A commenter on my “Shambolic Circus” post directed me to a CNN report on Spencer’s Texas A&M speech, and specifically to what it said about the temporary disorder occasioned by the protest of Quentin Boothman. Here is the relevant excerpt:
“At one point, Quentin Boothman, a white freshman, stood up near the front facing Spencer as he silently held a sign with an image of a gun pointed toward Adolf Hitler’s face.
“Follow your leader,” it read.
After Spencer started heckling Boothman, freshman Jalen Brown, who is black, stood in solidarity with his peer. The two locked arms as they stared back at the white nationalist.
“White supremacy is a dangerous and insanely harmful concept,” Boothman later told CNN. “I hate it in all its forms.”
Why isn’t Quentin Boothman being denounced for hate? Not only did he expressly say he “hates” White supremacy “in all its forms,” which is an exceedingly indefinite set of opinions; he also said, by way of his sign, that anyone he, Quentin Boothman, judges to be a “white supremacist” is better off dead.
Historical meanings are irrelevant here. Calling a man a “white supremacist,” a “Nazi,” a “fascist,” a “racist,” or a “follower of Adolf Hitler” is, today, to call that man by a very bad name. These are the names of that class of humanity than which none is lower. Indeed, whether members of this class are a part of humanity is, for some, a matter of serious doubt.
Given the almost incalculable depth and damage of such ascriptions, it is entirely proper that anyone who has not asked to be called by these titles refuse to be called by these titles. If they are called by these titles, they should regard it as an actionable slander on the order of being called a child molester, murderer, or cheater at cards.
If someone calls me a “dirty bastard,” I do not calmly produce a copy of my birth certificate; I give him ten seconds to take his words back. If someone calls me a “fascist,” I do not invite him to discuss political philosophy and the subtleties of Italian politics in the 1930s; I regard him as malicious enemy who aims to damage and if possible destroy me.
These are malicious insults, and a malicious insult always has consequences, either for the man who makes it, or for the man who allows it to be made.
On the sign that Boothman carried was a stenciled image of the head of Adolf Hitler with a pistol pointed towards his face and what I took to be blood-spatter behind. Accompanied by the words “Follow Your Leader,” the meaning of the message was clearly “Die Nazi,” or, if you prefer, “Die Sub-Human Scum.”
Most people would violently resent being told to “die sub-human scum,” but, as I wrote earlier, Spencer was remarkably composed. To the best of my recollection, he said something like this: “Oh, a suicide image. Nice. Turn around and show it to the audience.”
That’s what CNN describes as heckling? It is, apparently, heckling when some men say, “No, I refuse to acquiesce when told to ‘die sub-human scum’.”
Imagine, if you will, an invited address by a Black writer such as, say, Ta-Nehisi Coates. Such talks happen quite frequently and without incident. Imagine that, twenty minutes into his address (with many in attendance wearing full Klan regalia), a furious white racist marches up the center aisle with a sign that says, “Die (insert the name of the class than which, to a furious white racist, none is lower).”
Very, very bad scene, right? That furious white racist should be thrown out of the room, and none to gently. If he were, like Boothman, a student, I would favor his being summarily expelled, without hope of refund or possibility of readmission.
Or imagine an address by a communist. These also happen quite frequently and without incident. (I once hosted a reception for a world-famous communist in my home, the university happily paying for the food and wine.) Imagine that, twenty minutes into his address, some furious relation of the victim of the (take your pick) communist regime marches into the room with a sign showing the bullet-riddled corpse of Nicolae Ceausescu, and bearing the words “Follow Your Leader.”
This would be considered grossly offensive, and this despite the fact that Ceausescu is not, like Hitler, universally recognized as the face of that class of humanity than which none is lower.
What would happen in such a case would be that everyone would immediately say that the distinguished speaker is not a communist, but a Marxist, and a Marxist intellectual at that. They would say that he was not proposing to do anything, but simply discussing ideas. The more quick-witted among them might say he was merely a speculative Marxist.
The relative of the victim of communism might not be bodily thrown from the room, but I believe he would be hustled to the door. And if he were a student, I think he might well be called to some very uncomfortable meetings with the Dean of Students.
Why is nothing like this is happening to Mr. Boothman?
Indeed, why was nothing like this done to Mr. Spencer? His opinions are entirely speculative. One might call him a disciple of Lothrop Stoddard, or if you like a Stoddardist. Why, if his supporters had the keys to the academic decontamination chamber, he might be today known and respected as a speculative Stoddardist!
But his supporters don’t have the keys to the academic decontamination chamber, so he is known and disrespected as a white supremacist. And the academic decontamination chamber is in any case tied up sanitizing Soviet flags and Red Salutes and Mr. Boothman’s oh so adorable form of “hate.”
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Another commenter on that same post, who had watched a video of the talk, remarked that Spencer had shown particular “disdain and impatience” towards one questioner, a pudgy white man wearing a BTHO Hate tee shirt (i.e. Beat The Hell Out of Hate). At the time this happened, I was myself somewhat taken aback by Spencer’s aggressiveness, which seemed unprovoked; but thinking it through I have come to believe he acted correctly.
Here again, he was refusing to accept the insult.
The BTHO Hate tee shirt was the insult, and Spencer’s personal honor required that he either accept or refuse the allegation that he and his movement are actuated by “hate.” As I said above, a malicious insult has consequences, either for the man who makes it or for the man who allows it to be made.
The man in the BTHO tee shirt handed Spencer a turd, and Spencer quite rightly threw it back in his face.
If we are surprised that Spencer did this, it is because we live in a liberal society where most men show they are “civilized” by saying “thank you” every time someone hands them a turd. In the past, the passing of a turd led to a duel of honor. Duels of honor still occur in the lower classes, of course, but they are unknown among persons with any claim to gentility. Some of this is due to the value we place on being “laid back,” which is a euphemism for cheerful resignation to steady bombardment by turds. But we must also see that we value being “laid back” because liberal society makes it hard to complain about turds, and almost impossible to “seek satisfaction,” unless the turd comes from someone of lower institutional status.
When this happens, the institution seeks satisfaction for you. That’s why the furious white redneck gets thrown out of the lecture by Ta-Nehisi Coates without Mr. Coats doing a thing. That’s why the furious relation of the victim of the (take your pick) communist regime gets thrown out of the lecture by the world-renowned, err, Marxist intellectual without Mr. Marxist intellectual doing a thing. And that’s why Richard Spencer has to take on the BTHO Hate tee shirt man all by himself.
If you aim to speak truth to power, get used to refusing the slanderous labels that power is trying to paste on your forehead, and get used to fighting duels of honor for yourself.