What's the Path from Crunchy Counterculture to Alt-Right?

tags: far right, cultural history, counterculture, Radicalization

Kathleen Belew is an associate history professor at Northwestern University and the author of Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America.

On twitter and tiktok over the past few weeks, scores of users have become alarmed about the uncomfortable coziness between the natural-food-and-body community and white-power and militant-right online spaces—the “crunchy-to-alt-right-pipeline.”

Crunchy, coined as a pop-culture reference to granola, has come to refer to a wide variety of cultural practices, including avoiding additives and food dyes, declining or spacing out childhood vaccinations beyond what pediatricians recommend, and more extreme actions in pursuit of health, independence, and purity. Back-to-the-land living and alternative medicine are hallmarks of “crunch.” Much of this subculture is benign, a declaration of anti-modernism or slow living. But this largely white cultural space shares some preoccupations with right-wing organizations, which have used it for recruitment.

In the 1970s and ’80s, women in the emergent white-power movement, which gathered Ku Klux Klan members, neo-Nazis, skinheads, Christian Identity members, tax resisters, and other militant-right activists, deployed what we would now call “crunchy” issues as part of a wider articulation of cultural identity.

These bits of crunchiness included organic farming, a macrobiotic diet, neo-paganism, anti-fluoridation, and traditional midwifery. All of these are often thought of as leftist or “hippie” issues, but they appeared regularly in the robust outpouring of women’s publications in the white-power movement.

The surprise at the crunchy-to-alt-right pipeline, or at the closeness between the radical right and the radical left, reveals a problem with common ideas about left, right, and center in American politics. In general discourse, and too often in historiography, we use a measure that harkens back to World War II, with the left (aligned with the Communist U.S.S.R.) on one end, a flat line running through a political center (democracy and the United States), and the right on the other (where fascism and Nazi Germany reside). This idea of a political spectrum implies that left and right share little in common, and that they are diametrically opposed. It also positions fascism as far away from American politics, when recent history shows us quite the opposite.

The archive of the white-power movement—a vivid repository of letters, newspapers, personal correspondence, images, FBI files, news reports, and court records collected across decades—suggests that the reality is much more complex. Left and right not only grew close to each other in the ’70s and ’80s, but they sometimes shared much more with each other than with the political center.

Some political scientists have suggested a “horseshoe theory,” with the center as the rounded top of a horseshoe and the two fringes on either end, but inclined toward one another. This image, while evocative, isn’t quite right. In the archive, it looks more like a circle.

In the 1980s, for instance, white-supremacist compounds and hippie communes could exist in the same rural communities. Consider Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, the home of the white-separatist compound Aryan Nations. Coeur d’Alene also attracted other survivalists and people who wanted distance from the state, as well as environmentally inclined leftists attracted to the scenic lakes and mountains. Scholars have spent ample time on other alliances between neighbors in this period—such as the way the white-power movement radicalized its rural neighbors affected by the farm crisis of the 1970s.

Read entire article at The Atlantic

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