Within the radical right, men have always out-numbered women; I was one of those women for five years of my life.
In 2012 I began disengaging from the extremist underground and I would love to be able to say that I made a clean break over night, however I would be lying through my teeth.
From the outside looking in, my childhood seemed perfect. I grew up in a middle-class family with my father, mother and younger brother. Beyond the surface, I encountered toxicity from my grand father. Interestingly he is originally from England and fought in WW2. One would assume he would have taken a more direct opposition to fascism, however many of his remarks mirrored what I would hear later on in the far- right circles. On many occasions, he would tell me that Black history month was racist towards white people. I would regularly hear the N-word used and took the hint that if I ever brought home a person of colour or another woman, I would be disowned. Additionally I experienced body shaming from him in my early teens. I tried crash dieting, however it did not end very well. Within a few years I was able to shed the weight, however my low opinion of myself still remained.
I picked up bass guitar when I was 14 years old after a summer at band camp and shortly after found heavy metal music. Metal had this comforting effect on me and became my safe haven. I could often be found trying to do power slides across my bedroom floor with my bass in hand and the amp volume at full tilt. To this day, it still amazes me how a second hand squire precision bass kept me from going off the deep end at this point in my teenage years; I could always fall back on it.
I was 16 years old when my father passed away after a 9 year battle with leukemia. He spent 6 long months in chemo therapy fighting for a second chance at life and actually had no traces of the cancer by the time the second round of chemo was complete; unfortunately septic shock from the treatments killed him at the very end. I was close to him and was left with this huge void. He was my source of stability and after his passing I felt I no longer had a place within my own family.
I started binge drinking shortly after his death as an escape. I was still deep into the heavy metal scene, however I didn’t feel it was enough to fill the void of loosing someone that close to me; I felt I needed something more.
My entry into the movement started similarly to any of the men’s stories. I met the individual who recruited me into the extremist underground on an online platform dedicated to death metal music fans. I received a message one day from an unfamiliar profile asking me “I was wondering if you are NS or just listen to NSBM?”. I responded, not wanting to sound stupid and said “I’m not NS, just listen to NSBM”. I didn’t know what he was talking about, so assumed NSBM was just a sub-genre of black metal.
I struck up a conversation with this person and gave him a list of all the black metal bands I liked. He later asked me what my heritage was and I told him what I knew of at the time; English, Irish and Italian. I withheld the fact that I didn’t know anything about one of my grandparents. He said “that’s a fine European background… I hope you’re northern Italian by the way, as I do not consider southern Italians to be pure enough”. I said nothing in response to that, wondering why this guy was so interested in my heritage. I later received more friend requests on facebook from friends of his, asking me the same questions. Still they seemed friendly enough to me and I never really had people take such an interest in getting to know me before this, despite what they were asking.
Our online interactions soon turned into in person meetings. In an effort to demonstrate this white genocide notion, he took me through the more diverse neighbourhoods of Toronto. It was easy for him to tell me that the white race was going extinct while walking through one of these places.
The fear mongering became a little more gender specific within a short amount of time. It’s very common for female members to be exposed to fear based tactics that involve threats of sexual assault. I often heard “immigrants and minorities are out to steal our women and they want to get in your pants. You don’t actually matter to them, they’re trying to groom you”. This essentially sent me the message that I needed this group for protection.
Every time I heard this, it brought me back to this same place of raw fear from a traumatic encounter I once had where someone tried to sexually assault me. I defended myself, however, I still walked around with paralyzing fear that it could happen again. The individual was white, but that didn’t make a difference to me as he was not a member of the group, hence I felt that this close knit circle was the only thing I could trust.
I would go on to adhere to this hateful rhetoric, constantly replaying all my negative life experiences thus far and relating it to the propaganda I was teaching myself. The first gang I was affiliated with had very loose expectations when it came to gender roles; they encouraged females to be just as violent as the males. I was dating another member within this group and naively moved in with him after only two weeks of dating. Neither of us had a permanent residence; he had no contact with his family and at this point it was the same story for me. I learned within a short amount of time that since he was on a power struggle and not getting a sense of dominance over the rest of society, that his anger would be directed towards me. I experienced verbal threats, yelling and intimidation. Our relationship ended within a matter of months after I packed up all my belongings and left for a youth shelter.
