A look at recent attempts by religious fundamentalist reactionaries and conspiracy theorists to build coalitions with "gender critical" feminists.
Over the last few years, antifascists have repeatedly warned of the danger of a “red-brown convergence”, where forces on the far-right attempt to spread their message and gain legitimacy by forging tactical alliances with parts of the left.
Some of the most notorious examples have been around the subject of Syria, where far-right nationalists and anti-imperialist leftists have found common ground in their support of Assad; another important area of convergence has been in the ongoing debate over trans issues, where conservatives have deliberately sought out allies among “gender critical” anti-trans feminists.
The general strategy here was set out at the 2017 Values Voter Summit, a gathering of the Christian fundamentalist right, where one speaker urged “For all of its recent success, the LGBT alliance is actually fragile, and the trans activists need the gay rights movement to help legitimize them. Gender identity on its own is just a bridge too far. If you separate the T from the alphabet soup, we’ll have more success.” In particular, the Hands Across the Aisle Coalition, which consists of “radical feminists, lesbians, Christians and conservatives that are tabling our ideological differences to stand in solidarity against gender identity legislation” was suggested as an example to emulate.
Another US-based group, the Women’s Liberation Front, has been described as a “fake feminist front” after critics noted the extent of their connections to the conservative right, including a joint lawsuit with Focus on the Family, an appearance on alt-lite personality Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show, participation in an event organised by the Christian conservative Heritage Foundation, and a $15,000 grant from the Alliance Defending Freedom, another religious right group which aims “to recover the robust Christendomic theology of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries.”
Part of this coalition-building work has involved reaching out to UK-based anti-trans groups. For instance, it’s been noted that as soon as Transgender Trend set up a social media presence, US-based Christian conservatives were immediately involved in promoting it; and Hands Across The Aisle, the feminist-conservative coalition group praised at the Values Voter Summit, was involved in helping raise funds for Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull, a UK anti-trans activist also known as Posie Parker.
The connection between Keen-Minshull/Parker’s brand of anti-trans feminism and religious reactionaries was highlighted on a recent trip to the US. While in the US, Keen-Minshull and her ally Julia Long heckled Sarah McBride, a campaigner who’s pushed for increased legal protections for trans people, challenging her to “Tell the entire LGB community how much you hate lesbians, Sarah.”
But while Keen-Minshull and Long were presenting trans rights as being opposed to the interests of lesbians and “the entire LGB community”, another anti-trans discussion, with more “radical feminist” speakers from the Women’s Liberation Front, was being hosted by the Heritage Foundation, an openly homophobic religious reactionary group. Keen-Minshull herself posted a video from the Heritage Foundation during her trip, and this desire to build alliances with the conservative-funded Women’s Liberation Front and the reactionary Heritage Foundation led to a serious dispute with other activists who’d previously been supportive of her project.
In her account, “Why I won’t be ‘standing for women’”, Jean Hatchet described how she came to drop out of the project:
“When I was told [about the links with the Women’s Liberation Front] I researched a bit. I read about Kara Dansky seeking and gaining $15,000 from Alliance Defending Freedom which is a right wing religious group strongly against abortion. I read their reasons for doing so...
I raised my hand to object to pairing with them. I was ignored. I raised it again. I was ignored. I thought I must be wrong because everyone else was fine with this.
I kept asking about these right wing links. My questions were either ignored or met with "It's not a problem for me". Posie said she is happy to work with anyone and will freely say so. I am not. On a personal level it is hard to go on a trip with women when you are the only one not doing things. I began to feel isolated from the group for saying I disagreed with the political decisions of other women...
When a meeting with people called The Heritage Foundation was scheduled, and the others said they were going, I said I'd go as I felt left out of so much of what was being planned. I don't know much about American politics and I didn't know who they were. I investigated them a bit more when Posie said she was surprised I'd want to go. I realised my mistake. I should have looked first. I then said there was no way I could attend a meeting or lunch with them. I called them "misogynist w**kers" because they are. They advocate keeping poor women in marriages they wish to exit in order to solve the social problems those women "cause" government. They say abortion harms women. They say they will help Trump to "drain the swamp". I don't care what these people think about trans ideology. That cannot be separated from the things they do and advocate that specifically harm women.
When I raised my objections to the group I was ignored. No one said anything. It would be funny if it didn't make me feel like I was going bonkers.
I was in a difficult position and my partner suggested I could go on the trip and just stay out of the right wing meetings and plans I didn't agree with. I wanted to march and protest and meet other feminist women. However I know that in reality you can't pick and choose. If there are links with abhorrent right wing groups it is unacceptable to take part in any of it.”
Hatchet also said that it was Parker/Keen-Minshull’s praise of EDL founder Tommy Robinson that pushed her into speaking out openly.
