[A Note on My Notes: As usual, this piece has a few footnotes, for both sources and additional commentary. You can click on the superscript to skip down to the footnotes, and the back button to return. If you have a WordPress account, the black header bar will block the first line, but you can probably figure it out.]
The alt-right has only recently come into the national spotlight, due to their vocal support for the election of Donald Trump. While the movement has existed since the mid-2000s as a constellation of far-right communications on Internet message boards, the first mention of “alt-right” in The New York Times wasn’t until an op-ed at the very tail-end of 2015. Discussion of their activities had previously been confined to small left fringes of the Internet. In this regard, I’ve benefitted from the deep knowledge of my close friend John Michael Colón (occasional guest poster here on the anti-fascist movement and universalist multiculturalism), who has studied the inner workings and ideologies of the alt-right and neoreactionary movements for years.
Since the summer of 2016, hot-takes on this loose social movement1 have been vaulted to the mainstream. A large subset of Americans now associate the movement with white nationalism or white supremacy.2 This is important; the white nationalist Richard Spencer coined the term as a euphemistic rebranding. However, I am deeply disturbed by the extent to which the alt-right’s hatred for women has received little to no public attention, with the movement reduced exclusively to its hatred for people of color. This is dangerous because it it serves to misrepresent the movement’s internal dynamics and sources of recruits. It also tacitly condones the most poisonous views on women’s place in society that I have ever been exposed to, perhaps second only to fucking ISIS.
Millions of readers of The Nation, Jezebel, The Guardian, Rolling Stone, Daily Kos, and many others have been instructed to insist on terms like “neo-Nazi” and “white supremacist” rather than “alt-right.” The Los Angeles Times was torn to shreds on Twitter for calling this movement “alt-right” without neo-Nazi/white nationalist context. The New York Times, The Washington Press, The Associated Press, and NPR have issued guidelines to their writers to at least provide some degree of ideological context for the alt-right, clarifying that they traffic in white supremacist and antisemitic points of view (the latter two of these publications which make no mention of sexism whatsoever). These clarifications are important, but reducing the alt-right primarily to its racism is a serious problem.3 Even outside mainstream publications, there seems to be consensus that the white nationalism of the movement is to be brought front and center, while its vicious misogyny is not to be mentioned at all, or if so, as a mere footnote. For instance, the quite extraordinary and widely circulated reading list “The Complete Anti-Fascist Reading List” makes absolutely no mention of misogyny (although there are two articles about how some fascists are embracing queerness to further their racist goals).
Consider the following from Ian Allen’s piece in The Nation:
The Alt Right is not a thing; it’s a number of things, all with white supremacy at their core. Southern Poverty Law Center categorizes far-right hate groups into 11 different categories: anti-immigration, anti-LGBT, anti-Muslim, anti-government, Christian identity, Holocaust denial, Ku Klux Klan, neo-Confederate, neo-Nazi, racist skinhead, and white nationalist.
“The word ‘Alt Right’ is repeated too much without a true understanding of the hate involved,” Heidi Beirich, who tracks far-right groups for SLPC’s Intelligence Project, told me. She is concerned that “the frequent use of the term is giving too much power to what is essentially just a rebranding of white supremacy—and the rebranding was done by white supremacists who know being called that is not good for their involvement in mainstream media.”
Note no mention of sexism; the alt-right is “just” white supremacy or white nationalism. Hate groups that hate women aren’t even a category for the SPLC.
Perhaps most unsettling to me was the one mainstream article I’ve come across that did discuss the role of virulent hatred for women in the alt-right: Vox’s piece “How the alt-right’s sexism lures men into white supremacy.” It frames sexism as a sort of gateway drug to the “real” awfulness of the alt-right, its racism. As this author would have it, the most anti-feminist spaces on the Internet—pickup artist and “involuntary celibate” (“incel”) forums—are important for alienated young men to establish community, but also expose them to racial narratives seeking the restoration of white power.4 She describes how these online communities are populated by men who “wanted to get laid and gain self-confidence… [and] boost individual male autonomy” have “found themselves embroiled in a culture war”: as if the way in which these communities provide detailed instructions on how to abuse and sexually assault women were not some kind of culture war in itself.
In this piece, the author also framed the problem of anti-feminism as a sort of back-and-forth misunderstanding between two estranged camps, while the problem of politicizing white identity remains (rightly) a clear matter of right and wrong, of basic human rights and extremism.