Fast forwarding a few months down the road, I met a much larger far- right group. I was invited to a white power concert they hosted and didn’t need to pay for my own beer the entire night. I had guys offering to buy me alcohol every which way I turned. I made it clear that I had absolutely no intention of sleeping with anyone that night, to which many of them said “a good decent woman, I like that”. I enjoyed all the praise I was receiving from them as it was totally different from the shaming I experienced in my youth. I got into the mosh pits at their shows and I was praised for this at first; Part of me knew I was sending signals to them that I was committed to this cause.
As time went on, I found someone I liked within this new group. He was the drummer for one of the bands and we bonded over our shared hatred of society and love of music.
Eventually my excitement about these new found friends began to slowly shatter. I recall being at one gathering when another member was lecturing me about moving in with my boyfriend right away. He justified this by saying “you need the support of a strong man and you need to start a life with your boyfriend to have this. As a white woman, you are aware of the threats out there awaiting you, right?”. My boyfriend and I had been dating for just under a year and that is when the constant nagging about reproducing came into the picture. I grew very tired of hearing this, very quickly.
Interestingly I had no problem dishing out the anti-feminist rhetoric, often stating that women were better of in a role of subservience. I liked the validation I would receive from the group for creating these arguments, however I never wanted to pursue this lifestyle myself. I was at work one time when my boss jokingly said “wait until you have kids someday” and I started to question if I really wanted a family or if I wanted one just so I could contribute to the continuation of the white race. I remembered the fact that I was never very good with children and perhaps just wasn’t parent material. I’ve never had that nagging maternal instinct that many people talk about; All I had was this hard-wiring running through my brain in regards to my alleged duty to the movement.
On March 17th 2012, I began to seriously question this movement’s victim complex. Another member was murdered because he was doing collections, went to someone’s house uninvited and was stabbed to death by the home owner. I asked myself who was really making our lives miserable after false rumours were spread about this individual’s death, making him out as the victim. In reality he walked into the death trap himself.
Six months later, I experienced what I consider a blessing in disguise. I had liver cirrhosis at the age of 22 from my years of binge drinking. I was told to stop immediately, otherwise this could have tragic consequences. I always thought I would have been that member who would die for the cause, however if I were to have died I think it would have been self inflicted; most likely drinking myself to death.
I attended this gathering and other members were thrown off as they’d never seen me sober before. I told them about my declining health and they didn’t care. All my boyfriend had to say about this was “well maybe that’s for the best, because you can’t drink once I impregnate you anyways”. This was the so-called brotherhood I subscribed to since I was 17 and what I used to think was a good relationship.
I began fading off and eventually split up with my boyfriend. Thankfully I never lived with him, married him or had kids with him. This made my physically exit a little easier in the sense that I didn’t have divorce or custody battles to deal with. Admittedly it was still emotionally hard to leave the relationship because even though I now disagreed with his belief system, I still had feelings for him. By the end of our time together I was trying to convince him to leave the movement and he was trying to pull me back in. This wasn’t what love was supposed to be like and I hoped I could find it elsewhere. I forced myself to get over him after I came to the conclusion that what we had all along was mediocre at best.
In many ways my experience is not very different from males who are leaving extremist networks. I chose to be there and subscribe for the same reasons many of them did; to fill a void and have a place to direct my anger, instead of addressing it more constructively.
In many other ways, my story is different than theirs just by virtue of being female. If there’s one thing I don’t miss, it’s being tied to a restrictive set of gender roles that I ultimately don’t want to follow. I found there was no way to reconcile my involvement in that movement with the conflicted mindset that came with gendered expectations. I still believe that if I wanted my life to make sense, my only choice was to leave.
Ms Lauren Manning is a CARR guest contributor, a former far- right extremist turned Life after Hate member and peace advocate. In 2012 she began to pull away from the movement and denounce hatred.
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