A month after Donald Trump took office, an activist named Lana Lokteff delivered a speech calling on women to join the political resistance. “Be loud,” Lokteff said in a crisp, assertive voice. “Our enemies have become so arrogant that they count on our silence.”
Lokteff, who is in her late thirties, addressed an audience of a few hundred people seated in a room with beige walls, drab lighting, and dark-red curtains. The location, a building in the historic Södermalm neighborhood of Stockholm, Sweden, had been secured only the previous night, after several other venues had refused to host the event, billed as an “ideas” conference. Lokteff wore a white blouse and a crocheted black shawl over her trim figure, with a microphone headset fitted over her long blond hair. In addition to the attendees seated before her, she spoke to viewers watching a livestream. “When women get involved,” she declared, “a movement becomes a serious threat.”
Since Trump’s election in November, that same idea had inspired more than 4,000 women to contact EMILY’s List, an organization that backs female pro-choice candidates across the United States, about running for office. It had compelled women to organize a series of marches that brought millions of anti-Trump protesters into streets around the world.
To Lokteff, however, those women were the enemy. She is a member of the “alt-right,” the insurgent white-nationalist faction that backed Trump’s campaign. A motley coalition of online provocateurs, the alt-right opposes political correctness and multiculturalism. Many of its supporters rhapsodize about the eventual creation of white ethnostates in Europe and North America. The group is the offspring of various extremist ideologies — the European New Right, identitarianism, paleoconservatism, and Nazism, to name a few.
The alt-right is widely considered a movement of young white men, and Lokteff was trying to rally women to the cause. “It was women that got Trump elected,” she said. “And, I guess, to be really edgy, it was women that got Hitler elected.”1 The crowd applauded and cheered.
1 Adolf Hitler lost a presidential race, but the Nazis earned enough votes in a parliamentary election in 1932 to become the dominant party in the Reichstag. Hitler was appointed Germany’s chancellor the following year.
Lokteff said that “lionesses and shield maidens and Valkyries” would inspire men to fight political battles for the future of white civilization. “What really drives men is women,” she explained, “and, let’s be honest, sex with women.” Lokteff, who has a penchant for diffuse historical references, asked her audience to imagine the vesica piscis, the shape created when two circles intersect, as in a Venn diagram. She pointed out that it adorns the doorways and windows of many old European churches. “It lured people in, making them feel warm,” she said. “To get graphic, the vesica is reminiscent of the vagina.”
Lokteff was the conference’s only female speaker — perhaps because the alt-right has certain ideas about how women should behave. Another presenter, Matt Forney, a fleshy, goateed blogger in his twenties, once wrote a screed called “The Case Against Female Self-esteem.” In his Stockholm speech, Forney bemoaned social norms telling white men that “your natural masculine instincts, your natural desires to bed and wed women, make you an oppressive misogynist.” Paul Ramsey, who appeared at the event to decry a purported scourge of left-wing violence in America, is better known to his more than 38,000 Twitter followers as RAMZPAUL. Middle-aged with black, thick-rimmed glasses, he doesn’t embrace the alt-right label, but his views align with those of many in the movement: He thinks women shouldn’t vote, and has called gender equality “the mother of all delusions.”
Other soldiers in the alt-right’s fractious army regularly insult women on digital platforms such as Twitter, 4chan, and Reddit. The man who claims to have coined the term “alt-right,” Richard Spencer, has said that women shouldn’t make foreign policy because their “vindictiveness knows no bounds.” Andrew Anglin, who runs a neo-Nazi website called the Daily Stormer, once criticized as a traitor any white woman who has mixed-race children. “It’s OUR WOMB,” he wrote. “It belongs to the males in her society.”
Soon after the Stockholm conference, Lokteff’s speech was posted on YouTube and several alt-right websites. One commenter called her an “Aryan goddess”; another joked, “I’m with her.” Some, though, were less kind. “Those claims of . . . ‘women being the force behind the men’ etc., are just feminism infecting the so-called ‘movement,’ ” a reader wrote on AltRight.com. “If women are busy giving speeches and making YouTube broadcasts, they are not going to have time to give birth.”
