From the Alt-Right to the White House, White Nationalism and Misogyny Go Hand in Hand

Sexism and racism are deeply intertwined and mutually reinforcing—you can’t understand one without the other.

Rachel Johnson March 20, 2017

A Trump supporter at a "March 4 Trump" rally at the Minnesota state capitol on March 4. (Fibonacci Blue / Flickr)

Address­ing an audi­ence at a ral­ly in Flori­da on Feb­ru­ary 18, Pres­i­dent Trump yet again used his bul­ly pul­pit for hare­brained fear mongering:

Protecting what they imagine as the virtue of white women, white men also assert their claim on the sexual lives of “their” women.

You look at what’s hap­pen­ing last night in Swe­den. Swe­den, who would believe this?”

The com­ment gave the impres­sion that a ter­ror­ist attack had occurred the night before in Swe­den; none had.

Trump lat­er tweet­ed an expla­na­tion. Appar­ent­ly, he had been watch­ing Tuck­er Carl­son Tonight on Fox News, and his com­ments referred to Carlson’s inter­view with Ami Horowitz. Horowitz is a right-wing doc­u­men­tar­i­an whose short film Stock­holm Syn­drome” cov­ers the pur­port­ed migrant cri­sis” in Sweden.

Horowitz’s jour­nal­is­tic meth­ods have recent­ly come under scruti­ny after two Swedish police offi­cers recant­ed the inter­views aired dur­ing Carlson’s seg­ment, which alleged a steep rise in the country’s crime rates. The offi­cers told the Swedish pub­li­ca­tion Dagens Nyheter that they had respond­ed to a ques­tion about a rise in crime gen­er­al­ly, not one attrib­uted to migrants in particular.

The media has right­ful­ly used the episode to high­light how nim­bly Trump and co. use imag­ined ter­ror­ist attacks — à la the Bowl­ing Green Mas­sacre — to win pub­lic sup­port for their xeno­pho­bic policies.

But large­ly left out of dis­cus­sion of Horowitz’s Fox inter­view, indeed large­ly miss­ing from the main­stream media nar­ra­tive itself, was an analy­sis of the gen­der pol­i­tics behind the right-wing man­u­fac­tured migrant cri­sis.” In a move that has become char­ac­ter­is­tic of the far Right, Horowitz por­trayed Mid­dle East­ern and African migrants as intran­si­gent rapists, whose alle­giance to sharia law and sex slav­ery wreaks hav­oc on inno­cent (white) Euro­pean women.

Such rhetoric echoes the asser­tions made by white nation­al­ists in the U.S., led by Steve Ban­non and his Bre­it­bart sur­ro­gates, as well as the alt-right manos­phere” of blog­gers. Bre­it­bart rou­tine­ly runs arti­cles with head­lines like Europe’s Rape Epi­dem­ic: West­ern Women Will Be Sac­ri­ficed at the Altar of Mass Migra­tion” (retweet­ed by Don­ald Trump Jr. dur­ing the elec­tion) and Polit­i­cal Cor­rect­ness Pro­tects Mus­lim Rape Culture.”

Milo Yiannopou­los, the for­mer Bre­it­bart edi­tor known in part for his role in Gamer­gate, an Inter­net harass­ment cam­paign against female video game play­ers, has also fash­ioned him­self a noble pro­tec­tor of women and gay peo­ple from Mus­lim rapists. He has warned that Mus­lim immi­grants will bring lamb chops, yoghurt and gang-rape” to Amer­i­ca. Yiannopou­los, who has urged gay men to return to the clos­et, has also por­trayed him­self as a selec­tive defend­er of gay rights against the per­ceived onslaught of Islam. On speak­ing tours and in Bre­it­bart think pieces, Yiannopou­los has con­sis­tent­ly por­trayed the Orlan­do shoot­ings, which result­ed in the deaths of 49 peo­ple last June, as, in the words of one head­line, an exam­ple of the Left Cho[osing] Islam Over Gays.”

