Ladies' Night at the Alt-right: Meet the Women Trying to Soften the White Nationalist Movement

Up to 20 percent of the so-called alt-right are women. They are adopting more traditional gender roles while being seen as champions of a less aggressively racist voice

Clockwise from top left: Brittany Pettibone, Lana Lokteff, Elizabeth Tyler, 1922, and Lauren Southern.
Wikimedia Commons / Brittany Pettibone, Screenshot from YouTube/Red Ice TV, Wikimedia Commons / The Washington Times, Lauren Southern

NEW YORK — When U.S. President Donald Trump placed the blame on “both sides” of the Charlottesville rally in August, where white supremacists faced counterprotesters, he called the participants “bad dudes.”

But not only men were part of the demonstration, aiming to keep Robert E. Lee’s statue in place. Historically, women joined white nationalist movements dating back to the 19th century and peaking in the United States in 1920, right after women won the right to vote.

These days, up to 20 percent of the so-called alt-right are women, according to George Hawley, author of the new book “Making Sense of the Alt-Right.”

Some of these women choose to be less vocal than their male counterparts. “The far right is a misogynistic political space where female voices aren’t always welcome or encouraged,” Seyward Darby, who writes on the subject and has met women of the movement, told Haaretz.

As she puts it, “Women on the far-right often see their most important roles as being behind the scenes, focused on family and home, on perpetuating the white race by having babies and inculcating them with a certain zeitgeist.”

Women who voice their ideology indeed support this “stand by your man and family” agenda. “Rising from the shattered promises of feminism, [women] have awoken to stand beside their brothers, partners, husbands, and children, to reclaim their destiny as women and as Europeans,” Cecilia Davenport, an alt-right blogger, wrote in a post.

Women’s relationship with a racist form of nationalism was enhanced nearly a century ago, as part of the Ku Klux Klan. A leader of the movement, Elizabeth Tyler, helped expand the group’s racism against blacks to include “Catholics, Jews, nonwhites, Bolsheviks, and immigrants,” according to sociologist Kathleen Blee’s 1991 book “Women of the Klan: Racism and Gender in the 1920s.”

File photo: White nationalists march in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia, August 12, 2017.
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

But Tyler was pushed out after male members felt that their gender domination was threatened. Women of the Ku Klux Klan thus formed in 1923 in Little Rock, Arkansas; it had 500,000 members across the nation by 1925.

Using phrases like “pure womanhood” and “American women,” they advertised and recruited women to a somewhat conflicting agenda: gender equality for white Protestants in politics, work and wages, while promoting traditional right-wing politics and fighting against minorities and immigrants.

The WKKK disbanded by 1930, but like-minded women remained involved in groups such as the pro-Nazi German American Bund. The modern wave reemerged in the 1980s, largely motivated by economic strife.

‘White women got Trump elected’

Today, some women view themselves as part of “a repurposing and expansion of white feminism to explicitly serve white supremacy,” according to Netherlands-based writer Flavia Dzodan. “As part of this expansion, women like Megyn Kelly or Ivanka Trump are lauded as feminists advancing the cause of women’s equality, even though they both support extreme right and racist ideologies,” Dzodan has written.

Social media and wide publication platforms allow new opinion-shapers to emerge.

Lana Lokteff is considered one of the most prominent women in the alt-right movement. “It was white women who got Trump elected and I guess, to be really edgy, it was also white women who got Hitler elected,” she said to a cheering crowd in Stockholm, Sweden, in February.

Echoing Trump, Lokteff said in her speech that women are flocking to the right because “all the girls are starting to like the bad boy who’s the nationalist.”

American-born Lokteff, who identifies as “ethnically Russian,” anchors programs on Red Ice, a white nationalist media platform she produces with her husband, Henrik Palmgren, who is also the media director of Richard Spencer’s AltRight Corporation, which seeks to tighten ties between alt-right groups in North America and Europe.

“We whites could be a minority in our own countries very quickly,” Lokteff recently warned her 150,000 subscribers on the Red Ice YouTube channel.

Lokteff, who questions the Holocaust and mass killings of Native Americans, frequently hosts Holocaust deniers on her show. She has said in an interview that this doesn’t mean she hates Jews, but merely that “this many Jews didn’t die, alright?”

She also takes to social media not only to promote her agenda, but to attack anyone she feels threatens it, including women who speak up against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, the subject of dozens of sexual-harassment allegations. “Rose McGowan Shifting Blame from #Weinstein to #Trump and Men. I met Rose in LA once, she was awful,” Lokteff tweeted.

No more fighting nature

Adopting more traditional gender roles and largely opposing feminism are the core of some of the alt-right women’s ideologies. “There’s nothing that has made me feel more empowered in my life than supporting and being supported by a strong man,” Davenport, the alt-right blogger, told The Economist.

“I think that men and women are better off when we stop fighting nature and allow our distinct identities to shine through, working together as a team. Again: just like race is real, biology is real. Why do so many fight it?”

Darby says alt-right women she has met with insist that a traditional viewpoint is, in fact, empowering. “They argue that progressive ideas of women’s liberation insist that women need to be more like men, and vice versa, which they see as diminishing women’s singular potential in civilizational development,” Darby says.

In an hour-long YouTube segment called “How Feminism Made Women Unhappy,” three young women including Lauren Southern discussed their views. “Traditionalism offers a lot of stability in people’s life, it offers a guide for how to lead them to the happiest life,” said Southern, who recently published the book “Barbarians: How Baby Boomers, Immigrants, and Islam Screwed My Generation.”

British-born Tara McCarthy, now living in the United States, replied: “A lot of information is hidden from girls and women. I know so many women who were absolutely shocked when they found out that fertility was going to decline after age 35. They thought they could have a career until they’re 40 or something. It doesn’t really work that way.”

Together with YouTuber Brittany Pettibone, the three go on to advocate for women to have fewer sexual partners, with Southern saying the left holds “a cultural Marxist agenda that wants to destroy the family.”

These YouTube personalities and video bloggers have made strides creating an audience. “There are advantages to having women as the public face of the movement, to make it seem a bit more normal and less threatening, perhaps contrary to the stereotypes of white nationalists,” Hawley says.

Younger far-right women are joining heritage organizations such as the League of the South and United Daughters of the Confederacy. Established in 1894, UDC is dedicated to memorializing the men who fought to maintain slavery in the United States.

On its website, the organization takes pride in securing the funds to build the Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. The monument, decorated by six vignettes, includes “a black slave following his young master” as the cemetery’s website puts it.

But the new wave of white nationalism is mostly appealing to younger audiences. The alt-right’s “style and tone are aimed at the disinfected millennial,” Hawley says. “Over a certain age people won’t even understand the troll and meme culture.”

And when it comes to some of the prominent women, they feel comfortable to openly reveal their names and faces, building a base of fans who see them as a sane, less aggressively racist voice.

To a significant extent, the movement is also trying to avoid the 1990s aesthetic of skinheads and gangs, which was considered largely ineffectual, Hawley says. It’s the alt-right’s appeal to mainstream and normalcy that has been deemed most powerful, and women are there in the helm to do just that.