Despite the vitriol she faces from ostensible ideological allies, Lokteff is a passionate warrior for the alt-right, the closest thing the movement has to a queen bee. And she isn’t without her high-profile supporters. David Duke, the éminence grise of American white supremacy, has praised her as a “harder-hitting” Ann Coulter, with a “movie-star quality.” Lokteff earned the endorsement with her prolific online broadcast work: She and her husband, Henrik Palmgren, run a media company called Red Ice. With studios full of high-end recording gear, blue lighting, and plush furniture, Red Ice is a slick propaganda platform for white nationalists.
Lately, Lokteff has been using Red Ice to amplify the voices of self-made female pundits. All of them are bitterly disappointed in the feminist agenda and believe that nationalism has their true interests at heart. They also embody a glaring contradiction: By supporting the alt-right, they stand shoulder to shoulder with men who think that female independence has undermined Western civilization. As the alt-right creeps out of the digital shadows and strives for civic legitimacy, however, these female commentators are trying to temper the movement’s misogynist reputation. They describe the alt-right as a refuge where white women can embrace their femininity and their racial heritage without shame.
The question of why they’ve embarked on this crusade has a practical answer: No movement can survive on men alone. As one female pundit recently wrote, the prospect of the alt-right attracting women “terrifies the left, and it should, because they know that once a threshold of female involvement is reached, there’s no going back.” The philosophical answer is more complex — as are the intellectual contortions women must perform to justify participating in a movement so hostile to their freedom.
A thunderstorm hovered over Charleston, South Carolina, turning the sky the colors of a fresh bruise, on the April evening when I met Lokteff. She and Palmgren divide their time between America and Sweden — he was born and raised there — and they were spending the spring in the Lowcountry. Lokteff had suggested that we convene at a posh rooftop bar, where we sat on faux-wicker benches as European pop music pounded from nearby speakers and wind pummeled the white tarp over our heads.
In an email exchange, Lokteff had extolled the alt-right as “incredibly diverse, just not racially,” with “pagans, Christians, atheists, agnostics and even a few Satanists.” At the bar, she spoke of ideological diversity: free-market capitalists and national socialists — Hitler references notwithstanding, she prefers not to use the term “Nazis” — who find common ground on matters of race. Alt-right men, she added, tend toward a certain comportment. “They’re more alpha-male types,” Lokteff told me. “Girls are kind of sick of the neutered-down, feminist, limp-wristed guy,” she added, flopping one of her hands to demonstrate.
According to Keegan Hankes, a researcher at the Southern Poverty Law Center (S.P.L.C.), the alt-right is only superficially heterogeneous. “They have all these conflicting and complementary ideas entangled,” he told me, “so that they can pivot” in arguments and interviews. However, Hankes noted, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”
The alt-right derives from the same impulses that have launched other white extremist groups, including a belief that “white civilization, the white race in particular, is imperiled,” said George Michael, a professor of criminal justice at Westfield State University, who studies right-wing extremism. This fear often emerges on the coattails of momentous change: the post?Civil War era of black emancipation, the transatlantic immigration waves of the early twentieth century, the Great Depression, the civil rights movement. Alt-right supporters point out that America was 80 percent white in 1980, but is barely 60 percent white today. They denounce rising rates of interracial marriage, liberal immigration policies, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the targeting of “white privilege” by academics and the media. The European contingent, meanwhile, bemoans the flow of refugees from Africa and the Middle East.
At the same time, social-science research sheds some light on the movement’s appeal to individuals who profess to be seeking truth or purpose. The work of the political scientists Joseph E. Uscinski and Joseph M. Parent suggests that people who experience anxiety and loss of control over their personal circumstances are more likely to adopt fringe beliefs. This March, psychologists at Princeton published a study showing that ostracism also enhances belief in conspiracy theories.
The alt-right, Michael explained, benefits from the bullhorn the internet provides and from savvy branding engineered by its leaders. “They tend to frame their arguments less in the verbiage of supremacy and more in the verbiage of self-defense,” he said. “It’s more palatable.” Nonetheless, the S.P.L.C. designates various entities in the alt-right as hate groups, including the Daily Stormer and Richard Spencer’s “think tank,” the National Policy Institute (N.P.I.).
