The alt-right’s use of online harassment as a political tactic is one of its most distinctive and important features. In the Spring of 2016, for example, anti-Trump protesters at Portland State University were flooded with racist, transphobic, and antisemitic messages, rape and death threats, and doxxing (public releases of personal information, such as where they live and work), sent from anonymous social media accounts. And it’s not just progressive activists who get this kind of treatment. David French, staff writer at the conservative National Review, describes the year-long stream of relentless online abuse his family has endured because he criticized Trump and the alt-right:
“I saw images of my daughter’s face in gas chambers, with a smiling Trump in a Nazi uniform preparing to press a button and kill her. I saw her face photoshopped into images of slaves. She was called a ‘niglet’ and a ‘dindu.’ The alt-right unleashed on my wife, Nancy, claiming that she had slept with black men while I was deployed to Iraq, and that I loved to watch while she had sex with ‘black bucks.’ People sent her pornographic images of black men having sex with white women, with someone photoshopped to look like me, watching.”It’s no coincidence that sexual violence and the objectification and humiliation of women and girls feature heavily in these campaigns. As a tactic, alt-right online harassment is rooted squarely in the pervasive, systematic pattern of threats and abuse that women have faced online for years. This pattern of harassment, which Anne Thériault has described as “gender terrorism,” often involves threats of rape and other forms of violence, and it’s used to silence women all the time. Whether or not the perpetrators also use physical intimidation or attacks, as they sometimes do, the effects can be devastating.
A key connecting link here is Gamergate, an online campaign starting in 2014 to silence and terrorize women who worked in — or were critical of sexism in — the video game industry. This campaign took the diffuse online harassment of women and sharpened it into coordinated attacks against a series of specific women, who faced streams of misogynistic invective, rape and death threats, and doxxing. Gamergate caused several women to leave their homes out of fear for their physical safety.
The driving force behind Gamergate was the “manosphere,” an online antifeminist male subculture that has grown rapidly in recent years, largely outside traditional right-wing networks. There’s significant overlap between the manosphere and the alt-right, both of which are heavily active on discussion websites such as 4chan, 8chan, and Reddit. A number of men who promoted Gamergate — such as Theodore Beale (Vox Day), Matt Forney, and Andrew Auernheimer (weev) — are also active in the alt-right, while other alt-rightists — such as Gregory Hood at Counter-Currents — defended Gamergate as an important front in the war to defend white European culture.
Not surprisingly, the alt-right brought Gamergate tactics into electoral politics. A lot of alt-right harassment targets women — even, as Robert Evans points out, “when they’re ostensibly targeting men”: for example, when alt-rightists’ harassment of Republican political strategist Rick Wilson failed to have an impact, they started harassing his 22-year-old daughter. “[T]hey stalked her at her school, they followed her, they put notes on the door where she used to live…. they’ve got people calling the University of Tennessee saying ‘Eleanor Wilson's involved in prostitution and drug sales and all this other shit.’” The attacks on David French’s family detailed above follow a similar pattern.
Harassing and defaming women isn’t just a tactic; it also serves the alt-right’s broader agenda and long-term vision for society. Thanks partly (but by no means only) to manosphere influence, most of the alt-right declares loudly that women are intellectually and morally inferior to men and should be stripped of any political role. Alt-rightists tell us that it’s natural for men to rule over women and that women want and need this, that “giving women freedom [was] one of mankind’s greatest mistakes,” that women should “never be allowed to make foreign policy [because] their vindictiveness knows no bounds,” that feminism is defined by mental illness and has turned women into “caricatures of irrationality and hysteria.” And while alt-rightists give lip service to the traditionalist idea that women have important, dignified roles to play as mothers and homemakers, the overwhelming message is that women as a group are contemptible, pathetic creatures not worthy of respect.
This might seem like standard far right poison, but it’s actually worse than what many neonazi groups outside the alt-right have been saying about women — or at least non-Jewish white women — for the past few decades. Like alt-rightists today, neonazis have long argued that gender differences are natural and immutable, and that men and women have distinct but complementary social roles to play. For some neonazis, this means that any public political role for women is dangerous and wrong. Yet since the 1980s other neonazis have promoted a kind of racist quasi-feminism, arguing that white women have important roles to play not only as mothers and nurturers, but also as race warriors in their own right, and that white men's derogation of white women should be combated.
