At the Republican National Convention in July, Stephen Bannon praised his former website to a reporter, declaring: “We’re the platform for the alt-right.” But on Tuesday, President-elect Donald Trump told the New York Times that Bannon, his pick for chief White House strategist, isn’t part of that white supremacy movement.
“If I thought he was a racist or alt-right or any of the things, the terms we could use," Trump said, "I wouldn’t even think about hiring him.”
The conversation came days after Richard Spencer, the man who coined the term “alt-right,” and his supporters, some employing the Nazi salute, gathered in the nation’s capital, just blocks from Trump’s future residence. The loosely organized group, launched with a blog about six years ago, aims to create a white ethno state that would outlaw minorities — and force women into domestic roles.
While the group is typically defined by its racist views, sexism also is central to its ideology. In their world, men would rule, Spencer told The Washington Post, and women would serve as their homemakers.
The alt-right received little attention until Trump thrust Bannon into power. Spencer estimates just a fifth of his supporters are women, though the number visible in the audience as he spoke at the group's D.C. conference appeared far smaller. They're drawn to the lot, he told Rolling Stone last month, to find mates with “alpha genes” and “alpha sperm.”
Alt-right blogger Matt Forney argued that, in the movement, women "are sideshows, not the main act.”
“Trying to 'appeal' to women is an exercise in pointlessness,” Forney wrote. “The alt-right’s focus should be on recruiting young men, the fuel of revolution. Once the tide begins to turn, women will flock. ... Don’t get me wrong: it’s not that women should be unwelcome, it’s that they’re unimportant."
Cas Mudde, a Dutch political scientist who studies political extremism, said nationalist groups worldwide tend to harbor old-school sexist views, largely because they believe a woman's top priority should be creating and raising more of them. But the idea that women are morally and intellectually inferior to men, a common theme on alt-right blogs, stems from fear, he said.
“It’s a sexist interpretation of xenophobia,” Mudde said. “It’s the same view they have of immigrants and minorities, that they’re threatening their way of life. A life where men are dominant. A life where they have privilege in virtually every domain.”
During the first presidential debate this year, Spencer tweeted, "Women should never be allowed to make foreign policy. It's not that they're 'weak.' To the contrary, their vindictiveness knows no bounds."
He told reporters this week that Trump’s proposed Muslim ban and border wall energized the alt-right. The group also revels in the president-elect’s rejection of “political correctness.” He can say things like “grab them by the p----y,” for example, and still reach America’s highest office.
Trump, however, condemned the alt-right to the New York Times. “It's not a group I want to energize,” he said. “And if they are energized I want to look into it and find out why.”
He continues to defend Bannon, whose rise has sparked outrage from both Democrats and Republicans. Critics point to court records in which Bannon's ex-wife reported that he struck her and, at another time, told her their kids would not attend school "with Jews."
Bannon, the former chairman of Breitbart, a right-wing news outlet, presided over the website as it published such headlines as “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy,” “Hoist It High and Proud: A Confederate Flag Proclaims a Glorious Heritage” and “Would You Rather Your Child Have Feminism or Cancer?”
Comparing feminism to cancer, of course, is the kind of content designed to generate lucrative hate-clicks. The alt-right’s mockery of female advancement, however, is nothing new. Neither is the group’s apparent discomfort with it.
“Women seem an expanding, aggressive force, seizing new domains like a conquering army,” the Harvard historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote in a 1958 essay for Esquire, “while men, more and more on the defensive, are hardly able to hold their own and gratefully accept assignments from their new rulers.”
He was talking about wives trickling into the workforce and husbands questioning their roles.
Schlesinger Jr.’s thesis was hyperbolic. Though women were gaining power, men weren’t losing theirs. Male leaders at the time dominated the upper ranks of business, politics and academia. In fact, they still do.
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