The din the alt-right has managed to create belies its undoubtedly marginal position relative to other political movements: Less than half of Americans polled in December 2016 had even heard of it, and the size of its ranks is unknown. “What sets it apart,” according to George Hawley, the author of the forthcoming Making Sense of the Alt-Right, “is the ability to troll itself into the conversation.” Supporters draw attention to themselves online, he told me, “by acting as parasites, starting fights with people who have hundreds of thousands of followers.” In amateur videos, anonymous comments, and pithy tweets, they mercilessly mock people they disagree with, hoping to fluster or offend. Many supporters harbor anti-Semitic views yet like to cite Rules for Radicals, a 1971 manual for social change by the Jewish community organizer Saul Alinsky, as required reading.2 “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon,” Alinsky wrote. “It infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage.”
2 This winter, an ideological rift created a new label, “alt-lite,” which applies to a cohort that takes a softer line on the issue, largely avoiding criticism of Jewish influence on government and culture.
On the internet, alt-right pundits can control their narratives and, if they want, hide behind handles and avatars. Acolytes say anonymity is necessary because they’re part of a misunderstood counterculture; exposure could cost them jobs and friends, even invite violence. The digital netherworld, however, is also a haven for hate speech. Users kicked off Twitter for abusive language can easily start new accounts. Or they can move over to Gab, an alt-right-friendly messaging platform whose guidelines proclaim, “The only valid form of censorship is an individual’s own choice to opt-out.”
In Charleston, Lokteff explained how Red Ice entered this arena. Palmgren launched the company in 2002 in Gothenburg, Sweden. Its name refers to a Norse myth in which the world was created in a cosmic void between two realms — one frozen, one red-hot. Red Ice disseminated conspiracy theories about U.F.O.’s, Freemasons, the Illuminati, and 9/11. Then, around 2012, the outlet shifted its attention to conspiracies about race — the idea that liberals were perpetrating a white genocide, for instance. It also began to question the Holocaust. The company’s tagline was “Dispelling the Mythmakers.” 3
3 They changed it to “The Future Is the Past” earlier this year.
Red Ice found a new audience in the nascent alt-right and now serves as a digital hub for the movement. It produces newscasts of events like the Stockholm conference and Spencer’s protest in May against the removal of a Confederate monument in Virginia. Its bread and butter, though, is weekly talk-radio-style programs. The segments are available in audio and video formats, much like Rush Limbaugh’s in-studio streams, and reach more than 120,000 subscribers on YouTube. Red Ice also has paying members, who can access additional content. Lokteff declined to reveal the number of members, but each one shells out seven dollars a month — “the cost of a hipster coffee,” as she put it.
Red Ice is ambitious. Earlier this year, it entered into a partnership with the N.P.I. to launch a media company modeled on Breitbart but situated further to the right. Red Ice also helps run AltRight.com, which debuted in January and kicked off a $50,000 crowdfunding campaign this summer. Lokteff, meanwhile, is an aggressive talent scout. She scours the internet in search of budding voices and tracks down bloggers and other online personalities whom Red Ice viewers recommend as potential guests. When she finds one, she sets up interviews via Skype — video if the person is comfortable revealing his or her identity, audio if not. The interviews, which often run an hour or more, rarely turn confrontational. They are intended to create a sense of ideological momentum.
Lokteff hosts a program called Radio 3Fourteen — her birthday is March 14 — which frequently showcases women’s perspectives on white nationalism. Her guests toe the alt-right’s party line on gender, which mimics that of fascist and white-power movements of the twentieth century: By design, the sexes are not equal, physically or otherwise, but they are complementary and equally important. Men are strong and rational, women yielding and emotional; men are good at navigating politics, women at nurturing family units; men make decisions, women provide counsel. The survival of the white race depends on both sexes embracing their roles.
In April, not long after we met, Lokteff invited three female bloggers to appear in a video chat about “femininity in the modern world.” One of her guests was a brunette with a soft, raspy voice who went by the pen name Bre Faucheux. Faucheux, who was born in New Orleans, wasn’t always a white nationalist. A few years ago, she was a young aspiring novelist who posted videos of herself on YouTube, mostly focused on reviewing books; she knocked All the Light We Cannot See, which won the Pulitzer Prize, for having young “protagonists who don’t protag,” or make decisions. She also talked about the creative process behind her self-published fantasy fiction. (On Amazon, Faucheux described her first novel, The Elder Origins, as “a historical fantasy with sinister blends of medieval warfare, young love, Native American legend, and vampire lore.”)
Last summer, her social-media tone changed radically. In July, she posted “Unpopular Opinions,” a video in which she said that higher education had taught her nothing — “they’ll let anybody into college” — and described giving up on feminism because it had been “hijacked by a bunch of freaking nutbags.” Several weeks later, she posted a rant about publishing’s fixation on racial diversity. “Every single culture in existence has resisted diversity by means of killing each other, segregating against one another, and saying it was even immoral to even be around one another,” Faucheux said in defense of books with only white characters. “Taking comfort in one’s own ethnic group or race is not racist.”
The video piqued Lokteff’s interest. She invited Faucheux to appear on Radio 3Fourteen. Faucheux, who said “pure anger” had inspired her to record the tirade, complained that in college, when she suggested that the curriculum judged “white civilization” more harshly than others, she was called ethnocentric. Lokteff chuckled knowingly. “It’s only wrong when whites do it, right?” she replied. “How dare you? Check your white privilege,” Faucheux shot back in mock horror.
After her first appearance on Red Ice, Faucheux made a video expressing her newfound devotion to the alt-right. She explained that she had been reading blogs and watching videos that excoriated feminism, liberalism, and diversity. Recognizing the evils wrought by the left — “the collapse in national identity, the destruction of the nuclear family . . . and the very real threat of white genocide” — left her despondent. “I couldn’t even go to the mall to buy myself a pair of jeans,” she said, “without noticing the trends that I had been reading about taking place all around me.” The alt-right calls this type of conversion “red-pilling,” an idea borrowed from a scene in The Matrix, in which Neo, the movie’s protagonist, swallows a red pill and realizes that his reality is nothing but a computer-generated facade.
Until she went on Red Ice, Faucheux had felt alone, and as though she had to censor herself. “Talking to Lana felt like taking in an entire glass of water after months and months of chronic thirst,” she said in her video. She’d lost friends as a result of her political coming-out, but no matter: “My days of engaging in white guilt are over.” Her YouTube bio now reads, “Conservative. Traditionalist. #AltRight Enthusiast. American Nationalist. Pro Gun. Anti-Left. Right Wing Blogger. Author. YouTuber. Completely Deplorable.” (Faucheux declined an interview request.)
The April group chat on Radio 3Fourteen seemed to speak to women who, like Faucheux, felt that an ever-liberalizing society was telling them how to be and what to believe, spurning them at any sign of parochial behavior. The bloggers noted how unhappy modern women are. To an extent, research bears out this idea: In 2009, the economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers published a seminal study which found that as women’s rights expanded, their happiness declined. They posited that “greater equality may have led more women to compare their outcomes to those of the men around them,” resulting in disappointment when they found their relative positions lacking. But Lokteff and her klatch of commentators took a reductive view: If women are miserable, feminism must be to blame.
The group also chastised feminists for being conformists. “A lot of these liberal women, they’re not risk-takers, even though they have piercings or blue hair,” Lokteff said. “What we do, the things we talk about, I don’t think it can get any more high-risk.” While hyperbolic on its face, her statement underscored the alt-right’s quest to be seen as a group of righteous rebels. Lokteff presented its mission to reverse decades of progressive change as radical, even thrilling.
The more subtle effect of her conspiratorial orchestration was to assure female viewers that ideas society deems offensive — for example, a preference for white beauty — feel normal when you’re in the right crowd. “It’s okay to think like us,” Lokteff said. “If you do, there’s a whole tribe here that you can join of girls that actually have your back.”
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.
Women have always been part of white extremist groups. Some have even risen to prominent roles. During the heyday of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, an Atlanta woman named Elizabeth Tyler spearheaded the creation of the group’s national Propagation Department. She published a weekly newsletter advising “kleagles,” or paid campaigners, on developing new chapters. Tyler told them to recruit friends, to use churches as staging grounds, and to cast local minorities — blacks, Jews, Catholics, immigrants — as enemies. Kleagles were “encouraged to study their territories, identify the sources of concern among native-born Protestant whites, and offer the Klan as a solution,” Blee explains in another book, Women of the Klan. In the first six months of Tyler’s association with the K.K.K., its membership expanded by 85,000. When she formed a dedicated women’s wing in 1921, Tyler told the New York Times, “The Klan stands for the things women hold most dear.” The wing attracted some 500,000 members over the next decade.
