Towards a post Trump world: Mainstreaming Men’s Rights Activists
International media observes, dissects and discusses every move that Donald Trump makes. His every Tweet, no matter how banal, misinformed or dangerous becomes a topic of discussion. His public appearances are mocked or celebrated in equal measure. Every person with a passing interest in politics, regardless of their place of residence will usually add to the discussion. Donald Trump might be the President of the US but his politics are a global theater that plays in screens everywhere. He might be the President of one country but he certainly commands the kind of international attention (and power) that has rarely been seen in contemporary politics since WWII. However, it was Dutch politician Geert Wilders who led the way to the global shift that resulted in mainstreaming the kind of right wing populism that eventually got Donald Trump elected to the US Presidency. Wilders, like no other populist, managed to turn what was once a localized phenomenon of right wing rhetoric based on exclusionary and discriminatory ideas into an ideology that could be replicated across the entire European continent and eventually mainstreamed into American politics. Wilders, like no other right wing populist before him understood the value of international alliances and creating hype outside the limited borders of domestic Dutch politics. In doing so, he became a model of other right wing demagogues with whom he built international alliances and “friendships” based on similar political aspirations. It is no coincidence that his donors have always been mostly Americans such as David Horowitz or Pamela Geller. Wilders was, in a sense, the testing subject for the methodology that eventually gave us Donald Trump.
Last week Dutch weekly De Groene Amsterdammer published an investigation about the Dutch roots of international “fake news”. While international media is fascinated by a scenario worthy of a John le Carré thriller with Russian influences replaying Cold War strategies over the internet, the journalists in charge of reporting for De Groene Amsterdammer found out that it is Erik de Vlieger, a Dutch Real Estate millionaire, who has been quietly funding one of the most right wing anti immigrant “news sources”: Voice of Europe. De Vlieger’s funding allows the site to publish contributors such as Peter Imanuelsen, aka Peter Sweden, the bigoted conspiracy theorist who is a frequent source for the American “alt-right” on Europe. As Media Matters reported in January, Imanuelsen’s writings are eventually republished at Infowars and find, through these alliances, an eager American audience.
The Times They Are a-Changin’
If there is a genealogy to the rise of Donald Trump that can be traced to the mainstreaming of Geert Wilders at European level, it is worth noting that there is a shift currently taking place and the seething Islamophobia of Wilders is giving way to the rise of Men Rights Activists into the mainstream. While Men Rights Activists (MRAs) have been instrumental in bringing Trump to power and it could be argued that Gamergate was already their mainstreaming moment, Donald Trump is not one of their own. He is the closest representation they have had so far but his politics are not strictly rooted in MRA ideas. If anything, Trump is an opportunist that will use MRA talking points if it suits him but he is not necessarily a believer. Michael Pence, the US Vice President is an old school misogynist but certainly not a “red piller”. Instead, the next wave of right wing politics is coming by the hand of Dutch politician Thierry Baudet.
Thierry Baudet, founder of right wing political party Forum for Democracy jumped into national politics in March 2017 when his party won two seats on the national elections. He is, openly and proudly, the voice of Men Rights Activists in the European mainstream. He, like Wilders before him, understood the value of international alliances to create a far reaching platform for himself. While international media celebrated the apparent defeat of the kind of populism represented by Geert Wilders whose election results were not as outstanding as analysts had expected, another raising star was emerging in the local right wing scene to take the spot vacated by the already worn out brand of politics represented by Wilders. Baudet then emerged as a fresh face to occupy media space. Unlike Wilders, who carefully crafted an image of being “a common man” and “a representative of the forgotten white working class”, Baudet emerged touting his intellectual credentials to represent the interests of a mythical white man with refined aspirations, tired of being kept down by the hordes of “politically correct” forces who only care about the rights of People of Color, women, migrants and other assorted minorities. Unlike Wilders’ crude Islamophobia, Baudet gained popularity warning about the dangers of the “homeopathic dilution” of the Dutch population that would result from allowing migrants into The Netherlands. His brand of right wing politics is less about coarse populism and more about aspirational sophistication. His political image is not so much rooted on promises of empowering a white working class but in the belief that every white man regardless of class, should aspire to certain privileges. His ideology, a mishmash of old school colonial nostalgia updated with Men’s Rights Activism, is equally directed at white middle classes who feel “forgotten” by contemporary politics and white working classes who have aspirations beyond their current stature. His sexual and gender politics are straight out of the MRA playbook: he is staunchly against masturbation (which he equates to “cheating”), he hates sex toys, has made reprehensible statements about women’s desires to be raped and he views women with the general contempt that MRAs display on discussion forums daily.
