18 January 2021

Ashli and the others: who the American supremacists are

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This text originated as a Facebook post. We asked the author Barbara Poggio to reproduce it in Feminist Post. We think it is worthwhile.

"In the clashes at Capitol Hill six people died: three protesters in the crowd, two policemen on duty at the Capitol and a woman, killed inside the building. It will be the latter's name above all, Ashli Babbitt, to be remembered, since, for the movements that participated in the protests and the assault has already become a martyr. Ashli Babbitt (35) was an Air Force veteran and a follower of QAnon.

Upholstered with a flag bearing the inscription "Make America Great Again"had broken into the Speaker's Lobby with others, where members of Congress were taking refuge. And it was there that she was cshot and killed by a policeman's gunshot. Since then, the hashtag 'Justice For Ashli' has gone viral on social media used by far-right groups and its glorification process has begun. In recent days Seyward Darby, the author of the book "Sisters in Hate: American Women on the Front Lines of White Nationalism", was invited by the NYT to provide commentary from her investigation into the role of women in American far-right movements.

In the interview Darby notes that salthough extreme right-wing movements are strongly misogynist, they do not exclude women, at least those who identify with the female subjugation model. On the contrary, they are concerned with their protection, in both a practical and symbolic sense, considering them as property to be defended. In the history of American right-wing movements, from Ku Klux Klan onwards, women - albeit in the minority - had roles related to communication and organisation and served to show the good face of the movements.

The KKK itself portrayed itself as a chivalrous movement, aimed at protect and preserve the purity of women. Often lynchings were justified as punishments for sexual violence against white women (which mostly did not happen). 'A dead or injured white woman,' Darby observes, 'has always been a powerful symbol for the extreme right', for two different reasons: the first is the appeal to white masculinity, the second is the view of the woman as the embodiment of the nation: a woman is the guardian of home and history, but she is also the guarantee for the future of the race, something Italy had already seen in the twenty-year fascist period. In this context, woman thus becomes a politicised and sexualised symbol.

Whereas, however, in the past, women were excluded from the front line in this type of movement, today the situation is different. The idea of being in a kind of apocalyptic phase (and here it is possible to draw some parallels with Isis and other Islamist extremist groups) means that all people, including women, should step up and be soldiers, because the stakes are very high. When it is a woman who is killed, her death makes her a martyr. This was the case, for example, several years ago for Vicky Weavera member of an Idaho white separatist family and killed in a shootout with the feds. In that case, a far-right pastor had said that the government had declared war on the 'American woman, the American mother, the American white wife' and that would have been the beginning of a revolution. It is very likely that something similar will happen to Ashli Babbitt. Within this context, in the end, a dead woman is worth much more than a living one".

Barbara Poggio, lecturer in Gender Studies at the Department of Sociology, University of Trento

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