In Germany, Hitler called Gertrud Scholtz-Klink, the longtime leader of his party’s women’s league, “the perfect Nazi woman.” Scholtz-Klink, who rarely smiled in photos and always wore her long hair wrapped in a tight braid around her head, ran an organization that taught millions of women across the Reich how to be good Nazi wives and, eventually, how to contribute to the war effort. “The National Socialist movement sees the man and the woman as equal bearers of Germany’s future,” she said in a 1936 speech, using language that alt-right women echo today. “It asks, however, for more than in the past: that each should first completely accomplish the tasks that are appropriate to his or her nature.” She bore seven children and proclaimed it necessary “to make the calling to motherhood the way through which the German woman will see her calling to be mother of the nation.”
However, the role of women in such movements has always been controversial. Men in the K.K.K. grew so threatened by Tyler that she was pushed out in 1923. In 1937, Scholtz-Klink proposed titles that women could hold in the Nazi Party, but male superiors objected because the honorifics were too similar to men’s. “They perceived any autonomy on the part of the women as a threat,” the historian Geraldine Horan writes in Mothers, Warriors, Guardians of the Soul.
There are intimate challenges as well. In her interviews, Blee found that almost all of the women she spoke with had “difficulties in their personal lives caused by their activism.” In 1997, a neo-Nazi recruitment document blamed male members’ treatment of wives and girlfriends, including a tendency to “discard them like garbage,” for women’s reluctance to join.
The alt-right currently lacks the organization and sophistication of the Klan and the Third Reich. Some female pundits are quick to say that they don’t face male opposition. “Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of men I’ve met,” Stewart told me, “have absolutely no problem with me speaking about politics or having a YouTube channel.” Not all women, however, gloss over the gender divide. In June, Tara McCarthy, a blogger who hosts a popular podcast called “Virtue of the West,” recorded a video addressing male pundits who resent their female counterparts’ garnering followers. “If you want to criticize women in the alt-right because maybe they said something you don’t agree with, take the thing you don’t agree with them about and make a video about that,” McCarthy said in her delicate British accent. “Don’t criticize them just because they happen to get a lot of views.” On Stormfront, the oldest white-nationalist website, a thread about recruiting women contains dozens of comments reproaching men. One urges the movement to shed “internet tough guys and keyboard warriors,” as well as “nerdy woman-haters.” Another reads, “There are quite a few of my fellow women that I would love to bring here, but I dare not due to some of the chauvinistic attitude of some posters.”
The alt-right is an unwieldy digital coalition with no formal requirements for membership. An anonymous Twitter troll and Richard Spencer can both claim the movement’s mantle. While this big tent offers advantages, it also threatens to collapse as factions tussle for power. One of the communities snubbed by the movement’s figureheads are men’s rights activists, particularly the most extreme among them: “men going their own way” (MGTOW), who shun relationships with women, especially marriage, in favor of male sovereignty. Critics disavow this cohort because contempt for women distracts from the higher, racial goals of white nationalism. The rejection, however, is feeble. It comes from the mouths of misogynists — if less zealous ones — and means little in the digital morass.
In December 2015, Colin Robertson, a young Scottish alt-right blogger who calls himself Millennial Woes, invited Lokteff, her husband, and Stewart to participate in a livestreamed video chat. The conversation’s topics ranged from Robertson’s gallstone problem to American suffragettes, whom Lokteff criticized as “spinsters, women who couldn’t get married, gay females who were teaming up with Marxists.” Forty minutes in, the comments from viewers watching online started to turn ugly. “These women are the same old tainted, fucked-up strong womyn,” one Chad Thundercock wrote. A viewer with the handle Don Trump commented, “This Lana cunt needs to wash her mouth before speaking badly about MGTOW.”
Palmgren noticed and went on the offensive. “These guys are, like, fucking losers,” he said. “Get a fucking life, you idiots.” Lokteff jumped in, her tone shifting from chatty to scathing. “You cowards are hiding behind your avatar trying to talk trash about us,” she said. “You’re a disgrace, and you will be wiped out of this society once men finally step up and get their act together.”
4 The J.I.D.F. is an independent group that wages disruptive online campaigns against anti-Semitic websites.
When I asked Lokteff about the incident, she told me she has a female stalker who was responsible for the nasty replies. Online commenters are mere “agitators,” she added — an ironic stance for someone in a movement built on the backs of trolls. She mused about infiltration, suggesting that commenters might be part of the Jewish Internet Defense Force or even FBI agents.4 Lokteff’s answer skillfully deflected the matter at hand — the divisive potential of alt-right women.
