Essay: White Women Storm the Capitol

The audacious innocence afforded to white womanhood

#1: Ashli Babbitt never imagined she would survive fighting for regime change “over there” only to die fighting for regime change “over here.” The 14-year Air Force veteran who fought in both Iraq and Afghanistan was the only person shot by Capitol Police while trying to storm the Congress of her own country. So eager of a footsoldier of white supremacist patriarchy was Babbitt that she was the first to scramble through a window in a door separating the insurrectionists from an area where members of Congress were sheltering from the mob. She never imagined the Capitol Police would shoot her because the police rarely shoot white women, unless it’s a cop who shoots his wife at home.

Photo of Rosanne Boyland via CBS46

#2: Rosanne Boyland, who carried the yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” Gadsden flag as she marched to the Capitol, never imagined she would be trampled to death under the feet of her fellow insurrectionists. She probably believed that after a few hours with a violent white supremacist mob bent on storming the Congress she would just go home because historically white women usually do go home after a mob they have joined has completed its violence, be it lynching Black men, or an insurrection.

#3: Elizabeth from Knoxville, Tennessee was so secure in her right to pursue sedition that she spoke to a reporter on camera with no attempt to hide her face or her intention: “We’re storming the Capitol, it’s a revolution.” She complained of being maced and pushed out of the building. White women never expect to be maced or pushed out of anywhere. 

#4: Unidentified white (every)woman was so sure the police would always protect her, along with other property of white men, that she Freudian-slip complained to the mob of insurrectionists on Wednesday: “This is not America...They’re shooting at us. They’re supposed to shoot BLM, but they’re shooting the patriots.” 

I shed no tears for any of these women, dead or alive. 


A movement labeled a domestic terror threat is driven by white suburban women. According to a timeline of violence linked to QAnon between 2018-2020 compiled by the Guardian, women were arrested for five of the 12 instances. And now: an insurrection.


Babbitt and Boyland were supporters of QAnon, a far-right conspiracy movement that has formed around a baseless belief, born on the internet, that Trump has been secretly fighting deep state enemies and a cabal of Satan-worshipping cannibals operating a child sex-trafficking ring. It is the latest polite mask for white supremacy and was instrumental in driving the insurrection.

Although the media is full of male QAnon supporters who stormed the Capitol, QAnon--which the FBI labelled a domestic terror threat in 2019-- is driven largely by suburban white women - particularly mothers. It has elected two representatives to Congress, both white women

Pause and ponder that for a moment: a movement labeled a domestic terror threat is driven by white suburban women. According to a timeline of violence linked to QAnon between 2018-2020 compiled by the Guardian, women were arrested for five of the 12 instances. And now: an insurrection.

Trump has refused to denounce QAnon and repeats their conspiracies. Why would he denounce a group that is driven by white women, who have been consistently voting Republican since 1952 because it is in their interest to protect the interests of white patriarchy, that same white patriarchy which promises to provide for and to protect them? Until it doesn’t, and it literally crushes them under its feet during an insurrection in the name of a vicious misogynist who has been accused by more than 20 women of sexual assault. 


Imagine the authorities profiling, pursuing, entrapping, and surveilling white women, especially now that we know how eager they were to join an insurrection, including a female veteran who zealously carried out here what she was trained to do overseas. 


Of course Trump would not denounce a group driven by a demographic that he repeatedly appealed to using the ugliest of racist foghorns during his election campaign. White suburban women returned the favour and delivered their votes.

I bear not a shred of sympathy for any of these women. White supremacist violence is never taken seriously in the United States. Its female adherents, consistent with the usual presumption of white women’s innocence, even less so.


Ashli Babbitt reminds me of the men who joined the mujahideen to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan only to return home to Egypt or Algeria and turn their guns on governments there. Is the U.S. ready to make those connections?


Compare the zeal with which the U.S. has profiled, pursued, entrapped and surveilled Muslims suspected of terrorism with the reluctance bordering on complicity that it reserves for investigating or taking seriously white domestic terror. Now imagine the authorities profiling, pursuing, entrapping, and surveilling white women, especially now that we know how eager they were to join an insurrection, including a female veteran who zealously carried out here what she was trained to do overseas. 