Of course, many feminists frequently point out that gender stereotypes about men are unfair, harmful, and need dismantling, but feminists and men’s rights activists (commonly referred to as MRAs) rarely listen to each other. “Neither side seems to accurately assess its tribalism,” he said.” [quoting a one-time frequenter of the anti-feminist and often pro-rape subreddit r/TheRedPill]
While I’m not one to deny the boundary-drawing and toxicity of Tumblr feminism,™ this false equivalence is frankly disgusting. And whether this accurately represents the author’s views or is simply a rhetorical framing to make the piece accessible and acceptable to a broader audience, it reflects a widespread sensibility that the humanity of women remains an open question. “However, nested within the alt-right’s fight against SJWs is a flagrantly radical, white supremacist element,” the Vox author writes, as if by contrast there is nothing particularly extreme about striving to turn all women into sex slaves.
The problem, in essence, is that the moral legitimacy of feminism (the struggle for women’s equality as full human beings) is treated as somehow more up for debate than racial equality. And the way the media talks about the alt-right proves it.
So let’s set the record straight. Hatred for women runs through the entirety of the alt-right movement. And it fucking matters.
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The online cesspools of particularly heinous anti-feminism are broadly classified as the “manosphere.” There are a variety of subcultures within the manosphere with different focuses. They all share in common a conviction that the quest for equal rights for women has gone too far.
The men’s rights movement is one of the key nuclei of the new America fascism. Its most prominent outlet, A Voice for Men, once assembled a wiki platform for crowd-sourced doxxing, to list women who have raped men, murdered men, allegedly made false rape accusations, or expressed “anti-male bigotry,” along with their addresses and other personal information. Although now inactive, this wiki has been used to issue mass threats of rape and violence against women who speak up on the Internet. This is typical of the men’s rights movement. The alleged victimization of men under feminist society is fetishized, and retribution is secured through making credible threats of violence at “misandrist” individuals.
r/TheRedPill is another nexus of hatred and violence against women (A Voice for Men‘s online store is also called “The Red Pill”). “Red pillers” belong to a “pickup artist” (PUA) community where men provide instruction to other men on techniques to get women to sleep with them. These techniques generally resemble emotional abuse and frequently amount to rape advocacy, by providing specific guidance on how to force women into bed with bullying tactics and date rape substances. (This is the community the Vox article characterized as a space for men to boost their self-esteem.) Beyond rapey self-help guides, r/TheRedPill and related fora engage in widespread indoctrination into a bizarre ideology of domination and reductive evolutionary psychology. Red pillers promote the idea that “everything in the world boils down to sexual strategy”: men and women are engaged in a constant struggle for sexual release (by the former) and resource security (by the latter). Despite their protestations to the contrary, women at a biological level long to be dominated by men, and by pulling the wool from their own eyes, men can recognize this and learn to seduce just about any woman in the world. Hence the symbolism of “the red pill”—in The Matrix, Morpheus offers Neo a choice between a red pill, which will reveal the truth about his existence in the Matrix that he could not otherwise see, and a blue pill, which would return him to his former life of blissful ignorance.5 Men who understand this bastardized pseudo-psychology reach a higher state of enlightenment where they can have sex with whomever they want and live their lives by an ethic of self-confident domination of others. The fascist and Nietzschean roots of this ideology are fairly obvious, and it consistently feeds alienated young men into far-right politics.
A moderator for the subreddit r/TheRedPill endorsed Donald Trump precisely because he has been repeatedly accused of rape:
When somebody accuses a powerful or famous figure like Trump of “sexual assault,” I don’t look the other way. I don’t denounce them or their behavior. Instead I run towards them, because there is no truer signal which side somebody is on, than when they’re given a bogus accusation by the establishment. This is our beacon to find allies in the war. [bolded text from original post]
One prominent figure in this movement is a man known as “Roosh V” (real name Daryush Valizadeh). He runs a well-known pickup artist blog called Return of Kings, where he advocates and provides specialized techniques for abuse of vulnerable women with low self-esteems, blocks women and homosexuals from commenting, and articulates extremist right-wing views such as the belief that people on welfare ought to be exterminated. He has proposed the legalization of rape and has described in his many books acts of serial violence he has personally committed against women that meet every reasonable definition of rape. His followers have also discussed the formation of paramilitary organizations in Eastern Europe to fight for the sexual rights of men. Roosh V describes his ideology as “neomasculinity,” which:
…combines traditional beliefs, masculinity, and animal biology into one ideological system. It aims to aid men living in Westernized nations that lack qualities such as classical virtue, masculinity in males, femininity in females, and objectivity, especially concerning beauty ideals and human behavior. It also serves as an antidote for males who are being programmed to accept Western degeneracy, mindless consumerism, and immoral state authority.
If that isn’t a neo-fascist ideology, I don’t know what is.
Related to the Red Pill are those who identify as “incels,” or involuntary celibates, who consider their sexless status as a mark of their oppression in a woman-dominated society. By refusing to sleep with incels, women violate these men’s fundamental human rights to sexual satisfaction and erode the just social order of men’s power over female sexuality.
