Obviously, Wednesday’s fatal yet small-bore terror attack in London that killed at least three took the public by surprise, but there’s something surreal about checking the British press for more information and instead finding another warning about creeping extremism: American racists, it seems, are infiltrating the Jane Austen fanbase.

It’s troubling for sure: Elaine Bander, a former officer of the Jane Austen Society of North America, told the New York Times, “No one who reads Jane Austen’s words with any attention and reflection can possibly be alt-right.” Or can they …?

Before the Metropolitan Police are put on special lookout for young white men sporting high fades and carrying copies of “Northanger Abbey,” the theory, which was posited by a professor at the University of Colorado and quickly spread through the U.S. media, might be worth looking into just a bit.

The New York Times traces the theory to Nicole M. Wright, an assistant professor of English who was tipped off when she noticed Milo Yiannopoulos using the first line of “Pride and Prejudice” to rag on “ugly” feminists during a stop on his “Dangerous Faggot” campus tour.

Obviously, she was compelled to look for other examples of alt-right figures flirting with the domain of Janeites, and she eventually published her findings in the Chronicle of Higher Education. What she discovered is shocking: the appropriation of Austen by white supremacists could have been inspired straight from the highest levels of government.

There is a reason that alt-right adherents claim Austen for themselves, and it isn’t because their Dear Leader, who has not read a book in years (according to his own biographer), is a closet Janeite. By comparing their movement not to the nightmare Germany of Hitler and Goebbels, but instead to the cozy England of Austen — a much-beloved author with a centuries-long fandom and an unebbing academic following — the alt-right normalizes itself in the eyes of ordinary people. It also subtly panders to the nostalgia of the Brexiters, with their vision of a better, bygone Britain. Such references nudge readers who happen upon alt-right sites to think that perhaps white supremacists aren’t so different from mainstream folks.

But these men are distorting Austen’s work; her novels are hardly blueprints for an “ethnostate.” Instead, they serve as antidotes against the strategies used by the alt-right movement.

We’re not suggesting the United States and Britain both barring laptops and other electronic gadgets in carry-on luggage this week might have something to do with neo-Nazis attempting to smuggle Kindles loaded with Austen’s novels onto crowded flights, but we’re also not not suggesting it, if you get our drift.

* * *

Related: