Mothers And Militants: The Reproductive Politics of The Extreme-Right

By Simon a. Purdue


Reproductive politics lie at the very heart of the gender ideology of the extreme-right. The ‘propagation of the race and nation’ has been a core tenet of social thought across the right-wing spectrum for the past two hundred years, and while within conservatism the racial rhetoric has been largely replaced with nationalist and economic arguments, the radical and extreme right continue to openly embrace aggressive and racialized pronatalism as a core ideological value. The fear of the ‘white race’ being outbred and eventually disappearing altogether- a conspiracy theory known as ‘The Great Replacement’- is endemic on the far-right, and is enshrined in the ‘14 words’, a slogan and rallying call for white supremacists worldwide that was first coined by convicted terrorist David Lane during his time in prison in the late 1980s. From Enoch Powell’s 1968 ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech to the manifesto of the Christchurch shooter, the fear of massive demographic change and the end of white racial superiority has been a consistent focus of those on the rightward fringe of politics and culture, and has acted as the primary justification for much of the racist rhetoric and violence of many radical groups and political parties. The promotion of white reproduction has been a tool used by many to counter this perceived demographic threat, and activists and theorists alike have framed the ‘production of good Aryan children’ as one of the most powerful weapons in their perceived battle against extinction.

Likewise this trend has seen the extreme-right adopt visceral and violent anti-abortion rhetoric. Activists have placed abortion within their conspiratorial worldview, seeing it as part of the imagined conspiracy to reduce white birthrates and ultimately weaken the white race. As such, doctors and pro-choice legislators have been the focus of much of the extreme-right’s vitriol, and white women who have aborted pregnancies have been victimized through ‘race-traitor’ rhetoric and even physical violence. This chapter explores the mobilization of pronatalism and anti-abortionism as tools of racist radicalism within the publications of extreme-right groups in the United Kingdom and the United States. By examining and analyzing the ways in which far-right groups in these contexts construct their rhetoric around motherhood, reproduction, and abortion, I argue that pronatalism was one of the most important pillars of the gender politics of the global far-right in the second half of the twentieth century, and that activist women pragmatically mobilized the language of pronatalism to advance their position within this milieu.

Replacement and Rage: From Theory to Violence

To understand the pronatalist tendencies of many activists and theorists on the far-right, it is first essential to understand the fear that drives it. Much of the demographic paranoia that has defined far-right praxis in recent years has been influenced heavily by the ‘Great Replacement’ idea, a conspiracy theory that imagines a plot to weaken and eventually destroy the white race through immigration, out-breeding and inter-racial rape. The idea has become pervasive across the far-right, as demonstrated by the chants of “you will not replace us” that became synonymous with the ‘Alt-Right’ after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017. The origins of the ‘Great Replacement’ theory have recently been traced to the writing of Renaud Camus, a French philosopher who first expressed his theory on cultural shifts in 2008 with the publication of La Grande Déculturation, and coined the term ‘The Great Replacement’ in 2011, with the publication of a book of the same title- Le Grand Remplacement. However, the ideas espoused by Camus and his contemporaries can be traced back much further, perhaps being most clearly articulated in Jean Raspail’s novel, The Camp of the Saints. First published in French in 1973 and translated into English by Norman Shapiro two years later, Raspail’s dystopian novel tells of an ‘invasion’ in which South Asian migrants enter France en masse, while refugees from China storm Russia, eventually ‘destroying western civilization’. Raspail’s work is a foundational text of modern white supremacy, and has influenced individuals across the far-right spectrum, from Marine Le Pen to Christchurch shooter Brenton Tarrant, who murdered 51 Muslim worshippers in 2019.

Thus, motherhood itself became a symbolically and practically important role within the global far-right and ultranationalist milieus. On the symbolic level, motherhood and reproduction became a convenient and impactful cynosure for the extreme-right to use in propaganda. The emotive nature and relatability of the mother-child relationship offered a gateway through which propagandists, writers and editors could manipulate their audience, especially when packaged with conspiracy theories that saw the white family as an ‘endangered species’.

Pro-Life Violence

Perhaps unsurprisingly, these words had real-world consequences. Through the 1980s and 1990s clinicians, nurses, patients and visitors to family planning clinics became the focus of violent extreme-right terrorism in the United States, and a new wave of terror. Extremist authors on both sides of the Atlantic regularly used the term ‘murderers’ to describe abortion providers and practitioners, and advocated both state-sponsored and vigilante violence against them, both directly and indirectly. In the first issue of Valkyrie magazine the position of the British Patriotic Women’s League on abortion was made very clear. The author made the case that ‘abortionists should, like all murderers, face the death penalty’ and that in their ideal Britain abortion would be outlawed entirely. Even when violence was not explicitly supported or called for, Mitch Berbrier argues that the constant construction of narratives of white victimhood and the rhetoric of a genocidal conspiracy was designed so as to radicalize ‘fringe’ individuals towards violence.

This is much in line with Louis Beam’s concept of ‘Leaderless Resistance’, and relies on the same psychological and social phenomena that underlie both Jihadist and right-wing lone actor terrorism- the radicalization of individuals without direct contact with or even knowledge of an organized group through targeted propaganda. This tactic was proven to be effective and deadly, and had a significant impact on the rise of anti-abortion terrorism in the United States in particular. By the late 1990s the SPLC’s ‘Intelligence Report estimated that since Roe vs Wade there had been over 200 bombings and arsons, 72 attempted arsons, over 750 death and bomb threats and at least six murders carried out by anti-abortion extremists, with the first such incident taking place in 1977 and the pace rapidly accelerating in the mid 1980s to early 1990s. 1984 alone was dubbed the “Year of Fear and Pain” by members of the extremist Pro-Life Action Plan (PLAN), and was marked by 25 arsons and bombings.

A New Generation of Fascist Pronatalism

In the last decade both the ‘White Baby Challenge’ and the ‘#tradwife’ trends have gone viral across the self-styled ‘alt-right’ sphere. Both trends perpetuate the idea of reproduction as a white woman’s primary role, with the White Baby Challenge in particular mobilizing the same demographic paranoia that underlies the Great Replacement and white genocide conspiracy theories. Much like the British Movement propaganda of the 1970s, the #tradwife movement presents an idealized and utopian version of traditional gender roles, centering reproduction and ultimately continuing the symbolic pronatalist battle that extreme-right activists had been fighting for decades.

Dr. Purdue is currently the Director of the Domestic Terrorism Threat Monitor project at MEMRI in Washington DC. His first book, “Intersectional Hate: Race, Gender and Violence on the Transatlantic Extreme-Right, 1969-2009” was published in late 2022, and explores the underlying gender dynamics upon which far-right extremist ideology and violence have been built over the past 50 years. Dr. Purdue has written extensively on gender and extremism, as well as Mixed, Unclear and Unstable ideologies, mass violence, and far-right ideology.

Image Credit: Maria Oswalt

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