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What It Means That an Incel Avoided Prison for a Terror Hoax

Malik Sanchez livestreamed himself threatening to blow up a restaurant, pled guilty to federal charges, and is now a free man

As local and federal law enforcement continue to grapple with the diffuse but dangerous threat of incel violence, a New York judge has set a sparing precedent, sentencing a young man to no more than time served in house arrest for a bomb threat he livestreamed on YouTube.

Malik Sanchez, now 20 years old, was arrested in April 2021, two months after approaching the outdoor seating area of a Manhattan restaurant and recording himself telling patrons that an explosive was about to go off. “Allahu Akbar,” he said in the video. “Bomb detonation in two, in two minutes. I take you with me and I kill all you. I kill all you right now. And I kill all you for Allah. Fuck, fuck that shit.” Several people took his statement seriously and fled in fear, while at least one person called 911. By the time police arrived, Sanchez, too, had left the area. 

Sanchez appeared to target women at the establishment, just as he previously had while livestreaming around the city. In the criminal complaint, an FBI agent with the Joint Terrorism Task Force described two earlier videos from his channel. The first features him yelling at two women on the street and making statements like: “Fuck you, you bitch. It’s ’cause of you, it’s ’cause of you that I’m a virgin — I have incel rage.” In both clips, he praises mass shooter Elliot Rodger, who was also motivated by misogynist incel ideology. The second video depicts Sanchez pretending to shoot people while invoking Rodger and haranguing women sitting outside another restaurant, telling them, “You need to know Elliot Rodgers [sic] baby.” He then followed a man who tried to intervene and pepper-sprayed him in the face, which led to his arrest for harassment, assault and possession of a weapon. He was released on bail.

The bomb hoax, however, brought federal charges that could have landed Sanchez in prison for up to five years. He pleaded guilty. Arguing that a sentence of eight to 14 months would fall within the guidelines and convey the seriousness of the offense, prosecutors pointed to his previous arrests and strong affiliation with the extremist parts of incel culture. But U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon, despite condemning Sanchez’s actions as those of a “sicko,” sided with defense counsel’s portrait of him as a “pretrial success story” for completing his GED and taking a paid internship while confined to his home, as well as working on his mental health and staying offline. This and letters from family and others attesting to his character outweighed two victim impact statements from unnamed women traumatized by Sanchez’s bomb threat:

While it’s true that Sanchez looks to be back on the right track, and McMahon’s leniency may have been sound in these circumstances, the outcome is also an unfortunate vindication of sorts for other incels, who regard what Sanchez did as no more than a “harmless prank.” On the forum, some users are celebrating his freedom (although he will remain on supervised release for three years), speculating that he played the judge “like a fiddle” by pretending to turn his life around and expressing hope that he starts streaming again. Meanwhile, they’re mocking the victims’ statements as hysterical overreaction to “just a bit of trolling,” calling them “toilets” and Assistant U.S. Attorney Kaylan Lasky, who prosecuted Sanchez, a “bitch cunt.”   

Perhaps the biggest issue, however, is the continued blurriness between the kind of malicious stunts that Sanchez pulled and the premeditation of a real attack. Rodger, the incels’ favorite martyr, claimed to have carried out “pranks” where he threw drinks on couples and women at coffee shops and squirted a group of people with orange juice from a Super Soaker. His own disturbing YouTube videos caused his parents to contact the police, who determined no grounds to commit him to a psychiatric facility — less than a month before his killing spree. There is, among this crowd and similar toxic communities, a game of walking right up to the line of criminal behavior, such that you can claim it’s all an edgy joke. It always is, until it isn’t

Sanchez effectively danced just over the boundary and avoided harsh consequences for it, which could well embolden future “provocateurs.” I can tell you this much: incels aren’t enthused by his apparent rehabilitation. They want to believe it’s a ploy: convenient cover for the next move.