Lokteff faces competing audiences: alt-right men who are skeptical or even disdainful of female strength, and confident women wary of a cause that might sideline them. Lokteff tries to reassure both groups, which requires twisting logic and concocting rationalizations as needed. She claims that many of the highest-rated Radio 3Fourteen episodes have female guests — to her eyes, a sure sign that male viewers like them. She doesn’t argue that women shouldn’t have the right to vote. Instead, she says that in an ethnostate, white households would vote as units. She doesn’t apologize for being voluble but confesses to having overactive “guy brain” — the assertive and argumentative part of her. Stewart said something similar in our interview: “Intellectually, I tend to like to hang out with the boys.”
In her Stockholm speech, Lokteff said she didn’t think women were cut out for national politics. But they could still help shape the public conversation. “Since we aren’t physically intimidating,” she said, “we can get away with saying big things.”
“Big,” in the context of the alt-right, can mean controversial, profane, or outright hateful. Eschewing political correctness is a virtue, a way to scandalize liberals. The movement’s lingo is flippant, packed with vicious irony and inside jokes. It tends toward the extreme, even in the most mundane of formats.
In late 2016, two pundits started an online advice column that combined all these rhetorical techniques. “Ask your mom for cooking advice. Ask us about ovens,” read the call for submissions, posted on the Right Stuff, a pro-white website.5 The line between genocidal intent and depraved humor was left deliberately blurry. The two columnists were Wolfie James and Cecilia Davenport, who both used pseudonyms. James claims to be a married woman in her thirties with children; her Twitter picture depicts a pert white woman in a Swiss Miss outfit holding a stein of beer in each hand. Davenport says she is a single Christian woman in her twenties; for a while, her digital avatar was a vintage cartoon of a pretty brunette with a thought bubble that read, “I am filled with hate . . . but in a cute way.”
5 Ovens are a reference to Holocaust crematoria; if something is “oven-worthy,” it would be better off destroyed.
The first installment of their column offered advice to a purported reader hoping to rescue his niece from an interracial relationship. “My instinct is to scream ‘You’re taking part in the genocide of your own people!’ ” Horrified Uncle wrote, “but I suspect that won’t gain much traction.” The tone of the response was casual, its substance sexist and anti-Semitic. “What’s in order,” James replied, “is to step into a Jew’s shoes and play a long game of emotional manipulation. . . . Prey on your niece’s natural insecurities and vanity. Doesn’t she notice the looks she gets when out with him?” The following week, Davenport answered a question about the challenge of finding a “trad waifu” (traditional wife). “The best target for the typical guy on the Alt-Right is a sweet girl, raised in an implicitly white background, who doesn’t have particularly strong political beliefs,” Davenport said. Put another way: Find someone malleable. Later, a female reader looking for an alt-right spouse got different advice. “Become as attractive as you are capable of. Commit to having many white babies! . . . Learn to cook.”
In March, James wrote an article for AltRight.com aimed at female readers, “7 Reasons Why Alt-Right Men Are the Hottest.” It extolled “positively intoxicating” masculinity and a commitment to going rogue. “Rebels have always held irresistible allure,” James wrote. Embedded in the text was a photo of buff white men standing shirtless on a beach, hoisting a Trump sign and a Confederate flag.
Alt-right men “celebrate women for the most vital biological gift of all: the ability to birth and raise white children,” James noted. She derided modern women who kowtow to the “slavery” of a career, imposed by feminists “in order to liberate them from motherhood as they fund their own dispossession by the Third World. What a deal!” The article quickly clarified, however, “It doesn’t mean that women are simply breeders.”
This slippery ode to gender harmony stood in contrast to an article James had written just a few weeks prior on the website Counter Currents. Less advice column, more critical commentary, it acknowledged men’s “widespread opposition to an open-armed welcome” of “woke women” in the movement. “While many in the Alt Right want to keep it a goy’s club,” James wrote, “the women around them will suffer if they’re not given some meaningful way to interact with or participate in the movement.”
Like Lokteff, James performs a balancing act. Even as her language remains steadfastly glib, she adjusts her footing depending on which audience she’s facing.
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.”