Mama Grizzlies: Prominent women in the white power movement have long played protectors

With the political ascent of Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Rep. Lauren Boebert, two of the new members of Congress most closely aligned with QAnon and who most loudly amplified Donald Trump's false claim that the election was stolen, women have become the new face of the far right in national politics.

Greene (R-Ga.) and Boebert (R-Colo.) were both listed as "invited speakers and featured guests" at the Stop the Steal rally headlined by then-President Trump on Jan. 6, and voted against certifying the electoral vote for Joe Biden.

Boebert tweeted on the morning of the insurrection, "Today is 1776," and declared from the floor of Congress that day as Trump supporters were preparing to storm the Capitol: "Madam Speaker, I have constituents outside this building right now. I promised to be their voice.

Prior to becoming a candidate, Greene reportedly suggested in a video that Nancy Pelosi could be executed for treason and liked a comment on social media that said "a bullet to the head would be quicker" to remove her. Along with embracing QAnon, she has embraced a dangerous antisemitic conspiracy theory.

Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, another Trump loyalist and someone ran on QAnon themes without embracing the conspiracy theory as explicitly as Greene and Boebert, also joined Congress as a member of the Class of 2020, but since his election he hasn't commanded the national spotlight to the same degree as his female colleagues.

Almost as prominent as Greene and Boebert is Amanda Chase, a rising star of the MAGA wing of the GOP who currently serves in the state senate and is running for governor of Virginia. Chase attended the Jan. 6 Stop the Steal rally, where she joined Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes and a Proud Boys chapter president.

As a testament to the excitement Chase inspires among Trump loyalists, a friend introduced her at a rally in south Florida on April 24 by saying: "If you were to take Donald Trump and his fight and zeal, and what happened to him with the impeachment hoaxes, and you were to merge him with Marjorie Taylor Greene for being kicked off of her committees in Congress — which Amanda was, for being there on the 6th to support our Constitution — and if you were to take Lauren Boebert before she was even thinking about running for Congress, when Amanda was packing heat at the Richmond capitol several years ago [sic] where the liberals were just going nuts."

Fiery campaigners who unapologetically pay tribute to the Second Amendment, invoke white nationalist themes and flaunt Trump's false claim about the 2020 election being stolen, Greene, Boebert and Chase might seem like unlikely figureheads for a movement that, in addition to halting demographic change, seeks to reassert traditional gender roles and models for family formation.

But women have played a crucial role as leaders in the far-right movement since at least the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. Sarah Palin electrified the Republican base as the GOP's vice-presidential nominee in 2008, opening the door for Trump-style populism and sponsoring a slate of women candidates during the 2010 Tea Party wave. Slightly ahead of Palin, Michele Bachmann — whose path to Congress ran through local school board battles in Minnesota — accused then-candidate Barack Obama of holding "anti-American views," setting the stage for a racist backlash against the 44th president.

Preceding Palin and Bachmann, Phyllis Schlafly, although never successful in winning a seat in Congress, energetically mobilized a national women-led conservative movement that defeated the Equal Rights Amendment. And as Elizabeth Gillespie McRae writes in Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy, women formed the bulwark of white supremacist campaigns to block school desegregation, from Virginia in the 1920s to Boston in the 1970s.

Looking even further to the right, women have played essential roles in the white power movement, which beginning in 1983 embraced a goal of overthrowing the US government.

"As bearers of children, women were essential to the realization of white power's mission: to save the race from annihilation," Kathleen Belew writes in Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America. "More concretely, their supporting roles, auxiliary organizations, and recruiting skills sustained white power as a social movement. They brokered social relationships that cemented intergroup alliances and shaped the movement from within."

Sarah Palin set the template for the current crop of far-right women leaders in a May 2010 speech before the anti-choice women's group Susan B. Anthony List that framed reaction against the progress towards social equality as an instinct of maternal protection.

"Here in Alaska, I always think of the mama grizzlies that rise up on their hind legs when somebody's coming to attack their cubs, to do something adverse to their cubs," Palin said. "You thought pit bulls were tough! Well, you don't want to mess with the mama grizzlies."

