POLITICS

Heather Heyer Was The Alt-Right's Worst Nightmare

16/08/2017 10:10 PM IST | Updated 17/08/2017 12:46 AM IST

The neo-Nazis at the Daily Stormer have nothing nice to say about Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old paralegal who was killed by a white supremacist protester in Charlottesville last weekend.

Andrew Anglin, the editor of the Daily Stormer, wasted no time in defaming Heyer, writing an editorial shortly after her death in which he excoriated her appearance and called her “drain on society.” Anglin also noted Heyer’s marital and parental status, calling her a “fat, childless, 32-year-old slut,” claiming that her failure to marry and have children meant that she had “no value.”

Anglin’s vile rant is a window into the far right’s position on the place of white women in their envisioned America: as fertile wives. While few white women were visible at the Unite The Right march in Charlottesville, the self-proclaimed alt-right does have a place where women’s presence is valued and encouraged ― at home, raising as many white babies as possible.

“Had she not died yesterday, hundreds of thousands of dollars would have been spent on propping-up this gross creature who had failed to do her most basic duty – her only real duty, in fact – and reproduce,” Anglin wrote. “Having no children at that age, it can be assumed that she had multiple abortions.”

Justin Ide / Reuters

The fear of being outnumbered by racial and ethnic minorities is the driving force of the so-called alt-right, and in this regard, they are no different from many nationalist movements abroad, or from previous white nationalist movements in American history.

Kelly J. Baker, a religious history scholar and the author of Gospel According to the Klan: The KKK’s Appeal to Protestant America, 1915-1930, says that the need to ensure that more white women were having white babies was a key part of the Ku Klux Klan’s platform during its resurgence in the 1920s and 1930s.

“One of their planks was a defense of white womanhood,” Baker told HuffPost. “They’re very explicit that they have to protect white women from Black men, but also from immigrant men and Jewish men.”

The resurgent Klan was also fixated on the home and the family and on women’s roles in it. The Klan’s position was that “the best role that a woman can have is as a wife and mother who’s going to instill in her children patriotism and white supremacy,” Baker said.

Nearly a century later, the self-proclaimed alt-right has similar fears, and, when it comes to the rightful place of white women, similar goals. The movement seeks the “restoration” of what some leaders call “natural relations” between men and women — that is, men leading in public life and women confined to the domestic sphere, with marriage and procreation for all. To this end, the so-called alt-right sets itself against feminism and the feminist insistence that women and men have a right to an equal footing in public life and that encourages men to contribute more labor in the domestic sphere.

But there’s one core feminist issue where the white nationalist right and feminism are in accord, and that’s abortion. Unlike the traditional conservatives and Republicans they disdain and deride, white nationalists are content to permit abortion in some cases. And those cases, unsurprisingly, are distinguished by the race or ethnicity of the woman seeking the abortion. While traditional conservatives oppose abortion in almost all cases, the alt-right is in favor of abortion rights for those they deem unworthy of existence: African Americans, Latinas, and other racial and ethnic minorities.

When Tomi Lahren described herself as “pro-choice” earlier this year in an appearance on The View (“I’m for limited government, so stay out of my guns, and you can stay out of my body as well”), white nationalist leader Richard Spencer responded with a long video in which he explained his position on abortion. He’s not in favor of outlawing abortion or contraception altogether, he says, but he wants white women to have more accidental pregnancies.

“Contraception has been a great detriment because precisely the people who shouldn’t be using it are using it,” he said, after claiming that “smart people” — that is, white people — use contraception reliably and are less likely to need abortion. “We want smart people to have more children. I sometimes want smart people to be a little more reckless. Don’t plan. Don’t use a condom.”

At RadixJournal, the Spencer-founded website that began as AlternativeRight.com, a 2016 post written under a pseudonym explains the need to keep abortion legal. Abortion must be legal ― not because women should be in control of their bodies, but because, while “a blanket ban on abortion would probably increase the White population in there numbers [sic], it would, no doubt, decrease the overall quality, as well and leave all races stupider, more criminally prone, and more diseased.”

Both Spencer and the anonymous blogger acknowledge that abortion restrictions hit Black and Latina women the hardest, making them more likely to have children. Spencer and his ilk view this as an undesirable policy outcome, not because they care about bodily autonomy for Black and Latina women, but because they believe those women to be inherently unfit to reproduce. The Republican agenda of restricting abortion access, the latter writes, will result in more babies born to “the least intelligent and responsible members of society: women who are disproportionately Black, Hispanic, and poor.” The alt-right agenda, Spencer says, is “eugenic in the deepest sense of the word.”

Assessing the place of white women in the alt-right movement is a complicated task: though some women have emerged as movement leaders, and while white supremacy advantages white women over all other women, the stated goal of the movement is to roll back the advances of feminism for all women and to restrict white women to their “natural” role as wives and mothers.

Joshua Roberts / Reuters

Baker said that the 1920s Klan was “nervous” about the possibility of widespread birth control for white women. Abortion “doesn’t appear openly in the stuff they’re writing, which isn’t especially surprising for the time… but there is nervousness about birth control and the notion that women could control their reproduction.”

To push back against the rising availability of effective birth control, the Klan told white women that having as many white children as possible “is your job and it matters for your family and your race and for America.” The so-called alt-right, Baker says, is advocating a similar “move to traditional gender norms,” animated by fears of higher birth rates among immigrants and racial minority groups.

Heather Heyer’s family and friends, in their remembrances, have emphasized her commitment to social justice. At her memorial service on Wednesday, her father, Mark Heyer, remembered his daughter’s commitment to justice and love. “She wanted equality,” Heyer said.

It’s little wonder, then, that the Daily Stormer rushed to defame a woman who had just been murdered at a white nationalist rally. She was a feminist, and a white activist against racial inequity. And above all, she wasn’t married, she didn’t have children, and she had a place in public life. Heather Heyer was the alt-right’s worst nightmare.

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