Fem­i­nists and out­lets such as The Guardian have point­ed out the racist under­pin­nings of the so-called migrant rape cri­sis, argu­ing that the far Right is only inter­est­ed in using the issue of rape to gar­ner sup­port for their anti-immi­gra­tion agen­da. But there is more to the migrant rape bogey­man than its use as a tool to advance racism and xenophobia.

Sex and White Supremacy

The South­ern Pover­ty Law Cen­ter, a lead­ing hate group watch­dog, acknowl­edges that the alt-right con­sists of a diverse set of ide­olo­gies but sees racism as its sin­gle uni­fy­ing fea­ture. The rag­tag alt-right, accord­ing to a recent report by the Cen­ter, con­verges around white eth­no-nation­al­ism as a fun­da­men­tal val­ue.” Lack­ing from the report, how­ev­er, was an analy­sis of how this white eth­no-nation­al­ism inter­plays with the movement’s equal­ly vir­u­lent sexism.

Sim­i­lar­ly, the media often ignores the alt-right’s misog­y­ny, or treats it as a foot­note to sci­en­tif­ic racism and the desire for a white eth­no-state. One of the rel­a­tive­ly few main­stream news arti­cles to focus on the sex­ism of the alt-right, Voxs How the Alt-Right’s Sex­ism Lures Men into White Suprema­cy,” described the alt-right’s hatred of women as a gate­way drug” to racism, rather than dis­cussing it as a prob­lem in its own right.

But misog­y­ny and het­eropa­tri­archy are as foun­da­tion­al to the alt-right as racism. It would be more accu­rate to say that sex­ism and white suprema­cy are deeply inter­twined and mutu­al­ly rein­forc­ing — you can’t under­stand one with­out the oth­er. When extrem­ists like Ban­non and Yiannopou­los posi­tion them­selves as the sole pro­tec­tors of white women, they are, in Emi­ly Bazelon words, reassert[ing] the country’s Euro­pean and Chris­t­ian her­itage.” But that her­itage is indeli­bly inscribed in patri­ar­chal author­i­ty — and the restora­tion of that author­i­ty is a cen­tral aspect of the far-Right platform.

The movement’s favorite term cuck­ser­v­a­tive” (or just cuck”) is a pejo­ra­tive for estab­lish­ment con­ser­v­a­tives who have been so emas­cu­lat­ed from a cul­ture dom­i­nat­ed by social jus­tice war­riors” and polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness” that they have muz­zled their own unpop­u­lar opin­ions. At the most basic lev­el, the alt-right defines itself in high­ly gen­dered terms. The move­ment sees itself as a force of detached, mas­cu­line rea­son” defend­ing the hon­or of West­ern cul­ture against the hys­ter­i­cal, fem­i­nine excess­es of liberalism.

But the cuck epi­thet also con­tains a racist sub­text. Cuck­old” has long been asso­ci­at­ed with white men who allow their wives to have sex with black men: an entire off­shoot of the porn indus­try is ded­i­cat­ed to it. In cuck­old porn, the (typ­i­cal­ly white) hus­band is humil­i­at­ed by his wife sleep­ing with a black man. The cul­tur­al sig­nif­i­cance of inter­ra­cial cuck­old­ing is pur­port­ed­ly root­ed in the addi­tion­al shame of being replaced by a racial­ly infe­ri­or black man.

The cuck” term draws from a long Amer­i­can tra­di­tion. Sex has been at the fore­front of white suprema­cy since slav­ery, and anx­i­eties about inter­ra­cial sex and rape fueled the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. His­to­ri­an Nan­cy MacLean, who explores the KKK’s gen­der pol­i­tics in her book Behind the Mask of Chival­ry, notes that by the end of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, a large num­ber of white Amer­i­cans … believed that black men had acquired an incor­ri­gi­ble desire to rape white women.” Rape alle­ga­tions against black men were the most com­mon jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for lynch­ings, and they still form a basis for racial­ly moti­vat­ed killings: In the midst of his 2015 shoot­ing ram­page in Charleston, Dylann Roof told his vic­tims, You rape our women, and you’re tak­ing over our coun­try, and you have to go.”