There were unsettling changes afoot, such as a greater role of government in ensuring that Americans were covered by health insurance, and Palin promised that women would be at the vanguard of the resistance.

"All across this country, women are standing up and speaking out for common-sense solutions," she said. "These policies coming out of DC right now, this fundamental transformation of America — well, a lot of women who are very concerned about their kids' futures are saying, 'Well, we don't like this fundamental transformation, and we're gonna do something about it.' It seems like it's kind of a mom awakening in the last year and a half, where women are rising up and saying, 'No, we've had enough already.' Because moms kind of just know when something's wrong."

Invocations of motherhood as a bedrock of purpose remains a potent part of the messaging for far-right women leaders in electoral politics. Among the three most visible far-right women political figures, who all have children, Greene and Chase talk about their roles as mothers the most. In speaking about their experiences as mothers, Greene and Chase can position themselves as being outside of the political establishment while maintaining traditionally gendered identities as protectors of the hearth.

"You see, most of my life, I've just been a regular person," Greene said, introducing herself at an "America First" rally in south Florida on April 24. Mentioning her experience as a businessperson, she continued, "I've been a wife and a mom of three kids, and I want to tell you that's the best thing I've ever done in my life."

Lest anyone miss the point, Greene added later in the speech: "You want to know the greatest thing that can happen to a woman? It's a blessing, and there's many women that have a difficult time with it."

"Childbirth!" a man in the crowd shouted out.

"Motherhood," Greene said. "Being a mother is what made me be able to achieve my dreams and achieve my goals."

Greene went on to use motherhood as a framework for her hardline opposition to any restrictions on firearms ownership.

"I can tell you right now, as a woman, a mom and a business owner, if someone was coming in, breaking in my home, trying to kill me or my children, I would pick up the biggest gun I have and shoot as many bullets as I want to," she said.

Greene and Boebert have both railed against the Equality Act. Greene stoked fear against transgender rights by falsely claiming during her Florida speech that the legislation "puts men in our daughter's bathrooms, puts boy and men in our girls' sports locker rooms." Boebert similarly charged on Steve Bannon's show that the legislation promotes "supremacy" of gays and lesbians, while using a word that is a slur for transgender people.

Similar to Greene, Chase introduced herself at the January 2020 Second Amendment rally that saw people in tactical gear flood the streets of downtown Richmond, Va. with high-powered rifles as a mother and a regular person called to action by looming crisis.

"I'm just a mom; I'm just a redneck from Chesterfield, and I know what's right from wrong," she said, while standing alongside Proud Boys Enrique Tarrio, Jeremy Bertino, Jay Thaxton and Bill Whicker III. Chase might seem like an unlikely ally for the Proud Boys, an exclusively male group whose initiation requires them to declare, "I am a proud western chauvinist," and whose tenets include "venerating the housewife." Members have gone to pains to enforce gender boundaries as the Proud Boys' violence has escalated: After being stabbed during a December 2020 rally in Washington DC, Bertino posted on Parler: "Women do not belong at the front line at rallies or the battles that happen at them. For every female that is upfront it's 1 less capable man up there defending."

But Whicker gushed during a podcast in which he recalled bumping into Chase again at the Jan. 6 Stop the Steal rally: "Yeah, it was really cool."

While addressing the Second Amendment supporters in Richmond in January 2020, Chase repurposed guns as a women's issue, using it to paint leftists as hypocrites.

"You know, the left likes to talk about how they're all for women," she said. "Well, I'm sorry, but I'm a woman, and I feel like I've been violated because now you're telling me that I have to disarm myself, and so all these sexual predators and everything that want to do me harm — you're going to leave me vulnerable? Hell no, you're not going to do that, because I'm going to fight back."

Taking the point further in a Facebook comment, Chase has drawn condemnation for saying that women who don't carry firearms are more likely to be raped.

On the periphery of electoral politics, far-right commentator and author Michelle Malkin, who has openly embraced white supremacists like former Rep. Steve King and Faith Goldy, has positioned herself as a surrogate mother to the Groyper Army, a group of young, white men who follow Nick Fuentes and push white nationalist memes online.

"Mommy, mommy, mommy," the Groypers chanted as Malkin approached the lectern at the America First Police Action Conference in Orlando, Fla. in late February.

