With the federal parliamentary Inquiry into extremist movements and radicalism in Australia due to report by 30 April 2021, a Charles Sturt University expert warns that women are not simply passive observers of the extreme far right but actively assume a diverse range of roles. They make intellectual contributions, create, share and consume ideological content, celebrate the actions of right wing terrorists, and can engage in violence directly.
By Dr Kristy Campion Lecturer in terrorism studies in the Charles
Sturt University Australian Graduate School of Policing and Security.
Right wing extremism is often portrayed as being the sole domain of angry white men – and occasionally their wives. Despite this, a number of women could be observed participating in US Capitol siege on 6 January 2021. Of the 257 individuals charged so far, 36 were women.
The siege highlights the need to understand why women become involved in far right circles – and what they do once they get there.
Far from simply being homemakers and home-bakers, women in the far right perform a number of functions which sustain – and further – far right movements and their dark ambitions.
These functions span peaceful activism to the engagement in and facilitation of politically motivated violence, the creation and promotion of ideological fantasies, and exemplifying behaviour to be imitated by others.
To understand what women do in the far right, I examined the participation of around 100 women in the extreme and radical right.
By far, most women participate as activists, which is unsurprising. Women were significant to the dreadful expansion of fascism in the past, so their engagement in the contemporary far right is a continuity of tradition.
Their activism is normally licit, and covers a range of activities such as recruitment, pamphleteering, stickering, fundraising and propaganda activities. They publish magazines and blogs, and generally attempt to further causes through legal activities.
Not all participation is legal. A number of women facilitate illegal activity to support their organisation. Facilitation covers receiving stolen goods, counterfeiting and racketeering, and attempting to sell secret documents.
The German terror cell, National Socialist Underground (NSU), received substantial support from women in far right networks. Women associated with Blood and Honour gave NSU their passports, money and equipment. This facilitation ultimately enabled the cell to continue its campaign of terrorism and political violence.
While the vast majority of far right terror is perpetrated by men, some women have engaged in (or planned to engage in) violent operations.
We need look no further than Lindsay Souvannarath who was disrupted planning a firebombing and shooting attack in a shopping mall in Halifax, Nova Scotia (Canada) in 2015, or Kiyomi Brewer who planned to use pressurised IEDs against an Indiana synagogue in 2018, or Beate Zschape of NSU who was part of a decade-long assassination campaign waged against ideological targets in Germany right up until 2011.
Some women develop ideology, which helps to shape extreme right wing understanding of the world. The most significant thinker is Savitri Devi – the godmother of ecofascism and a keen supporter of Adolf Hitler.
Her writings extol the superiority of the Aryan race and champion procreation restrictions against all other ethnicities – and likely influenced the manifesto of the Christchurch mosques massacres terrorist.
Such writings work to populate the far right imagination with victims, villains, and of course, grateful vixens.
Ideological content is also promoted by women, using various social media channels and encrypted platforms. These channels trumpet demographic conspiracies such as The Great Replacement, as promoters make final pleas for their imperilled ‘race’.
Women often spearhead arguments against feminists, and negotiate space in the far right for female involvement.
They weave narratives of the collapse of western civilisation, endangered gender roles, the de-feminisation of women and the feminisation of men, and current order is in decline. They glorify male right wing terrorists and urge all others to action. As one propaganda item suggests, ‘have many children, or martyr’.
Some women do become martyrs of their movements. These exemplars are seen as having demonstrated a standard for other women to aspire towards.
Vickey Weaver, who was ‘murdered by a (so-called) evil state’ at Ruby Ridge (Idaho, USA), became the exemplar of the devoted mother. Sheila Beam became an exemplar following the trial of her husband, where she was portrayed as the self-sacrificial bride of a man hunted by a tyrannical system.
The implications of this participation are threefold; first, not all right wing terrorism is perpetrated by men, with some women facilitating or engaging in acts of politically motivated violence. Second, women develop and promote ideology which shapes how the far right engage with the world. Third, they partake in an ecosystem, in which they find community, a secure identity, and a sense of order in a world they see as consumed with chaos.
In sum, women are not passive observers of the far right; they actively assume a diverse array of roles. They can engage in violence directly or make more intellectual contributions. They create, share, and consume ideological content, and celebrate the actions of right wing terrorists.
As we look towards an increasingly diverse ‘threat-scape’, we need to remain agile to the threats which can (and have) emerged from the far right. As we saw at the US Capitol on 6 January 2021, it is not just ‘angry white men’ – nor has it ever been.