Secret Weapons of the Far Right
November 26, 2018 5:56 PM   Subscribe

It's often women who reinforce supremacist movements. White supremacists talk a lot about differences—they draw lines not just between racial groups, but also among their own. Racist internet trolls insist they’re not the same as the Ku Klux Klan because they don’t don hoods or burn crosses; clean-cut college kids who call themselves “identitarians” point out that, unlike skinheads, they’re not inked with swastika tattoos; Southerners who defend Confederate heritage say they have nothing in common with mass murderers like Dylann Roof; anti-Semitic nationalists dismiss anti-immigration activists who are Jewish.

Whatever the shallow truth of such distinctions, they serve only to obscure what unites various far-right factions: a commitment to preserving the political power of whiteness. And central to that commitment are women.
posted by MovableBookLady (31 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
Maybe it’s just because I just saw another emotional labor thread, but is this different from other kinds of movements? Like social justice movements? Women do the emotional labor there, too. Everywhere, it seems like. I’m not sure “sexism alive and well in white supremacism” is all that surprising.
posted by schadenfrau at 6:03 PM on November 26, 2018 [28 favorites]


That said: my reaction to this is similar to my reactions to other profiles of white supremacists, albeit more visceral: discomfort, revulsion, horror, and then finally coming back around to the discomfort where you wonder whether these sorts of profiles do more to normalize these people.

But then again, it’s the calm, confident, otherwise normalcy that makes them so terrifying. They aren’t gibbering, raging lunatics. There’s nothing identifiably wrong with them or their lives that explains why they believe the things they do or want the things they want. There’s no obvious wound they’re trying to soothe, no hole they need to fill.

They’re just evil. That’s what these portraits show. Evil dressed up in its self-righteous best, proud to be posing for photographs.

It’s...”chilling” doesn’t really describe it.
posted by schadenfrau at 6:12 PM on November 26, 2018 [28 favorites]


I have to think the simplest explanation is that of craving power. White women don't have much, but they can get more by persecuting people with even less. They can take the disrespect they get and inflict it on others. And white supremacist men find them useful, so they are allowed to do so.
posted by emjaybee at 7:04 PM on November 26, 2018 [29 favorites]


I hope to come back to this thread later but in the meantime for those who would like to read more about this, there's an EXCELLENT book about women in Nazi Germany that covers this particular role of women in just this way. It's called "Mothers In the Fatherland", by Claudia Koonz. I've re-read it twice since 2016 because it's haunting just how crucial a role women play, and they played it at that time in eerily and horrifyingly similar ways to what we're seeing now, especially in "normalizing" the movement.

The interviews of the woman who was head of Hitler's Women's Bureau, Gertrud Scholtz-Klink, who, decades after the war was still proud and unashamed of her role and her beliefs, mirrors the women in this piece most terrifyingly.
posted by barchan at 7:05 PM on November 26, 2018 [17 favorites]


I thought this was an excellent look at the other side of white supremacy that complicates the idea that it's simply a combination of toxic masculinity and white supremacy.

It's about material power. It's why I often get annoyed by the phrase "women and people of color"; when it comes to material conditions (and voting preferences), white women have way more in common with white men than with people of color of any gender.
posted by Ouverture at 7:14 PM on November 26, 2018 [29 favorites]


Women do the emotional labor there, too

And the labor labor.
posted by Miko at 7:42 PM on November 26, 2018 [5 favorites]


If you haven't read it, I recommend Women of the Klan by Kathleen M. Blee. Similar thesis, and well written.
posted by lab.beetle at 8:20 PM on November 26, 2018 [2 favorites]


Did anyone else feel disgusted at the article? The magazine-esque presentation of the photographs, the uncritical portraiture of them, and the text doesn't actually do anything to address the politics of the far right. Nothing to address the fact that the publication is actively giving voice to the far right.

Only a white person would photograph white supremacists like this - with a gaze that has no overt hostility towards the viewer and the camera.

I'm a person of color. I don't see this kind of view. The view a person of color would see when confronted with these racist white supremacists would be of disgust and disdain. Where are the photographs of white supremacists that are leering angrily and disgustingly at the camera?

Oh, white America. Is this the best you can do?
posted by suedehead at 8:55 PM on November 26, 2018 [71 favorites]


And to be clear, what I think when I see these these photographs is:

"Ohhhhh, wow. I think this is what white people get to see when they encounter white supremacists in person. They don't see the white supremacy or the racism in person. They see 'normal people'. This is white people's blind spot. Do they know that what they see is highly biased? That many people (people of color) never see this view?"

