Since the 2016 election and the advent of Donald Trump’s presidency, white nationalism, Islamophobia and hatred of migrants have rightfully come to be viewed as vectors of potential violence.
In 2017, these seeds bore hideous fruit, when, among other spasms of violence, Jeremy Joseph Christian stabbed two men to death on a Portland, Ore. commuter train after shouting anti-Muslim slurs at two teenage girls, and later at the culmination of the “summer of hate,” when James A. Fields Jr. drove his car into a crowd of anti-racist protesters and killed Heather Heyer.
Since the Unite the Right event in Charlottesville, there has been plenty of senseless violence, such as the Las Vegas massacre, where the shooter’s motive remains a mystery. But in those cases where the perpetrators of mass violence have advertised their motives, the source as often as not has been misogyny. In one of the most horrific incidents this year, Alek Minassian, a 25-year-old man drove a rental van into a crowd of people in Toronto in late April, killing 10. Minassian explicitly politicized his act of terror by writing on Twitter shortly before the attack: “Private (Recruit) Minassian Infantry 00010, wishing to speak to Sgt 4chan please. C23249161. The incel rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”
At first glance, this might sound like gibberish, but “incel” stands for “involuntary celibate.” “Stacys” refer to the attractive women who are sexually unavailable while “Chads” are popular men who are presumed to have sex with lots of women. Elliot Rodger was a 22-year-old man who killed six people near the campus of University of California, Santa Barbara in 2014, after posting a YouTube video discussing his plans to kill men and women due to his sexual frustration and penning a 150-page manifesto linking himself to the incel movement. Nikolas Cruz, the shooter in the Parkland massacre in south Florida, commented on the video: “Elliot Rodger will not be forgotten.”
Whether motivated by misogyny or white nationalism, these attacks are fueled by an extreme sense of entitlement and an acute anxiety about perceived loss of status. Of course, white supremacy and patriarchy have always been closely entwined. In our own country, think of the fixation on the “purity” of white womanhood and false depictions of black men as rapists and savage brutes that were deployed to restore white supremacy in the South in the late 19th Century.
Granted, many of the incel perpetrators are racial minorities, including Minassian, who is of Armenian descent, and Rodger, whose mother is from Taiwan. But the overlaps between white nationalism and politicized misogyny are striking. White nationalist formations from the National Socialist Movement to the League of the South seek not just to establish a white ethno-state, but to restore traditional gender relations that subordinate women beneath men. Their animating energy is a fear that white men are being rendered obsolete by the forces of modernity.
The overlap between white nationalism and men’s grievance is at least substantial enough for white nationalist Jared Howe to warn in a homemade meme earlier this month: “MGTOW is the male version of becoming a cat lady./ Don’t let yourself die alone and childless.” The meme assumes a level of familiarity within its target audience that isn’t shared by the larger public: “MGTOW” stands for “Men Going Their Own Way.” The movement absurdly declares sovereignty — or “supreme power or authority, autonomy, independence, self-government, self-rule, self-determination” — for men. Of course, male autonomy would be self-defeating for a white nationalist movement preoccupied with racial demography.
Besides the nakedly white nationalist and anti-Semitic chant “Jews will not replace us” at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, the event was notable for its dizzying array of flags, poses, causes and extremist genres. But one striking theme was the vicious misogyny that white nationalists directed at white women on the other side of the barricades.
In one open-source video, James A. Fields Jr., who would later plow his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of anti-racist protesters, can be seen wearing the white polo shirt and khaki pants that served as the uniform of the white nationalist group American Vanguard. Fields and other members of the group chanted, “You fags, go home/ You have no testosterone.”
Later, American Vanguard took up the bizarre chant: “White sharia.” The slanderous claim that Muslims in the United States are seeking to impose a barbaric religious law on non-believers had been turned on its head to promote the idea of white men subjugating and oppressing women.
As the chant subsided, a speaker can be heard marveling, “I never thought they’d start chanting that,” as if it’s hilarious inside joke.
“Now, there’s going to be an article about white sharia in the New York Daily News,” another speaker says.
Another group of white nationalists mocked a white woman holding a sign reading, “Love is love.”
“We’re going to put you in a f***ing burka,” one of the men threatens.
When racist men are challenged by anti-racist women, apparently they feel compelled to present themselves as both protector and subjugator.
“Why don’t you come over here, and we’ll show you white sharia,” he says. “Baby, why don’t you come over here, and let me show you what it’s like to be with a real man.
“Hey, if whites become a minority, they’re gonna slaughter you with the rest of us,” he adds. “Just keep that in mind.”