On April 18, 2017, Richard Spencer and several other leading white nationalists descended on Auburn University to give a speech on the alt-right movement. Originally, the university agreed to provide Spencer and his cohorts a venue from which to spew his racist venom, but this swiftly changed as school officials cancelled the appearance citing safety concerns.
This was just the latest in several setbacks for Spencer, including the loss of his organization’s tax exempt status and being chased from his own antiwar rally in Washington, D.C. by antifa counterprotesters.
After the D.C. protest, organized in the span of a day or two after Trump launched dozens of Tomahawk missiles at Syria, Spencer complained that the alt-right needs to make some strategic changes — namely an increase in security. After all, Spencer had now been sucker-punched and glitterbombed in the span of four months.
In a video for his newest pet project, AltRight.com, Spencer called for “right-wing safety squads” in order to combat the likes of antifa. “We need to have something that is equal to antifa in terms of numbers and dedication,” he said. “But obviously very different than antifa. I do not want a right-wing antifa; that is the last thing that I want. We get a bunch of drugged-out loons who are gonna go around punching people and throwing things — that, absolutely not. What we need are some very strong guys who are gonna make up a kind of white bloc.”
Calling for a “white bloc” isn’t especially clever if you understand that black is the color of choice for anarchists and isn’t a racial reference, which I’m sure a Duke graduate like Spencer does. And, as far as not associating with “loons” who throw punches at people, evidently no one told Identity Evropa leader Nathan Damigo.
Following his speech’s cancellation, Spencer vowed to be on the Auburn campus on April 18 as originally planned — no matter what school officials said. In yet another video, Spencer cast himself as a martyr for freedom of speech, declaring that, “This event could have actually just been about alt-right ideas, and about my ideas.” Instead, “this has become much bigger than those ideas” and would now be a “national conversation” about “whether we have free speech in the United States or whether we don’t.”
Spencer then compared his situation to that of black Americans fighting to desegregate the Jim Crow South. Calling the state of Alabama “historically significant,” he pointed out that “the federal government used the National Guard — that is, they used the power of the federal government — in order to protect the basic civil rights of Alabama citizens.” He went on to say that white nationalists are “in a similar situation” that is not about racism but rather “political correctness.”
“So just to reiterate: I will be in Auburn, Alabama on Tuesday, April 18th, at 7 p.m.,” he announced.
And, thanks to Sam Dickson — a white supremacist lawyer based out of Atlanta, GA — Spencer made good on his promise. Dickson filed suit against Auburn University, with a Georgia student named Cameron Padgett as the named plaintiff. Padgett was allegedly responsible for renting the venue where Spencer was scheduled to speak, but it appears as though Padgett is not a student at Auburn University.
In Dickson’s clumsily written complaint, he alleged that Auburn’s agreement to host Spencer was met with a “chorus of complaints” by “minority advocacy groups of Jews, Blacks and immigrants and left-wing/liberal groups.” He also wrote that Auburn would never cancel an event hosted by “the National Man Boy Love Association [sic], the National Organization of Women, the Black Lives Matter movement or Zionists” based on anonymous threats.
Moreover, by cancelling Spencer’s speech instead of increasing security at the event, Auburn “stigmatized White Americans, especially Southerners” and “assigned to them a degraded condition of second class citizenship.” Those given a first class citizenship, apparently, include “Marxists, Anarchists, The Anti-Fa, Jews, Blacks, Hispanics and immigrants.”
Now, inflammatory rhetoric aside, Dickson is correct about one thing: Auburn’s decision to block Spencer’s speech while allowing others to speak appears to be a case of impermissible viewpoint discrimination. Contrary to what many, including former presidential candidate Howard Dean, believe, hate speech is protected by the First Amendment. And, if the government or publicly funded institutions allow one group to speak, they must let other groups speak subject to the usual time, place, and manner restrictions.
This is the same principle that led the Supreme Court to allow members of the National Socialist Party of America to march through Skokie, Illinois, shield members of the Westboro Baptist Church from tort liability arising from their funeral picketing, prohibit the criminalization of flag burning, and strike down as overly broad a local criminal ordinance which prohibited the display of symbols which aroused “anger, alarm or resentment in others on the basis of race, color, creed, religion or gender.”
