Jack Donovan — a 42-year-old skinhead icon and right-wing extremist — lived the gay life once. It was in the 1990s, after he left his parents’ blue-collar home in rural Pennsylvania to study fine art in New York, when he danced go-go in gay clubs, hung out with drag queens, and marched for gay pride. But then he dropped out, learned how to use tools and work as a manual laborer, studied MMA, and decided he wasn’t gay — just “an unrepentant masculinist.”
“I am not gay because the word gay connotes so much more than same-sex desire,” Donovan announced, under a pseudonym, on the first page of 2006’s Androphilia: A Manifesto: Rejecting the Gay Identity, Reclaiming Masculinity (echoing, probably unintentionally, the speech Tony Kushner wrote for Roy Cohn in Angels in America). “The word gay describes a whole cultural and political movement that promotes anti-male feminism, victim mentality, and leftist politics.” He appropriated a new term, androphile, to describe a man whose love of masculinity includes sex with other men.
Gay men are remarkably prominent — if not exactly abundant — in the alt-right universe. Take the infamous Milo Yiannopoulos, who powered a meteoric rise and fall on the sheer cognitive dissonance between his flamboyant self-presentation and callous politics. (When Out magazine profiled Milo, the story’s writer Chadwick Moore “came out as a conservative.”) Or artist turned reporter Lucian Wintrich, who joined the White House press corps when Trump-cheering blog Gateway Pundit (edited by a gay man) received its first credential. But even those men seem relatively mainstream when you compare them with Donovan, who has contributed to “dapper white nationalist” (and friend) Richard Spencer’s journal, advocates for a form of “anarcho-fascism,” and founded a chapter of a masculinist “tribe” called the Wolves of Vinland, which the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies as a hate group. (One member recently served time for burning down a historically black church.) Which makes sense when he shows me photos from their neopagan fight-club rituals, which sometimes involve nooses.
To hear Donovan tell it, his sexuality is a nonissue. It’s a point echoed by several of his peers, who don’t see their political views and sexual identities as contradictory but complementary. “Masculinity is a religion, and I see potential for androphiles to become its priests,” Donovan wrote in Androphilia, “to devote themselves to it” in a way that men who understand their manliness through women — in quantifying the number they’ve slept with or measuring “men’s rights” against “women’s rights” — can’t. And so androphiles like Donovan have found common ground with the gender-traditionalists and male-advocacy groups elsewhere in the messy carnival of the new right, where reactions to women range from outright hostility to benign disinterest.
And they’re not interested in queer solidarity, either. “Apart from Camille Paglia, of course, I can’t think of any interesting lesbians,” gay white nationalist James O’Meara told me in an interview. Or as Donovan said, “I think most of them are so married to feminism that I don’t think that’s even an option.” To say nothing of trans issues, which most gay alt-righters rejected (“I know three transgender people in our movement,” Counter-Currents editor Greg Johnson offered, before arguing against the designation. “White nationalism should be straight but not narrow,” he said, inadvertently repeating a slogan popularized by an anti-bullying LGBT nonprofit.) Donovan sees himself as a member of the earliest generation of gay men who could be free to ditch the “victim mentality” of queer politics. In Androphilia, he praises activists who fought to decriminalize gay sex and to combat institutional indifference to AIDS “It would be remiss not to credit the Gay Rights Movement for fighting against this sort of oppression, intolerance, and intentional negligence,” he writes, but “having achieved relative tolerance for same-sex-oriented people in mainstream culture, and having brought an end to police harassment and widespread discrimination, the Gay Rights Movement has turned to nitpicking.” He isn’t against identity politics. He’s loud and proud about his race and his gender — traits that, unlike his sexuality, do not make him a minority. “Ten out of ten minorities agree that being a minority can really blow,” he explains in “Mighty White,” an essay defending white nationalism in those who fear losing, or in some contexts have already lost, majority racial status.
