Those living on the fringe of the left and the right share more in common than you might think.
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On Twitter and TikTok over the past few weeks, scores of users have become alarmed about the uncomfortable coziness between the natural-food-and-body community and white-power and militant-right online spaces—the “crunchy-to-alt-right-pipeline.”
Crunchy, coined as a pop-culture reference to granola, has come to refer to a wide variety of cultural practices, including avoiding additives and food dyes, declining or spacing out childhood vaccinations beyond what pediatricians recommend, and more extreme actions in pursuit of health, independence, and purity. Back-to-the-land living and alternative medicine are hallmarks of “crunch.” Much of this subculture is benign, a declaration of anti-modernism or slow living. But this largely white cultural space shares some preoccupations with right-wing organizations, which have used it for recruitment.
In the 1970s and ’80s, women in the emergent white-power movement, which gathered Ku Klux Klan members, neo-Nazis, skinheads, Christian Identity members, tax resisters, and other militant-right activists, deployed what we would now call “crunchy” issues as part of a wider articulation of cultural identity.
These bits of crunchiness included organic farming, a macrobiotic diet, neo-paganism, anti-fluoridation, and traditional midwifery. All of these are often thought of as leftist or “hippie” issues, but they appeared regularly in the robust outpouring of women’s publications in the white-power movement.
The surprise at the crunchy-to-alt-right pipeline, or at the closeness between the radical right and the radical left, reveals a problem with common ideas about left, right, and center in American politics. In general discourse, and too often in historiography, we use a measure that harkens back to World War II, with the left (aligned with the Communist U.S.S.R.) on one end, a flat line running through a political center (democracy and the United States), and the right on the other (where fascism and Nazi Germany reside). This idea of a political spectrum implies that left and right share little in common, and that they are diametrically opposed. It also positions fascism as far away from American politics, when recent history shows us quite the opposite.