Listening to the Other Side: A Conversation with White Nationalist Richard Spencer

Listening to the Other Side: A Conversation with White Nationalist Richard Spencer

By David G. McAfee, author of Atheist Answers and founder of The Party of Reason and Progress

Any good skeptic knows the value of listening to opposing views, but does that extend to people with truly abhorrent opinions? In the case of Richard Spencer, a well-known White Nationalist who was violently assaulted outside President Donald Trump’s inauguration, many people say “No.”

Spencer, who supports “peaceful ethnic-cleansing,” was giving an on-camera interview when he was attacked by an anonymous assailant. He had already been assaulted minutes earlier by protesters who recognized him as a “Nazi,” according to a response video.

This isn’t an isolated incident, either. Liberals, progressives, and other activists are jumping to defend the violence against Spencer and throw in some death threats of their own.

But is all this justified? Has Spencer harmed anyone, or even threatened them with violence? You can judge for yourself. I sat down with him to talk about the assaults, his religious views, and the future of the “Alt-Right” movement.

 

McAfee: Are you religious? Do you support the Separation of Church and State?

Spencer: I’m an atheist. The “separation of church and state” is an utter illusion. The state and religion are deeply connected.

McAfee: So, despite your lack of religion, you do think religion and government should be connected. Is that right? Do you think a secular government would fail?

Spencer: A truly secular government could never exist. Sovereignty is a magical thing. For a political order to function–for it to accomplish its tasks, including war-making–the population must *believe* in it.

McAfee: You have mentioned “peaceful ethnic cleansing.” Can you give me an example of this?

Spencer: The Paris peace conference of 1919 was an example of peaceful ethnic cleansing.

McAfee: Would you support something like that, a peaceful ethnic cleansing like that of Paris 1919, taking place in the United States?

Spencer: I would support peaceful ethnic redistribution. Yes. Encouraging recent immigrants to return to their true homes, etc.

McAfee: I saw a report that said Neo-Nazis are planning an armed march against Jews in your hometown. Do you condone this type of event?

Spencer: The “march” is a troll. I stated publicly, multiple times, that I wanted the whole episode to end. That said, I don’t denounce free expression.

McAfee: I haven’t seen you being violent or planning violence, but I have seen people do harm to you. Are you a pacifist? What do you have to say about this topic?

Spencer: I’m not a true pacifist, in the sense that I do not believe that violence is *never* justified. Obviously, violence as self-defense is in inherently legitimate. But we need to go deeper than that, beyond liberal logic.

McAfee: What do you mean by “go deeper than that”?

Spencer: The state is fundamentally about violence, it’s about who or what can engage in violence legitimately. In the shadow of a sovereign state, we can use liberal logic (e.g., “self-defense is justified,” etc.). But we shouldn’t forget that we have fundamentally given to the state warmaking power.

McAfee: If you could find common ground, would you be willing to work with those who disagree with you on other issues? Would you work with secular activists to combat radical Islam, for instance?

Spencer: Of course, I’d be willing to work with people.

McAfee: Have you ever thought about running for President? Do you see that in your future?

Spencer: I have seriously thought about running for office. To some degree, it would be an “educational campaign” (similar to Ron Paul’s 2008 effort), but I would only do it to win it.  But there are other ways of influencing people than actually running. That said…I think I’d be a hell of a lot better at it that the vast majority of Republicans.

McAfee: Did you coin the term “Alt-right”?

Spencer: Yes, I first started using “Alternative Right” in the summer of 2008. At the time, it was a much broader tent, referring to lots of different versions of the Right that opposed George W. Bush and the “conservative movement.”

McAfee: Is there a difference between the “Alt-Right” and normal everyday Republicans who supported Donald Trump? Do you think people lump you all together?

Spencer: Of course, there is a YUGE difference. The Alt Right is an intellectual vanguard, and quite young. The vast majority of Trump supporters are Americans, mostly older Americans, who are experiencing serious angst regarding their future.

McAfee: Do you think Donald Trump personally sympathizes with your views?

Spencer: An intriguing question. When he first ran, I doubt he had ever heard of me or seriously thought through idea related to the Alt Right. He’s now definitely heard of me and Alt Right ideas.

McAfee: He has definitely heard of the movement. A lot of people think he might personally have similar views, even if he’s not open about them. Do you see anything like that in him?

Spencer: I’m sure it’s a very mixed bag. On one level, he probably thinks, “Why won’t these crazy kids shut up!? They’re making me look bad!” On another level, I imagine he grasps where we are coming from. He might *sympathize*, without really being one of us. Remember the generational aspect of Trump is very important. People of his age are looking back towards an older America. Alt Right people have grown up in postmodern America. We don’t want to “go back.” We want to go forward.

McAfee: Do you see Steve Bannon as a line of influence for your movement within the Trump administration?

Spencer: Bannon is a very similar person to Trump. He might sympathize, but he’s not really one of us.

McAfee: Is there anything else you’d like to add? Anything you think it’s important “the other side” understands?

Spencer: Trump wants “civic nationalism”; Bannon wants “economic” nationalism.  It’s important to look at the historical trajectory in which these political forces arose. “Civic nationalism” (and “Social Contracts”) came about in a major disruption, when older, organic regimes and social orders were brought into question. Today, the “civic nationalism” of mid-century America no longer works; it no longer works for peoples and races who are dramatically different from one another and don’t agree on much of anything outside of shopping and watching NFL football. This is one reason for the rise of a postmodern, multicultural ideal. It’s a replacement ideology for civic nationalism. Trump might be the last gasp of mid-century Americanism.  He’s trying to paper over a major social disruption with full-throated Americanism. It’s fascinating. And I sympathize with Trumpists, without really being one of them.

 

I don’t agree with Spencer on much, but I do think open dialogue is important. In fact, I think closing ourselves off to this sort of taboo subject is part of how we ended up where we are today. The history books will likely reflect that.

David G. McAfee is a Religious Studies graduate, journalist, and author of Atheist Answers: Rational Responses to Religious Questions, The Book of Gods, The Belief Book, Mom, Dad, I’m an Atheist: The Guide to Coming Out as a Non-believer, and Disproving Christianity and other Secular Writings. He is also the founder of The Party of Reason and Progress and a frequent contributor to American Atheist Magazine. McAfee, who writes about science, skepticism, and faith, attended University of California, Santa Barbara and graduated with bachelor’s degrees in English and Religious Studies with an emphasis on Christianity and Mediterranean religions.

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Richard Spencer

21 comments

  1. I read the offered piece “peaceful ethnic cleansing” and it is just racial profiling of immigrants under the delusion that white immigrants are inherently better than other immigrants. This idea is not a form of nonviolence, it is just hatred guised in rhetoric. His claim to be an Atheist does not ring true to me either…it seems he has made a religion out of his racism.

    1. I completely agree with Mr. Aguilar above…but can’t help wondering if my own viewpoints fall under the category of “confirmation bias.” That being said, what is the point in entertaining dialogue from persons who hold such marginalistic views?

    2. “Peaceful ethnic cleansing” occurs all the time. What do you think gentrification is? What do you think it is when formerly black neighborhoods are 90% Hispanic within a decade or so?

  2. Wish the interview was longer. I’d ask Spencer why he believes the Social Contract theory is outdated, and why secularism is untenable.

  3. This is the question (or questions I suppose) I have for all commenters and the author himself:

    Spencer’s views boil down to creating a space for white people in which they are not subjected to forced diversity and slander of their ancestors and culture. Why is this wrong?

    All over the world, countries and empires have split and formed smaller nations based on similar notions. Why is this only an issue if the people involved are white?

    Why is it wrong for white people to want to be left alone?

    1. It’s wrong in all cases, not just if the people are white. Separating people by arbitrary factors (i.e. skin colour) implies that these arbitrary factors are valid and important distinguishers and inevitably leading to supremacy ideas amongst each separate group.
      Surely if we must be split, we should do so by ideas and perspectives as opposed to that which we have no control over?

    2. “Spencer’s views boil down to creating a space for white people in which they are not subjected to forced diversity and slander of their ancestors and culture. Why is this wrong?”

      Hahaha! Your tears are delicious, snowflake. Do you have any examples of this “slander”? Because I’ve never heard anyone say anything unfair about my white ancestors. Mature adults are usually able to hear negative things about their ancestors and accept that nobody’s perfect and learn from their mistakes.

      “All over the world, countries and empires have split and formed smaller nations based on similar notions. Why is this only an issue if the people involved are white?”