The photographs are a fascinating shock to me -- they clarify the blindness of white folks. Because I don't ever see that view. I see the disgusted view, the distant view, racism-disgused-as-politeness forms. I probably will never meet these people, because the spaces in which they operate is not safe for me.

But those spaces are safe for white folks. And white women. And the photographer (Glenna Gordon) who photographs white supremacist/far right women, needs to understand that she is not presenting neutral portraits of these white woman. She is presenting photographs of "how white supremacists who are women present themselves to other white women, white people".
posted by suedehead at 9:11 PM on November 26, 2018 [86 favorites]


Those are stunning photographs.

I recall my earliest lessons in art history from Berger's Ways of Seeing.
In it Berger found reality confirmed in Van Gogh's paintings- "when he painted a road, the roadmakers were there in his imagination" Berger said.

These photos are like that- they are powerful confirmations of the reality of the horror that inhabits the subjects lives.

I can actually feel the disgust they have for 'the other'; I can see the utter disdain in their eyes; the vicious and total contempt for anyone not 'pure'; and I can see in their faces their immovable belief they are on the side of right.

I felt fear looking at them.

I see the roadmaker in the painting of the road.
posted by Plutocratte at 10:03 PM on November 26, 2018 [8 favorites]


I was disappointed in it as well. The subject is worth exploring in prose but both the article and photos were too sympathetic to the subjects. Consider the bland description at the end of a woman active in the KKK. "She helps with recruitment for the chapter, put together events for women in the group, makes the ceremonial robes, and also organizes the large picnic and potluck that takes place before cross “lightings” several times a year." How quaint.

Let's see what her husband (also pictured) and fellow leader has to say about the world: "We killed 6 million Jews the last time. Eleven million is nothing."

The photographs are a fascinating shock to me -- they clarify the blindness of white folks. Because I don't ever see that view. I see the disgusted view, the distant view, racism-disgused-as-politeness forms.

I'm reminded of the famous photos of Goebbels before and after he knew that the photographer was Jewish.
posted by Candleman at 10:15 PM on November 26, 2018 [42 favorites]


The personal lives of White supremecists are often violent. A lot of these women have good reason to fear their husbands. Some of this is placating behavior and some of it is displacement behavior. I often wonder what supremecists of either gender would really do if they had no ‘others’ to project all that hate on.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 10:56 PM on November 26, 2018 [4 favorites]


A lot of those women are single and very interested in making a name for themselves. There’s a Salon article that discusses the fact that far right women don’t necessarily want to be restricted to Kinder, Kuche, Kirche.

https://www.salon.com/2017/12/04/alt-right-women-are-upset-that-alt-right-men-are-treating-them-terribly/
posted by Selena777 at 12:30 AM on November 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


for everyone recommending books that further explore this subject: why? honest question. i don't understand why i would want to see more like what this article is, a sympathetic or at least nonconfrontational view of people who make me feel extremely visceral loathing, revulsion, and disgust. on the other hand nor would i need to read something that says "these people are horrible, here's why" because i already know why.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:58 AM on November 27, 2018 [14 favorites]


I don't ever see that view. I see the disgusted view, the distant view, racism-disgused-as-politeness forms.

Man idk those photos look creepy as fuck to me. It’s like a slow horror, like Call of Cthulhu style.
posted by corb at 1:38 AM on November 27, 2018 [11 favorites]


Related, I think: The Voice of the ‘Intellectual Dark Web’

Claire Lehmann’s online magazine, Quillette, prides itself on publishing ‘dangerous’ ideas other outlets won’t touch. How far is it willing to go?


[CW: Quillette]
posted by chavenet at 2:01 AM on November 27, 2018


I’m white Jewish so may have a blind spot but I did not see those photos as sympathetic towards their subjects, at all. Most of them use a creepy, unflattering, twin peaks angle— upwards from under the chin— that makes the subjects look like something out of a horror movie, and omg let’s not even get started on the symbolism of that low angle fully exposing the militia hotline lady’s warts, multiple chins, and the plucked out, naked underbelly of her cockatoo. They all look like Diane Arbus photos to me— othered, grotesque, and hateful. That pinch faced white hate expression on the CERA, KKK, and baby cult women was 100% chosen out of other expressions for its evilness— you can tell they’re trying to look normal but tough but instead you get this particular telling, hideous closed mouth grimace every time.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 2:21 AM on November 27, 2018 [18 favorites]


they clarify the blindness of white folks

They all look like Diane Arbus photos to me— othered, grotesque, and hateful.

