Projects Galleries: American Women of the Far Right
At a luncheon after she'd dressed up as a "Black Rose," a confederate widow mourning, Tara Bradley told me, “It’s not that I want to forget [slavery]. It’s not that I try to pretend it didn’t happen. I don’t. It happened, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
Much has been said and written about the “toxic masculinity” of the far right. But, when we talk about the extreme right and discuss angry white men and lone wolfs, we have a national blind spot: the role of women in spreading ideas that drive hatred. They operate as agents and symbols, justifying violence and quietly driving the radical fringes forward as they spin America’s center towards the right.
The other side of this is a toxic femininity just as invested in the idea of a whiteness as victimized, at risk, and requiring protection. Not all extremists are equally racist or equally dangerous, but everyone I spoke to contributes to that exclusionary and poisonous discourse. For some I met, their de facto membership in The Movement is a fundamental way of life, an identity, and a set of core beliefs through which everything is filtered. For others, it’s a phase, like joining a sorority during college, cosplay for racists, but with far more menacing consequences.
These portraits are of American women who are prominent far-right organizers and leaders, online and offline. The women I met with range from white supremacists to ethno-nationalists, the alt right, militias, conspiracy mongers, Twitter personalities, sovereign citizens, racists, haters, xenophobes, and all the way across the spectrum to Nazis.
These images serve to deflect from the public-facing propaganda of groups’ self presentation, the front stage of street fighting with antifa, and to show the true nature of this intermeshed “Movement.”
After all, it’s white women who elected Trump, and it was white women who, once they won right to vote, used their political experience as suffragists to become leaders in the Ku Klux Klan.
For some groups within The Movement, racism is the primary reason for their existence: they believe in myths about persecuted whites, and that genocide and race war are imminent. For others, racism underscores their actions, and is implicit but secondary to their activism. And for women in The Movement, many find meaning in providing the wombs upon which the collective future of the white race depends. Some are maternal archetypes for all the men who didn’t come home from school to milk and cookies; others are beautiful plastic Aryans peddling an illusion of availability.
Women like Amanda and Erika also do the grunt work of pro-white activism. And women like Tara and Ayla follow the time-honored tradition of bringing up racist children—that #trad lifestyle they admire so much that once included taking the family out for a day’s entertainment at public lynchings. These women present outsiders with an “acceptable face” of white supremacy, a soft, palatable point of entry with the nostalgic glow of an idealized, wishfully apolitical past. This attempt to neutralize the stigma of more overt racism makes women of The Movement valuable recruiting tools, far more insidious than skinhead thugs or robed Klansmen. To understand the radicalization of white supremacy in the United States, we need to comprehend its roots as a complex, extensive ecosystem with unexpected hubs of power.
In the aftermath of the violence at Charlottesville in 2017, many said, “This isn’t America!” But this is precisely America: from slavery to segregation, the violent reinforcement of hierarchies through lynchings to Jim Crow, mass incarceration to police brutality, nothing is more American than racism. It is built into our institutions and psyches. And nothing ensures the survival of white supremacy like denying white supremacy. This isn’t just about extremists and those whose symbols are more legible as white supremacy: this is about the way America is built on the foundation of white supremacy, and the way those at the farthest ends of the spectrum influence the middle.
It is difficult to look at the painful reality that we share this country with racist extremists. Many argue that we shouldn’t cover the far right, that it gives them oxygen and that we are better-off depriving them of a platform. The problem is they already have a platform—their own—and they aren’t going away. We must look critically at these groups and who holds power and how their ideas enter the mainstream. It’s not just about their performative hoods, but who the people in the robes are, and who is signaling more quietly but just as dangerously.
Fringe extremists like the ultra-violent group Atomwaffen pose a grave risk to public safety, but they are not the ones changing America. Women like Ayla Stewart are doing that, one white baby and one white follower at a time.
Read more about this work and women's involvement in white supremacy in my piece for the New York Review of Books.