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The Alt-Right Doesn’t Know What to Do With White Women

F. Roger Devlin is the leading voice of far-right gender politics. But he's facing pushback from a new group of white nationalist women.

Joe Klamar/Getty Images

In a basement conference room in the Ronald Reagan Center in Washington, D.C., on November 19, 2016, following one of the first alt-right press conferences after the 2016 election, F. Roger Devlin (the “F” stands for Francis) took to the stage with a curious tale about Norwegian women. Their “lizard brains,” he said, were causing them to abandon Norwegian men for Pakistani immigrants, causing a crisis in heterosexual relations among Norwegian whites.

It was familiar territory for Devlin. Devlin is not a household name the way other white nationalist leaders like Richard Spencer are, and he certainly lacks the pomp of some of the far-right’s bombastic hangers-on, such as Milo Yiannopoulos. Yet the self-described “independent scholar” is a major voice on the alt-right, and has been critical in shaping the movement’s understanding of gender, marriage, and the place of white women among its ranks. He is a longtime contributor to far-right publications including The Occidental Quarterly, VDARE, and Counter-Currents. Like many on the intellectual wing of the alt-right, he has mainstream credentials, namely a doctorate in political philosophy from Tulane. But as his work veered right, he began to fancy himself a dissident. In light of the rise in mainstream media attention toward the alt-right movement and women’s role in it, Devlin’s work sheds a great deal of light on a question of what today’s white nationalists think of women’s place in society.

As Seyward Darby explained in her September cover story for Harper’s on women in the alt-right, there are those within the movement who are consciously pushing for increased female involvement—through YouTube channels, blogging, social media, and even presentations at movement conferences. It’s a big shift, given the oft-noted lack of female leadership in the alt-right. Some white nationalist authors have been quick to acknowledge the need for change. “There aren’t enough women who publicly align with the Alt Right at present in order for the newly awoken to find that new community,” the female white nationalist writer Wolfie James wrote in Counter-Currents. “A man can thrive as a lone wolf, but a woman will wither from loneliness.” Women’s inclusion, in other words, is crucial to the movement’s recruitment strategy going forward. But the far right’s gender politics are being shaped by Devlin and his ilk, and their vision for an ethnically cleansed future is hostile to female power. The result is that a conflict is brewing between what the alt-right knows it needs to do—recruit more white women—and the way it envisions the world it wants to build.

Although Devlin has been a presence in white nationalist circles for some time, it was his 2006 essay for The Occidental Quarterly, “Sexual Utopia in Power,” that garnered him fame in both the “manosphere” (the loose network of blogs, chatrooms, and forums run by MRAs) and the white nationalist community. He is credited with coining the term “hypergamy”—the practice of women “marrying up” in terms of class, sexual prowess, or societal status, which Devlin asserts is a foundational part of the feminist vision of sexual liberation. Charlotte Allen, a writer and fellow at the conservative Independent Women’s Forum, wrote in a 2010 Weekly Standard article that Devlin “deftly uses theories of evolutionary psychology” in his work, but that his “writing about the feminist and sexual revolutions frequently shades from the refreshingly politically incorrect into the disturbingly punitive.”

Devlin may have been “deft” and “refreshing” to Allen, but his theories are mostly regurgitations of the claims men’s rights advocates have made for decades. Like those who decry “gynocentrism”—a world in which women’s rights are at the fore—Devlin argues that the sexual revolution has transformed women into the dominant sex. The death of monogamy and the modern woman’s freedom to have multiple partners throughout her lifetime has left the majority of men behind, he says, creating a situation of “loneliness for the majority” of men while ensuring a “double standard [that] favors women.” Indeed, “in the feminist formulation, [it’s] freedom for women, responsibility for men.” These responsibilities, as Devlin outlines them, are manifold: It’s men, not women, who have traditionally died in wars. It’s men, not women, Devlin claims, who are the economic benefactors for their children—even if those men aren’t granted custody rights, as Devlin is quick to decry. And it’s men, not women, he says, who “have been the builders, sustainers, and defenders of civilization.”  

To Devlin, the questions of a women’s role in the world and their role in sex relationships, are inseparable from what he refers to as the feminist ideology. As scholar Christa Hodapp observes in her book Men’s Rights, Gender, and Social Media, he views feminism as an “unhinged bratty sister” and a “threat motivated and furthered . . . by a desire for power.” Men shouldn’t do a woman’s bidding, Devlin says. In fact, “it is a woman’s responsibility to prove she is worthy of the privilege” of submitting to a man and bearing his children.

The question that’s arising is what will become of the tension between a need for female involvement in the far-right, as asserted by James, and the ideas pushed by the alt-right’s more aggressively sexist figures such as Devlin. The answer rests largely on what becomes of the ties between the alt-right and the men’s rights movement, two amorphous and symbiotic sectors that have enjoyed increasing power and notoriety in the age of Trump. The MRA-to-white nationalist pipeline is well-documented—people who become intrigued by one ideology frequently become devotees of the other. But different strains of the far right have different visions, and their ambitions can clash.

As Angela Nagle noted in Jacobin earlier this year, there has already been tension on the right between the moralist conservatism that “aims for a return to traditional marriage while disapproving of porn and promiscuity,” and the “libertine internet culture from which all the real energy has emerged.” Devlin, like other MRAs, takes the notion of gender separation based on “biological” difference even further than the traditionalists, advocating that men look abroad  (e.g., to Eastern Europe) for more subservient women, and push for a complete upheaval of the traditionalist understanding of marriage as entailing male obligations. Under his view, traditionalist visions of heterosexual marriage did not oppress women enough. He opts instead for a vision of absolute female servility. Part of this argument is economic: he claims in his essay “Home Economics,” that most marriages today are premised on the idea that “a woman marries a meal ticket; a man marries trouble and expense.” He calls on men to abandon the “chivalrous pretense” underlying marriage and shake off their traditional economic responsibilities. Even in the company of reactionaries, this exhortation can come with its own baggage, especially given the urgency with which the alt-right speaks of “white extinction.” The possibility of abandoning financial support for white women and their white babies comes with its own wealth of contradictions in an ideology dedicated to preserving whiteness and white supremacy.

The growing female presence in the white-nationalist and broader alt-right circles has encouraged some to relinquish these Devlinesque appeals. But as Darby explained in Harper’s, while white nationalist movements that explicitly exclude women from their ranks have been renounced—however feebly—the efforts to nurture women’s leadership roles in the alt-right has met resistance. “The movement can consider incorporating women without being feminized or co-opted,” pleaded Wolfie James in Counter-Currents. For one, she says, women are crucial in a “Fourteen Words context”—a reference to the white supremacist slogan “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” No white women means no white children, and by extension no more white men. Even Devlin concedes this point, explaining that “without children, the race has no future, and without women men cannot have children.” Women have to be a part of the movement, the alt right concedes. What is up for debate is the extent of their involvement.

For ideologues like Devlin who have based their careers in the alt right on the demonization of women, this question poses a challenge. As he whined in “Sexual Utopia in Power,” “Western women [have] become the new ‘white man’s burden.’” At the 2016 NPI conference where he fretted over the fate of straight white men in Norway, he suggested that white men adopt “a policy of writing off women who take up with their swarthy oppressors.” In other words, white men should decline sex with women who have slept with non-whites. Such a move would be “eugenic,” he says, as it “[flushes] disloyalty from our gene pool.” But Devlin doesn’t have a high opinion of any women, whether they are white or not, whether they’ve slept with men of color or not. Who, then, are the women suitable for right-wing leadership roles in his eyes? If the alt-right’s recent history is any indication, that question is unlikely to go away quietly.