This weekend, extremely disturbing images emerged from Charlottesville, Va. When we have actual fascists marching in our streets, spreading hate, waving Nazi flags and screaming slogans of rage aimed our neighbors, friends, family members and coworkers, disengagement is not an option. Decent Americans are morally compelled to respond – not with violence but with pledges to support and protect the communities under attack and through reminders to our nation and the world that we are better than this.
“Fascism” is a loaded word. It’s not one to be used lightly. Yet there’s no doubt that some in the loose community known as the “alt-right” embrace it, in word and in deed. Virulently anti-Semitic, the alt-right stands in stark opposition to America’s tradition of religious freedom for all.
Religious Right groups take pains to distance themselves from the open racism and anti-Semitism of the alt-right. Fair enough. But we’d be foolish to deny that the agendas of these two movements don’t share some overlap. This may be uncomfortable truth, but it must be confronted: The end result of both movements’ platforms, if they were ever enacted, would be to severely curtail, if not obliterate, the rights of women, members of the LGBTQ community, religious minorities (especially Muslims and Jews but also non-believers) and others.
Members of the alt-right march in Charlottesville, Va. (Photo by Emily Molli/NurPhoto, Sipa via AP Images)
Consider women’s rights. The new issue of Harper’s magazine contains a cover story about women in the alt-right movement. Inexplicably, some women aspire to leadership in the misogynistic alt-right, but they face obstacles: primarily, most of its adherents are chauvinists who believe that women should not hold leadership positions. As one commentator on an alt-right website put it, “If women are busy giving speeches and making YouTube broadcasts, they are not going to have time to give birth.” (Like the Religious Right, the alt-right opposes legal abortion but not because they believe it offends God: Women are supposed to produce white children for the Fatherland.)
At Religious Right gatherings, the same anti-feminist agenda is promoted, albeit not so bluntly. Women are supposed to stay home and raise children because God made them nurturers, God intends for men to be in leadership positions, etc.
Alt-right groups openly seek to curtail women’s involvement in civic life. Their leaders argue that women should not be allowed to vote. Lest you think this is a fringe position that no one in the Religious Right would adopt, think again: Religious Right pseudo-historian David Barton and Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association have both questioned whether women should be allowed to vote and hold high office.
But most disturbingly, both the Religious Right and the alt-right constantly employ rhetoric centered on “taking back” the country. In the Religious Right’s version of things, the United States was a paradise until secularists, feminists and liberals compelled enforcement of strict separation of church and state in the 1960s. To the alt-right, it was the civil rights movement and increasing immigration from non-European (that is, less white) nations that led our country to start spiraling downward.
Both visions glorify the 1950s as a “Golden Age,” and in doing so, betray great ignorance of U.S. history. The ’50s were indeed good for the white males who held power, but not so much for everyone else. Both the alt-right and the Religious Right are frequently tone deaf to the oppression and state-sanctioned forms of discrimination that were prevalent then.
Many on the far right have never made their peace with the concept of equal rights for all, so don’t be fooled. When members of any right-wing group speak of “taking back” the country, what they really mean is this: a return to the days when one group of people, because they accounted for a large bloc, held power and used the machinery of government to force their rules, regulations and norms on everyone else and brooked no dissent as they did it.
Religious Right groups disavow racism, and their leaders would absolutely bristle at the claim that they have any connection to the alt-right. Officially, there probably is no connection. Rhetorically, there is. I have monitored the Religious Right for 30 years now, and I refuse to ignore the fact that the language employed by these two movements and the type of American society they envision are way too close for comfort.
Yes, the alt-right and the Religious Right might use different ideologies to justify taking away the rights of women, members of the LGBTQ community, religious minorities, non-believers and others, but at the end of the day, that would be cold comfort to the people whose rights would be crushed under an iron heel of oppression.
These are perilous times, and that’s why we’re all compelled to lift our voices. Get involved. It’s imperative that all people of goodwill say in the loudest voice possible that our nation will rise above and, by all legal means, defeat extremists, whether secular or sectarian, who dare to assume the title of “patriots” when their very actions make a mockery of that term.