So it’s no wonder that Judge William Watkins ruled that Richard Spencer’s speech could go forward as planned absent evidence of imminent lawless action.
Spencer began his talk by thanking the plaintiff, Cameron Padgett, whom he called a “very brave young man.” Someone in the audience cut Spencer off almost immediately, and shouted “He doesn’t even go here!”, causing the audience to laugh and applaud. “Cameron Padgett is willing to stand for the ideals that are literally etched in this university,” Spencer continued. This includes the ideal that Auburn “is not going to be a safe space for Leftist indoctrination.”
He denounced members of antifa in an almost Trumpian fashion, as “very, very, very nasty people” who “have no sense of honor” and don’t fight fair. He went on to say that there is “something explicitly white about challenging someone to a fair fight” — again, rightfully eliciting snickers from the back of the room where most of Spencer’s opponents sat.
While Spencer’s goal might have been to conjure images of aristocrats challenging one another to a duel, it probably had others thinking about decimating native populations through biological warfare and the lynching of black children — examples when whites didn’t fight so fairly. Another heckler shouted at Spencer, followed by more applause.
He went on. “There’s something deeply European about a fair fight. We are gonna fight before God and determine who is right and who’s righteous. There is something deeply sick about the way that our enemies engage in politics. Our enemies engage in politics by sucker-punching people. Not just me.” He added that there is “something profoundly healthy” about the ideas of the alt-right. “Our ideas have power. Our time has come. There is nothing that can stop an idea whose time has come. And that time is now!”
He recalled that in the 90s people had a sense that they would never “have to talk about identity at all,” and that humans across the world would coalesce into a “big global blob of undifferentiated, raceless, genderless mass.” He complained that today people can simply choose their identity on a whim. “I’m a woman this week. I’m a tranny, I’m gay, I like this, I like that, I like to buy this, I like to buy that.” Which is clearly what runs through the minds of LGBTQ people on a daily basis.
Spencer insisted that the “powers that be” like identity politics when it “has no teeth.” Identities, whether they derive from sexual orientation or one’s hobbies, are “ultimately meaningless” and don’t challenge the “global-capitalist-consumerist system.” “The great challenge to the system is when you say, ‘I am German! I am English! I am white!’ That is what they do not want to hear! That is the true challenge!” I believe they challenge that system by leaving nasty comments on corporate Twitter feeds about “white genocide.” That’ll teach them.
And, of course, Spencer had to veer into even more explicitly racist rhetoric as he lambasted our society’s obsession with college sports. He said he “get[s] it” that people “like to win”; that folks root against players from another state who “have nothing in common” with them and whom they “would probably never allow” into their homes. You probably know where this is heading already:
But there is something truly sick, I have to say, about bringing in to a school — a school like Auburn that has a history of white identity — to bring in people who, let’s be frank, are not the greatest exemplars of the African race. If we wanna judge them by their character, if we wanna judge them by their commitment to being student athletes, they are absolutely not great exemplars of the African race. For alumni of this institution to be funding these kinds of programs, to be bringing in people they have nothing in common with, that they would not allow into their homes — people who walk around campus like they own it, who engage in all sorts of activities, including sexual abuse of white women on campus — the notion that that is some great source of identity? Well, call me a little bit skeptical.
Yes, of course Richard Spencer is outraged at uppity black men — men who are “not the greatest exemplars of the African race” — walking around campus “like they own it.”
And of course he relies on the white supremacist tradition of decrying the sexual assault of white women by black men — whether real or, as was often the case, imagined — in order to whip up his bigoted fans. White racists have almost always couched their fear of miscegenation in arguments about protecting “their” women, from Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam to Dylann Roof to James Jackson.
But just as he finished making that statement, someone in the audience shouted “Where the fuck are your facts, dude?!” It seems as though Spencer’s listeners were a “little bit skeptical” as well, and the longer his speech went on, the fewer people remained in attendance. If anything this highlights perhaps the best way to counter Richard Spencer and his ilk. Don’t muzzle his speech. Instead, challenge his assertions. And a little mockery never hurts either.