The alt-right was key in getting Trump into power. But its strain of misogyny differs in sometimes surprising ways to that of the traditional Christian right
Matthew N Lyons
Tuesday 2 May 2017
One hundred days on from Donald Trump entering the White House with its help, what will the alt-right do next? The small, loosely organised movement, which has helped to revitalise far-right politics in the United States, has made skilful use of internet activism and has a receptive ear in Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon, who as former head of Breitbart News once proclaimed his network “the platform of the alt-right”. More than shaping White House policy, however, the alt-right’s greatest impact may come from its efforts to shift the political culture.
Although best known for its white nationalist brand of racist ideology, there’s growing recognition that patriarchal politics is also central to the movement. Several observers have pointed out that the alt-right advocates not just white supremacy, but more specifically white male supremacy, that the movement feeds on “toxic resentment of women”, and that sexism serves as a “gateway drug” pulling a lot of young men into it. The few alt-right women who have been profiled embrace their own subordination.
Missing from these accounts is a recognition that the alt-right is reshaping patriarchal politics. Its version of male supremacy is not just more explicit or aggressive – it’s strikingly different from the version that’s been dominant among US rightists for decades.
Consider abortion. Some alt-rightists, unsurprisingly, argue that abortion is simply immoral and should be banned. Yet many others in the movement disagree – and for reasons that have nothing to do with respecting women’s autonomy or privacy. These alt-rightists support legal abortion because, they claim, it’s disproportionately used by black and Latina women and, secondarily, because they see it as a way to weed out “defective” white babies. In other words, they support abortion as a form of eugenics. Both sides of this internal alt-right debate agree that women have no business controlling their own bodies. As Greg Johnson of the alt-right website Counter-Currents put it, “in a White Nationalist society … some abortions should be forbidden, others should be mandatory, but under no circumstances should they simply be a matter of a woman’s choice”.
As far as I can tell, the only outsiders who have responded to this discussion are Christian rightists. For decades they’ve used the “black genocide” canard in an effort to smear abortion rights proponents as racist; now they have some actual racists to go after. But alt-rightists aren’t the least bit intimidated.
For 40 years, the Christian right has been the benchmark of anti-feminist, patriarchal politics in the United States. The Christian right was the first large-scale movement in US history to put the reassertion of male dominance at the centre of its programme. Since the 1970s, it has spearheaded a whole series of patriarchal initiatives, from the campaign to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment to the self-described “biblical patriarchy” movement, which tells women they have a sacred obligation to treat their husbands as “lord”.