On the reverse end are “volcels,” or voluntary celibates, who have decided to forego sexual contact with women because of their essential manipulativeness and inferiority. Too many men have been destroyed by women, with their false rape accusations, emotional abuse, and desire for respect as human beings that men should take a woman-free path in life. This is also known as “Men Going Their Own Way” (MGTOW).
One pre-2016 instance where elements of the alt-right leapt into the popular discourse was a bizarre affair labeled “GamerGate.” In essence, a controversy around a game designer who allegedly initiated a romantic relationship with a gaming journalist in order to secure better reviews for her game degenerated into organized hordes of misogynistic trolls threatening women online with rape and murder. They organized under the banner of “ethics in gaming journalism.” It became a stew of sexual hatred and doxxing so toxic that it was booted from 4chan itself, whereupon the GamerGaters regrouped in the even more extreme 8chan. Milo Yiannopoulos himself championed the online movement as one of the most important cultural struggles of the far-right. He wrote in Breitbart:
GamerGate is remarkable—and attracts the interest of people like me—because it represents perhaps the first time in the last decade or more that a significant incursion has been made in the culture wars against guilt-mongerers, nannies, authoritarians and far-Left agitators.
Social media disasters like GamerGate have provided anti-feminist fascists hands-on training in digital collective action to subjugate women and people of color who dare to raise their voices online.
The men’s rights movement organization closest to classical fascist brownshirts are the Proud Boys. They were founded by Gavin McInnes, the co-founder of VICE News (since estranged) and professional asshole. He is known as the “father of hipsterdom” and has mused his pleasure that the Hipster remains a primarily white identity. McInnes has publicly denied that the Civil War had anything to do with slavery; defended The Bell Curve, a key text for contemporary white supremacy making pseudo-scientific claims that people of color are inherently mentally inferior to whites; and advocated a complete ban on Muslims entering the United States. He has also acquired additional fame and notoriety by writing for far-right publications like Taki’s Magazine, appearing regularly on Fox News, and getting his ass whupped in a debate with University of Miami School of Law Professor Mary Anne Franks while on a Huffington Post panel about masculinity.6 The Proud Boys are an organization with chapters across the Anglophone world with the mission of re-instilling white men’s pride in their manhood and in Western civilization. They explicitly identify as “Western chauvinists” and promote an anti-feminist paternalism centered on fatherhood. Proud Boys are ranked by three degrees, which are ascended through ridiculous frat-style initiation tests.7
These chapters have the potential to morph into proto-fascist shock troops, a phenomenon for which there is building evidence. McInnes was invited to speak at NYU by the College Republicans and arrived accompanied by a large group of Proud Boys who shielded him from anti-fascist protesters and sieg heiled the crowd (when surrounded by police, of course). They have engaged in controversial debates in their closed Facebook group over the degree to which their communications should remain private should they wish to escalate their activities. In the words of one Proud Boy, “If people truly want this to be more than a TGMS [The Gavin McInnes Show] fan club, people will need to think before they speak.” A friend of a friend, an anarchist organizer in New York City, has already been jumped by a band of Brooklyn Proud Boys, who surrounded him in the middle of the night and viciously beat him. As antifa organizations escalate their tactics in the Trump era, I think we can fully expect violence between Proud Boys and leftists to spill into everyday life.
These wings of the alt-right are all reactions to feminism and multiculturalism. And I find them just as terrifying as those who come to the movement primarily through a racialist lens—perhaps more so, as more women are raped and/or killed in hate crimes and intimate partner violence every year than the number of people of color ever lynched since the abolition of slavery. But as we’ll see, there are no clear demarcations between the alt-right’s misogyny and its white nationalism, nor is it sensible to attempt to draw lines, or even Venn diagrams, between the sexist alt-right and the racist alt-right.
Is it a diverse movement? (not demographically, obviously) Absolutely. But there remain broad cross-sections of commonality. I consider three to be the most central: white identity; desire to re-establish complete male power over women; and authoritarianism, social or political (typically both), as the heart of a vision of resurgent domination. These intersect to some extent across all wings of the movement in a mutually supportive fashion.
Consider Elliot Rodger, the young man who slaughtered six people in 2014 near the UC Santa Barbara campus. He went on a murderous rampage as vengeance for women refusing to sleep with a guy as sophisticated and good and kind as himself. He was driven primarily by rage at his status as an “incel.” The perceived injustice of that status was also fueled by his racism. Rodger was disgusted that women were willing to sleep with his “inferior” Asian roommates (who were his first victims) but not him. He himself is half-Asian, and his disgust at his racial status saturates his manifesto. He wrote that, “Women should not have the right to choose who to mate with. That choice should be made for them by civilised men of intelligence.” His understanding of “civilised” is quite clearly imagined around a racial hierarchy. His repulsion at the sex lives of non-whites, his all-encompassing comparative inadequacy, and his hatred for free women are inextricably intertwined.
