Has the Women’s Rights Movement Come to the Extreme Right?

Out of the Kitchen
ABC News, Dec. 12, 2002
By Dean Schabner

Hatred isn’t just a man’s job anymore, it seems.

Women in extremist right-wing groups have long held supportive, often subservient, roles, mostly bearing and rearing children. But in an odd extension of the women’s rights and feminist movements that have propelled women into all manner of roles formerly ruled by men, more and more white supremacist women are eager to get out of the kitchen and into the firing line.

Christine Greenwood allegedly is one such woman. She has been charged with two counts of possession of bombmaking materials and “associating, promoting and assisting a criminal street gang.”

Greenwood, 28, “is an active white supremacist leader who has spent most of her time with a group known as Women for Aryan Unity,” Orange County, Calif., District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said last month when he announced charges had been filed against Greenwood and a man alleged to be the California state leader for Aryan Nations.

Rackauckas described Women for Aryan Unity as a “group for wives of male white supremacists [that] was formed to not only assist and to stand by their men, but to take up their weapons and battle cry if the men should fall.”

The trend began a few years ago, but observers say lately it has been growing into a significant force.

“I was seeing the very beginning of that, but it does seem like it is a growing trend,” said Kirsten Kaiser, who was married for nine years to Kevin Strom, the co-host of a radio program with William Pierce, the leader of the neo-Nazi National Alliance and author of The Turner Diaries. Kaiser lived on the group’s West Virginia compound.

The most prominent woman in the “white rights” movement may be Rachel Pendergraft of the Ku Klux Klan, which is no longer considered to be among the most active white supremacist groups.

‘Baking Cookies, Making Punch’

Women have long played prominent roles in leftist extremist and revolutionary groups, but those on the right have been traditionally led and dominated by men.

That is, at least in part, because many white supremacist groups claim to be followers of a Christian tradition that includes clear division of roles for the sexes. Men are active in the world, while women are homemakers.

Women were recruited to join these groups for the purpose of carrying on the white race, and for many, that is apparently still sufficient.

Web sites for women’s organizations in the racist right show women have found a lot to do without getting involved in leadership.

“Children, they are what drives us to better ourselves and our people. It takes a very strong and deeply committed woman to be a part of the cause. She has to be a mother, partner, and warrior all in one,” one young woman, Tina Edwards, is quoted as saying on the Stormfront Web site. “She must understand that this is not a game nor is it for the faint of heart … It is about securing the existence of our race and a future for white children.”

Outside the home, there are charity groups organizing drives to help poor families with food, clothing, furniture and other items. There are also dating services to help lonely racists find companionship.

‘Violating the Laws of Nature’

But many women are increasingly frustrated with this role, according to some current and former members of white supremacist organizations and scholars who study these groups.

“Women have played an auxiliary role — they baked cookies, made punch — they didn’t have primary roles, they didn’t set the goals, they didn’t set the values,” said Art Jipson, a sociology professor at the University of Dayton who studies extremist groups. “But taking the movement as a whole, there has been a dramatic shift in the way women are perceived and in the roles that are available to them.”

A posting by one woman on a neo-Nazi women’s site makes the argument for giving women more responsibility in the movement, in a mix of women’s rights and racism.

“Nature intended that women use their brains to advance their race. … For comrades to suggest that women squelch this natural instinct by solely being a house-wife, they are acting unAryan and clearly violating laws of Nature. I mean look at the Talmud — the Jews are the ones who advocate treating women as breeding tools and property. How dare … comrades stoop to the level of the Jews in such a manner,” the posting reads.

Several of these groups that ABCNEWS attempted to reach for comment did not respond, but one scholar who has written two books on the subject and interviewed numerous white extremist women said many of them want to become more active participants in the struggle.

“It’s a role they’re looking for and in some groups it’s a role they already have,” said Kathleen Blee, who has written extensively about women in white extremist groups. “In a number of these groups women are not only cheerleaders, but are planners and participants.

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“That’s truer of groups that draw from younger people, like skinheads and neo-Nazis,” she added. “These young girls expect to be part of the violence of these groups.”

Matching the Men

When there was a surge of teenage Palestinian girls acting as suicide bombers last summer, it seemed to add to the sense of horror over the violence. The presence of young Chechen women among the terrorists who took over a Moscow theater earlier this fall, threatening to kill hundreds of hostages, was equally shocking to many.

Reports from survivors of the Moscow hostage situation said that the women terrorists were far more ruthless and vicious than their male counterparts.

Many of the women Blee encountered seemed to have drifted into the racist movement, often as a result of meeting a man who was involved and gradually brought her in. But according to both Blee and Jipson, there is a smaller percentage who are just as firm in their beliefs as their male counterparts, and just as ready to turn to violence.

“I’ve found that several of the women I’ve talked to have been just as adamant and violent in their support of the movement as the men,” Jipson said. “In some cases, the women have been even more violent than the men I’ve spoken to.”

For groups whose ideologies are rooted in Christianity and profess to uphold traditional family values, allowing women into roles of leadership would represent a contradiction in their beliefs. But in other groups, such as skinheads and neo-Nazis, violence is an integral part of the society, and may be part of the lure.

“The violence can be quite extraordinary,” Blee said. “It’s not only violence toward others, but within the group. The violence can be something that pulls the group together.”

Kaiser said that one young woman that she met — “a nice woman in other ways” — was one of the most violent people she met during her time with the National Alliance. She said she remembers how the woman would egg on her husband for the two of them to go out and “find a homosexual or someone and beat them up.”

“It seems to me that the true believers, the women, are even more violent than the men,” Kaiser said.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday December 16, 2002.
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