Thank you so much for these comments. Yeah I think this is it. They are trying to present themselves as normal, but it doesn’t quite take.

And then, as a white person, you wonder if that’s how it presents in real life — something slightly off, slightly grotesque in presentation — and if that’s enough to overcome your white person blindness.

Because yeah it would have to be a different horror movie for certain white people than it is for black and brown people. Like instead of the straight up terror of a pogrom or the klan coming at night it’s one of those ones from the 70s where everyone around you keeps getting infected by the aliens or replaced with replicants or whatever — something is off, you know it, you can’t figure out what, it could be anyone — all while people around, people of color, keep disappearing without explanation or investigation, until finally they come to kill you, too, and some of the monsters chasing you turn turn out to be people you thought you knew.

The thing is, the horror in those stories centers the normalcy gone wrong, as though the normalcy were the default. But the normalcy was always a mask, always only part of the story, because POC were getting the Full Monster the whole time, and it’s not like they weren’t trying to tell people. So that story requires that you, the protagonist white person in the slow replicant horror story, were actively ignoring the warnings and pleas for help from POC the whole time you were wondering what was wrong. And the story works differently that way, right? The genre flips. Because then your protagonist is, uh, not so sympathetic. Instead of feeling horror with and for them, there’s disgust at what a selfish moron they are. There’s a sense that they get what’s coming to them when the replicant alien zombie hoards or whatever it is finally gets them. It goes from horror story to brutal, old-timey morality tale.

There’s that other FPP right now about an Alabama Sheriff - the two faces of Lummie or something like that. The man has been lionized by white people and is now a “local legend.” (“He once gave our family a puppy!”) Meanwhile black people from the same county are like “he was a monster, here’s the monstrous things he did all the time, he was always a monster.” And he fucking was a monster the whole time he was being that friendly authoritarian Sheriff to white people. And it’s not like it was a secret—there would have been no reason for him to hide how he behaved toward black people, and he didn’t. White people either approved, or they just didn’t see it, because they didn’t have to and they didn’t want to, or because they choose not to remember it now.

So I’m not sure these photographs do...enough. Like I’m not sure the carefully chosen angles and whatever else that make these portraits slightly grotesque offset the normalization of putting lady white supremacists in a photo feature. Because they don’t require the intended audience, who is pretty clearly white, to wonder why they haven’t been listening to POC about these monsters all along.
posted by schadenfrau at 3:35 AM on November 27, 2018 [24 favorites]


>>So I’m not sure these photographs do...enough. Like I’m not sure the carefully chosen angles and whatever else that make these portraits slightly grotesque offset the normalization of putting lady white supremacists in a photo feature. Because they don’t require the intended audience, who is pretty clearly white, to wonder why they haven’t been listening to POC about these monsters all along.

While they're not as visceral as the Charlottesville images (cw: it's the famous shot of the screaming protesters with torches), the mask isn't going to slip like that very often. These people aren't going to play the moustache-twirling villain for you and I really think the only reason Gordon could get those creepy shots was because (a) she's talented and (b) these people, like most people, didn't understand light like a photographer. Notice that the more public-facing ones (the blogger and the Youtuber), apart from Hinojosa, were savvy enough to have more formal, posed photos, though not enough to prevent Gordon from getting a cold, haughty creepiness out of them.

Being a photographer, I look at images closely, so I'm not a good baseline for whether these are "enough". They're not as vanishingly subtle as, say, a fine art piece might be, but we might need to recruit illustrators and other artists not directly photographing white supremacists to make the blunt depictions (WW1 anti-German propaganda) of what they really are.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 8:53 AM on November 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


I haven't read the article yet but I am struck by something: even "liberal" white women perpetuate white supremacy. We all do. Profiles like this serve to create the same kind of distance mentioned in the lead, only that distance is created to make us "nice white ladies" feel less culpable for white supremacy than the people who are actively working to uphold it.
posted by Brittanie at 9:08 AM on November 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


My favourite thing about this list is that you just know someone will show it to Faith Goldy, and that it will really piss her off that she's not on it (though she'd never say that).
posted by trackofalljades at 9:38 AM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


Thinking a bit more, no single image or essay or piece of media can ever be "enough." Antifascism and antiracism are a practice and part of that practice is creating and maintaining a flow of media to push back the Pepes.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 10:12 AM on November 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


Can we get some photos and essays about antifascists that are as tame as this?
posted by gucci mane at 10:21 AM on November 27, 2018 [7 favorites]


suedehead, thank you for sharing your thoughts on these images. As a white lady, I didn’t, and couldn’t notice what you did. I’ve been thinking about your comments since last night, and it made me realize that no matter how empathetic I try to be imagining what racism is like, I just don’t know it. And I needed to know I don’t know it.

