Report — From the September 2017 issue

The Rise of the Valkyries

In the alt-right, women are the future, and the problem

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Two years ago, Lokteff, who identifies as pagan, discovered a YouTube personality who could speak to pro-white Christians: Ayla Stewart, a Utah woman whose handle is “Wife with a Purpose.” She’s in her thirties, with a round, dimpled face, wide blue eyes, and a warm voice. Stewart’s homemade videos were often about her dramatic political transformation. She used to be a feminist, a supporter of gay rights, and an avowed pagan. She married at nineteen, studied women’s spirituality in graduate school, and had a child. She wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. “I was really into home birth and extended breast-feeding,” Stewart told me. Then her husband left, and she became a young single mother. She felt pressure to get a job and not worry about needing a man — or children, for that matter. But that wasn’t what she wanted. “Children are so precious, we should do everything we can do to bring them into the best environment,” she told me. “And a two-parent household with a mother and a father is that best environment.” Stewart felt “shunned and ostracized and called down” for her beliefs by acquaintances and online critics.

After meeting her second husband, Stewart had more kids, joined the Mormon Church, and drifted even further from feminism. A friend recommended that she read Fascinating Womanhood, a conservative answer to The Feminine Mystique. Written in 1963 by Helen Andelin, a Mormon mother of eight, the book spawned a movement promoting traditional marriage. The text promises to teach women “how to cause a man to protect you,” “how to bring out the best in your husband without pushing or persuasion,” and “how to be attractive, even adorable, when you are angry.” Stewart found comfort in Andelin’s assertions that the sexes have different needs. “Men like to go out and earn a paycheck and feel respected and loved,” she told me. “Women want to be cherished.” The book helped her see her first marriage in a new light: One reason it had failed, she decided, was that she hadn’t provided her husband with the respect he required. Fascinating Womanhood also bolstered her belief that feminism demonized white men. “Being in liberal circles, the white man was the enemy — the guy who always had power and control, whom we had to get rid of and get women and people of color into power,” Stewart said. “It dawned on me that I’d been incredibly sexist and racist.”

In venting against feminism for betraying her, she began to draw connections with current events. In September 2015, she posted a tirade blaming feminism for the European refugee crisis. “Why, logically, would anyone allow hundreds of thousands of refugees to come over into your country, to live off of your social welfare programs, to increase horrible crimes like rape, and to, honestly, quite frankly, take over your culture?” she asked. Her answer was white guilt, which had seeped into politics because “women waste our votes” on liberal politicians. “Women see downtrodden people as their children,” Stewart told me, “and want to be very motherly toward them and throw open their borders.”

The video went viral — more than 122,000 views to date — and when Lokteff saw it, she invited Stewart onto Radio 3Fourteen. They quickly got onto the topic of Stewart’s break from her political past. “Liberals think they’re so enlightened, so much better than everyone else, but really they are just completely brainwashed, don’t you think?” Lokteff asked. “Exactly,” Stewart replied. Her relief was almost palpable.

When I reached Stewart this spring via Skype, she described Lokteff as a mentor and a bridge to the broader alt-right universe. “It was after I spoke to Lana for the first time that I found out there was this group of people who call themselves the alt-right and they believe everything that I believe,” she said.

Stewart has now been a Red Ice guest several times. This March, she appeared in a segment supporting Steve King, a Republican congressman who had tweeted, to much backlash, “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” Stewart told Lokteff, “You couldn’t restore Japan with people from Somalia.” King, in other words, was just using “common sense.”

The same month, Lokteff hosted Mary Grey (not her real name), another Christian white nationalist. Lokteff reached out after hearing “Good Morning White America,” a weekly podcast that Grey hosts with her husband, who goes by Adam. Their appearance on Radio 3Fourteen was audio-only, and the discussion focused on the Greys’ journey to the alt-right. Mary said she was skeptical when Adam began reading pro-white websites a few years ago and asked, “What would you do with all of the people that are non-white but are Christian?” His vague reply was, “They can have their own society, their own place to live — just over there.” Mary laughed at her past skepticism. “After I heard that I was like, oh, okay, you’re not one of those evil racists that kill everyone,” she said. (White nationalists almost never explain how they would create pure ethnostates.)

With its cheerful voices and jovial banter, the Greys’ podcast has a bubblegum quality. This is calculated. “An important part of our movement is to put out the truth about crimes committed against fellow whites. But I know that there is more,” Mary wrote to me in an email. “There is a place to be upset and a place to be happy, grateful, and proud of where we come from as whites.” Their language apes the left by embracing identity politics but adds an exclusionary twist. Whites, generally speaking, are the richest and safest population in America, with twelve times the wealth of African Americans and a lower crime rate than most racial groups. White nationalists nevertheless feel vulnerable, and they are willing to put up barricades to protect their privileged status.

In January, Mary Grey self-published an illustrated children’s book called Walls and Fences. “Why do we build walls? We have walls for protection,” the text begins, set against a colorful image of the biblical city of Jericho as its walls tumble down at God’s behest. Grey said she wrote the book “to help explain to my children why having a wall around our country” — like the one Trump has pledged to build along the U.S.?Mexico border — “is justified and a good and normal thing.”

There is a long legacy of pro-white extremists trying to create illusions of normalcy. Kathleen Blee, a sociology professor at the University of Pittsburgh, wrote in her book Inside Organized Racism that “much about racist groups appears disturbingly ordinary, especially their evocation of community, family, and social ties.” In a two-year study of thirty-four women across the United States, Blee found that her subjects, many of whom were educated and held good jobs, were “responsible for socializing their children into racial and religious bigotry.”

Stewart told me she has read Walls and Fences to her children. Her younger ones — she has six in all — regularly crawl into view in her videos. She homeschools them to ensure that their education is Christian and pro-white; she discourages interracial relationships and no longer supports gay rights. In one YouTube post, she included an image of her smiling, toddler-age daughter wearing a frog outfit. This was a homage to Pepe the Frog, one of the alt-right’s signature memes, with bulging eyes, red lips, and an oversize green head. Poking fun at Hillary Clinton’s infamous “deplorables” line, Stewart captioned the picture, basket full of adorables.

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