Richard Spencer: Five Things to Know

  • March 29, 2018

1. RICHARD SPENCER IS AN ALT RIGHT LEADER.

Spencer has become the most recognizable public face of the alt right, a loose network of people who promote white identity and reject mainstream conservatism in favor of politics that embrace implicit or explicit racism, anti-Semitism and white supremacy. Spencer coined the term “alternative right” (from which “alt right” is derived) in 2008 in an article in Taki’s Magazine, a far-right publication.  At the time, Spencer was using “alternative right” to refer to people on the right who distinguished themselves from traditional conservatives by opposing, among other things, egalitarianism, multiculturalism and open immigration. As a spokesperson for the alt right, Spencer has tried to use the media to mainstream racism and anti-Semitism.

During the 2016 presidential race, the alt right gained national media attention for two things: supporting Donald Trump and online trolling. On Election night 2016, Spencer exulted in Trump’s victory. “The Alt-Right has been declared the winner. The Alt-Right is more deeply connected to Trumpian populism than the ‘conservative movement,’” Spencer tweeted. “We’re the establishment now.”

Spencer was one of the promoters and scheduled speakers at the August 12, 2017 Unite the Right alt right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which was ostensibly organized to oppose the removal of Confederate monuments. The rally attracted more than 500 white supremacists and many hundreds of counter-protesters, and confrontations between the two groups sparked violent clashes. A white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring a number of other people.

That weekend, Spencer's website announced that Unite the Right was the “beginning of the white civil rights movement.”

It seems that Spencer may have spoken too soon.  Since that weekend in Charlottesville, dissension and infighting has overtaken the alt right movement.  On one side are the American Nationalists who believe white supremacists should appeal to whites by using innocuous symbols like the American flag, and avoid openly white supremacist symbols like swastikas.  On the other side are the National Socialists and other hard-right groups whose members display white supremacist symbols at rallies and don’t care about “optics” or appealing to the white middle class.  Spencer walks the line between the two groups.  Although he does not wear or publicly promote any white supremacist symbols, he did align himself with the Traditionalist Worker Party (TWP), a neo-Nazi group. The group acted as a security force at his speeches at Auburn University in Alabama in 2017 and at Michigan State University in 2018.

Spencer appears to be testing out new ways of attracting attention. In October 2017, two months after Unite the Right, he returned to Charlottesville to lead 35-40 people in an unannounced “flash mob” – a reprise of August’s tiki torch march.  Afterwards, Spencer called it a “great success” and a “model” for future events.  This kind of small event with no advance warning hugely diminishes inherently risky interactions with law enforcement or counter-protesters. Spencer only employed the “flash mob” model a couple of times before turning his attention to scheduled public events like campus speeches.

2. SPENCER IS A WHITE SUPREMACIST WHO HAS BECOME MORE OPENLY ANTI-SEMITIC IN RECENT YEARS.

Spencer wants to establish a white ethno-state in the U.S. and believes that whites should live separately from non-whites and Jews. While Spencer generally shies away from blatant displays of anti-Semitism, he began expressing anti-Semitic views more openly in 2014, when he wrote that Jews have an identity apart from Europeans. At a press conference two years later, he announced that he did not consider Jews to be European (i.e. white in alt right nomenclature).

Spencer has been influenced by a number of other white supremacists, including the late Sam Francis, Jared Taylor of American Renaissance, and retired professor Kevin MacDonald, who wrote a series of anti-Semitic books, which Spencer has promoted.   Spencer’s white supremacist organization, the National Policy Institute (NPI), featured MacDonald as a speaker at its annual conferences in both 2015 and 2016.

At the 2016 conference, a number of people in the audience threw Nazi salutes after Spencer “hailed” Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election. Spencer refused to condemn the salutes.

Spencer has aligned himself with groups and individuals who openly express virulent anti-Semitism, including TWP and Patriot Front, a Texas-based alt right group. Members of both groups have attended and acted as security at his events. Spencer has also shown a willingness to work with anti-Semitic leaders such as Matthew Heimbach, the former head of TWP, and Mike “Enoch” Peinovich, who runs The Right Stuff website.

3. SPENCER, WHO HAS BEEN INVOLVED IN A NUMBER OF PUBLICATIONS AND ORGANIZATIONS, GOT HIS START IN THE CONSERVATIVE MOVEMENT.

Spencer was an editor at Taki’s Magazine and worked at The American Conservative as an assistant editor. In 2010, Spencer founded online journal Alternative Right, which he used to promote white nationalism until he left in 2012. 

Spencer was named president of NPI in 2011, and he also runs two associated ventures--Radix Journal, a publication featuring essays on white nationalism and other issues, and Washington Summit Publishers, which publishes the work of racists.

In January 2017, Spencer founded Altright.com, an online sounding board for the movement. The site was created with the help of Swedish white supremacists and is part of a venture called the AltRight Corporation. Spencer and his Swedish partners, Arktos Media, a far-right publishing company, and Red Ice Radio, a video and podcast platform featuring racists from around the world, want to bring the message of white nationalism to mainstream audiences.

In December 2017, Spencer announced that he had formed a new organization with other alt right leaders. In a departure from previous alt right groups, which organizers dismissed as “amateurish,” Operation Homeland was unveiled as a core group of alt right leaders and activists poised to lead the movement as a whole. The group held a demonstration in December 2017 in Washington, DC, to protest the acquittal of an undocumented immigrant in the 2015 murder of a young woman in San Francisco.

4. SPENCER HOPES TO ATTRACT YOUNG, EDUCATED WHITES TO THE WHITE SUPREMACIST MOVEMENT.

Spencer has embraced the young internet activists who create the racist, anti-Semitic and misogynistic memes, symbols and slogans that characterize much of the alt right’s online presence.

He has focused on getting college students to attend his annual events, including the NPI conference, and he’s had some success:  the 2016 NPI conference was attended by 200 to 300 people, many of them young. This was a marked increase over the attendance at the previous year’s event, which attracted just 120 to 175 people.

 (The 2017 NPI conference was turned away from its usual venue, and was held at a farm in Maryland,  attracting about 100 attendees.  When the owners of the farm found out about NPI’s white supremacist ideology, the group was asked to leave).

In 2016, Spencer launched a college tour to bring his white nationalist message to campuses nationwide. He spoke at Texas A&M University in December 2016 and at Auburn University in April 2017.

In October 2017, he spoke to a small, mostly hostile audience at the University of Florida in Gainesville, where he was accompanied by members of Patriot Front and Identity Evropa, an alt right group that has since disassociated itself from Spencer. 

In March 2018, he spoke to a small group of supporters at Michigan State University, while members of TWP fought with antifa activists outside, leading to a number of arrests.  After the MSU speech, Spencer decided to cancel his college tour, saying he would try to find other methods of reaching the public.

5. SPENCER HAS BEEN ARRESTED AND BANNED IN EUROPE.

In 2014, Spencer attempted to hold the annual NPI conference, titled “The Future of Europe,” in Budapest, Hungary. When Hungarian authorities banned the conference, Spencer was arrested when he attempted to hold the conference anyway. Some of NPI’s supporters, including Jared Taylor, managed to hold a watered-down event in Budapest without Spencer, who was then banned for three years from the visa-free Schengen area of Europe, which includes most of the European Union. In 2016, the Home Office of the British government banned Spencer from visiting Great Britain, citing his white supremacist views.

In November 2017, Poland’s state-run news agency PAP, citing unnamed Foreign Ministry sources, reported that Polish authorities had extended Spencer’s ban from the Schengen area for another five years.