Why Are There So Many Right-Wing Extremist Women?
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It all started with Sarah Palin.
Or did it? Maybe it started a few months earlier, when Hillary Clinton downed a shot of whiskey and made some offhand, wrong-footed comments about “hardworking voters, white voters” who still supported her despite her African-American opponent’s lead in delegates.
By “it,” of course I mean the rise of the Tea Party movement and other so-called patriot groups, and with them a new group of women on the right in the United States. They’re no longer content to pay lip service to male leadership, but they’ve got an ambivalent, vexed relationship to feminism as well. But one thing is uncontestable: With mainstream media captivated by their fringe appeal, they’re having a definite moment.
There’s Debra Medina, who failed to win the Republican nomination for governor of Texas but nevertheless managed to energize both her state’s disgruntled patriots and 9/11 “truthers.” Medina made headlines when she attended a “Sovereignty or Secession” rally, where she called for the “tree of freedom” to be “watered with the blood of tyrants and patriots.” (According to The Nation ’s Bob Moser, when asked if she carried the handgun she kept in her car into the grocery store, Medina replied, “I’d like to, but I don’t.”)
There’s Keli Carender, a 30-year-old Seattle improv performer credited in a February New York Times profile with being one of the first Tea Party leaders. The nose ring on this free market-loving Ayn Rand acolyte got almost as much play in the Times piece as her politics.
Then there’s Michele Bachmann, the prolife, pro-Creationism Minnesota congresswoman best known for her vocal opposition to the U.S. Census. Bachmann made headlines in 2008 when she told Hardball’s Chris Matthews that she believed Barack Obama held “anti-American” views and should be “investigated”; more recently, she’s been a trusty fueler of rumors that Obama’s healthcare plan would lead to state-funded euthanasia.
In Arizona, GOP governor Jan Brewer signed the country’s harshest immigration bill this past April, codifying into law a Minutemen-friendly nativism that permits law- enforcement officials to harass at any time anyone they believe might not be “American.” She then promptly took another step toward state-sanctioned racism by signing a ban on ethnic-studies courses in public schools.
The Tea Party–backed South Carolina state Rep. Nikki Haley could become the first female governor of South Carolina -- and the second Republican South Asian governor in the South, after Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal. And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid faces a Republican challenger, Nevada’s Sharron Angle, who, as The Nation ’s Betsy Reed notes, “makes Sarah Palin look like Eleanor Roosevelt.” Angle joined the GOP as a political stepping-stone; as part of her former affiliation with Nevada’s Independent American party, she flogged far-out views on both economic and social policy. In addition to advocating against Social Security and the IRS, the party in 1994 advocated for an amendment to the state constitution that would, according to Talking Points Memo, “explicitly permit discrimination against LGBT people by businesses and government.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, recently released a report titled “Rage on the Right,” looking at the rise of right-wing radicalization -- not just the Tea Party, but more extreme patriot and militia groups, which the report notes have seen a 244 percent increase since Obama’s election. “The anger seething across the American political landscape -- over racial changes in the population, soaring public debt and the terrible economy, the bailouts of bankers and other elites, and an array of initiatives by the relatively liberal Obama Administration that are seen as ‘socialist’ or even ‘fascist’ -- goes beyond the radical right,” wrote Mark Potok, adding that while the many Tea Party organizations “cannot fairly be considered extremist groups…they are shot through with rich veins of radical ideas, conspiracy theories, and racism.”