Those on the far right who have long discussed and acted upon their desire to dominate women’s sexual and reproductive rights are pushing that agenda into the political mainstream with help from the anti-choice movement.
The traditional right wing in the United States tries to distance itself from fascists, but far-right groups are weaponizing traditionalism and “normie optics” to infiltrate anti-choice platforms to recruit and organize young white men.
Attacks on reproductive rights are nothing new, but fascist groups’ infiltration of anti-choice groups and recruiting around anti-choice organizing in their genocidal agenda is an escalation. Leaked conversations between white supremacist groups using the Discord messaging site show users discussing recruiting members based on their opposition to abortion rights. “March for life never has effect until White Nationalists join [sic],” the Discord user “Commander Davis” said in the Traditionalist Worker Party chatroom, a now disbanded neo-Nazi group. March For Life is a decades old radical anti-choice movement and protest popular among Republicans. President Trump addressed the March for Life rally in January.
Under the Trump administration, a surge in white nationalist organizing and policies has meant an uptick in threats against abortion providers and clinics, creating an even more unsafe environment for patients as Republican lawmakers further erode their rights. Threats of violence against abortion clinics have nearly doubled since 2017, and trespassing incidents have more than tripled, according to data compiled by the National Abortion Federation.
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From pipe bombs targeting Democratic leaders and the media, to the fatal shooting of two Black grandparents at a Kentucky grocery store, and the massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue, fascists are escalating the use of violence to further their goal of creating a white ethnostate. That goal hinges on the subjugation and elimination of marginalized communities, the sexual domination of white women, and the reproductive control of women of color.
Anti-choice extremists are responsible for numerous violent attacks on abortion providers and abortion clinics. Between 1993 and 1994, there was a spate of violent anti-choice attacks resulting in several murders. In those two years, two doctors who provided abortions, a clinic escort, and two receptionists at a clinic were murdered by far-right anti-abortionists.
The late ’90s saw even more “pro-life” attacks, including murders and assaults against abortion providers, as did the 2000s. Just three years ago in 2015, Robert L. Dear shot up a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood, killing three people and injuring several others. Dear, who repeated talking points from a discredited anti-choice smear campaign, had a history of attacking reproductive health facilities and railing against abortions.
Not surprisingly, there is often overlap and collaboration between the so-called pro-life movement—typically made up of religious conservatives who oppose a person’s right to safe, legal, and affordable abortion—and racist far-right movements. Myriad activists and journalists have chronicled the short line between hatred of gender and sexual minorities and white nationalism. Gamergate, for example, revealed how easy it is for male supremacists and white supremacists to target common enemies together, and how quickly men who hate women can become radicalized. Not only do misogynists such as “incels” tend to hold deeply racist views and transition to white nationalism, but white nationalists themselves tend to target women and trans people, and have a particular animus for abortion rights.
There are sometimes distinctions between the religious, conservative anti-choice agenda and that of white supremacists. While religious anti-choice activists want abortion to end in all cases, the far right seeks to end abortion for white people while forcing people of color not to have children through measures such as forced abortions and forced sterilization. Still, some U.S. fascists advocate for a full ban on abortion, similar to the mainline conservative position. In some cases, the long-term goal of fascists is a future in which “artificial wombs” replace women altogether. While there’s some difference in the agendas, the common ground shared by conservatives and the far right on abortion leaves a large enough opening for fascists to infiltrate.
“Fascists aligning themselves with anti-choice groups is very alarming,” Lisa Woolfork, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Charlottesville and a professor of English at the University of Virginia, told Rewire.News. Woolfork organized counterprotests in 2017 against the deadly “Unite the Right” rally, where neo-Nazi James Fields drove a car into anti-racist protesters, killing activist Heather Heyer and injuring many more. “Anti-choice ideology legitimizes itself by appealing to religious freedoms, and uses religious views to support that. When fascists slip in under that cover, it’s very easy to promote the whole cause.”
“Normie right wingers who defend the family or oppose abortion or whatever are indirectly our allies,” one Discord poster said on the messaging site in April 2017. “We kind of perceive this innately, but theres a deeper underatanding im trying to point towards here, i guess [sic].” The poster added that fascists could use protectionist patriarchal rhetoric around defending “traditional” family values, and other symbols of traditionalism in art, literature, and music, to recruit “normies” into a “participation in alt-right ideas.”
In its modern form, right-wing authoritarian and white supremacist ideologies have relied on patriarchy and white male supremacy for recruitment and organizing. Now, in an effort to recruit and normalize themselves, fascists have attempted to glom on to more “normie” events and “normie culture,” as they say, by exploiting common ground. They have been spotted over the past year crashing anti-choice events, including marches in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Chicago. An alt-right “KEK” flag was spotted at an anti-choice campaign street stand in Ireland, where alt-right groups made an effort to collaborate with the anti-abortion movement leading up to the country’s vote to legalize abortion.
