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Why are women joining the ‘alt-right’?

August 19, 2017 at 4:33 PM EDT
After the violent “Unite the Right” white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last Saturday, the “alt-right” has come under renewed scrutiny. Its ideology rejects Jewish people, people of color, LGBTQ people and immigrants, and is dominated by white men -- so why are some women joining it? Harper’s Magazine’s Seyward Darby, who reported on the issue, joins Hari Sreenivasan.
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HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR:  In the wake of the violence and tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia, last Saturday, much of the past week has been spent examining the so-called alt right — the ideology, based on white nationalism, rejects Jewish people, people of color, those in the LGBTQ community and immigrants, and it’s typically seen as a movement made up of white men.

However, as reporter Seyward Darby writes in the September issue of “Harper’s” magazine, there is a disturbing trend worth paying attention to.  Seyward Darby joins me now.

The women, the women have not really been in the imagery that we’ve seen just in the past week, but as you find out, they exist, and they’re growing in numbers.

SEYWARD DARBY, REPORTER, HARPER’S MAGAZINE:  I went into this story with a simple question, and that was, where are the women?  And I started to think of this question last winter around the time that, you know, millions of women around the country were organizing for the women’s march on Washington, and simultaneously, the alt-right was celebrating Trump’s victory and being portrayed as a movement of young white men.

And I went looking for these women, and they very much exist.  And there is a cluster of them that are very vocal on YouTube, Twitter, sometimes in real life at conferences and events.  And they are very keen to let other women know that they’re there, and that the alt-right is a place where, if they’re white women of a certain mind, they would be welcome.

SREENIVASAN:  So, what’s the allure?  I mean, when you see the displays of sort of bravado that some of these men exhibit, why would women want to be there?  Is it because they like that sort of manliness of manhood, or do they see a place for them in the organization?

DARBY:  The short answer is yes.  They very much like the idea of alpha men who embrace a very sort of aggressive form of masculinity.  But in terms of the place women see for themselves, they don’t believe that these men are misogynistic in the way that people looking from the outside might.

They think that the men of the alt-right just understand biology and that men and women are fundamentally different, not equal, but equally important, and that men should be alpha, macho, fighting battles, running countries, making policy, whereas women have an equally important role on the home front, nurturing family units, inculcating the beliefs of this movement.  They would say they don’t see that as, you know, submission or subjugation.  They would say that it’s equally important, almost like a yin and yang.

SREENIVASAN:  So, what kind of numbers are we talking about here?

DARBY:  It’s really hard to say.  And I spoke to many academics who have studied right-wing extremism for a long time, and they said because the alt-right is ultimately this movement from the Internet, very motley, very disparate, from comment boards and various social media platforms, it’s really hard to get a sense of precise numbers.  In terms of women within it, the number you hear bandied about is 15 percent to 20 percent.  But they’re not necessarily the ones you’re going to see in Charlottesville.

SREENIVASAN:  Let’s talk also about the network effects here.  How do these women congregate online?  How do they meet each other?  How do they get recruited?

DARBY:  I think it is a deeply, deeply inside the Internet in a way that can take a while if you’re an outsider to find, to see the patterns of connection.  They will say that there are meet-ups happening in real life that, you know, women are organizing in ways you can’t see, but I do think fundamentally most of this is happening on these various Internet platforms.

SREENIVASAN:  Is there a moment that they see coming?  I mean, do they see their influence increasing?

DARBY:  They will say that they do.  They would say that the moment is now, that we’re seeing it.  They don’t necessarily see Donald Trump as alt-right.  Lana Lokteff, for instance, when I met and interviewed her, she pointed blank said, he’s not one of our guys.

SREENIVASAN:  Yes.

DARBY:  But he’s got the coattails that they felt they needed to be pulled more so into the mainstream.  And what we’re seeing in Charlottesville and other places where the alt-right is, you know, stepping out into the world to show themselves.  I think that they very much see this as the moment when they can garner more followers.

They want it to seem like they have a lot of momentum.  Whether or not they do —

SREENIVASAN:  Yes.

DARBY:  — it’s hard to say.

SREENIVASAN:  All right.  Seyward Darby has this as one of the big stories in “Harper’s” — thanks so much for joining us.

DARBY:  Thank you so much for having me.

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