I can draw some parallels to the disdain and dismissiveness faced as a woman. I often have, even knowing it wasn’t an exact analog. For whatever reason, reading how you saw it, and the differences you see when dealing with racists, I realize I have no real clue.

I want those photos. Like the Goebbels photo (which I hadn’t seen before this thread). I don’t know how to get them, but I think a photo series like that would be amazing.

But mostly, I’m glad I’m aware of something I didn’t understand until your comments.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 11:22 AM on November 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


As a complement to this piece, there is also this recent long piece by someone who went to high school with Faith Goldy.
posted by urbanlenny at 12:16 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


for everyone recommending books that further explore this subject: why? honest question i don't understand why i would want to see more like what this article is, a sympathetic or at least nonconfrontational view of people who make me feel extremely visceral loathing, revulsion, and disgust.

Honest answer: While I can't speak for the other books/articles, the book I recommended is NOT a sympathetic view but book whose purpose is make the reader feel absolute horror at just easily these kind of women helped perpetuate their evil, to learn how to recognize it happening, and how to fight it. A huge portion of the book covers resistance from women. Like others here, I did not see these women as sympathetic at all, but instead felt a visceral reaction of what I can only describe as horror, and what I feel horror about is. . . . the "normalization" of it all that these women do contribute to in that bland, picnics and sewing way described previously. And that kind of . . . creep into our society is something I find as one of the most terrifying aspects of the last 20 years - the constant shifting of the Overton Window done not just by Fox News but also "Mom and Dad", does that make sense? And in that regard I think learning how to recognize the signals from that. . . . blandness . . . .helps us to resist it just as much as learning what a microaggression or a dogwhistle is and then recognizing those when they happen.

Personally, watching white women in the last few elections has been not just horrifying but shameful. However. There are, indeed, a number of women who are not worth "saving" in any respect, by which I mean, it's not worth having a dialogue with them (with possible further action I don't want to bring up because it's caused fights here before). But I don't think that of all women. I think there are women that can be brought back from certain aspects of what they've bought into as "normal" right now, and one way is through dialogue and by learning what that creep looks like when other women normalize it, then teaching it to these women. And I say that not out of sheer optimism or anything, but because *I'm* a woman who managed to outgrow a really shitty upbringing and change course of action, grow, and learn due to a number of factors, not least of those being dialogues with others. And who is still trying to become better, fully cognizant that I will always be trying to squeeze out all of the racism and sexism I was indoctrinated with as a child. So I have hope in the power to change other's minds, even in these super divided times, and also because I'm of the opinion that we need every weapon and tool we can get our hands on, from conversation to our fists to mobs in the street, so I try to learn everything I can for whatever may come.

And one of the reasons why I find that important is because of just how startled I am by those on here who see the article as sympathetic or neutral, because I saw them and felt disgust. To me it seemed obvious; but not to some of you, for whom something else was obvious. I'm grateful for those of you who were willing to spend the time and effort to explain why, and willing to engage about it, and have been turning it over in my head about what I'm missing. And I realize you actually hit the nail on the head within your comment: it's the "nonconfrontational" aspect of it. To me, just documenting these women seemed like its own confrontation, because IMHO these are the kind of women that will never change and who are proud of it, as others (and me too, kinda) pointed out, so trying to confront them personally just wouldn't work. But I'm wrong. It isn't a confrontation, because the author didn't confront them even in the text, and others have said, it didn't go far enough. In this, I find myself guilty of what I myself want to struggle against, and can recognize it, and go forth, trying to do better; in the future, when I examine something and ask, does it go far enough, my examination will be improved.

