I lead a quiet life, and so seldom see so much as the disappearing backside of naked hate, but last night I saw hate full-frontal, and that hate was coming at me. I saw a great chanting mob that was howling hatred, and specifying the object of its malice with signs that called for “fascist” blood. I saw stone-eyed ranks of la Raza Cósmica punching out their fists in the Red Salute and shouting about who did and who did not belong on campus. I listened to the hateful curses of Black nationalists, and even saw hatred pantomimed by two women dressed as clowns. Hate was on the menu last night. It was fresh, it was hot, and the portions were not small.
All of hatred that I saw was directed at Richard Spencer and the “fascists” who had gathered to listen to him. Spencer said nothing hateful, and only a few things that squeamish listeners might call regrettably rude. Apart from one sign with a picture of Pepe and a slogan about “helicopter rides,” his “fascist” followers might have been disciples of Mahatma Gandhi.
I arrived at the Memorial Student Center at six o’clock, an hour before Spencer’s talk was to begin. In one plaza was ranged the “silent protest,” which more or less lived up to its name, and whose placards suggested that many in it were not altogether clear as to why they were there. Betraying a certain ignorance of Richard Spencer’s ideology, one of these placards read “Make America Gay Again.”
The mob in the adjoining plaza was far from silent, and it knew why it was there. Our local newspaper had billed this as the “BTHO Hate Rally,” BTHO being a popular local acronym for Beat the Hell Out (of). The BTHO crowd was raucous and in the mood for beating the hell out of just about anything that came to hand. They had drummers, and agitators, and Soviet flags, and anarchist flags, and more than a few threatening placards calling for blood. One said, “I Am a Fascist Killing Machine.” Another, with greater subtlety, “Goodnight White Power.”
We “fascists” were obliged to form a line on the street. This was part of a security measure that made no sense to me, but that did allow protesters to wave their signs at us, and to take our pictures. As the bully-boys were still down the street getting wound up by the agitators, most who did so were slightly bemused good-whites, like these two anthropology professors.
We also had our pictures taken many times, by cheerless souls with grim this-is-going-in-your-file expressions on their faces. I didn’t see a badge marked Secret Police on this dour fellow, but he really didn’t need one.
After a while the BTHO crowd came surging down the street with a roar that was mighty but surprisingly unfrightening. It was stirring to see the Stars and Stripes waving beside the Hammer and Sickle, just as in days of old, but pride of place was of course given to the Black Flag and the anarchist circle-A. “Anarchist love,” I thought to myself, thankful that a low hedge separated me from its raging embrace.
Across the street, small knots of people dribbled through the gates of the football stadium on their way to the official Aggies United Rally, a wholesome evening of “celebrities, musicians, and a brief talk by an 88 year old Holocaust survivor.” This was by all accounts (except, of course, the official account) a huge flop.
I was fairly certain the screaming anarchist mob would not charge the line of “fascists” because the line of fascists was so obviously packed with infiltrators, plants and informers. I must also say that the police were out in force and doing a good job.
There were about five hundred people in the audience, and perhaps twenty television cameras against the back wall. Roughly a quarter of these were Richard Spencer supporters in one sense or another. Another quarter were White libertarians and leftists, the former mostly college students, the later mostly pony-tail-professor types. Another quarter were Blacks, all of them apparently students, and few of them inclined to reticence. The final quarter were Hispanic, a subset of which were the fist-punching and Che-Guevara-impersonating representatives of la Raza Cósmica mentioned above.
Spencer entered the room on time, a glass of wine in his hand and a smile on his face. He was dressed semi-casual, in jeans, dress-shirt and vest, and he gave off an aura that was happy, friendly and carefree. He opened his talk with some light-hearted remarks on the “Heil heard round the world,” and was for the next two hours, with only a couple of exceptions, jocular but also serious and respectful. There was no hint of Roderick Spode marching to the podium with a sheaf of papers, or of the Little Corporal shaking his fist.
Spencer explained the birth of the Alt-Right as his awakening to the utter failure of conservatism in the disastrous Bush administration. Around 2008, he told us, he realized that the United States had become an “ideological nation,” just as the old U.S.S.R. had been, and that movement conservatives were at the heart of this juggernaut. Thus, he said, George W. Bush was the real “founder of the Alt-Right.”
The Alt-Right was, therefore, originally, a right-wing critique of Bushism, most especially of its militarist-missionary foreign policy and its propositional nationalism. Somewhere in the dustbowls of Afghanistan and Mesopotamia, Spencer told us, American conservatism died. It was for this reason, he concluded, that the Right needed to rebuild itself from the ground up.
Around 2010, Spencer told us he settled on racial identity as the new foundation of right-wing politics. Birth, as he told us, “is not an accident,” and everyone is part of a people, whether they like it or not. A man’s people begins in his family, but expands outward from there until it reaches the limit of race.
There was at this point an uproar of predictable heckling about the “human race,” and a damn-fool pony-tail-professor shouted out that Europe is “just a place,” all of which Spencer used (with remarkable good cheer) to elaborate what he means by race, and why he believes that identity reaches it most significant limit in race. Although race is based in biology, this substrate is expressed in the much more important domain of “spirit,” which for Spencer means both nature and destiny. In Spencer’s view, therefore, each race has a unique spirit, nature and destiny, and therefore each race deserves its own homeland to work out its destiny without the distraction of routine contact and conflict with other races.
Throughout Spencer’s speech two dancing clowns cavorted silently in the aisles, and before his podium, holding up signs of disapprobation.
The last point about each race deserving a homeland lead Spencer to assert that “America at the end of the day belongs to White men.” This occasioned much loud consternation among the Black quarter of the audience, which had segregated itself in the front rows on the left, and among the fist-punchers from la Raza Cósmica. He made it clear that this did not mean that non-White citizens should be expelled from the country, only that Whites had a right to rule the U.S. as a majority (i.e. “set the tone” of society), and a right to take measures to preserve their majority.
About forty minutes into the talk, there began to be a certain tangible restlessness in the audience, a majority of which had been enduring in relative silence the equivalent of having red-hot nails driven into their eyes. Ominously, one young man took up a position in the center aisle holding a placard with a picture of Adolf Hitler blowing his brains out, and the words “Follow Your Leader.” Spencer made a joke about this and went on talking. The young man was joined by a second, apparently of mixed race, but with an orangish Afro hairstyle, who locked arms with the first. When they began to advance on the podium a third young man, who evidently supported Spencer, stood up to block their way. The two attempted to rush him and there was some grappling that threatened general melee.
Spencer very skillfully diffused this fraught moment with repeated and effective calls to “talk, not fight.” I was grateful for his success, since the “fascists” would have taken a beating in any general fracas. I saw only two from the Alt-Right who looked like they might know what to do in a bar fight, and no equivalent shortage of toughs in the adversarial three-quarters of the audience.
Spencer used this disruption to make very good points about the absurd pretense that the protesters were “speaking truth to power.” He pointed out that their views were in almost perfect alignment with the campus authorities, all major corporations, and every branch of the U.S. government (the armed forces not excepted). They were simply the brownshirts of an unholy alliance that aimed to reduce humanity to a mass of anomic and atomized consumers who were fat, unhappy, and addicted to drugs and porn.
After about an hour, Spencer took questions from the audience. About half were belligerent, a quarter disputatious, and a quarter sympathetic. Some of the Black students cussed Spencer out and gave him lessons in Afrocentric history; others registered polite dissent from his views. My sense was that many among the belligerent and disputatious had not attended very closely to what Spencer had said in the preceding hour, but had instead writhed in their chairs, rolling their eyes and groaning with pain. This was the case with the young man to my left, whose muttering had led me to identify him as a red-white-and-blue constitutional libertarian.
After about an hour of questions, we were directed to exit by the back door, so as to escape the BTHO Hate mob that was waiting out front to kiss us goodbye. Walking past the site of the now disbanded silent protest, I saw its organizer, a local rabbi, wandering around as if lost. Down the street I heard a good deal of shouting from the BTHO Hate mob, but I was accosted only once, by an oddly dressed woman who was exceedingly drunk.
Richard Spencer is a White Nationalist, and therefore holds opinions with which many Americans disagree. He was last night perfectly comfortable with disagreement and entirely open to rational debate. He answered all respectful questions respectfully, indulged more rudeness and ignorance than I would have, and resorted to taunts only after he had been sorely taunted. If he harbors a smoldering cauldron of hatred in his soul, he is possessed of psychopathic powers of dissembling.
I take hatred to be a burning and often unfounded resentment coupled with a will to inflict grievous harm on the object of that resentment. A man carrying a sign announcing that he is a “fascist killing machine” would, for instance, fall under suspicion of hatred in my book. This would be especially true when the word “fascist” meant to the man nothing more than someone with whom he disagreed.
Grievous harm can be inflicted in many ways, one of the more cowardly but effective of which is defamation. This is why we have laws against slander and libel, and why we all at least pretend to deplore gossip. I would have to say that just about everything I have been told about Richard Spencer in the past two weeks is defamatory and untrue. Likewise, just about everything that was said about me, and those others in the audience who came to listen, rather than to heckle and jeer.
The quality of the challenges to Spencer’s ideas was shockingly low, an embarrassment to Texas A&M University. Most of the challenges were nothing but variations on attempts at book burning, ridicule, or flipping the bird. Among the challenges that betrayed traces of intellectual development, most were mere slogans drawn from the most dubious quarters of academia. Spencer slapped down the one feeble attempt to discuss biology, dismembered a budding logician, and exposed grand canyons of historical ignorance in another young scholar. He is by no means a genius, but he went through the best that A&M had to offer like Bruce Lee on a good day.
Referring to the recent Trump campaign, Spencer said that part of Trump’s appeal was his recognition that America was no longer “great.” Now Spencer took this in a transhumanist direction from which I would (I hope not stupidly) dissent, but the comment was powerful when made in the shambolic circus of that room. There in the front left we had a sort of anti-amen-corner of Blacks, entirely segregated, loudly muttering, in many cases spitting rage, and incapable of understanding or making themselves understood. Just to my right was the stony-eyed la Raza Cósmica, fists raised in the salute of a political movement that murdered, by conservative estimates, one hundred million innocent people. Beside me sat the red-white-and-blue constitutional libertarian, writhing with cognitive dissonance because of the inassimilable discrepancies between the America in his head and the America before his eyes. Here and there were the pony-tail-professors, who had clearly failed to teach their students how to debate, and very likely did not know how to do so themselves. Outside there was a screaming mob waving communist symbols and calling for blood. Across the street the most utterly clueless were sticking their head in the sand of “celebrities, musicians, and a brief talk by an 88 year old Holocaust survivor.”