Beyond its obvi­ous racism, the notion that white men are charged with the pro­tec­tion” of white women reveals the patri­ar­chal val­ues upon which white suprema­cy rests. This is because alle­ga­tions of rape against black men — and the vio­lence pro­duced by these alle­ga­tions — also rein­force white women’s depen­dent and sub­or­di­nate sta­tus. Pro­tect­ing what they imag­ine as the virtue of white women, white men also assert their claim on the sex­u­al lives of their” women.

This brings us back to the sym­bol of the immi­grant rapist, which has seeped from the pages of Bre­it­bart to the elec­toral sphere. This shad­owy fig­ure played a star­ring role in the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump, who jus­ti­fied build­ing a wall between the U.S. and Mex­i­co as a vital mea­sure to keep Mex­i­can rapists out of the coun­try. In Ger­many on New Year’s Eve 2015, reports of mass sex­u­al assaults per­pe­trat­ed by refugees stirred talk of a nascent migrant rape cri­sis.” Since then, the specter of for­eign Mus­lim rapists pil­lag­ing civ­i­lized” Europe has fueled the rise of a vir­u­lent­ly anti-immi­grant pop­ulist par­ty in Ger­many, Alter­na­tive für Deutsch­land (AfD).

Scare­mon­ger­ing over sex­u­al assault has helped Steve Ban­non, Trump’s head strate­gist and one of the chief archi­tects of the administration’s Mus­lim ban, advance the idea that Islam is fun­da­men­tal­ly at odds with West­ern cul­ture. (While Ban­non him­self does not claim the alt-right label, he has con­ced­ed that the web­site he used to run, Bre­it­bart News, is the plat­form” for the movement.)

The por­tray­al of Mus­lims as rapists should not be alto­geth­er sur­pris­ing; sex between white women and men of col­or is the strongest taboo in the white supremacist’s code. Since slav­ery, rape alle­ga­tions against black men received exclu­sive atten­tion, although rape by white men against black women was much more com­mon. As MacLean observes, the dis­crep­an­cy is large­ly because rape against black women con­firmed white pow­er over all black Amer­i­cans. And because racial affil­i­a­tion is traced through the moth­er, the rape of white women, and the con­trol of their sex­u­al lives, has always been an inte­gral part of the racial puri­ty myth.

Like their fore­bears, today’s white suprema­cists jus­ti­fy their actions in the name of pro­tect­ing white women. In a viral blog post enti­tled The Case Against Female Self- Esteem,” alt-right blog­ger Matt For­ney (who has also writ­ten charm­ing posts on How to Beat Your Girl­friend or Wife and Get Away With It” and Why Fat Girls Don’t Deserve to be Loved”) warns that female empow­er­ment won’t keep women from being raped or mur­dered. In the case of an apoc­a­lyp­tic civ­i­liza­tion­al col­lapse, he says, all the Strong, Inde­pen­dent Women™ who read Jezebel and xoJane would last about five minutes.”

Pro­tect­ing women from intra-racial sex­u­al vio­lence seems to be a dif­fer­ent issue, how­ev­er. The movement’s romance with pick-up artist (PUA) cul­ture and men’s rights-style activism lends itself to a host of defens­es for sex­u­al assault. Mike Cer­novich, an alt-right media per­son­al­i­ty and men’s empow­er­ment” blog­ger, reg­u­lar­ly writes about the myth” of date rape. Have you guys ever tried rap­ing’ a girl with­out using force?” he tweet­ed in 2012. Try it. It’s basi­cal­ly impos­si­ble. Date rape does not exist.” (The New York­er reports that Cer­novich was him­self accused of rape in 2003.) For­ney has also penned many defens­es of domes­tic vio­lence— includ­ing one essay argu­ing that women should be ter­ror­ized by their men; it’s the only thing that makes them behave bet­ter than chimps.”

