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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With the exception of a few high-profile figures, all of them men, the alt-right is notoriously cagey with the mainstream media. Female pundits rarely grant interviews. When I contacted James, she tweeted at me in quintessential trolling fashion: “Share how an interview with you would benefit my people. How about meeting me in Chicago’s south side? Let’s do Taco Bell.” Soon after, Davenport wrote a blog post claiming that “female shitlib reporters are now rushing to write articles discrediting the women of the Alt-Right.”

When we met in Charleston, my first question to Lokteff was, why had she agreed to talk to me? “I wanted to give you a chance,” she said. “You wrote me in a different way. You said you actually wanted to . . . hear what we’re talking about.” She added hastily, “It’s not because you’re a woman.”

A few feet away, Palmgren paced the roof’s wood-planked deck on a phone call. He is tall and beefy, with a thick beard and a “fashy,” a haircut favored by alt-right men — the sides are shaved down but the top is longer and slicked back, a style associated with the Hitler Youth. Lokteff had brought him to the meeting unannounced, as technical support. He’d set up a recorder on a cocktail table near my knees because the couple wanted to produce a Red Ice segment about our conversation.

Lokteff, who is of Russian descent, said her great-grandparents fled the Bolsheviks by walking to China. Her family eventually made its way to America as “true refugees.” She clarified that today, “there’s a lot of refugees that aren’t actually refugees. They’re fleeing from poverty. . . . At what point does it stop? Because the majority of the world is poor.”

She was born in Oregon. Her parents were libertarians, but she developed more anarchist leanings as she came of age. Lokteff attended Portland State University; afterward, she worked in music production, first in Los Angeles, then back in Oregon. She considered herself the sort of woman who thought, “I’m going to take care of myself, no guy is going to take care of me, I’m not going to have kids, I’m going to travel the world.” In 2007, she happened to hear Palmgren’s Red Ice shows online. A year later, she contacted him about collaborating on a music project, he invited her to Sweden, and they fell in love; they’ve been married since 2011. They have studios in Sweden and the United States. They say they have children but won’t reveal anything about them. Lokteff claims to have received death and rape threats.

Early in our conversation, Lokteff told me how similar we were. “You and I are a different kind of woman,” she said, gesturing toward me with a freckled arm. In her left nostril, I spotted a piercing that I hadn’t noticed online; I have one in the same spot. “We’re more political, we ask questions, we’re analytical,” Lokteff continued. “Most women want to be beautiful, attract a guy, be taken care of, have their home, have their children.”

If we were so alike, in her view, how would Lokteff pitch the alt-right to someone like me, who identifies as a feminist? She turned the question around. “What is feminism to you?” she asked.

My answer — that women should have equal opportunities and be able to choose, say, to stay at home or be the CEO of a company — left her exasperated. “In the West we already had that,” she replied in a rush. “Our men have already propelled us like crazy.” She ticked off examples: White women were the first women to fly a plane (France, 1908) and to go into space (Soviet Union, 1963). Societies like the Vikings (eighth century to eleventh) worshipped gods of both genders. Feminism, the genesis of which she pins roughly to the early twentieth century, did not make things better for women, Lokteff concluded. But it did make them worse for men. “It’s easier for women to get a job because of affirmative action,” she said. “The white male is on the shit list.”

I asked how she would convince female Trump voters who, while conservative and maybe anti-feminist, didn’t share her pro-white views. Inspire fear, was the essence of her response. “There’s a joke in the alt-right: How do you red-pill someone? Have them live in a diverse neighborhood for a while,” she said. “Another thing that’s attracting normies” — people not in the movement — “is rape. Women are scared of rape.”

A few minutes later, Lokteff mocked liberals for being angry about Trump’s “grab ’em by the pussy” statement. “All of a sudden, all these lefties are puritans when it comes to sex and vaginas,” she scoffed. I suggested that the “grab ’em” part sounded like sexual assault. She shrugged it off, chalking up Trump’s behavior to a Hollywood culture in which women throw themselves at rich and powerful men. “I think that he loves women,” she said.

It was the same circular logic I’d heard her deploy when defending alt-right men from charges of sexism: How can they hate women if they love them?

Lokteff and Palmgren were formal but cordial, to me and to each other. Before I flew to Charleston, Lokteff had offered to pick me up from the airport; I’d declined. Palmgren apologized for interrupting us when he brought Lokteff a glass of water. Their ordinary behavior was hard to square with their rhetoric. That morning, I had listened to Lokteff’s June 2016 appearance on David Duke’s radio show, in which she’d agreed that Jews were “parasites” against whom white people “need to inoculate ourselves.” When I quoted her, Lokteff asked, “Did I say that?” (In an unprompted follow-up email, she clarified that she had been talking about all the parasites taking advantage of white America, including Israel.)

By the end of our conversation, it had started to rain, so Lokteff and I moved inside. I asked her about the alt-right’s next steps. It was going to become a real political party, she replied, with platforms and candidates supporting white-nationalist policies, such as a ban on non-white immigration to the United States. She alluded to “a lot of people moving to D.C. right now”; Spencer recently set up an N.P.I. office in Alexandria, Virginia. “It’s quite amazing when you look at just trolling and memes and people on the internet without any kind of organization . . . how much press and attention [we’ve gotten],” she said. “That’s us not even organizing, not even pulling resources and funds and minds and skills together yet.”

When I asked if she identified as a leader, she demurred. “Maybe on some level. I’m not sure I would take credit or put myself in that position,” she said. Maybe not in the broad, hypermasculine constellation of the alt-right, but her position among the movement’s women is a different matter. “There’s always been the girl in the pack that’s been more of the outspoken one,” she continued. “I’ve never been the follower.”

Her responses were as mystifying as the phenomenon of the alt-right itself. For months, America has tried to understand what the movement wants. Perhaps the better question is, who gets to decide? In grappling with how to set priorities, the alt-right is bumping up against ideological contradictions, divergent opinions, and other schisms in its ardent, loosely formed ranks. Assertive women are exposing some of these fissures, which seem likely to grow as the movement vies for a modicum of political acceptance.

Lokteff, though, is sanguine. “Ten years from now, a lot of these alt-right concepts are going to be very mainstream in white people’s minds,” she told me. Then, as though a light bulb had clicked on in her brain, she continued: “Look at feminism. It started as a fringe movement. Now it’s mainstream, left and right.”

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