While Keen-Minshull’s involvement with the US Christian right has received increased attention of late, it’s a collaboration that has been going on for quite some time, as she’s previously met with Emily Zinos, who she describes as “fabulous”. Zinos is a member of the hard-right Minnesota Family Council, and believes that both contraception and abortion “have an immediate disruptive effect on society”.
From Pol Pot to Posie Parker
While some “gender-critical” feminists had already become uncomfortable with Parker/Keen-Minshull’s attempts to build bridges with the far-right, the situation really escalated with the next leg of the trip, where she spoke at a conference called Mot Dag, and ended up posing for photos with Hans Lysglimt Johansen, a leader of the far-right Alliance party who holds extreme anti-Jewish and anti-LGBT views, including holocaust denial, and has stated that his party probably has some overlap with the membership of the Nordic Resistance Movement.
Parker/Keen-Minshull responded by saying that she didn’t know who Lysglimt was, but this doesn’t answer the question of why they were at the same event in the first place. By way of analogy, if a People’s Assembly or Momentum event featured Nigel Farage or Tommy Robinson casually wandering around the place and chatting with the speakers, a few eyebrows would hopefully be raised.
Although there’s not much English-language material on Pål Steigan and the Mot Dag conference he organised, it is documented that Steigan has a long history on the anti-imperialist left, including having met with Pol Pot and Enver Hoxha. His current project appears to be a sort of “red-brown convergence squared”, as his conference brought the anti-trans axis represented by Keen-Minshull together with Eva Bartlett, Vanessa Beeley and Patrick Henningsen, three figures who’ve played a high-profile role in the international pro-Assad conspiracy theorist milieu.
All three have extensive connections to the far-right: Eva Bartlett has done interviews with holocaust deniers such as Kevin Barrett and Ryan Dawson, and writes for Global Research, a major red-brown website which also promotes the views of Lyndon LaRouche, Alexander Dugin and Infowars. Patrick Henningsen started out as an Associate Editor on Infowars, and has been a contributor to Red Ice, a Swedish alt-right project with extremely antisemitic politics. Henningsen has also interviewed Nick Kollerstrom, another Holocaust denier who used the interview to promote his book, “Breaking the Spell: The Holocaust: Myth & Reality”. Henningsen now runs a website called 21st Century Wire, which Vanessa Beeley is a frequent contributor to; other than writing articles praising Hungary’s far-right Prime Minister Orban for standing up to George Soros on a website run by an Infowars/nazi-linked conspiracy theorist, Beeley also contributes to other right-wing projects such as the Ron Paul Institute, the British Constitution Group, and was recently seen promoting an article on the Yellow Vest movement that argued:
“The French Confederation of Labour (CGT) is completely co-opted by the oligarchy; it defends mass immigration; global warmism; ecologism, homosexualism and just about every over elite-power, anti-labor obsession… President Donald Trump is the only world leader who understands what climate change nonsense would do to the working man...As I have said before, leftists are useful idiots of the oligarchy’s three key agendas:
1 Mass immigration and population replacement to turn human beings into capital.
2 The normalization of sexual perversion so as to break down the resistance capacities of the human individual.
3 Global warmingism which will provide the basis for a centralized global state apparatus controlling every aspect of our lives.
It’s the Cursed Trinity of the New World Order: Human capital is the Father, gender confusion is the Son and Co2 is the Diabolical Spirit.”
This sheds some light on why a far-right nationalist like Lysglimt felt so comfortable attending a supposedly left-wing, pro-feminist conference, as the inclusion of Bartlett, Beeley and Henningsen made it plain that antifascism was not on the agenda, and that antisemitic conspiracy theorists would be welcomed with open arms1 .
Since the photos of Keen-Minshull with her new Norwegian nazi friend began to circulate, some in the UK’s “gender critical” scene have moved to distance themselves from her. However, the problem here goes deeper than just the questionable choices made by one individual.
The feminists involved in the Irish abortion campaign certainly don’t find themselves being invited to address Christian fundamentalist conferences that often, and there don’t seem to be many cases of nazis posing for photos with the women who fought for equal pay in Glasgow, or groups like Sisters Uncut being invited by red-brown confusionists like Steigan to appear alongside antisemitic conspiracy theorists giving talks about their work defending domestic violence services.
Since there are still a number of people within leftwing, antiracist, feminist and/or pro-working-class circles who have sympathy for the ideology promoted by the likes of Keen-Minshull and Hands Across the Aisle, as shown by examples like Kiri Tunks of the National Education Union, the Morning Star, and some anarchists, the question that needs to be asked is: what is it about the content of “gender critical” ideas that makes them so attractive to fundamentalist reactionaries, antisemitic conspiracy theorists and similar bigots?
With thanks to many people who’ve researched this and related topics, particularly the fantastic work of Vagabond, various posters on the U75 Vanessa Beeley thread, and various twitter users, especially CaseyExplosion.