Donovan — whose partner of 20 years is a Trump supporter of Mexican descent — supports white nationalists, but denies belonging in their ranks. “I just think that’s a silly goal,” he says of the so-called white ethnostate. Whiteness, he points out, “is an American approximation of nationality,” which doesn’t make as much sense as, say, German nationalism — which he became familiar with when he delivered a speech praising masculine violence at a far-right German nationalist convention near Leipzig in February. Violence is a component of Donovan’s “gang theory of masculinity,” an idea he became so enamored of that he felt he could not actualize as a man until he had a gang of his own. Enter the Wolves of Vinland, a club started near Lynchburg, Virginia, by brothers Paul and Matthias Waggener, a pair of avid bodybuilders who love blackmetal bands (a.k.a. National Socialist Black Metal bands). The sons of an Orthodox priest, the Waggeners have said in interviews that they experimented with drugs, satanism, and “gangster shit” before discovering neopaganism, also known as “heathenism,” which became the foundation of their club.
“The rest of the Wolves are not homos, and we don’t consider ourselves a white-nationalist or alt-right group,” Donovan clarifies by email. White nationalists and the alt-right do, however, seem to consider them kin, judging by the frequency of pro-Vinland programming in white-nationalist and alt-right media. One thing those groups share is an intellectual foundation of gender and race essentialism: “Our women are females, they’re females, and our males are masculine, and we don’t look for sameness between sexes,” Paul Waggener told Greg Johnson in an interview. To be masculine, a man doesn’t need to have sex with women — although he should probably be stronger than women, and hold his own in brawls, and have tactical skills, and provide. And he should be brave, which is why Donovan gets so irritated when he’s accused of homophobia. “That’s a construction. That’s a silencing word and it’s meant to emasculate,” he says. “When you say someone’s phobic, you’re saying that they’re afraid. That’s why they call men phobic constantly — they’re transphobic, they’re homophobic, they’re afraid of women.” Political correctness “is just a way of calling a man a coward.” (When it comes to language, Jack is more sensitive about ideology than sexuality. He still doesn’t like the word gay but occasionally uses it for conversational expediency and punch lines about “being gay” with his boyfriend about their new pet dog.)
Who feels fear, and why, and whether their fear is rational, seems to be at the heart of the mainstream’s tension with the alt-right. If a man gives a speech called “Violence Is Golden,” is that scary? What if his audience includes white nationalists? And if he’s gay, does that change, well, anything? Not really, says historian Jim Downs, author of Stand by Me: The Forgotten History of Gay Liberation. “If you look at every movement, you’re going to find these moments” of unexpected orientations and identities that seem anomalous within a movement. But if enough people join a club, inevitably, some won’t be straight. “There were gay Nazis,” Downs points out. “But follow where the story leads you: They get massacred.” What seems safe at one moment can be taboo a moment later, and traits that are liabilities in one context can be elsewhere. As recently as 2004, Republicans bragged about opposing gay rights to rally the base, while supporters like John Kerry avoided the topic. Today, longstanding opponents of gay rights are the ones who avoid the question — or set aside long-held beliefs in the name of pragmatism.
“I think gays can be particularly useful to the alt-right,” Alternative Right editor Colin Liddell told me. “Our movement is a revolutionary and taboo-busting movement, and gays have the right ‘psychological equipment’ for that. And, because of their lack of immediate family, gays often have a stronger feeling for their ‘wider family.’ The left has successfully displaced this sentiment to the fake ‘gay community’ or to leftist causes in general, but the true wider family for gays is their particular tribal or ethnic group.”
Donovan seems to be living proof of that theory — but not, perhaps, by choice. When I ask if he’d like to have children, he replies, “If I did, it would be with a woman.” He’s jealous of the “multigenerational experience” that straight couples can have just by fucking. Their DNA becomes entwined, playing out together for generations, even after they’re dead. The tribe lives on. “I’ve been really lucky,” he continues. “The guy I’m with, he’s my family. We just got a dog together, and we’re being gay for the dog.” He laughs. “I’m very lucky and, I think, very unusual in that sense. I think a lot of homosexual men end up being alone. I think it’s very unstable and very lonely. It’s not something that’s — like — if I met a young man who would say, ‘Hey, you know, I’m questioning,’ I’d say, ‘Don’t.’ I would advise them, unless there is no other way, I would say, ‘If you have the choice between men and women, be straight.’”
*A version of this article appears in the May 1, 2017, issue of New York Magazine.