement folder. He didn’t bother with the walk-around inspection “because the van didn’t appear to be damaged or anything like that.”
As he contemplated that this “is the day of retribution,” Minassian said he drove east on Highway 7 and exited the ramp to Yonge St., where he drove south to the “attack location” near Finch Ave.
“That’s the only thing that’s in my mind, it’s just burning in my mind,” he said.
Before the attack he posted a message on Facebook: “Private (Recruit) Minassian Infantry 00010, wishing to speak to Sgt 4chan please. C23249161,” it said. “The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”
According to authorities, the attack started at 1:27 p.m. and lasted seven minutes.
Minassian was stopped at a red light on Yonge St. facing south and when it turned green he floored the accelerator. “I speed the van towards them and I allow the van to collide with them,” he said. “Some people get knocked down on the way, some people roll over the top of the van.”
Minassian said he continued “doing that” and only stopped “because someone’s drink got splashed on my windshield and I was worried that I would crash the van anyways so I decided okay now I wanted to do more but I’ve kind of been foiled by a lack of visibility.”
He said travelled a few blocks before turning right and, aware the police were racing to the scene, pulled over onto a sidewalk.
“I see a patrol car pull over and I hear the cop screaming at me to get out so I get out and I point my wallet at the cops and it — with the intent for it to be confused as a gun so that I could be fatally shot.”
Asked if he wanted to be killed by the police, Minassian said yes.
Minassian said he lied to the officer he had a gun in his pocket. “Unfortunately he didn’t react,” Minassian said.
Minassian said he was holding his wallet with his right hand and “when I saw that wasn’t working I reached into my pocket with my left hand and quickly pulled it out and formed my hand into the shape of a gun like this … with the hope that he would panic and shoot me, that of course didn’t happen.”
He then complied with the police order to lie down on the ground.
“I knew at that point he’s not going to shot (sic) me so I’ve lost so … I had no choice but to just get on the ground.”
He chose to surrender before he was tackled or Tasered because “if I’m going to live I’d rather not encounter a physically painful experience so I decided I have no choice but to admit defeat.”
The officer put his knee on his back and handcuffed him before placing him in a police car.
“That’s quite an experience,” Thomas said. “Not the usual everyday experience,” Minassian agreed.
The video interview was filed by the Crown in a pretrial hearing over a defence request to access two smartphones and a laptop belonging to Minassian and seized by police. The devices are encrypted and the police and Crown have been unable to access their contents.
The Crown used excerpts of the interview to argue that the devices were irrelevant to the defence and that they were concerned “for security reasons” about Minassian being able to access the encrypted devices, citing his statements about inspiring others to commit violent attacks.
Molloy ordered that the defence could access the devices under strict conditions.
Minassian’s trial is set for February 2020 and is expected to focus on his state of mind before and during the attack.
According to court documents filed in May, it is the Crown’s position that a mental health concern cannot “be gleaned from (Minassian’s) behaviour during the video-recorded statement.”
A court order was granted for a psychiatrist retained by Minassian’s lawyer to conduct an assessment of Minassian in July 2018. That report does not have to be released to the Crown unless the defence intends to call the psychiatrist as a witness during the trial.
In August Molloy also rejected a defence request for a publication ban on the video interview prior to or during the trial. The ban was opposed by a coalition of media including the Star. Molloy, however, did maintain the publication ban until Sept. 27 to allow time for an appeal and for the defence to interview witnesses.
“The people of Toronto are entitled to know what evidence is being presented at trial,” she wrote in her ruling. “This was a tragedy with a wide and devastating impact within the Toronto community and beyond. People want to know why it happened. They are entitled to know what is happening at the trial devoted to finding the answer to that question.”
Reddit, 4chan and 8chan explained
Minassian mentions two websites in his interview that operate as online discussion forums: Reddit and 4chan.
Reddit and r/ForeverAlone: In his police interview, Minassian claimed to have had online conversations with a man who went on to commit mass murder after messaging him on Reddit. The website hosts forums — known as subreddits — on almost every imaginable subject. In 2014, Minassian said he frequented a subreddit known as r/ForeverAlone — one of several related subgroups on Reddit where incels congregated. According to the Guardian, in May 2014, r/ForeverAlone had 33,000 subscribers. The subreddit, which is still active, now has 117,000 subscribers but has banned all incel content.
4chan: The now infamous message board site started in 2003 and, as Pacific Standard magazine reported, became a “dark and weird” corner of the internet, that grew in popularity and developed its own culture of memes, jokes, pranks and trolling. As sites like Reddit began to crack down on violent and hateful content, users began to shift to less controlled places like 4chan.
4chan users are anonymous and the website is now mostly associated with racist, violent, hateful content and hoaxes. It has also been connected to a number of mass terror attacks, including the mosque shooting in Christchurch and the shooting at a Walmart in El Paso.
Minassian referenced 4chan in the Facebook post he made before the attack. He claimed he was introduced to the site in 2014 by a college friend he refused to name but later said he first went onto the site the day of the mass killing by Elliot Rodger. As Minassian told the police, the site as has a number of different message boards or forums with different subjects and cultures. Two which Minassian said he frequented are:
POL: an alt-right forum. The name is short for politically incorrect — meaning, as Wired wrote, a home for “racism, misogyny and homophobia.”
R9K: a forum that became a gathering place for incels and like-minded users.
The alleged shooter in El Paso posted a manifesto to the website 8chan where the most extreme 4chan users to migrated in response to the imposition of some rules on 4chan. 8chan was closed down by its service provider in the wake of the El Paso shooting.