The very idea is laughable - profiling white women! Understand that I don't want anyone profiled or surveilled. I want you instead to see how much white womanhood gets away with.

If they were not white, from any other country, or certainly if they were Muslim, these women would be called fanatics, thus is the privilege of whiteness. White womanhood is privilege sweetened with an innocence and fragility that white women--liberal or conservative, Trump-voting or not--are adept at weaponizing. 


Even when they join an insurrection, even as they pummel their way through the doors that held back the mob braying for violence from the upper echelons of the U.S. government, white women are still remembered for the best versions of themselves. Women who joined ISIS were never afforded such an audacious innocence.


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In various media accounts Boyland’s family and friends describe her as a “loving sister, an attentive aunt” and a “dear, dear friend, an amazing friend,” She is said to have been “compassionate” and “always put others first.”

Babbitt is described as “never afraid to speak her mind” and her sedition: “in a way, this was her way of speaking her mind.” We are told that the woman who survived a war of regime change in other countries only to be killed attempting regime change in her own country “loved her country and she was doing what she thought was right to support her country, joining up with like-minded people that also love their president and their country.”

Babbitt and Boyland’s families insisted they “really don’t know why she decided to do this.” The innocence afforded white womanhood! Even when they join an insurrection, even as they pummel their way through the doors that held back the mob, braying for violence, from the upper echelons of the U.S. government, white women are still remembered for the best versions of themselves. 

Women who joined ISIS were never afforded such an audacious innocence.

But those comparisons must be made. As I read that the bereaved relatives of the dead women say they had argued with them not to go, or that QAnon had created a wedge within families, it reminds me of the backstories of armed Islamists I reported when I was a Reuters correspondent in Cairo and later of the women who became suicide bombers for movements such al-Qaeda. Babbitt reminds me of the men who joined the mujahideen to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan only to return home to Egypt or Algeria and turn their guns on governments there. Is the U.S. ready to make those connections?

When U.S. media have taken deep dives into QAnon, it is stunning how much fuckery white women get away with and for which they are given so many excuses. QAnon provides a convenient disguise behind which white women channel their far-right white supremacist fuckery into concern for children. That’s effectively what drives the group. And who dares argue with that most deified of creatures, the white mother?


Again and again, the audacity of white womanhood obscures and obfuscates the violence that white women are allowed to get away with. 


During a pandemic that has disproportionately affected Black, Indigenous, and mothers of colour, the “trauma” of white mothers is elevated and used to justify their preponderance for a dangerous conspiracy. Even as that danger grew, and so brazenly expressed itself in the run-up to the insurrection, its whiteness and its femininity gave it cover.

It is reminiscent of the ways Trump’s victory in 2016 was explained away with references to the “suffering working class” (read: white working class) and not the actual racism that was a driving force.

Again and again, the audacity of white womanhood obscures and obfuscates the violence that white women are allowed to get away with. 

On Wednesday, as Babbit and Boyland sacrificed their lives in an insurrectionist war on behalf of Donald Trump in the nation’s capital, another white woman who had joined pro-Trump insurrectionists in downtown Los Angeles declared a “new civil war” by assaulting a Black woman, Berlinda Nibo, who had got caught up in the mob.

#5: Cassandra Ferragamo of Huntington Beach was so confident in the audacity of her white womanhood that she brazenly grabbed Berlinda Nibo’s wig and tore it off as the white mob kettled Nibo, pushed her around, smacked her, and pepper-sprayed her. Ferragamo was so confident in the audacity of her white womanhood that she later boasted on video “Fuck BLM, I’ll snatch your fucking weave off!” as she waved Nibo’s wig in the air, like a trophy. “I did that. I did the first scalping of the new civil war!”

Berlinda Nibo said she punched Cassandra Ferragamo in the face. And that was the best news I read all day.

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Mona Eltahawy is a feminist author, commentator and disruptor of patriarchy. Her first book Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution (2015) targeted patriarchy in the Middle East and North Africa and her second The Seven Necessary Sins For Women and Girls (2019) took her disruption worldwide. Her commentary has appeared in media around the world and she makes video essays and writes a newsletter as FEMINIST GIANT.  

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