These incidents created a stir in the anti-choice movement. The right-wing anti-choice website Life Site published an article in January titled “What to do when white supremacists show up at your pro-life rally.” The post’s author repeated the common conspiracy-minded theory that leftists had posed as fascists in order to cause problems for the anti-choice crowd. That is: The author took issue with and assigned blame to those on the left, in addition to a self-described fascist group.
Tennessee Right to Life, a local group that organized the March for Life in Knoxville, had a similar response to the fascist presence at their event. When Matt Heimbach, co-founder of the Traditionalist Worker Party, organized a group of Nazis to join an anti-abortion protest in Tennessee in January, Tennessee Right to Life equated the group with anti-fascists.
“Our organization’s march has a single agenda to support the rights of mothers and the unborn, and we don’t agree with the violent agenda of white supremacists or Antifa,” the group said in a statement reported by the SPLC.
But it’s fascists who are using the anti-choice platform for recruitment. In a December 2017 Discord chat, Heimbach told his followers that the March for Life, the largest anti-choice event in the United States, would be an “important” action for his Nazi followers to attend. “Over 1700 white kids are killed a day by abortion,” he falsely claimed, and proceeded to push an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that “abortion is jewish.”
Even more conservative anti-abortion advocates engage in long-term harassment, intimidation, and propaganda campaigns that make abortion clinics less safe for workers and patients. Consider “Red Rose Rescues,” an anti-abortion tactic that involves entering abortion clinics and harassing patients while they wait for appointments (the anti-choice activists give patients a red rose to start the conversation, appearing friendly). These stealth operations are disruptive to clinic operations and can be intimidating or otherwise unpleasant for patients.
White nationalists and white supremacists will use explicitly racist attacks when they target abortion rights organizations. In 2016, ostensible neo-Nazis targeted an online fundraiser run by the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF), a group that raises funds for people who need financial support to receive abortion care. Cyber attackers hacked the NNAF fundraiser and sent messages to donors containing explicit anti-Black and anti-Semitic threats, and made “fraudulent donations” using Hitler’s name, according to the lawsuit filed by the NNAF and other abortion funds providers against the attackers in March.
Due to the violent threats, along with the November 7 release of Rachelle Shannon—the anti-choice extremist who pleaded guilty to a series of bombings in 1995 and shot abortion provider George Tiller in 1993—abortion advocates are concerned about a potential uptick in far-right violence. Tiller was killed years later by another abortion rights foe, Scott Roeder.
The conspiratorial far right has latched on to abortion clinics as a target of far-right bigotry. InfoWars.com, a conspiracy site founded by Alex Jones, frequently publishes disinformation about Planned Parenthood and abortion. InfoWars was one of the leading organizations to push the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory during the 2016 presidential election. The site’s spread of disinformation culminated in an adherent of the conspiracy showing up to the pizza place with a loaded gun to “investigate” Pizzagate.
In November, a “reporter” for InfoWars showed up to a religious anti-choice rally to cover the event. The presence of InfoWars at an abortion clinic is alarming precisely because it peddles far-right conspiracy theories that have emboldened bigots to show up armed to InfoWars targets.
Further, the now infamous pro-Trump entrapment group Project Veritas (Trump’s foundation made a donation to the group in 2015) secretly recorded conversations with Planned Parenthood workers and doctored the video to make it appear as though Planned Parenthood illegally “sells” fetal tissue for profit. None of this is true, but conservative and far-right media latched on to the story, as did conservative lawmakers, who launched a partisan investigation into Planned Parenthood.
A recent anti-choice victory was the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. Kavanaugh is popular among conservatives in Congress who championed the judge while he faced allegations of sexual assault. Kavanaugh also garnered the praise of fascists. In an unpublished log of a Discord server obtained by Unicorn Riot, a user posted, “This Kavanaugh guy seems great.” Another posted, “Kavanaugh for dictator.” Another advocated that conservatives who did not vote to confirm Kavanaugh should be voted out of office during the midterm elections.
During a much-criticized interview with the Today Show this fall, Patrick Casey, leader of the fascist cell Identity Evropa, which was present at the deadly 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, said he wants fascists to take over the GOP. Arguably, the GOP is already well on the way there: Trump is himself a fascist and the leader of the GOP, and there are myriad other open white supremacists in elected office, and many made a run for office on the Republican ticket during November’s midterms. As fascists praise the confirmation of an anti-choice judge, it’s clear the kind of policies they’re hoping the Trump administration will advance.
Several anti-choice organizations, including March For Life and Students For Life, met with the president in the White House at the end of November, encouraging him to push more anti-choice legislation as soon as possible. As threats to reproductive choice and other human rights escalate under Trump, Lisa Woolfork warns that the feminist movement must respond to the rising fascist threat with true intersectionality: “It is going to take all of us.”
The March for Life, Tennessee Right to Life, and March for Life Chicago did not respond to requests for comment.