The alt-right—a nice name for a small army of racist thugs—was out in force last week in Charlottesville, Virginia. Not surprisingly, things spun out of control, culminating in a terrorist attack on a peaceful crowd that led to numerous injuries and at least one death. What brought this parade of torch-bearing grotesques into the street? The impending removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee—a reminder, as if we needed it, that the entire enterprise is underpinned by a toxic fantasy of white supremacy. Mixed in with these Aryan daydreams, however, is a less noted thread of misogyny, which Seyward Darby explores in this month’s cover story, “The Rise of the Valkyries.” The movement has hardly been shy about its distaste for women, whose “vindictiveness,” in the words of its kingpin Richard Spencer, “knows no bounds.” Nonetheless, the alt-right has a sprinkling of female pundits, preaching the gospel of family values and Caucasian destiny while sidestepping the contempt of their colleagues. Darby sketches out the movement’s distaff wing and spends some time with one of its rising stars, Lana Lokteff. An articulate and telegenic figure—David Duke, in his capacity as the neo-Nazi Roger Ebert, has praised her “movie-star quality”—Lokteff seems particularly adept at dodging the contradictions of her own position. Will she be the Pied Piper of the alt-right, bringing in the sort of female auxiliary that characterized the Ku Klux Klan? And can a woman ascend to the upper ranks of a movement that tends to view her only as a walking womb?
Elsewhere in the magazine, Alexandria Neason travels to ground zero in the battle between public schools and private-sector alternatives: Arizona. In “Class Dismissed,” she visits schools and listens to advocates from both sides, noting how the state has worked to funnel money and resources away from the public sector. It’s an outcome that would please the new secretary of education, Betsy DeVos—but it is unlikely to benefit most of Arizona’s students. Meanwhile, Michael S. Collins ponders the troubled state of affirmative action in “A Matter of Degrees.” The author has been a beneficiary of affirmative action, and argues that the playing field must still be leveled in our supposedly post-racial nation: “I have come around to the idea that regardless of class, black Americans are still swimming with weights on.” Yet he recognizes the psychological fallout of such programs, and the way in which they stir up our deepest anxieties about race, class, and that great American will-of-the-wisp: meritocracy.
Ted Genoways delivers a deep-focus portrait of a Midwestern family farm in “Bringing in the Beans.” He also puts modern agriculture in a novel context: who knew that soybean farming was the brainchild of Henry Ford, who was less interested in vegan cuisine than in the little legume’s potential role as the savior of industrial chemistry? We also have a memoir of our era’s greatest living war photographer, Don McCullin, written by his longtime comrade-in-arms, Charles Glass. “All the Last Wars” is a touching recollection of trials shared in various combat zones over more than four decades—and includes an assortment of McCullin’s indelible images, ranging from Nigeria to Iraq, Berlin to Beirut, and beyond.
John Keeble contributes an excellent and quietly apocalyptic fiction, “Synchronicity,” and there are shrewd literary assessments by Christine Smallwood, Jonathan Dee, and Ruth Franklin. In Readings, Naomi Klein blasts away at reality television, which she calls “a kind of capitalist burlesque,” and we take a peek at the jury selection process for Martin Shkreli, the price-gouging prince of the drug industry, whose sheer lovability caused one potential juror to note, “I’m aware of the defendant and I hate him.” There is also a poem by Keith Waldrop, a letter by Patrick Leigh Fermor, and a riff on facial-recognition software in China—all of which is to say, beach blanket bingo for Harper’s Magazine readers!