Thousands descended on the National Mall Friday to protest Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling granting women the right to an abortion, which faces an existential threat this year from the Supreme Court’s conservative majority. Joining the students—many of whom arrived in waves from Catholic high schools wearing matching beanies to be easily spotted by their chaperones—were white nationalists, white supremacists, and Christian nationalists eager to celebrate a win for the right-wing movement.
Earlier in the day, the court’s conservative justices signaled their disdain for abortion rights, rejecting a request from abortion providers to have a federal judge promptly address a Texas law that bans abortion at 6 weeks and deputizes private citizens to enforce it by allowing them to sue for up to $10,000. Looming over the rally, and abortion rights writ large, was the reality that the Supreme Court was, in the coming months, set to rule on another abortion case: Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. At the heart of that case is a Mississippi law that bans abortion at 15 weeks—before fetal viability—going against the protections laid out in Roe, which recognizes that women have a constitutional right to an abortion in the first two trimesters of pregnancy, roughly 24 weeks.
While the March for Life has always been an initiation to the anti-abortion rights movement for thousands of teenagers—made “fun” with a concert featuring Christian musicians—the righteous indignation of teenagers usually palpable at its rallies was replaced with a new celebratory atmosphere. Cheers and chants broke out at the prospect of the end of Roe, and lawmakers, from Sen. Mitt Romney to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, voiced their condemnation of abortion rights. Meanwhile, Christian nationalism oozed into some speakers’ anti-choice messaging calling for government control of women’s reproductive organs.
“Why are we here? The Bible, the book that built America, says that those who hate God love death,” actor and conservative activist Kirk Cameron told the crowd.
Among the speakers was Kristen Waggoner who serves as general counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, the religious-right legal giant responsible for Mississippi’s 15-week ban. In 2018, Right Wing Watch reported that ADF’s Denise Burke bragged at an anti-choice conference that the 15-week abortion ban was based on ADF’s model language and that the legislation was the next step in the group’s strategic plan to “eradicate” Roe v. Wade through the courts. In her speech, Waggoner celebrated the Mississippi law.
“This year at long last the Dobbs case has exposed a half century of lies, bad science, and the devastating consequences Roe v. Wade has wreaked on women, children, and families,” Waggoner said. “Pray, please pray. Pray as you’ve never prayed before that the Supreme Court will have the moral courage to do what is right and to fully and finally reverse Roe v. Wade because the right to abortion has no basis in our Constitution.”
The crowd erupted in applause.
The prospect of a win even lured white supremacists to the march. Male members of Patriot Front marched down Constitution Ave ahead of the official march start, displaying a sign that read “STRONG FAMILIES MAKE STRONG NATIONS” with eugenic fervor. (Organizers of the march condemned the group’s white supremacist ideology.)
A handful of young male activists with the white nationalist America First youth movement (led by Nick Fuentes) watched from the sidewalk and couldn’t decide whether the Patriot Front group was made up of neo-Nazis or federal agents. Either way, they weren’t very impressed with the group’s police escort. “Their platform is unintelligible,” one activist added. They moved further down the block, holding their America First flags high in the sky before joining in the march to the Supreme Court.
“Christ is King! Christ is King!” chants broke out among activists with the New Columbia Movement, a Christian nationalist group seemingly made up of only men who stand against any sort of contraception, premarital sex, daycare, and secularism and believe mothers ought to be “stay-at-home moms.” The group’s co-founder, Nicholas Chimera Jr., was recently in “the Mussolini-fan club” American Black Shirts Party, according to former U.S. Army Sergeant and Sparverius CEO Kristofer Goldsmith. Chimera claimed in an interview last year that the mostly Catholic group was a “traditional Christian movement”; Goldsmith describes the group as Christofascist—representing the intersection of Christian nationalism and fascism.
“Faith. Family. Fraternity,” the group’s banner read. Another sign proclaimed, “Contraception degrades and perverts the nature of love and intimacy.” A few of the men dressed in flat caps, embracing their backward views with old timey ensembles.
As they marched down Constitution Ave, the America First activists took up the “Christ is King” chant and joined forces with the New Columbia Movement.
While the March for Life has brought thousands of teenagers into the anti-abortion rights movement over its 49 years in existence, this year’s march exposed students to the broad array of forces on the right keen to rollback women’s rights and which are on the brink of a win.