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The 'alt-right' is fueled by toxic masculinity — and vice versa

The rising alt-right took many of the men’s rights activists' most backward notions about women and worked them into their own hateful rhetoric.
Image: Neo Nazis, Alt-Right, and White Supremacists encircle and chant at counter protesters at the base of a statue of Thomas Jefferson after marching through the University of Virginia campus with torches in Charlottesville, Virginia, Aug. 11, 2017.
White supremacists chant at counterprotesters at the base of a statue of Thomas Jefferson after marching through the University of Virginia campus with torches in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 11, 2017.Samuel Corum / Anadolu Agency/Getty Images file

What is often overlooked in discussions of the paranoid far-right fear of cultural and racial “replacement” that pervades anti-immigrant rhetoric around the world is its deep connection to a misogynist backlash that has also been growing on the internet for the past decade. The fear of immigrants — at a time when undocumented immigration in the United States, despite a recent short-term uptick, is near historic lows — isn’t just driven by racism. It’s also driven by the same sort of insecurity about masculinity that underlies the so-called Men’s Rights Movement and the increasingly dangerous and self-destructive cult of self-described “involuntary celibates,” or incels.

These men, most of them white, fear that their cultural, political, and economic supremacy is being undercut by women and people of color — even in a country in which the faces of the most powerful are still overwhelmingly white and male.

I’ve spent the last eight years chronicling some of the angriest white men in America, watching as the rising "alt-right" took many of the most backwards notions about women from men’s rights activists and their ilk and worked them into their own hateful, racist, misogynistic spew. Many in the overwhelmingly male-dominated "alt-right" despise women — including white women — at least as much as they hate immigrants and Jewish people.

Xenophobia and sexual anxiety have long gone hand in hand. In the 19th and 20th centuries, for instance, American racists played upon fears of white women being raped to stoke hatred of African-Americans — and provide convenient excuses for countless lynchings of black men by the Klan. Contemporary xenophobes have also raised the specter of rape: Trump famously began his presidential campaign by demonizing Mexican immigrants as rapists; the European right attacks Muslim refugees as “rapefugees” preying upon white women. In his manifesto, the Christchurch shooter railed against what he sees as an epidemic of “rape and molestation perpetrated by these non-white scum.”

But many men in the "alt-right" seem more concerned about a different sort of sexual threat from these “invaders,” worrying less about rape than about white women choosing to have sex (and possibly children) with “alpha males” who aren't white. No wonder the conservative Gateway Pundit, in the midst of the caravan panic last fall, couldn’t stop referring to the would-be “invaders” as “military-aged virile males.”

This fear of female sexual “disloyalty” has its roots in the notion of “hypergamy,” a discredited evolutionary psychology theory promulgated by Men’s Rights Activists and similar anti-woman communities convinced that women are biologically wired to abandon loyal “beta males” as soon as an alpha walks by. Men’s Rights Activist Paul Elam several years ago wrote that it drives “women outside their marriages for more sexually exciting adventures ... with physically superior male specimens” who can provide both better sex and more masculine genes for her offspring. Elam, like many other proponents of the spurious theory, is convinced that a huge percentage of married men are unknowingly raising children that aren’t their own. (Multiple studies, meanwhile, suggest the actual number is around 1 or 2 percent and has been for hundreds of years.)

"Alt-rightists" have taken Elam's notion one step further, attacking white women not only for allegedly cuckolding their husbands but also for cuckolding their race by dating and having children with non-white men. In a 2015 post on The Daily Stormer, neo-Nazi polemicist Andrew Anglin denounced what he called “the greasiest cuckolding of all,” declaring, in all seriousness, that “[t]he White European female’s craving for Black d--- threatens to collapse civilization itself.”

And, as Anglin sees it, “[w]hite women across the Western world” are using their political power to push for liberal immigration policies “to ensure an endless supply of Black and Arab men to satisfy their depraved sexual desires.”

All of this influenced online conservative politics more generally: The word "cuck," aimed at those deemed insufficiently conservative, spiked in popularity during the 2016 election and no less than Steve Bannon was said to have used it (to describe Jared Kushner). But ultimately, its origins are racist, inherently sexual and based in white men's sexual insecurity. The next time someone calls refers to a “cuck” online, it’s intrinsically a projection of their own deep fear of being “cucked.”

Like incels, who believe they’re entitled to sex with women of similar attractiveness — their “looksmatches,” in incel patois — many alt right men believe that white women, and their wombs, rightfully belong to them. For instance, in a 2016 rant on the evils of white women who have sex, and sometimes children, with black men, Anglin complained that these women are using “OUR WOMB — that’s right, it doesn’t belong to her ... to produce an enemy soldier.”

This intersection of sexism and racism is the origin of the phrase "white genocide": The "alt-right" believes not that they'll all be murdered, but that women will cease to bear lily-white children if the increase of interracial marriages and interracial children continues. This laughable fear is also why many "alt-right" men pitch fits over even the slightest symbolic acknowledgments that interracial relationships exist, growing outraged over depictions of interracial couples in ads for everything from condoms to sweatpants.

But even laughable ideas can have consequences. Just as aggrieved sexual entitlement has driven some incels to murder sprees, the related fears of black and brown men (sometimes spoken of openly, other times as more coded fears of non-white fertility), have long inspired violence, murder and draconian, racist immigration policies. There's a reason Trump began his campaign accusing Mexican immigrants of being rapists; and there's a reason that it worked.