Today
Wed 29 September 2021

Sian Norris examines the links between Donald Trump, gender-based violence, terrorism, white supremacy, conspiracy theories and the attempted insurrection in Washington D.C.

In the hallway of the US Capitol building, a bookcase containing writing about women in politics lies smashed up, the books scattered on the floor. 

Perhaps the culprit was the man who debates whether women should be allowed to vote or belong in politics. Maybe it was the newly elected member of the House of Representatives who has a restraining order for harassing women during anti-abortion protests. Or it could have been the man who invaded House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, sending a message to women politicians that, no matter how powerful you are, a man can take your seat. 

While it is categoric that the violence at the Capitol was about race and white supremacy, for the past few years there has been a growing consensus that terrorism is linked to gender-based violence. In case after case, men who commit terrorist acts have been found to have a history of domestic or sexual abuse against women and girls. 

From day one, Trump’s presidency has been linked to male supremacist violence. There’s his own history of misogyny and his support for men accused of gender-based violence. There are the voters he attracted because of his alleged sexual assaults of women. And there’s a policy platform that stripped away protections for women victimised by men. 

As men with violent views about women stormed the heart of US democracy, once again we see how misogyny and terrorism are inextricably linked. But how has misogyny played out throughout Trump’s administration? And can we draw a line between the legacy of male violence and support for male violence over the past four years, and the domestic terrorism on display in D.C.?


Winning the War on Men

Let’s start with the man himself. Dozens of women have accused Trump of sexually inappropriate behaviour including rape. While Trump denies the allegations, he famously boasted about grabbing women “by the pussy” in a tape released before the 2016 Presidential Election.

The comment and allegations won Trump support from men in the male supremacist ‘Red Pill’ forum. This community celebrated his misogyny and, according to compelling analysis of the forum in the run-up to the election, helped to put him in the White House. 

Male supremacists within the Red Pill saw Trump as essential to winning the ‘war on men’. One Red Pill thread set up to encourage votes for Trump was called “‘Sexual Assault’ Is Why I’m Endorsing Donald Trump for President of the United States”.

One member posted in the thread: “When somebody accuses a powerful or famous figure like Trump of ‘sexual assault’, I don’t look the other way. I don’t denounce them or their behaviour. Instead I run towards them, because there is no truer signal which side somebody is on, than when they’re given a bogus accusation by the establishment. This is our beacon to find allies in the war.”

Rather than something that would turn voters away, Trump’s alleged assaults of women galvanised his supporters within a violent misogynistic subculture to go to the polls. 

This was exacerbated during the confirmation hearings for Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, after the judge was accused of historic sexual assault. While Trump was very careful not to say that he disbelieved Christine Blasey-Ford, who claimed Kavanaugh attacked her at a party in the 1980s, he mocked her during one of his many rallies.

Once again, the signal was sent to his misogynistic base: alleged male violence was acceptable and a route to power. Men on extremist misogynistic ‘incel’ forums still praise Kavanaugh today because “he fought the feminists and won”. According to some incels, Kavanaugh is “the supreme representative” of their community.


A Platform of Misogyny 

Trump’s alleged violent acts towards women won him support in extremist circles. They were a signal to his misogynistic voters that he was “their man in the White House” and the “ultimate alpha.”

He responded by building a policy platform that appealed to their male supremacist beliefs – developing laws that attacked women’s rights and undermined women’s safety. 

Take, for example, Trump’s support for anti-abortion legislation and Supreme Court judges. Banning abortion is a key way of undermining women’s safety and leaves them more vulnerable to male violence.

In the worldview of Trump’s misogynistic supporters, access to safe, legal abortion is responsible for the perceived decline and ‘degeneracy’ of society that is signified by women’s freedoms over their own bodies and access to public space. Banning abortion reasserts male supremacy and male entitlement to women’s bodies. 

Gender-based violence and white male supremacy is at the heart of Trumpism – in his personal life, in his supporters and in his policy.

One poster in a thread on a ‘Purple Pill’ forum explained that they wanted to ban abortion because “I’ve learned to hate women, feminism and their sexual choices so much”. On an extremist incel thread, another writes: “I care about abortion [because] women have to suffer.”

These supporters also blame abortion for one of the key tenets of white supremacist conspiracy theory – the ‘Great Replacement’, which posits that a white majority is being ‘replaced’ due to low white birth rates and immigration. Trump’s attacks on women’s rights served both to punish women and fuel racist conspiracy theories of a fascist far-right. 

A second piece of legislation that bolstered Trump’s misogynistic base was the decision not to re-authorise the Violence Against Women Act. Undoing gender-based violence laws is a key aim of male supremacist movements which believe that women should be subordinate to men in the home and that men should have sovereignty in the family. 

Trump’s administration also narrowed the definition of sexual harassment in Title IX, the law that protects against sex discrimination at federally-funded schools, while expanding the rights of those accused of sexual misconduct. The move was praised by men’s rights activists. 

It is no surprise that a President accused of violence against women, and whose supporters voted for him because of those accusations, should attempt to dismantle protections for women and girls from male aggression.


A White Male Supremacist Presidency 

The mobs descending on the Capitol were white nationalists, waving the Confederate flag in the halls of American democracy.

It cannot and must not be ignored that the majority of men who stormed the building were white supremacists goaded by a President who had fanned the flames of violent racism over four years. Addressing the male supremacy – which is inextricably linked to far-right white supremacist movements – is not an attempt to distract from this. 

Instead, it is about recognising that Trump’s administration has been a white, male supremacist presidency that has legitimised male violence against women and weakened protections for women while strengthening the rights of male abusers, and was welcomed by violent misogynists.

Gender-based violence and white male supremacy is at the heart of Trumpism – in his personal life, in his supporters and in his policy.

At least some of the Trump supporters invading Capitol shared a misogynistic and male supremacist worldview. When we know that gender-based violence is so often an indicator of terrorism and violent extremism in other spaces, Trump’s incitement to violence and the response of his supporters in Washington D.C. is all part of a sadly predictable pattern.


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