This morning as we again awaken to the realization that American women have lost their bodily autonomy, that five individuals can decide that States’ rights can’t control guns, but that they do have the power to control women’s bodies, we mourn the loss of 50 years of a right to an abortion. Yet, as we argue that this is returning us to a dark historical period, we must also look to how this decades-long battle by the Christian Right has made use of conspiracy theories, God, country, and a battle against communism, socialism, and humanism to disempower and manipulate those with the greatest power in elections: women.
These battles against the rights of women, people of color, and those in the LGBTQ2SA communities have never wavered. Erupting each time progress has been made, these groups have for decades pushed a cohesive message that activated an angry minority who interpret our world as infringing upon their rights, and who perceive injustice in every gain made for those who neither look like them nor believe as they do.
As many of us fought for rights, inclusivity, equality, and individuality, these individuals brought moral panics, conspiracy theories, and abject fear to the table to motivate their followers. To this way of thinking, behind every step forward, lay an evil cabal, a demon or minion of Satan, while they, as the soldiers on the side of the eternal, were commanded to battle in the streets and storm the voting booths.
In the 1960s, America saw the rise of a socio-political movement in the John Birch Society (JBS). Robert Welch and his National Council, a few members of which he dubbed “God’s Angry Men,” worked endlessly to marry free enterprise with religion. Armed with the knowledge that the three most influential groups in society were youth, women, and religious leaders, they created a three-pronged approach to inflict fear on their membership to mobilize them to battle for God, country, and family.
That motto alone articulates how their brand of nationalism was to be formed. In their monthly magazine American Opinion, best-selling author Taylor Caldwell (1900-1985) wrote articles to the women of the Society reinforcing the evils of feminism, of communism, and of free choice via conspiracy theory, Christian persecution, and an unwavering dedication to traditional gender roles. Replace “communism” with “socialism” and such an article would be right at home in today’s National Review or in one of the larger legacy papers—ostensibly “to ensure balanced coverage.”
For Caldwell, the injustices of society were at the hands of the LGBTQ2SA community and feminists. Using a “creative” version of nostalgia, she perpetuated a scenario where sexual freedom and women’s equality was the death knell to America. She wrote of the importance of women in raising “manly men,” where there was no “blurring of the sexes,” and “a man’s word was law in his house, no matter how shrewish his wife,” as she wrote in her 1967 article, “Love Thy Neighbor An Example of Divine Humor.” In her words “Papa had nights out with the Boys, and if he came home a little beery, and late, Mama knew enough to keep her mouth shut.” That was the wondrous world that Caldwell and the JBS wanted to create.
As with most articulations of nationalism, women were portrayed as the ones who protected “American values” of family, gender roles, morality, and religion. In Caldwell’s articles, and in the rhetoric of much of today’s conservative movement, it was America’s abandonment of God and embrace of LGBTQ2SA communities, feminism, and effeminate men, that opened the door for the communist/socialist infiltration. Caldwell’s advice was to “treat your son, from the very bassinet, to be manly,” as he wasn’t an adorable baby, but rather an “embryo man.” Women were to “respect his status” as a man even while an infant.
This was in harmony with her direction on how a woman was to treat her husband “as her dearest treasure above all else, whose children are secondary to her mate in all things,” as she put it in a 1968 article “On Manliness: So You Want to Raise A Boy?” Those feminists who were not bearing children, not getting married, and using their powers of seduction to dupe men into working for the communists, were at fault for the state of America.
These feminists and those “perverts” were being used by the Illuminati to destroy America, God, and all that was good in the world to create a New World Order, where Christians, capitalists, and true Americans would be enslaved. If you hope to shrug this off as ancient history take a look at Tucker Carlson’s 2022 “documentary” The End of Men, about which Annika Brockschmidt writes, “For Carlson, the alleged decline of conservative values, and thus the decline of America, can be explained directly by the effeminization of men.”
Response to the John Birch Society has long been one of ridicule and dismissal (as is the case more recently regarding Tucker Carlson’s documentary). Groups like the JBS, and influencers who spread disinformation and conspiracy theories have been perceived as a tinfoil-hat-wearing fringe with no influence. This response has culminated in the position we find ourselves in today. We’ve ignored and mocked, while they’ve gathered momentum and built a contemporary movement held together by conspiracy, moral panics, and fear.
The “groomer” panic we see today is a culmination of decades of adherence to conspiracy theories, that hold that women and feminists, are the ultimate weapon of the “great replacement” of white people. The seduction of sexuality is the downfall of God, country, and family.
In the social media posts of conspiracy theories, extremists, and white nationalists the morning after the ruling we saw a repeat of history:
“Roe v. Wade has just been overturned. Millions of unborn White Children may now have their lives protected, protection that should have never been taken away in the first place. The pendulum that is our society is beginning to swing back in our direction. White Lives Matter!”
The end of Roe v. Wade isn’t celebrated as a constitutional victory, it’s reframed as attacks on LGBTQ2SA communities and women, and is celebrated as a win for God, country, and family. The enemy remains an evil cabal intent on ending a nation.
While we continue to ridicule those building a socio-political movement rooted in manufactured nostalgia, they continue to build on this perceived “win” for God, and for “true patriots” of the nation—i.e., those who are heterosexual, Christian, patriarchal, and white. This SCOTUS decision is a return to an America where only traditional gender roles were acceptable, sex is a man’s domain (and available on demand), and where God ruled the nation—a very nostalgic return.
Nostalgia is a form of timekeeping that’s rooted in politics. It’s a lens through which to look at the contemporary world in which fear and anxiety are the catalyst for a longing for the past. In this context the past is envisioned as a period where the decline of society began; where a moral absence started creating the contemporary world; where there’s a lack of true social relationships and personal authenticity.
Nostalgia isn’t a need for or recollection of a past utopia but is instead a criticism of the present. It isn’t a personal memory but is instead a collective one about the biography of groups or the nation; nostalgia lies in the plane between the personal and the collective memory. In this light MAGA was the perfect slogan for a figure like Donald Trump.
Using language and memes that promote the idea of the degeneration of the nation at the hands of feminism or gender rights, nationalists are positioned as the opposition to progress and create a stigmatization of groups who are on the margins of society, labelling them as degenerate classes. LGBTQ2SA groups, sex workers, criminals, feminists, and substance-addicted individuals are defined as “racial deviants” and at odds with the culture of the nation. The selective use and support of feminist issues, such as TERF ideologies, construct a narrative to reinforce traditional norms of femininity and masculinity and patriarchal and heteronormative values.
It’s imperative that we acknowledge the power of conspiracy—and of fear and how it’s a motivating factor—woven into the language of religion and God’s work, in order to stop the hemorrhaging of our rights. While the official framing of the removal of rights is constructed within the Constitution, or historical precedents, the truth is, the movement behind these decisions, is standing upon a revisionist history of nostalgia, hate, and fear.