      Because those of us white people who are smart and decent actually enjoy being around a variety of different types of people. Diversity of opinion, of culture, music, food, art, etc. makes everything better for folks who aren’t scared crybabies like you. Also, if you wanted this country to go back to how it was, the Native Americans should kick out all the white people.

      “Why is it wrong for white people to want to be left alone?”

      Because through colonialism and imperialism, white people have stuck their fingers in every part of the world for the past 800 years, give or take. You don’t get to take over countries and then whine like a toddler that the folks you forced to your way of life on begin to think it’s something they’d also like to have.

      But if you let me know what Southern backwoods landfill you park your double-wide in, I promise to avoid it and “leave you alone.”

      Cheers.

    3. I severely doubt that Spencer’s views boil down to that, consider his fixation on Hitler. People who unironically heil etc aren’t going to settle for anything less than mass murder.

  4. Unlike many people criticizing this piece, I don’t support no-platforming, and I don’t take issue with you publishing an interview with this guy. That said – good grief! – a critical interview, with some actual hard questions and not these softball pitches are what’s called for here. This guy is basically a thinly-veiled fascist, and getting underneath his sales pitch is extremely important.

    For starters, pushback on the idea of “peaceful ethnic cleansing”. Historically, population exchanges come with a body count – look at India and Pakistan in 1947 as an example of an overwhelming amount of death in something that a lot of people don’t think of as a genocide.

    If you need a refresher in how to do a respectful but critical interview, give Eiynah Mohammed-Smith (Nice Mangoes) and David Pakman a listen, particularly their interviews w/ far-right types.

    Particularly distressing is that this is not just an interview, but a “dialogue”, which implies a discourse that seeks common ground and possible amity. Is that what kind of relationship secularists should be developing with quasi-fascists. All for interviews, of course, but as opposition research, not tea and sympathy!

    1. Since you mentioned David Pakman, I just wanted to let you know that he’s also doing an interview with Spencer later this week.

  5. He said violence in self-defence is legitimate. Nazism is a *direct* threat. It’s inherent in the philosophy. Anyone acting in violence against nazis is acting in self-defense.

      1. Considering he refuses to even clearly condemn KKK lynchings or the Holocaust, it is severely doubtful that mere peaceful separation is all he wants.

    1. Let’s just drop the pretense, all these accusations of Nazism are rationalizations for left-wing violence. Even if Richard were a National Socialist, which he is not, so long as he does not call for violence, he should be able to freely voice his opinion.

      Look how easily an argument could be made from the perspective of the right to justify violence. The left has encouraged the mass importation of third world immigrants, whose crimes the left actively conceals, at a time when the birth rates of Europeans are well below replacement levels; this is an existential threat to the continuation of the European peoples, and so your beliefs are a direct threat and violence is therefore justified.

      Political speech has important implications for people’s lives, which is why it must be defended — or should we only defend speech that has no practical implications whatsoever? In that case free speech is empty and there is no reason to defend it.

  6. “You can judge for yourself”

    Honest to god, this reads like some parody of the worst of milquetoast liberalism. We’re meant to judge for ourselves based _entirely on Spencer’s own self-justifications in a completely non-confrontational ‘dialogue’? Thanks but I’ll be judging him based on things he’s done and things he’s said.

    P.

  7. This interview offers no real insight of the Alt-right and how to decipher it and only gives a voice to a monster for other monsters to agree. I think no-platforming is a solid strategy and if you are going to give neo-nazis a voice you need to be very careful in showing them as the real mosters they are and not spreading their spin and propaganda. Spencer has advocated genocide of ethnic minorities and is behind re-branding ultra-right groups as the alt-right to mask their extreme racism and nazism. The man does Hitler salutes and this piece gives him an easy ride. This means it’s poor journalism and is morally reprehensible.

  8. David, you are very brave to publish this. However, your danger comes not from Spencer, but instead from those who oppose and hate him. They will make you an enemy, for your support of freedom of speech.

    It seems impossible today, but the ACLU once defended the right of Nazis to march through largely Jewish Skokie, Illinois. That was liberalism. Today’s “liberals” would go there and start a riot. Many so-called “liberals” today, the Regressive Left, are really left-fascists.

    Since Stalin and Hitler both killed millions, a right extremist could use the same justification for attacking communists. Or anyone that they consider to be “communist.” After all, communism is clearly dangerous, and they find someone sounding very much to them like a communist………

    “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”
    Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Aphorism 146

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