(TMU) — Typically when a major blockbuster film is released in the United States, warnings about the film are about its content—strong language, violence, perhaps a bit of sexual content or nudity.
But as audiences eagerly await the new Joker film, authorities in the U.S. have sounded the ominous alarm about what they fear may be in store for moviegoers flocking to theaters to catch the premiere on October 4—a possible mass shooting committed by “incels” or “involuntary celibates.”
On Tuesday, the U.S. Army confirmed that it had widely distributed an advisory to service members about a potential mass shooting during the theatrical release of Joker.
According to Stripes, a U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command was issued Monday, warning commanders at U.S. Army Fort Sill in Oklahoma that a law enforcement agency in Texas working with the FBI had uncovered “disturbing and very specific chatter in the dark web … regarding the targeting of an unknown movie theater during the release” date on October 4.
Speaking to KXAN, U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command Chief of Public Affairs Chris Grey said that the source of the original information was the Texas Department of Public Safety Joint Crime Information Center.
In the email marked “For Official Use Only” that was distributed on September 18, service members were told to be aware of their surroundings and to “identify two escape routes” when entering theaters. If a shooting is to take place, soldiers must then “run, hide, fight.”
The memo explained:
“Run if you can. If you’re stuck, hide (also known as ‘sheltering in place’), and stay quiet. If a shooter finds you, fight with whatever you can.”
Grey noted that the Ft. Sill field office sent the original memo to a “select internal group” on Monday “out of an abundance of caution to help keep our Soldiers and their families safe.”
The email also warned about the online subculture of “incels” (a portmanteau of “involuntary celibates”), reports Gizmodo. Incels are known to harbor extreme and violent misogynistic and misanthropic outlooks—including sympathies toward the “alt-right” fascist movement—and have been tied to past mass shootings, including the 2014 Isla Vista killings. Incels have also been arrested after threatening to carry out massacres.
As the military’s email explains:
“Incels are individuals who express frustration from perceived disadvantages to starting intimate relationships. Incel extremists idolize violent individuals like the Aurora movie theater shooter.”
The email added that incels “also idolize the Joker character, the violent clown from the Batman series, admiring his depiction as a man who must pretend to be happy, but eventually fights back against bullies.”
The email is a clear reflection of the anxiety felt in some quarters about a potential repeat of the tragic 2012 mass shooting at the Century 16 Theater in Aurora, Colorado in 2012, which took place at a screening of another Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises.
Twelve people were killed and seventy were injured in the incident. As the email noted, Aurora mass shooter James Holmes—along with other mass murderers—has become a subject of praise from some members of the incel fringe group.
During the Aurora shooting, Holmes was sporting bright dyed-orange hair and, according to since-debunked reports, called himself “the Joker” at the time of his arrest. However, the chief of Aurora’s police at the time maintains that “there is no evidence” Holmes ever said that.
The film, which stars Joaquin Phoenix as the DC comics villain named Joker, has been praised for its realistic depiction of the titular character rather than retreading the typical cartoonish super-villain archetype depicted in other Batman films, comics, and television series. In the film, the Joker is depicted as a sort “angry virgin,” whose turn to villainy is a result of the mockery and bullying he encounters from his peers as well as his frustration over lacking attention or affection.
However, Joker has also been defended by critics from social media personalities who have characterized the film as supporting incel culture. As the Guardian film critic Christina Newland explained:
“The hand-wringing of cultural commentators is concerned that Joker might spark copycat violence or make the character a sort of folk hero for incels. It’s a possibility … Does The Wolf of Wall Street encourage people to go out and sell bad penny stocks? Does Scarface glamorize cocaine? How different is this from blaming gun violence on video games?”