Mariel Cooksey, an MA student in Religious Studies, is deeply active in liberal progressive politics. In addition to volunteering with voter registration projects and the Anti-Defamation League, her top interests are female reproductive rights, the current election, and police reform. Cooksey knew she wanted to combine her passion for politics with the study of religion and found an ideal fit with Religious Studies at UVA, pursing a master’s degree with a concentration in Religion, Politics, & Conflict. Her personal commitment to liberal politics spurred an interest in studying “the other.” Though initially drawn to investigate the inner workings of Incels, her project shifted focus to the Alt Right and their engagement with Christianity as a political tool.
Why take a religious angle to the Alt Right? Cooksey studied religion as an undergraduate at the University of British Columbia and sees religion as an ever-present thread throughout society that provides great insight into politics specifically. Cooksey states “There is nothing you can engage with concerning civil or social rights that doesn’t overlap with religion; it is the glue that binds all cultural, societal, and political movements.”
While many people are studying the Alt Right currently, few are examining the engagement with Christianity. This lens is fruitful as Cooksey has traced out a tricky workaround, by which some Alt Right followers of Richard Spencer wholly reject Christianity as it perpetuates the death of white racial pride through breaking down the ties of racial kinship and others see Christianity as a marker of white pride. For those who reject it, a key problematic feature of Christianity is that Christians are supposed to be of service to all people, not just those within one’s own race. Christianity is also renounced because of its Jewish origins; anti-Semitism within the Alt Right is a strong feature and has long been characteristic of white nationalist movements.
However, Cooksey notes that despite this rejection by some, others within the Spencerian Alt Right see Christianity as indigenously European and, based on its malleability, that it can support white nationalism. In this point of view, Christianity became grand when Europeans were first converting and infusing the religion with European values like valor, masculine honor, and a warrior sentimentality. Along with this, they argue that all of the artistic, architectural, musical, and technological advances in Europe are attributed to the influence of white Christianity. This embrace is limited to the aesthetics of grand Christian European culture and not the theology of Christianity. The same people also utilize classical art that they also believe reflect the greatness of white heritage. Despite the aesthetic embrace of Christianity, a strong component of the Spencerian Alt Right is personal atheism.
There is another piece to this puzzle of Christianity and the Alt Right, and it lies in what Cooksey calls the New Alt Right. She says that most people, when they think of the Alt Right, think of Richard Spencer’s movement, which is openly misogynistic, atheistic, desirous of white ethnostates and wanting to infuse the culture with white nationalist ideas. His movement is already dated and the New Alt Right, or the next generation, is made up of very young men (teenagers to early 20s) and differentiates themselves by being more directly focused on the United States and fully embracing Christianity, not just as a tool, but as believers. The leaders of the Groyper Movement and the American Identity Movement, Nick Fuentes and Patrick Casey, are traditionalist Catholics. Followers of Fuentes and Casey believe that if Christianity is properly racialized it can help support white nationalist goals.
Being such an outsider to this work personally can have advantages in helping Cooksey investigate their points of view. Sometimes the hatred and deep misogyny she encounters on online forums and in the writings of the Alt Right is so extreme, though, that she has to step away. Cooksey says that her work with the ADL, specifically police reform and anti-bias training, helps in what could otherwise be a very troubling subject to research, as it gives her a glimpse of how her scholarly work of understanding the mindset, motivations, and mentality of the Alt Right is useful beyond academia.