"Mommy is home," the 50-year-old Malkin acknowledged, pausing after each sentence and scanning the audience to let them relish each point. "Looks like y'all cleaned up. Looks like you're too legit to quit. So, there's no bad-energy girls tonight. I like that knowing laughter. And I have just two words: 'Let's go!'"

The maternal references would have seemed strange to outsiders, but they were received as both a ringing endorsement and a delicious inside joke by the aggrieved and socially awkward young, white men in the audience.

Malkin sealed her alliance with Fuentes and his followers when she addressed conservative students at UCLA in November 2019, just days after the Groypers disrupted an appearance there by Donald Trump Jr. to promote his book that was hosted by Charlie Kirk and Turning Point USA. The event was the culmination of a brewing battle between more mainstream campus conservatives and white nationalists over the direction of the Trump movement. The Groypers had intended to goad Trump Jr. and Kirk into taking more extreme positions by asking provocative questions about Israel and immigration. Instead, Trump Jr., who was hawking a book called Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us, announced there would be no Q&A. As the event devolved into chaos, Trump's girlfriend, former Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle yelled, "You're not making your parents proud by being rude and disruptive and discourteous." She also said they could probably only get dates online.

Shortly afterwards, during a speech at Stanford University, conservative commentator Ben Shapiro denigrated Fuentes' followers as "America First asshats" who are a "bunch of masturbating losers living in your mother's basement."

At UCLA, Malkin leaped to the defense of the Groypers, comparing them to her own teenage children.

"And I will tell you that, as a mom with brilliant, right-thinking kids, who, yes, live in my basement, and yes, share memes, I found this obsessive reference, and many of the so-called right are obsessed with it, obsessed with young people's dating habits and lives — these are prominent adult conservative media personalities, much older than their targets," she said. "It's tellingly defensive. It's cringe. It's touchy. And it's also creepy.

"If I was your mom, I'd be proud as hell," Malkin declared.

Malkin's speech drew a bright red line between the more respectable wing of the Trump movement that has come to be associated with the Conservative Political Action Conference and those who are openly pushing for white ethno-nationalism.

Reeling through a list of names of groups and personalities that have variously promoted white supremacy, antisemitism, Holocaust denial and street violence, Malkin said, "They want me to disavow Nick Fuentes and VDARE and Peter Brimelow and Faith Goldy and Gavin McInnes and the Proud Boys and Steve King, Laura Loomer and on and on.

"No, I don't agree with every last thing that all the people I've listed have ever said or written or published or tweeted or thought in their heads, in their inside voices or outside," she continued. "But I will not disavow any of them, and I will not join the de-platforming witch-hunters who hypocritically call themselves free speech and culture warriors."

As a woman who is an opinion leader of the far right, Malkin has adopted the role of surrogate mother to a tribe of young, white men whose racist online chatter belies insecurity about challenges to white dominance and patriarchy.

Among those who embraced Malkin's visit most enthusiastically was Christian Secor, president of America First Bruins. Secor, who later tweeted that he landed an internship under Malkin, adopted the user name "Scuffed Elliot Rodger" as a DLive streamer, paying tribute to the 22-year-old man who killed six people in 2014 and became the founding hero of the incel movement.

Secor carried an "America First" flag into the Senate chambers on Jan. 6, and faces federal charges for obstruction of an official proceeding, civil disorder, assaulting, resisting or impeding officers, and breaching the Capitol.

Malkin tweeted on May 24 that Secor's release to home detention was "very good news."

Watching Fuentes' nightly podcast, it's clear that the Groypers view the white supremacist and patriarchal ideals championed by generations of far-right women leaders as being under assault.

After Fuentes complained earlier this week that he was on a government no-fly list, one of his followers imagined him as a kind of disinherited Don Draper. Reading from the chats on his show on Tuesday, Fuentes said, "Black Groyper says, 'Huh, a demographic change? Feds? Sir the year is 1957, and you have a beautiful wife in the kitchen and four kids. Put your suit on and eat some breakfast. It's time to go to church."

Fuentes paused to consider it.

"I wish," he said. "I wish."