Even though Dutch media is enamored with the idea of a fresh face to shake up the political landscape, Thierry Baudet is neither original nor a purely Dutch phenomenon. He is equal parts Dutch right wing racism and international inspirations. He has a long history of unsavory associations with similarly minded figures outside Dutch borders. He has publicly showed off his friendship with Milo Yiannopoulos and held an hours long meeting with Jared Taylor known for his work at American Renaissance magazine where he regularly publishes proponents of eugenics and blatant anti-black and anti-Latino racists. While living in Paris he had meetings with Jean Marie Le Pen and apparently he held Le Pen in such high regard that he personally brought him a copy of the manuscript of what would eventually become his first book “On the significance of borders”. On a more local level, Baudet is part of a cycle that dates back to Pim Fortuyn the murdered politician who inaugurated the modern era of right wing populism in the country. Fortuyn’s spot in the public eye was eventually taken up by Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk, famous proponent in 2004 of “badges for foreigners”. When Verdonk’s basic racism became old news, she was replaced by Wilders in the media spotlight. Baudet is just the latest figure in this cycle. However, if every new figure in this cycle brought a “touch” of their own to differentiate themselves from their predecessor, Baudet’s contribution will be the mainstreaming of MRA ideology.
In the past few weeks The Netherlands has been immersed in one of those “debates” that are part of a long Dutch tradition: white Dutch people discussing among themselves whether Thierry Baudet is racist or not. Regardless of what the targets of Baudet’s hateful ideas feel about the issue, it is white Dutch people who “settle” the question. This is no small conversation but rather a main topic of discussion on both social and mainstream media. The hashtag #BaudetIsRacist has been trending on and off for a few weeks and emotions have been running high across the Dutch political spectrum. This conversation is heating up on the run up to the Municipal elections on March 21st. These elections, once local rather small affairs have become another opportunity for parties and candidates to expand their national reach with incessant media attention.
However, it wasn’t a commentary from Baudet himself that ignited the current debate about his racism but rather his refusal to distance himself from a comment by one of his party’s candidates for Municipal elections. In an interview with Dutch television a few years ago, Yernaz Ramautarsing, second on the list for Amsterdam’s City Council made statements about the “lower IQs of Black people” and his belief in the differences of intelligence levels across racial lines. Both Baudet and his party’s second in command Theo Hiddema have refused to condemn the statements instead claiming it’s “a matter to be solved by science”, lending further credibility to old eugenics theories that were thought to be buried a century ago. Dutch mainstream media, never one to shy away from racist tropes now treats the topic as a valid discussion point, with talkshows hosting white men who claim to settle the issue for the audience in a breathtaking throwback to the 1930s when Northern Europe found such preoccupations worthy of public debate.
This years’ Municipal elections are quickly becoming a testing ground for the seemingly ever expanding limits of racism in the Dutch mainstream. However, it would be unfair to only now ask the question of whether Baudet is racist or not. While his number two candidate for Amsterdam’s city council made reprehensible eugenics filled remarks, his number one candidate on the same list, Annabel Nanninga famously coined the term “floating n****r” to refer to refugees drowning in the Mediterranean Sea at the height of the refugee crisis of 2015. Not only didn’t Baudet condemn such rhetoric but he sought her as his party’s representative for the local elections.
If Geert Wilders rise to the mainstream anticipated the rise of Donald Trump to the US Presidency, via the mass mobilization of right wing elements that was required to win the election, Thierry Baudet is showing where the trend is heading: the mainstreaming of Men’s Rights Activists with their gender essentialism, racist roots, eugenics filled discourses and contempt for anyone who isn’t a white cisgender man. While “moderate” right wing ideologues behind the Republican Party in the US or the VVD, current ruling Party in The Netherlands, once made an effort to thinly disguise their contempt for minorities, the MRAs that are coming make no such effort. Instead, it is in strengthening those ideas that they become mainstream. Now, imagine what they will do when there’s more than one of them in power.
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