At the National Policy Institute’s 2015 conference, alt-right star Richard Spencer’s annual Nazi-fest, a speaker named Jack Donovan exhorted the crowd “to leave the world the way you entered it, kicking and screaming and covered in somebody else’s blood.” The same year, in the pages of the The Occidental Observer, one of the most prominent white nationalist webzines, another alt-righter, James J. O’Meara, held forth about how “behind the Negro, hidden away, as always, is the darker, more sinister figure of the Judeo. The Negro is the shock troop. The Jew is the ultimate beneficiary.” Aside from being open fascists and “white racialists,” Donovan and O’Meara have another thing in common: They’re both out gay men.
In his book The Homo and the Negro, O’Meara says that gay white men represent the best of what Western culture has to offer because of their “intelligence” and “beauty,” and that “Negroes” represent the worst, being incapable of “achievement.” Donovan calls women “whores” and “bitches,” and, when a questioner on Reddit asked him his views of the Holocaust, responded, “What is this Holocaust thing? I’m drawing a blank.”
Both have become influential figures in the alt-right; horribly, they are not the only gay men to respond to an olive branch lately offered by white nationalism. The opening of this movement to cisgender gay men is a radical change, “one of the biggest changes I’ve seen on the right in 40 years,” says Chip Berlet, co-author of Right-Wing Populism in America. In the United States, unlike in Europe, out gay men have never been welcome in white supremacist groups. The Klan and neo-Nazi groups, the main previous incarnations of white hate in this country, were and still are violently anti-queer. And while a subset of openly gay men has always been conservative (or, as in all populations, casually racist), they never sought to join the racist right.
That was before groups like NPI, Counter-Currents Publishing, and American Renaissance started putting out the welcome mat. Since around 2010, some (though by no means all) groups in the leadership of the white nationalist movement have been inviting out cis gay men to speak at their conferences, write for their magazines, and be interviewed in their journals. Donovan and O’Meara, far to the right of disgraced provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, are the white nationalist movement’s actual queer stars. But there are others in the ranks, like Douglas Pearce of the popular neofolk band Death in June. And there are many more gay men (and some trans women) who have been profoundly influenced by two white nationalist ideas: the “threat” posed by Islam and the “danger” posed by immigrants.
Donovan tries to sugarcoat his own racist beliefs when speaking to his main fan base, gay men who like his macho looks and straight men from the “pickup artist” culture and the manosphere who are desperately trying to learn from him how to be manly. Instead, reverting to the other half of the Nazi playbook, he prefers to highlight his hatred for “effeminacy,” feminism, and “weakness.” A beautifully muscular man of 42 who has perfected a masculine scowl in the many photographs of himself he releases on his website and Facebook page, he functions as beefcake for the neofascist cause. He’s parlayed his butch allure into a brand, earning money from a line of T-shirts and wrist guards that say things like BARBARIAN and a series of books that seek to instruct both straight and gay men in how to become more masculine and in particular, more “violent.”
One of my Facebook friends, a politically liberal gay man I’ll call Frank, is a fan of Donovan’s Facebook page “because of the visuals. I like his looks—I mean, he’s bald with tattoos. He really exudes a lot of sex.” Frank also likes that Donovan “trashes that whole gay club scene,” which Frank finds conformist and alienating.
But when Donovan says violence, he means violence. This is not BDSM. “The ability to use violence effectively is the highest value of masters,” Donovan said in a 2017 speech at a fascist think tank in Germany. “It is the primary value of those who create order, who create worlds. Violence is a golden value. Violence rules. Violence is not evil–it is elemental.” Though Donovan tries to mine the latent sexiness in violence for all it’s worth, he is, in fact, against consensual BDSM, condemning it in a 2010 essay as part of a long list of evils that he feels has been perpetuated by gay culture: the “extreme promiscuity, sadomasochism, transvestism, transsexuality, and flamboyant effeminacy” promoted by “the pink-haired, punk rock stepchildren of feminism,” gay activists. No, it’s straight-up people hurting and killing other people he’s endorsing.
And what is all this violence for? Creating small, decentralized “homelands” in this country separated by—surprise!—race. He enthusiastically embraces an idea the alt-right calls “pan-secessionism,” under which, as Donovan says in his book A Sky Without Eagles, “gangs” of white men would form “autonomous zones” for themselves and white women, where women “would not be permitted to rule or take part in … political life.” The gangs would enforce racial boundary lines, because, as Donovan puts it, whites have “radically different values [and] cultures” than other people, and “loyalty requires preference. It requires discrimination.”