Consider alt-right discourse surrounding the wave of group sexual assaults in Germany by young men reportedly of Middle Eastern and North African descent on New Year’s Eve last year. A variety of alt-right message boards across Reddit and 4chan were practically gleeful. Many of these alt-right subgroups conventionally range from acrobatic condonation of rape to its open celebration. But here was an opportunity to call out feminist hypocrisy for largely ignoring or even (in some subreddits) actively suppressing discussion of the attacks, for fear that the events would be used to stoke racist and Islamophobic fears. As many feminists later rightly pointed out, these fascists have no real desire to free women from sexual assault; they were only taking up this issue because it served as a bludgeon with which to accomplish their racist goals of halting refugee resettlement. But there is another layer to this. The alt-right see no inconsistency between striving to protect white women from dark-skinned rapists and silencing women abused by white men, precisely because their worldview is structured around placing white women under white men’s control. As I have written elsewhere, right-wing thinkers are often horrified at rape not as a violation of a human being but as violation of patriarchal honor principles. The alt-right brings a racial lens to this.8
They are driven by a need to preserve or restore their ownership of “their” women, which comes under threat by sexual invasion on their turf by non-white men. The white nationalist slogan “diversity is a codeword for white genocide” emerges from this terror that white women will bear the children of non-whites, thus gradually eradicating pure whites from the Earth. There are also two versions of the “14 Words.” There is the standard slogan, “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children,” but also the alternate form, more explicitly towards the end of preserving the white male’s control over white women: “Because the beauty of the White Aryan woman must not perish from the earth.” The rights of homosexuals and the rights of women to control their reproduction are denied by fascists and white nationalists in this light: because it undermines patriarchal authority and thereby weakens the white nation through population decline and feminization of Western society’s male guardians.
Consider the viciousness of their trolling, which places them in direct discursive combat with the “SJWs” on matters of race and gender, through which their collective identity is constructed.
Consider the beloved alt-right slur “cuck.” It refers originally to a man with insufficient domination over his woman, such that she sleeps with other men behind his back. In practice and intent, it frequently also conveys a disgust for weak white men willing to submit to miscegenation and who are unwilling to use the force that is necessary to bring women and non-whites to heel.
Yes, white nationalism plays a major role in the alt-right movement, and we need to talk about the movement in a way that doesn’t obscure the fact that these guys are racist shitlords. But even more universal within the movement is toxic masculinity, and a deep hatred of women and the freedoms they’ve been able to claw back from male-dominated society. There exist self-identified alt-righters who are not in favor of a white ethno-state. There are virtually none who do not believe that women are fundamentally inferior beings. Liberal discourse’s failure to properly convey this fact is unacceptable and a dangerous abdication of the journalist’s duty.
I know I am somewhat alone on the Left in my conviction that patriarchy is a more devastating and intractable social force than white supremacy. Even if others disagree, we still need to acknowledge that misogyny is regularly ignored or subordinated to questions of racism—a matter around which there is considerably greater societal consensus, even if that is a consensus we totally fail to uphold—when condemning truly reprehensible social movements like the alt-right.
- I tend to call them a social movement rather than a political one because they broadly lacked political aims or strategy prior to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
- Though they probably can’t be counted on to differentiate these; there are important distinctions. I recommend this episode of Fresh Air for a clear and concise explanation.
- Considerably less usefully, ThinkProgress has decided to ban the term “alt-right” entirely, substituting “racist,” “white nationalist,” or “white supremacist.” Sexism, misogyny, and anti-feminism go unmentioned.
- As if white power ever truly went away.
- I’ve embarrassingly never seen The Matrix, but that’s what pop culture osmosis and Wikipedia is for.
- The full panel discussion is actually quite good, and relevant to this subject. On the panel, McInnes argued that feminism and liberation from household confinement have made women miserable, whereupon he was quickly dispatched by a law professor laughing at how dumb he is. Mary Anne Franks is a feminist legal scholar who is instrumental in passing “revenge porn” laws and who is a self-defense expert and Krav Maga instructor. In short, a goddamn hero.
- The first degree is reached by publicly declaring oneself a Proud Boy and a Western chauvinist and embracing the social consequences. The second degree is reached by having the shit beat out of you by five other guys until you can recite the names of five breakfast cereals. Allegedly, this is to develop “adrenaline control.” They also require you to quit masturbation. For the third degree, they must tattoo “Proud Boy” somewhere on their bodies. Yes, this is completely insane.
- I do not mean to characterize the alt-right as merely “traditional moral conservatism” plus racism. Their misogyny is often uniquely adapted to a post-sexual revolution context, where domination of women is advocated within a non-traditional/post-monogamist framework. Women-hating pickup artists trying to have sex with as many people as possible aren’t exactly the spitting image of Christian sexual morality. What remains unchanged across the evolving right wing is the fundamental sensibility that the place of women is to be dominated and controlled by strong men.