Com­par­ing women to chimps is not just a rhetor­i­cal sleight of hand; a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of alt-right sup­port­ers believe that women are genet­i­cal­ly infe­ri­or to men. They con­verge around a con­cept called human bio­di­ver­si­ty” (HBD). HBD is basi­cal­ly just repur­posed sci­en­tif­ic racism: Its adher­ents wor­ship at the altar of IQ, and believe the mea­sure is close­ly tied to race. Their view of race and intel­li­gence is also inti­mate­ly linked to their vision of the ide­al form of gov­ern­ment. A promi­nent strain of the alt-right iden­ti­fies as neo-reac­tionar­ies” (NRX-ers). Steeped in the tech-bro elit­ism of Sil­i­con Val­ley — the phrase was ini­tial­ly coined by com­put­er sci­en­tist Cur­tis Yarvin — NRX-ers are skep­ti­cal of the com­mon man and believe that demo­c­ra­t­ic sys­tems should be replaced with a genet­i­cal­ly supe­ri­or rul­ing class.

Unsur­pris­ing­ly, the white nation­al­ists’ plans for gov­er­nance exclude women entire­ly. This is based not only on tra­di­tion­al gen­der roles, but also on essen­tial­ist views of women as too eas­i­ly swayed by emo­tion to be fit to gov­ern. Richard Spencer, head of the alt-right think tank Nation­al Pol­i­cy Insti­tute, tweet­ed after the first pres­i­den­tial debate, Women should nev­er be allowed to make for­eign pol­i­cy. It’s not that they’re weak.’ To the con­trary, their vin­dic­tive­ness knows no bounds.”

Pseudo­his­to­ry appears to be just as influ­en­tial as pseu­do­science in bol­ster­ing this argu­ment. As Moth­er Jones has report­ed, the wide­ly dis­cred­it­ed author Nicholas Wade has a large alt-right fol­low­ing. Wade argues in his book A Trou­ble­some Inher­i­tance that there is a genet­ic basis for the so-called trib­al behav­ior” of Mid­dle East­ern coun­tries and African Amer­i­cans’ rejec­tion of mod­ern eco­nom­ic institutions.

Pseu­do­science also found its way into one of the movement’s only female-run blogs, The​NewFem​.com, where an inter­vie­wee explained that women tend to be lib­er­als and embrace racial diver­si­ty because they have evolved to have no real loy­al­ty to a tribe. If they are tak­en over they will con­tin­ue to breed with their new tribe.” Men, then, are nat­ur­al pro­tec­tors of white­ness. Echo­ing the trib­al” the­o­ry of sex­u­al dif­fer­ence, alt-right vlog­ger Col­in Robert­son put it sim­ply: Men form tribes. Women join them.”

Trump’s Alt-Right, Anti-Woman Agenda

A Decem­ber 14 pod­cast enti­tled Between Two Lamp­shades (a revolt­ing ref­er­ence both to Zach Gal­i­fi­anakis’ com­e­dy show Between Two Ferns and the alle­ga­tions that Nazis used Holo­caust vic­tims’ skin for lamp­shades), fea­tur­ing The Dai­ly Stormer’s Andrew Anglin, The Right Stuff’s Mike Enoch, and the Nation­al Pol­i­cy Institute’s Richard Spencer, exposed some of the ten­sions fes­ter­ing with­in their nox­ious ide­ol­o­gy. (Since the air­ing of the show, Enoch quit his posi­tion at The Right Stuff when doxxers revealed his mar­riage to a Jew­ish woman.)