In a 2011 essay, “Mighty White,” Donovan says, “race is not my favorite issue to write about” because “I know too well that it distracts people from the bulk of my work” on the sexiness of violent masculinity. (If people associated him more with white nationalism than machismo, it could impede sales of his clothing line, books, patches, and the tattoos he sells out of a Portland-area gym.) And indeed, at the end of May, Donovan wrote a long, rambling post on his website trying to dissociate himself from white nationalism. The post may have been a response to the enormous public anger in Portland, Oregon (where Donovan lives), following white nationalist Jeremy Christian’s murder of two men for defending women of color on a commuter train on May 26. In the essay, Donovan claimed he doesn’t want to organize anyone politically, rather “I just want to hang out in the woods with … the people who I am oathed to, my tribe, the Wolves of Vinland”—a white, “neopagan” quasi-military brotherhood recognized as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. (Wolves of Vinland member Maurice Michaely recently spent two years in prison for burning down a black church in Virginia.)
But Donovan’s recent hand-wringing does not erase the fact that on his website he’s repeatedly said real men want to “control our borders,” decried the “black-on-white crime rate,” denounced “the deeply entrenched anti-white bias” of our culture, and said, “I support White Nationalists,” who “I call … ‘The Mighty Whites.’ ” Recently, he admiringly interviewed the two young men who lead Germany’s anti-African, anti-Arab identitarian movement. On his podcast, the men, one of whom used to belong to a neo-Nazi group in Austria, boast about attacking a mosque and disrupting refugee theater. He also has begun whispering praise for Julius Evola, the Italian anti-Semite and fascist who joined Hitler’s SS.
If Donovan is a caricature of the gay Nazi strongman—almost a personification of the phrase “body fascism” (which was originally used by gay men to critique other gay men’s obsession with perfect gym bodies)—his counterpart, James O’Meara, is an embodiment of something that could barely be imagined until now: Nazi camp. I hesitate to write that phrase, because it’s almost painful to acknowledge that camp—that subversive, gay “turning” of seriousness into playfulness and straight narratives into gay ones—could be deployed by a Nazi. But of course it can: If the emergence of out gay white nationalists shows anything, it’s that LGBTQ people truly are everywhere, for good and for ill. And that we no longer have the luxury of assuming that queer tropes are inherently, and trans-historically, progressive.
Far femmier than Donovan in both looks and tone, O’Meara writes alternately smirking and playful essays for Counter-Currents about men’s clothing, the closeted Cardinal Spellman, the “homoromanticism” of the Boy Scouts, and the political economy of The Gilmore Girls. O’Meara openly loves Hitler, but he also grooves to the socialist Oscar Wilde, and, in an interview with the webzine Alternative Right, admiringly quotes “Bunny” Roger, the gay British dandy and World War II hero, as saying: “Now that I’ve killed so many Nazis Daddy will have to buy me a sable coat.” But his “fun” paragraphs always end up at the same un-playful conclusion: “the Judaic is always there, blocking the way” and spreading “rot” throughout American culture. “The Jew” is deliberately destroying the country by building up “Negroes” and promoting “the alien, dissolute, demonic culture of the Africans.” In a podcast, O’Meara said, “The blacks get their chicks pregnant as soon as they turn 15, and have 30 different children with 10 different women” because of Jewish scheming: “the poison that the Jewish mentality introduces” promotes heterosexual sex and “girl-craziness” instead of the glorious gayness that would dominate “if the Jews hadn’t taken over Hollywood.”
Of course, neither O’Meara nor Donovan actually support gay rights. This is partly because they don’t believe in “civil rights.” Although O’Meara wants to be part of an imagined elite band of men who love each other and rule society—his version of an Aryan fantasy called the Männerbund—he doesn’t want to support, as he put it in the interview with Alternative Right, “some sniveling queen demanding ‘my rights!’ … ‘The plight of the homosexual’ … is a Leftist myth.” Donovan says explicitly that straight people should be given more power and privileges than gay folks, because their “reproductive sexuality” is superior to ours. Both men openly detest lesbians and trans and genderqueer people: Donovan calls the trans movement “men who want to cut their dicks off and women who want to cut their tits off.” And of course, no white nationalist organization anywhere supports LGBTQ rights on a social or legislative level. Their new “support” is limited to allowing cis gay men who are white racists to join them.
So why are white nationalists smiling in our direction? Most importantly, because it worked in Europe. In Holland, France, Germany, and Sweden, white nationalists have deliberately used LGBTQ people and Muslims as a wedge against one another. Polls show that over one third of French gay men supported Le Pen in the recent election despite her promise to end same-sex marriage, and in Germany, the far-right AfD recently tapped an out lesbian banker to run for chancellor. (The AfD is even more hostile to actual pro-gay policies than France’s National Front is.) Sweden’s fascist party organized an LGBTQ pride parade through Muslim neighborhoods, and of course, in Holland, Pim Fortuyn and later Geert Wilders tried to make “Islam” synonymous with “hatred of gays.” Their ultimate goal was to make hatred of immigrants “progressive.”
