The image (and to large extent the reality) of US alt-right/far right activist groups is that they are overwhelmingly populated by men. Indeed, these groups draw on certain themes associated with “toxic masculinity”; for example, extremely conservative views on gender and gender-defined social roles. The anti-feminist Men’s Rights Movement has been a “gateway movement” for the alt-right.
It may come as a surprise that, according to the 2016 American National Election Survey (ANES), men are not more likely to have those core social feelings that underlie the current US far right (essentially, believe in the discrimination of white people). In other words there is a disparity between the right’s base (mixed gender) and its activism (male-dominated). Moreover, when you look at the biographies of women who are prominent on the far right, they do no embody a stereotype of women who stay at home t breeod babies.
Recognising the fact of women’s involvement on the far right is not to claim a feminist success story. Rather is to point to a serious danger. If the far right does begin to reflect its gender diverse base it will grow more rapidly. The feminist left, feminist women in particular, should not view the far right as immutably male-centred phenomena. Some of these people look like you.
George Hawley (Institute of Family Studies, https://ifstudies.org) analysed the 2016 American National Election Study which asked respondents for their views on three statements associated with white identity politics – on white identity, the importance of white solidarity and white victimisation. Hawley looked at the results for non-Hispanic white people. Just under 6% strongly identified with all three white identity statements.
The disaggregated statistics show some unsurprising demographic correlations. For example white identities were slightly stronger among people who had less education: 7% of people with no college degree, as opposed to 3% with a college degree strongly identified with all three white identity statements. One strong correlation was quite interesting – 10% of divorced people had a strong white identity. Of the results which were more surprising, such as no great difference in views between religious and non-religious people, there was also no great difference between men (5.24%) and women (5.99%).
At some level far right groups and self-proclaimed leaders need to recognise women – although that recognition can be, has to be, very warped. Take the far right group Proud Boys. Founded by ex-Vice Media boss Gavin McInnes, Proud Boys is closely associated with anti-feminism, is known for starting fights at political rallies and, of course, is open only to people born with a penis. Yet they felt the need to set up an auxiliary group, Proud Girls or Proud Boys’ Girls. Note, the possessive syntax, which points to an abusive culture which some women got involved in.
In July last year a Portland police officer, Erin Willey was sacked after a photo of her dressed in a Proud Girls t-shirt appeared in a local newspaper. Later it was revealed that the photo was sent to the press by her abusive ex-boyfriend. Willey claimed that she thought that Proud Boys was just a pro-Trump drinking club. Willey was not reinstated, a fact which her ex-boyfriend celebrated online. Nonetheless the story helped to get Proud Boy’s officially designated an extremist organisation by the FBI.
The “careers” of three prominent far-right women, Faith Goldy, Lauren Southern and Lana Lokteff, show up a number of contradictions.
Both Faith Goldy and Lauren Southern are Canadians who were reporters for Canada’s conservative Sun News Network; both ended up at YouTube-based Rebel Media. Rebel Media is a counter-jihadist outfit.
Goldy claims that she only became active on the far right in the run up to the August 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlotteville, when she discovered the “intellectual rigiour” of the far right. They introduced her to the idea of the “white genocide”, the idea that white people are being replaced in “their own land” which helped her make sense of her own hitherto nebulous observations blah, blah. Whether this self-serving racist nonsense was too much, even for Rebel Media, we don’t know; they sacked her.
Lauren Southern, also Canadian, but unlike the highly certificated Goldy, is a college drop-out. She started out in the ultra-conservative Canadian Libertarian Party and is now, like of a lot of far-right personalities, a YouTube star who goes on speaking tours, yet, paradoxically feels obliged to say such things as, “women are ‘not psychologically developed to hold leadership positions’.
Her most recent hate-targets have been transgender people and activism, saving migrants from drowning in the Mediterranean, and, of course, Islam (her book, is entitled Barbarians: How Baby Boomers, Immigrants, and Islam Screwed My Generation).
Lana Lokteff got her start in her husband’s media company Red Ice which specialised in conspiracy theories, and later antisemitism. Lokteff seems a bit cannier than other women right activists. She’s made it her business to try to recruit women to the movement because they are an important base. As she told one rally “It was women who got Trump elected. And I guess, to be really edgy, it was women who got Hitler elected.” (Edgy certainly, if not accurate on that point about Hitler.)
It is certainly not new or news that women have participated in far right movements, and often, in the past, recruiting children to the cause. But those movements tended to be bigger and more embedded in social institutions (e.g. the Nazi Party, or the Klu Klux Klan). What is new and significant here is the like-men roles these women play - globe-trotting, public-speaking and writing political pot boilers. At the moment these women have to walk a line between demonstrating some power and articulating the inferiority of women.
We can’t wait around for these far right activists to show us their next moves. We have to articulate a socialist feminism that ideologically confronts the hate messages of the far right, aims to unite genders and turns social alienation into a class-based fight.