It was a bit jarring, the day before Thanksgiving.
“Sharing is for losers,” white nationalist Richard Spencer told me when we spoke after his weekend conference in Washington, D.C., which got more attention than he ever dreamed possible.
Spencer ended his speech at that conference – the day’s closing remarks – with a raised arm and this call: “Hail (Donald) Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!”
Despite that, and his use of the German word “luegenpresse” (which translates as “lying press” and was favored under Adolf Hitler’s rule to smear news reports deemed insufficiently patriotic), Spencer seemed surprised and concerned that his ideas might get tarred and dismissed as simply neo-Nazi.
“There is something good to be said about all the attention,” Spencer said. “But I am worried that if our ideas are just equated with Nazism or something, they’re simply going to have less influence.”
Listen to Al Letson’s interview with Richard Spencer
He noted that he held a glass in his hand when he raised it after his invitation to “hail,” though some audience members who returned the straight-armed salute did not. Anyway, he said, invoking these symbols is a sort of inside joke.
“When people see, you know, memes on Twitter, they grasp the joke and so on,” Spencer said. “When they can get a five-second clip of me saying, you know, ‘Hail Trump,’ then they say, ‘Oh, look, see, it’s real. … You know this truly is a Nazi movement.’ ”
Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, describes that as semantics.
THE TRUTH WILL NOT REVEAL ITSELF
“If you look at not only his speech but the invited speakers, their history, what they talked about, people could come to the conclusion that this was a hate fest, even if the Nazi salute video was never publicized,” Segal told me.
But Segal doesn’t really care how the group is categorized: “White supremacist, white nationalist, they want to call themselves alt-right. I think the name matters less than the content of their statements and their fundamental ideology – which is not new and was not first developed in D.C.”
Before the election, Spencer told Reveal that Trump would “slingshot” Spencer’s views and aims forward. He’s still angry that amid all the attention that followed the conference last weekend, his home addresses were publicized by an editor for Politico Magazine who, in a related post, mentioned his grandfathers bringing baseball bats to gatherings of an American Nazi organization established before World War II.
That editor has since left Politico.
Spencer used fighting words at the conference, telling his audience that “no one will honor us for losing gracefully,” and white people must “conquer or die.” He’s made it clear he believes in a white “ethnostate” set aside for people with European ancestry. But he’s not ready for open warfare to get there.
“Bullets and trenches,” he said, “is not where we are right now.”
So where is he? This brings us back to Spencer’s disdain for sharing. One of his core beliefs is that the left wing in America is motivated by anti-white hatred. His examples include celebrating advancements of people of color in business, entertainment or education, which he considers a quest to destroy white European culture and take opportunities away from hard-working white people.
That sense of economic loss is what Trump tapped into. The candidate also crossed into Spencer’s core territory by receiving and retweeting support from individuals and groups that espouse white supremacist views. (In an interview with The New York Times on Tuesday, Trump disavowed Spencer’s group. “It’s not a group I want to energize, and if they are energized, I want to look into it and find out why,” he said.)
I asked Spencer if he could imagine seeing advances made by people from many backgrounds as progress, because then power would be shared rather than concentrated in the hands of one group. That’s what led to his anti-Mr. Rogers response.
“Sharing is for losers,” he said. “Why would you want to share something? Why is that morally better? I mean, no.”
Emily Harris can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter: @emilygharris.