Bringing queer people in, in both Europe and America, is a way to grow the neo-fascist movement. It is also a way to court millennials, who are consistently supportive of gay rights even when they swing conservative on other issues. It’s a testament to the fact that, in some ways, the queer movement has already won the battle for public opinion. The far right could not beat us, so they decided to join us—in the most superficial way possible. Ultimately, it’s a form of pinkwashing, which YourDictionary defines as “the practice of representing something … as gay-friendly in order to soften or downplay aspects of its reputation considered negative.” How could Le Pen, or Wilders, or other open racists be so bad when they like queer people?
There is another potential benefit: If white supremacists can equate “Muslims” with attacks on LGBTQ people—and women—they might be able to attract liberals and moderates into a kind of anti-immigrant “big tent.” This would complement their effort to portray racism as “pro-worker.” It’s hardly incidental that both Donovan and O’Meara see themselves as anti-capitalist. Like the many gay men who joined Hitler’s SA (the unit led by the out Ernst Röhm), they see a Nazi-like movement as somehow offering salvation from both antigay and economic oppression. (Of course, Hitler ultimately slaughtered Röhm and other SA gay men in the Night of the Long Knives.)
The far right is attempting to seduce gay men in some of the same ways the early Nazi movement reached out to them, before mowing queers down in the name of fascist ideals. Only two days after the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando last year, white-nationalist meme producer (and proud homophobe) Butch Leghorn wrote on the alt-right website The Right Stuff, “This shooting [is] a very valuable wedge issue. … We simply need to hammer this issue … Spread this meeting. Drive this wedge. Smash their coalition. Make it cool to be anti-Muslim because Liberalism.” Butch and his co-activists put out a plethora of memes for the occasion with, for example, a rainbow flag and the words FUCK ISLAM, and the phrases, “To be pro-Islam is to be anti-Gay … Daddy’s gonna build a wall and keep you safe.” Said Leghorn on The Right Stuff: “We are currently driving this wedge as deeply as possible to break off the Pro-Gay coalition into the Trump camp.”
One of the many gay people who received, and began avidly sending out, such memes was Peter Boykin, a 39-year-old, married, white Virginian who had eight years earlier been suspicious of Obama because, as he told me in a phone interview, “His name is like Osama bin Laden. We don’t have his birth certificate, and he came out of nowhere.” Boykin, who grew up with conservative Catholic parents who had campaigned for Ronald Reagan, founded an organization called “Gays for Trump” after he attended a party of the same name at the Republican convention last July. After the Pulse shooting, he says, “People came pouring into the group. It was like Boom!” Boykin said he isn’t afraid of attorney general Jeff Sessions’ antigay record: “When I met him, he shook my hand, and he put my business card in his actual jacket. He was very nice to me. I don’t think he’s antigay at all.” But Boykin is profoundly worried about Muslim immigrants (who, according to a recent Pew poll, are actually more likely to believe in tolerance of homosexuality than evangelical Christians) wanting to hurt him: “I keep seeing videos people send me where they’re beheading these 13-year-old boys and throwing people off of roofs.”
Longtime LGBTQ organizer Scot Nakagawa has been fighting white nationalist movements for over 30 years, now as a senior partner at ChangeLab, a think tank on racial justice. Says Nakagawa, “We have to remember that even racist white gay men are still very vulnerable to discrimination” because they’re gay. “When one is under attack”—not by phantom Muslims, but by real, neighborhood gaybashers—“one picks up whatever shields one can,” even shields like racism that will not fight the true threat. In Donovan’s writing, it’s clear that what he’s terrified of most is “weakness,” especially male weakness. (He notes that he feels “disgusting” if he doesn’t train in a gym “for more than a few days.”) It doesn’t take a psychoanalyst to guess that, at bottom, he feels profoundly weak and vulnerable. O’Meara, for his part, fears that he will be destroyed by African-American and Jewish “rot” and pollution. It doesn’t take a psychoanalyst to guess that he feels dirty, and at risk of decaying from within.
Rather than simply writing off the gay men who may be attracted to white nationalism, Nakagawa says: “It is really important to think about who those people are, and to try to reach out to them. Which means having compassion for them, as difficult as that may be.” Nakagawa feels that the left has too often behaved as though racism and sexism are primarily matters of personal character, rather than deep social structures that elites—the 1 percent—use to consolidate their power.
“It’s a bad choice to imagine that all these men are incredibly rich,” he adds. Rather than demonizing men who may long for a strong brotherhood to protect them in a society that is increasingly unsafe and un-nourishing for all of us, we should counter-organize among them and have the searching and committed conversations about racism and sexism that have too often eluded the gay community. In this time of great danger for both LGBTQ people and the entire country, the only real way to fight fascism is to offer a competing vision, for a society that will meet everyone’s needs rather than, as Donovan would have it, the needs of “the wolves” who seek to assert “dominance and control.” For at the end of the day, none of us is a wolf—or to say it another way, even wolves are vulnerable.