In early December, Kaitlin Bennett, the 20-year-old far-right provocateur known as the “Kent State Gun Girl,” who made a career out of recording herself upset liberal college students, published an new series of auto-mythological images. In four minutes without words video which begins with the sound of a fetal heartbeat, a series of slow-motion shots juxtaposes Catholic iconography with a pregnant Bennett stroking her stomach in front of altars, sitting on benches, holding a rosary and smiling softly for the camera . The final shot slowly pushes Bennett’s body up – from the feet to the tight dress to the blonde hair to the waist – before climbing into an identical pot above a statue of the Virgin Mary.
The pregnancy announcement video was posted to Liberty Hangouts, a right-wing website and YouTube channel founded by Bennett’s husband, which advertises itself as “the official home of Kaitlin Bennett.” But that was only the second part of another big reveal days earlier, when Bennett announced that she was not anymore an atheist, but had converted to Roman Catholicism, thanks to various factors: her husband’s devout belief, her cat falling ill, and a liberal protester with whom she mingled who expressed her hostility to the religion.
Days later, a popular religion website owned by Catholic media giant EWTN, the world’s largest religious media network, covered the news like a gasping tabloid watch. Bennett began appearing on right-wing Catholic shows, like that of LifeSiteNews, to discuss his conversion and his belief that LGBTQ Pride Month was a manifestation of the worst of the Seven Deadly Sins. She tweeted a photo of herself in a white lace mantilla after attending her first traditional Latin mass, and her husband, Justin Moldow, Recount Right-wing Catholic YouTuber Timothy Gordon who filmed his wife mocking college campuses “really felt like witnessing the passion of Christ at that time.”
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In an age of internet personalities hunting down deeply silly celebrities, Bennett’s performance as a far-right stuntwoman manages to stand out. As president of Kent State’s Turning Point USA chapter in 2017, she oversaw a “diaper protest” mocking the notion of “safe spaces” on campus that succeeded in embarrass the national TPUSA, ultimately ending its relationship with the group. The following year, she rose to Internet fame for posting a graduation photo of herself wearing a short dress, heels, and an AR-10. She briefly worked with Alex Jones’ conspiracy theory team, Infowars, exploded a paper sign saying “Happy Holidays” and marketed an endless range of “girl at guns” merchandise. (As Ruth Graham noted in a slate profile after Bennett was kicked out of Ohio University’s Athens campus, Bennett’s own social media accounts state his intention to “monetize enemies.”)
But beneath the lib-trolling spectacle, there is a deeper pattern at work. On the one hand, Liberty Hangout, led by Bennett and Moldow, has a long history of far-right politics, to advance conspiracy theories as “white genocide”, referring to the white supremacist “14 words” and vote its readership on whether the Holocaust really unfolded the way they were taught in school. (“It doesn’t seem possible that six million people were killed,” the group’s Twitter account argued.) On its podcast during the early years of the Trump presidency, the group hosted a series of “alt-” celebrities. right ”, including some of the people found responsible last November for inciting violence at the 2017 Unite the Right protest in Charlottesville, Virginia. But over the past two months, the narrative has turned into a flow of Catholic images so even that followers complained they had moved “from America and freedom to the history of the Vatican and the Mexicans” (the latter apparently in response to an article featuring a Mexican saint).
In this, Liberty Hangout and its combative star retraced the path taken by a number of other far-right activists associated with the remnants of the alt-right and the movements scrambling to take its place. After the personality of the Canadian white supremacist Faith Goldy was fired from her job at right-wing outlet Rebel News for appearing in a podcast of the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer, she made a highly visible return to Catholicism and found a welcome in certain corners of the Catholic right. Stop the Steal founder Ali Alexander caused a stir a year ago announcement of his own conversion to the Catholic Church just days before helping lead a crowd of protesters to the United States Capitol. Several months later, in mid-March, disgraced former Breitbart writer and right-wing star Milo Yiannopoulos told LifeSiteNews that his return to the Catholic Church had helped him become “ex-gay. “
They joined a number of other far-right figures who have clearly intertwined their political advocacy with right-wing Catholicism, including Jack Posobiec, the Pizzagate promoter turned right-wing commentator, and Nicholas Fuentes, the young founder of America. First or “” groyper “, which has built up a huge success online. When the various factions of the alt-right decided to meet in Charlottesville in the summer of 2017, they organized most of their pre- gatherings in online chat rooms. One of the most popular, named “Nick Fuentes Server”, was dedicated to Catholics seeking to “explore the connection between their church” and Unite the Right. Hundreds of posters in this room spoke about traditionalist Catholicism and posted memes with Crusader-era imagery and rhetoric alongside overtly anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi messages.
“After the alt-right disintegrated in 2018 and 2019, a number of them turned inward, to religion, now that they have been twisted and their first attempts to changing society have been pushed back, ”said Ben Lorber, research analyst. at Political Research Associates who studied movement. “It seems like a way to get back into the mainstream for people like [Yiannapoulos] who were excluded during the alt-right years. ”
For moderate or liberal Catholics concerned about political extremes Split within their church, these were disturbing developments – part of the growing entanglement of American Catholicism with increasingly right-wing American politics, which over the past five years has included large swathes of the far right by using Catholic images or adding phrases like “Deus Vult” and “Viva christo rey“ to their tweets.
To Vatican Tablet correspondent Christopher Lamb, author of a papal biography, “Abroad: Pope Francis and his fight to reform the Church“, which details the growing political polarization within the world’s largest religious denomination, was evidence of the far-right’s efforts to infuse their movement with a spiritual purpose. tribalism? You do it through imagery? In a sense, you empty out the religious content and use the exteriors – the beads, the crucifix, a few words, maybe a few prayers – but you use it as an identity marker to give your movement the feeling that he has a deeper soul or intensity on a moral level. “
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David Lafferty, writer at Where is Peter, a moderate Catholic website that tracks the influence of the Catholic right within the church. proposed a similar analysis. “I think there is a larger pattern here, where a lot of people who are part of the larger populist right, or the MAGA movement, or what used to be called the alternative right, are ready to grab n ‘any opportunity to find a new audience, “he said. “When you tap into the ecosystem of Catholicism online, you have an integrated audience with large traditionalist or ultra-conservative Catholic sites, all of which have very dedicated followers and fan bases. If you’re coming from the populist right in church, you’re going to be able to step right into this world and become a kind of instant celebrity. “
This influence trading works both ways. Last week, as LifeSiteNews welcomed Bennett to detail his conversion story, Bennett’s former employers at Infowars hosted Co-founder of LifeSite for a lengthy interview on vaccine misinformation, the “civil war” of Catholicism and what Jones described as an “antichrist system” made up of “mass surveillance, transhumanism [and] the Big Reset agenda. ”
“It shows that this movement has no limits. There is no threshold,” Lamb said. “The way they operate is that whoever agrees with their ideology is an ally, regardless of anything else. You can deny that children were murdered in the Sandy Hook massacre, as long as you agree with it. me on COVID. If you agree with me, anything goes. “
“I pray that maybe there is something genuine in there, and that she goes off the radar and becomes a humble person trying to be a good Catholic,” Lafferty said of the conversion of Bennett and other far-right figures. “Somehow I doubt it. I think there are larger forces here, ready to use whatever is available to spread the right-wing populist message, gain more followers. , cause more controversy. “
Learn more about the rise of the religious right in the Trump era: