While bigotry and white supremacy are core tenets of the radical right, underlying it all is a deeply ingrained misogyny that has manifested in violence.
Once upon a time, almost exactly a century ago now, the radical right in America declared that one of its primary objectives was to defend the chastity and honor of white women. The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s, despite an occasional rape or other sexual assault by its members, regularly threatened, flogged, and tarred and feathered men it alleged had beaten or otherwise mistreated their wives.
Today, not so much.
The contemporary iteration of the radical right, often referred to as the Alt-Right, has developed as a core feature a deep-seated misogyny, a hatred of women that ranges from the view that women shouldn’t be allowed to vote or partake in the making of policy to the most extreme proposals of the online “manosphere” of “men’s rights” activists, including the “corrective rape” of women and girls.
Take Richard Spencer. For at least the first part of Donald Trump’s first term, Spencer was the face of the Alt-Right. He claimed to have developed the phrase, was endlessly quoted as the top spokesman of the movement in media accounts, and led the radical right’s embrace of Trump. At the same time, despite his unapologetically Nazi views, Spencer portrayed himself as a genteel radical, opposed to violence and in favor only of “peaceful ethnic cleansing.”
But that Pollyannish Spencer self-portrait took a beating when the divorce court pleadings of his wife, Nina Kouprianova, became public. Far from the Aryan family man he had portrayed himself as, the pleadings — many of them backed by audiotapes and online screenshots — suggest instead a man who physically and mentally abused the mother of his two children over a period of many years.
At one point, Kouprianova alleges, Spencer dragged her down a staircase by her hair and arms. He woke her up screaming that she should kill herself. In 2012, he “had me down on the ground smashing my face into the floor,” she wrote. In 2014, when she was pregnant, Spencer pushed her down and bruised her neck and jaw, she said. In 2017, he tried to “punch me in the face.” He sent her messages like, “Fuck you. Please kill yourself” and “You are a disgusting cunt.”
His mantra, Kouprianova alleged in interviews, was one he repeated to her on several occasions: “The only language women understand is violence.”
Spencer denies it all. He claims he was merely “frustrated” by his wife’s attitude or complaints. He says that actual violence was a “red line” he never crossed with his wife. His divorce case judge, however, was concerned enough about the allegations that he ordered Spencer to anger management classes.
Spencer’s ideology is also plainly misogynistic. He once told The Washington Post that women should serve as homemakers while men should run the world. “Women should never be allowed to make foreign policy,” he tweeted during a presidential debate in early 2016, the Post also reported. “It’s not that they’re ‘weak.’ To the contrary, their vindictiveness knows no bounds.”
Misogyny is endemic across the radical right. Stephen Bannon, the one-time Trump campaign manager who described his Breitbart News as “the platform for the alt-right,” ran headlines like “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy” and “Would You Rather Your Child Have Feminism or Cancer?”
Bannon’s attitude allegedly was not limited to sexist headlines. In 1996, his then-wife wife told police called to her home that Bannon had violently grabbed her by the neck during a fight, leaving her bruised. According to a police report on the incident, she also told officers that the pair had earlier attended marriage counseling after “three or four arguments that became physical.” Bannon was charged with misdemeanor witness intimidation, domestic violence, and battery, but the case was dismissed after his then-wife failed to appear in court.
The radical right today plainly includes the so-called manosphere, a world of mostly online groups where misogynistic men complain that women routinely make false accusations of rape, lead men on in a whole variety of deceitful ways, and refuse to have sex with those who are not “alpha males.” This movement has produced a whole series of massacres of women, as exemplified most recently by the 2018 murder of 10 people in Toronto by a radicalized woman-hater.
At the same time, a recent scholarly study published in the International Journal of Communication found that members of the manosphere increasingly have been migrating from milder Internet forums to more toxic online groupings. Rather than advising men on “pick-up artist” techniques that supposedly help men seduce women, these new groupings often promote violence against women. This radicalization has gone hand in hand with increasing radical-right misogyny.
In the 1990s, there was a handful of neo-Nazi and other radical-right women’s groups, such as Women for Aryan Unity, that represented a kind of mild feminism within the movement. But even then, some of the best-known leaders of the extreme right were men with serious histories of domestic violence, even as they pushed the idea that Aryan women were key to the neo-Nazi future.
William Pierce, the infamous leader of the National Alliance whose book The Turner Diaries helped inspire the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, was one of them. According to a new book by Kelvin Pierce, one of William Pierce’s twin sons, the elder Pierce presided over a reign of terror in his own household.
According to Sins of My Father: Growing Up With America’s Most Dangerous White Supremacist, William Pierce, who died in 2002, savagely beat his sons, once beating one of them bloody with a wire coat hanger after making him strip naked. He purposely gave a serious electrical shock to Kelvin, then laughed uproariously about it. Losing his temper at home, he once broke a beloved pet blue point Siamese cat’s neck with his bare hands, killing it; on another occasion, he threw a second pet Siamese cat against a wall so violently that it died in agony two days later.
Pierce never did strike his mother, Kelvin Pierce told me in an interview. But he was a “horrible father” and a “horrible husband,” one who for the last 10 years or so of his marriage lived off his wife’s paycheck while paying virtually no attention to her or their sons. “His view of women,” Kelvin said, “was that they were there for companionship. What he meant by that was cooking for him, cleaning for him, and sex. He wasn’t interested in anything else from them.”
Radical-right activists today are intensely threatened by the enlarged role that women have taken in contemporary society, and that fear has only intensified in the wake of the #MeToo movement. The world is changing in ways that they are unable to handle, and for many, they strike back with physical violence.
All of this underlines the central role that violence has in the American, and indeed, the global radical right. Richard Spencer can claim that he is for “peaceful ethnic cleansing” — but of course that is ridiculous. Making America an all-white society, as Spencer wants, would require the forced relocation of more than 100 million people. Obviously, that could never happen without massive violence.
When Spencer and others like him argue that they want radical changes in American society and that it can be done without violence, they are lying. In the end, the deep-seated hatred of women, racial and sexual minorities, immigrants and other out-groups that these men embody leads inevitably to bloodshed.
Mr Mark Potok is a Senior Fellow at CARR and a freelance writer, speaker, consultant, expert on right-wing extremism. See his profile here.
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