Tom Metzger’s White Aryan Resistance (WAR), one of the most influential neonazi groups of the 1980s, pioneered this line, sponsoring an affiliate called the Aryan Women’s League and denouncing (white) women’s oppression as a product of Jewish influence. Over the following quarter century, a number of neonazi groups, including National Vanguard, SS Action Group, and the National Socialist Movement, also criticized white women's oppression to varying degrees, as historian Martin Durham details in his 2007 book White Rage: The Extreme Right and American Politics (Chapter 6). Today, similar positions are promoted by groups such as the Creativity Movement-affiliated Women’s Frontier, which rejects the idea of male-female equality yet encourages women to become activists and leaders as well as wives and mothers, and the international group Women for Aryan Unity, which calls for “reinventing the concept of ‘feminism’ within the parameters of Race and Revolution.”
Combining white supremacy with elements of feminism traces back to at least the 1920s, when the half-million-strong Women of the Ku Klux Klan criticized gender inequality among white Protestants and recruited many former women’s suffrage activists. It’s one of many ways that far rightists appropriate progressive political themes in distorted form, from anti-capitalism to ecological awareness.
A similar kind of quasi-feminism also had a foothold in the alt-right during its early years. As I wrote in 2010, the original AlternativeRight.com featured some articles that reflected “an old school conservative anti-feminism,” but also others that “reflect[ed] feminist influence”:
“Andrew Yeoman, for example, lists ‘kryptonite to women’ among the alternative right movement's eight major weaknesses. ‘Many women won't associate with our ideas. Why is this important? Because it leaves half our people out of the struggle. The women that do stick around have to deal with a constant litany of abuse and frequent courtship invitations from unwanted suitors. ...nothing says “you’re not important to us” [more] than sexualizing women in the movement. Don’t tell me that’s not an issue. I’ve seen it happen in all kinds of radical circles, and ours is the worst for it.’” [Yeoman was then the leading U.S. spokesperson for National-Anarchism, an offshoot of neonazism that advocates a decentralized system of ethnically pure “tribal” enclaves.]As far as I can tell, such quasi-feminism is now completely gone from the alt-right, replaced by a near consensus that women should be vilified and excluded. In contrast to Yeoman’s frank acknowledgement that sexism kept women out of the movement, the Traditionalist Youth Network now argues that women have been underrepresented in white nationalist circles because by nature they are “neither designed nor inclined to develop or encourage politically aggressive subcultures.” The Daily Stormer has a policy against publishing anything written by women and calls for limiting women's involvement in the movement —in the face of criticism from women on the more old school neonazi discussion site Stormfront. And Gamergater-turned-alt-rightist Matt Forney declares that “Trying to ‘appeal’ to women is an exercise in pointlessness…. it’s not that women should be unwelcome [in the alt-right], it’s that they’re unimportant.”
Let’s hope that men like Forney continue to believe that women are unimportant — it might just be their undoing. Let’s hope they continue to underestimate women like Alyssa Pagan, one of the anti-Trump protesters at Portland State University who faced alt-right harassment and threats this past Spring:
“‘Much of the online alt-right’s assessment about my lot in capitalist hierarchy is correct,’ Pagan told ThinkProgress. ‘A person like me should be too timid and mired in shame to dare challenge such open chauvinism. Black, Latina, Trans, poor, survivor, etc. But their read of my feminist praxis as fragile is way off,’ she continued. ‘I don’t get triggered, I don’t yearn for safe space, and I don’t have anything to lose.’”
Photo credit: Charlotte Cooper, via Flickr Commons (CC BY 2.0)
Related posts on Three Way Fight:
Calling them 'alt-right' helps us fight them, November 2016
Jack Donovan on men: a masculine tribalism for the far right, November 2015
Notes on Women and Right-Wing Movements, September 2005