When the con­ver­sa­tion turned to abor­tion, the two dom­i­nant strains of the alt-right — sex­ism and racism — seemed in com­pe­ti­tion. Spencer, a staunch sci­en­tif­ic racist and the self-fash­ioned intel­lec­tu­al” of the alt-right, opposed repeal­ing Roe v. Wade on the grounds that abor­tion is ulti­mate­ly eugenic.” He also com­plained that if the Supreme Court deci­sion were repealed and the legal­i­ty of abor­tion left to the states, South­ern states with high black pop­u­la­tions would most cer­tain­ly ban the prac­tice. Anglin, on the oth­er hand, favored repeal, on the grounds that it would weak­en the fem­i­nist move­ment. If you get rid of abor­tion … you would have a sit­u­a­tion where fem­i­nism just couldn’t exist,” he said.

Anglin’s sce­nario is more like­ly under the new admin­is­tra­tion: Trump has vowed to ban abor­tion and his Supreme Court nom­i­nee, Neil Gor­such, like­ly shares his anti-choice views. (Although Gor­such has nev­er had to rule on abor­tion, his oppo­si­tion to euthana­sia and assist­ed sui­cide sug­gests a pro-life stance.) One Trump admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial whose views are not in ques­tion is Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence, who favors crim­i­nal­iz­ing women who get an abor­tion. Under his watch as Indi­ana gov­er­nor, low-income women of col­or Purvi Patel and Bei Bei Shuai were charged with feti­cide for obtain­ing an ille­gal abor­tion. Even if Trump fails to over­turn Roe v. Wade, his efforts to repeal the Afford­able Care Act will have seri­ous con­se­quences for women’s health, includ­ing access to birth con­trol and pre­na­tal care.

Trump’s cozy rela­tion­ship with the reli­gious right also sug­gests that he will not be an advo­cate of LGBT rights — although it is polit­i­cal­ly expe­di­ent to say so when draw­ing a com­par­i­son between rad­i­cal Islam” and the West. Sarah Pos­ner writes in the New Repub­lic that the reli­gious right has effec­tive­ly become a sub­sidiary of the alt right, yoked to Trump’s white nation­al­ist agen­da.” In return, Trump has float­ed a draft exec­u­tive order that would dras­ti­cal­ly expand reli­gious exemp­tions and repeal the John­son amend­ment, the leg­is­la­tion that pro­hibits tax-exempt groups such as church­es or char­i­ties from par­tic­i­pat­ing in polit­i­cal cam­paigns. The like­ly result? A far more polit­i­cal­ly potent reli­gious right that will try to push its anti-LGBT, anti-woman poli­cies onto a coun­try that over­whelm­ing­ly dis­agrees with them.

The Trump administration’s alle­giance to vot­er sup­pres­sion, law and order polic­ing, and restric­tive immi­gra­tion poli­cies reveal an exec­u­tive branch ful­ly com­mit­ted to advanc­ing the cause of alt-right white supremacy.

There is no doubt that racism dri­ves the far right resur­gence in the U.S. and Europe. But to down­play the misog­y­ny of these once fringe, now main­stream, move­ments rep­re­sents a missed oppor­tu­ni­ty for the Left. At a time when con­ser­v­a­tives seek to reha­bil­i­tate Ban­non and dis­tance Trump from any con­nec­tion to the alt-right, the Left must be relent­less­ly com­mit­ted to expos­ing the extrem­ism of the far right on all fronts. Despite efforts to por­tray them­selves as nobly shield­ing women and LGBT peo­ple from the depre­da­tions of rad­i­cal Islam,” one thing is cer­tain: The dark vision pro­mot­ed by Trump and his alt-right influ­encers will only pro­vide refuge for white men.

Rachel John­son is a writer based in Chica­go. She holds a mas­ter’s degree in U.S. his­to­ry from North­west­ern University.
Limited Time:

SUBSCRIBE TO IN THESE TIMES MAGAZINE FOR JUST $1 A MONTH