By Jonathon Van Maren
Buzzfeed News recently published the fascinating (and still unfolding) story of Katie McHugh, a one-time conservative gadfly who wrote for the Daily Caller and other right-wing publications before becoming so embedded in the alt-right she managed to get canned from Breitbart in 2017. I found it particularly interesting because McHugh went on record and revealed both the extent to which Steve Bannon and an assortment of other characters were willing to use the alt-right Internet trolls to stoke the rage that fired up the masses and kept their agenda steaming forward, and how exactly she drifted from mainstream conservatism into alt-right extremism. I have seen a number of people follow this trajectory in recent years, many of whom worked for The Rebel (and several of whom I knew personally.) McHugh’s revelations are an extremely instructive cautionary tale on how this can happen, especially to someone trying to get noticed in a media landscape that specializes in sensationalism and bomb-throwing.
Because I have tangled with the alt-right quite a few times in my efforts to ensure that conservatives do not confuse alt-righters as ideological allies (and had the privilege of being called out and condemned by neo-Nazi Richard Spencer for my efforts), I have had to spend quite a bit of time explaining to people who are unaware of just how nasty, toxic, and racist the alt-right is that they are not on our side. They are not pro-life, for starters, and far from wanting to embrace the Judeo-Christian heritage of the West, they see the worship of a crucified Jew as a weak embarrassment that must be dispensed with. They speak of “Christendom” as a political reality, and laud the Crusades because it involved Europeans warring with Muslims, but when it comes to religion, their views stretch past Christianity to the misty darkness of Europe’s pagan past. In this way they are precisely like the Nazis, who also disdained Christianity for its perceived weakness well as its origins as a Jewish sect. Instead, leading Nazis such as SS head Heinrich Himmler preferred to toy with occult mysticism and Germanic paganism, which provided far more fertile ground for their battle cries of blood and soil.
Because the alt-right makes use of much of the same traditionalist imagery and lauds the canon of the West in a way that rings familiar to Christians, they may be confused into thinking that the alt-right are ideological fellow-travelers. They are not. I would urge anyone interested in getting a good look at the devolution of a conservative into an alt-righter to read the entire profile on McHugh, but I want to draw specific attention to this passage, about McHugh’s differences with her alt-right boyfriend and the pagan underbelly of the alt-right movement:
Their differences went deeper — and stranger — than that, and allowed McHugh to see inside a truly bizarre subculture. McHugh was a Catholic, while [her boyfriend Kevin] DeAnna was a member of the Wolves of Vinland, a group based near Lynchburg that was focused around a neopagan theology based on self-improvement and feats of strength, as well as coded white nationalism. The idea was to cast off the bounds of modern Judeo-Christian society and find a way back to pre-Christian northern-European culture. McHugh sometimes accompanied DeAnna on weekend trips down to the Wolves’ headquarters for what they called a “moot” — a ceremony in which the assembled Wolves would smear ash on their bodies around a fire and give what McHugh described as “dramatic speeches” about self-sufficiency and relying on the other group members. They would then sit around the fire and drink beers.
The Wolves placed a heavy emphasis on masculinity. The women would prepare food for the gatherings earlier in the day before the moot commenced, according to McHugh. The Wolves were into a “Centurion Method” of physical fitness; a video still on YouTube shows DeAnna and Paul Waggener, one of the founders of the group who used the pseudonym “Grimnir,” taking turns lifting up the trunk of a car filled with cement blocks, scrambling around on a bunch of debris, and squatting while holding logs.
One of the Wolves, Maurice Michaely (Wolf name Hjalti), was sentenced to two years in prison for trying to burn down a black church. (“Visiting with incarcerated Wolf,” Waggener wrote on Facebook in 2014 to caption a photo of himself visiting Michaely in jail, speaking to him on a phone across a transparent barrier. “Free Hjalti you fucking pricks.”)
There is a thread in white nationalist ideology that is essentially anti-Christian, viewing Christianity as a destructive force that compelled white people to be overly generous. “They, at best, view it as a necessary evil,” McHugh said. “Almost as a control mechanism for people, and they’ll eventually shed it to go back to their true Western roots of being Aryan.” Christianity began as an offshoot of Judaism — to white nationalists, subversive at its core.
Though McHugh says she was appalled from the get-go at the Wolves’ paganism, a friend who has known her since she was an intern at the Daily Caller said she was tempted by it at the time. “I began to recognize that there are certain things that she needed reprogramming on, and so I set out to help her as much as I could,” the friend said.
“She seemed that she did have some interest in it,” this person said. “In 2014 I was in the hospital, and when you’re in the hospital people bring you things to read. And she brought me this little pagan pamphlet. And I was like, oh, we gotta stop this. Nip this in the bud.” The friend gave her a copy of City of God, St. Augustine’s seminal defense of Christianity in the declining years of the Roman Empire. He thinks it brought her back from the brink. “She was like, oh, this book’s incredible,” he said. “At that point, it was that she was not going to become a pagan, that she was gonna remain a Christian.”
McHugh’s strange recounting of the alt-right’s wilderness activities is not by any means an aberration. There is a reason that so many alt-right groups choose to name themselves after pagan gods and concepts (like the Soldiers of Odin, for example.) The alt-right is not Christian, but anti-Christian, and as such has a fundamentally different concept of the West as a specifically racialized conglomeration of civilizations that has grown weak due to non-white immigration—and that Christianity is one of the sources of that weakness. When the alt-right speaks of preserving Western civilization, they are talking about something far, far different than social conservatives are. In fact, their view of Western civilization is as much of a perverted and ugly construct as that of the radical progressives, and the alt-right and progressives align in the belief that Christianity must be either destroyed or simply reduced to a cultural symbol in order for Western societies to free themselves and move forward.
That being said, McHugh’s story has an arc that I hope becomes more common: As she realized how poisonous the alt-right is, she began to move away from them. Eventually, she left their ranks entirely, and is now doing the painful work of repenting for the views that she held and espoused while she subscribed to their ideology. Hopefully, her story will inspire others who fell for these wolves disguised as sheepdogs to follow the same path.
For anyone interested, my book on The Culture War, which analyzes the journey our culture has taken from the way it was to the way it is and examines the Sexual Revolution, hook-up culture, the rise of the porn plague, abortion, commodity culture, euthanasia, and the gay rights movement, is available for sale here.