I wish I could find a better way to put it, but certain aspects . . . aren't. . . . instinctual. . . just yet. I'm not good at rhetoric, I'm not great at using my words sometimes, and I can be a little slow on the draw. So when I suggested the book, ultimately in the end it's about reaching out to anyone who feels even the slightest bit like I do that they need all the help they can get, in both recognizing and resisting *all* the ways - ALL THE WAYS - the really horrifying and evil forces that feel free in our society right now insinuate themselves and act within it. But obviously I've learned today to think about how effective some things really are. I hope that helps.
posted by barchan at 1:50 PM on November 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


I mean, just analyzing some of the images visually, no, they definitely are working to humanize and soften their subjects. For example, the first one with the semi-pinup pose. She's on a bed, showing an intimate and private setting. Her gaze is demurely averted from the camera, a position often used to denote innocence or naivety. Nothing in that photo would make you aware she celebrates the event that resulted in Heather Heyer's murder. I guess the combination of the caption and the incongruously soft image are meant to be shocking or jarring, but I think it's far more likely (white) people will respond to that dissonance by an impulse to find excuses which absolve her of her behavior. The image is far too sympathetic.

Almost all the images involve visual cues of vulnerability. The settings are almost all domestic spaces, denoting the proper sphere for patriarchal womanhood and placing the subjects in a guarded, private space. These settings belie the very public work promoting and enabling murder and genocide that these women devote themselves to. Very few of the subjects make eye contact with the viewer, a typical mode of depicting women as the ones acted upon rather than actors in their own right. The subjects who are less traditionally attractive get the more realistic warts-and-all treatment. The photographer even let one woman depict herself as a Victorian-era widow, surrounding herself in false victimization! Stripped of captions, most of these photos conceal the malevolence of their subjects. To show someone like this is to use the exact tropes of white femininity to shield hate, which is precisely the aim of the subjects.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 2:23 PM on November 27, 2018 [7 favorites]


Lemmings. That's what I see.
posted by notreally at 3:27 PM on November 27, 2018


Grimp0teuthis: " While they're not as visceral as the Charlottesville images [...] the mask isn't going to slip like that very often. These people aren't going to play the moustache-twirling villain for you

They don't, for you. But they do, for me. This is the point. I could tell that you are white by this comment. It's not meant to be an insult! It's just: a person of color would never say this. A person of color would never be able to say this.

It's that: for white people, it's "well, you never know what a racist looks like".
For people of color, "racists often show me that they're racist."


schadenfrau: The thing is, the horror in those stories centers the normalcy gone wrong, as though the normalcy were the default. But the normalcy was always a mask, always only part of the story, because POC were getting the Full Monster the whole time, and it’s not like they weren’t trying to tell people. So that story requires that you, the protagonist white person in the slow replicant horror story, were actively ignoring the warnings and pleas for help from POC the whole time you were wondering what was wrong. And the story works differently that way, right? The genre flips. Because then your protagonist is, uh, not so sympathetic. Instead of feeling horror with and for them, there’s disgust at what a selfish moron they are. There’s a sense that they get what’s coming to them when the replicant alien zombie hoards or whatever it is finally gets them. It goes from horror story to brutal, old-timey morality tale.


YES. Except that in the real horror-story ending, the brutal director's cut, the replicant alien zombie hoard actually doesn't get the protagonist. It stops short and keeps them alive. It even leaves them clueless as to what's going on, so everything seems normal after a while. In fact, it even makes the protagonist's life a little better, a little bit more privileged. There's no satisfying schadenfreude at the protagonist getting what they deserve, because they don't. And then the movie fades to black. The audience's horror and disgust comes from the fact that, actually, the protagonist may never know what kind of horrors were happening because they didn't listen to POCs' understanding of the Full Monster. And in fact, it ultimately helped the protagonist out. They are better off where they started. As an audience member, you have to wonder if the protagonist wasn't maybe in on it the whole time.
posted by suedehead at 11:05 PM on November 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


And [insert clever name here]: thank you. It means a lot.
posted by suedehead at 11:37 PM on November 27, 2018


@suedehead: That's fair. I'm never going to see the monster underneath in person, at least on my own.

I was going to make a case for depicting the quiet banality of daily racism as well as big, loud, public racism. Then I looked again at the subjects in the photos. They're big, loud, public racists. While I still think the style in this project is creepy and unflattering, your comment makes me think that "creepy" is not enough when these people are willing to perform their racism in front of the world at crossburnings and on youtube. Might as well catch them with twisted faces yelling epithets and holding torches instead of holding hands.

I would also like to see (and will now take a look for) a series depicting the small, daily expressions of racism that add up to a white supremacist system, like bank managers redlining real estate maps or store employees coldly following people of color around while they shop. It will probably have to be a touch subtle—no pointy-hooded outfits visible at the bank—but could be very powerful. I have seen that kids being followed around in stores have posted videos and pics of employees following them around.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 10:35 AM on November 28, 2018 [1 favorite]


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