Through documentary evidence, interviews with living descendants of the massacre’s survivors, and almost novelistic meditation on the meaning of it all, Ball characterizes P.C. as a petty and disappointed man, outshone by his more successful brothers and embittered by the financial loss abolition had brought him. Ball writes predominantly in the present tense, making us feel the structural (and genetic) links between himself—the white writer—and Lecorgne, the white supremacist: “Constant is an agent of racist terror, and he is one of us.”
A comparable strategy underpins Seyward Darby’s new book, Sisters in Hate: American Women on the Front Lines of White Nationalism, which is otherwise written from the other end of the historical kaleidoscope. Hers is a portrait of the fringe white supremacist personalities recategorized as culturally mainstream by that hater of the traditional media, President Donald Trump, and his publicity machine. She trains her eye specifically on the heat map of feminine influence. In profiling three female white supremacist media figures named Corinna, Ayla, and Lana, Darby’s book, read in conjunction with Ball’s, demonstrates how precisely the mindset of men like P.C. Lecorgne has survived into the present day and how women in the movement, by seeming relatively harmless, have generally escaped the judgment of history.
Darby’s three subjects are also disappointed people. Corinna, for example, spent years struggling to make a living before eventually converting to Islam and becoming a successful professional embalmer. She’d always had trouble relating to people, but in the depths of her troubles in 2008—rejected by employers and traumatized by the death of her younger brother—Corinna turned to white supremacy online to find people who would praise her, find her important. She posted her first message on the hate site Stormfront in spring of that year:
Hello, I am new, so please forgive my ignorance.
A lot of the stuff I have read here says that WN [white nationalism] is not the same as supremacy and some members are adamant that they are not white supremacists.
But . . . maybe I am one? I believe:
—white people are generally more hard-working, honest, decent, dignified, and intelligent than nonwhites…
It goes on, but you get the picture. Under a thin layer of reasonableness—she’s polite, hedging with “but” and “maybe”—Corinna couches her hatred of nonwhite people in an argument for whites’ superior qualities. Like an avalanche, the positive feedback from the majority-male online community deluged Corinna, and her fate for the next few years was sealed.
Lana Lokteff, host of the white supremacist podcast Radio 3Fourteen, is another of Darby’s subjects. In her virulently hateful broadcasts, you can hear her racism inflected by her gender and position in the media landscape. “To me,” she once said on air, “race is metaphysical; the formation of different biological expressions is miraculous. Racial differences are the manifestations of the spiritual expressed in physical form. Racial awareness is spiritual to me—it’s mysticism when you combine the knowledge of one’s family lineage as well as a spiritual effort to delve into your people’s primordial and mythical times.”
In these sentences, Lokteff blends the nineteenth-century myth of race as biologically essential—connected to a romantic and nationalist notion of natural purity—with the turn to wellness and spirituality in women’s online media. The “mysticism” of her rhetoric is not just fascistic but also aspirational, almost Instagrammable—her ideal woman is white, of course, but also in touch with her soul.
Darby’s key intervention is to show just how far these women go in comparison to their male peers. In an interview with Lana in 2014, for example, the white supremacist Tim Murdock, aka “Horus the Avenger,” told her that she must continue to repeat “consistent messages” because “women are just as effective, if not more.” Speaking to Lana, he said, “You can get away with saying a lot more than I can get away with.”
Why do people believe things that are not true? Darby cites a 2015 study showing that “reading a statement like, ‘A sari is the name of the short pleated skirt worn by Scots,’ increased participants’ later belief that it was true … even if they could correctly answer the question ‘What is the name of the short pleated skirt worn by Scots?’”