A specter is haunting Cleveland, the specter of the Alt Right.
The Alt Right in the United States is a small but growing intellectual movement that seeks to resist the dilution of “White” people, both as a matter of biology and an imagined culture pale people share. They see the United States and Europe as the natural realm of white people. Unlike the Nazis, who argued for the extermination of other races, the Alt Right denies White Supremacy by saying they just want their culture for themselves. It’s predicated upon the notion of separating people based on appearance and ancestry.
Richard Spencer, an author and activist associated with the Alt Right movement, is one of the people lending intellectual legitimacy to the Donald Trump campaign. Spencer and his ilk envision a world where Europeans have control over their own geographic region, somewhere, and other colors of human beings are kept out by force to maintain a “monoculture” for light skinned people.
Articulate and casually dressed, they don’t look like Nazis. They look just like anybody else.
Spencer also has a complex conceptual relationship with Israel. He admires Israel as striving for a “monoculture” and its aims at racial purity but he disdains the Israel lobby. He’s much less ambivalent about the Official Republican Party Presidential Candidate Donald Trump, nominated officially Wednesday. “Trump is a peace candidate,” Spencer proclaims.
On the day the RNC began, Spencer made no bones about it.
“Trump’s convention has been about Being and Death,” Spencer tweeted, a cryptic nod to 20th century German philosopher Martin Heidegger. “He is the greatest man in my lifetime #RNCinCLE.”
Spencer’s is one of the brighter stars in the philosophical firmament above Trump’s teeming audience, to whom Trump promises to win big. The left laughs at Trump, and perhaps imagines humor will defeat him in November. Or something. But Spencer’s bio boasts a masters from the University of Chicago. They aren’t just giving those out to anybody. Spencer is smart, sure, why not, but being smart doesn’t produce good ideas. Isaac Newton was smart but he spent half of his career tinkering around with alchemy which is total bullshit. The Alt Right is political alchemy. Huffing a brown paper bag of mercury or lead would achieve the same effect.
There is a reason you should fear men like Spencer: They lend an intellectual element to the Trump campaign, which has distinguished itself with a number of boneheaded typos. Spencer is well spoken, and a great propagandist when speaking to someone he can distract with meaningless historical analogies to Rome, which he imagines as the perfect White Empire.
"Conservatism" is dead. Nationalism lives. #RNCinCLE
— Richard B. Spencer (@RichardBSpencer) July 22, 2016
Of course, he’s completely wrong about that. Romans came in all kinds of colors and languages, but the social construct that mattered back then wasn’t race, it was religion. Race only started to matter in something resembling modern way after the Transatlantic slave trade began. Many slaves in the Roman world were fair skinned. Ausonius has a whole poem about a German servant girl he really dug. The Romans had captured her in conquering a slice of Europe. Gross and creepy on Ausonius’s part, but those were gross and creepy times Spencer romanticizes.
When I mentioned Augustine of Hippo, a Christian Roman sage and one of the pillars of what’s called Western philosophy, hailed Carthage, a place in North Africa where people are sometimes tan, Spencer rejected the assertion.
“Carthage is a White area,” he said, despite its being in Africa, in modern day Libya.
The Alt Right tries hard to sound smart, but its ideas are based on shockingly little real information, no matter how intricate and highfalutin they appear to be.
Spencer is a confident and fairly friendly activist who has been hanging out at the RNC giving interviews to reporters who came for mass arrests and mayhem that never materialized. He also has credentials to enter the inner sanctum. He is so confident that he even told a fellow Trump supporter who disagreed with him that he was smarter than him.
“I’m smarter than you, go away,” Spencer said. The man shuffled off. I continued the interview.
Spencer and others in the Alt Right ponder intelligence from the perspective of “race” as the most important signature of human identity. Indeed, the reason I started talking to Spencer, unknown to me but very Internet famous in some circles, were just a few words that caught my ear.
“…they generally have lower average IQs, but that’s not the point…”
So then we started talking. As I do in most of these interviews I brought up Israel eventually, but before we got there, Spencer made several points that echo the Israeli right-wing worldview. Another reporter asked him about the constitutionality of some Trump proposals, like banning Muslims from the country or ending birthright citizenship.
“Who cares? The whole point is that we’ve got to survive. Whether something is constitutionally legal I could give a shit to be honest. Survival is more important than law. You can always find a lawyer that will agree with your interpretation,” he said, admitting that Trump couldn’t say the same thing. “It’s not that big of a deal.”
“Power is what matters,” he added.
He also takes the same tact as Israel does when it comes to prohibiting Arab and Muslim immigration to the United States. He says that the government could pay them to leave, or that “we could create the conditions to make them want to leave.”
“What if they have to go back to countries where they could be killed?” I asked.
“Tough shit,” he replied, without hesitation.
I asked him what he thought about Islam and Muslims, and if he had any Muslim friends.”No, but I know enough from reading about Islam to know that it’s at war with the West,” he said. He considers Islam a militant religion bent on global domination.
“You mean like white people,” said an African American woman passing by, whom Spencer had engaged in conversation by noting her “sassy black lady look.”
He chuckled at her quip.
In the name of defeating militant Islam, Israel is no stranger to wanting to kick out even non-Arab visitors, penning Sundanese migrant laborers in in cages in the Sinai, awaiting deportation. When it comes to Palestinians, it’s rather obvious that making life unbearable for Palestinian people is an attempt to make them want to leave on their own accord.
“I respect Israel as a homogenous ethno-state, but I hate the meddling of the Israel lobby in American politics,” he said.
Many Alt-Right types feel that the United States’ system of expensive foreign entanglements are the source of our problems abroad. Israel is one of them.
As Israel is supposed to be for the Jews, so too are the United States and Europe, ideally in Spencer’s view, supposed to be for White people. I tried to argue that Europe has lots of distinct ethnic and religious and local loyalties, and Spencer acknowledged that as a hurdle.
“White people have to come together,” he said. “Race is the most important aspect of identity.”
Spencer will admit it: he’s afraid. He’s worried about crime and immigration. He’s worried that the all White ethno-state will never exist.
What’s the source of this fear? I don’t think Spencer thinks he’s the bad guy. But he sure is afraid, just like earlier incarnations of fascists were afraid of the decadent, “mongrelized” cultures of city life. Just as people during the West’s industrial revolution moved from small towns into big cities, bigger and more complex metropolises than ever have existed before, they encountered people of many different backgrounds. Because our brains are set on paranoid by evolution, people developed a primitive shorthand for telling friend from foe: skin color and hair and eyes, ancillary attributes that reveal nothing of the content our character.
“Black people have a strong sense of their culture,” lamented Nathan Damigo, one of Spencer’s pals.
The African American woman, a psychotherapist, was not buying Spencer’s lines about not being a Nazi.
“You’re a Nazi,” she said in a polite way.
I caught up to her afterwards and asked her for her thoughts about men like Trump having Spencer behind them.
“I feel helpless. They’re in control and there’s absolutely nothing I can do,” she said. “If there’s something I can do, I haven’t discovered it.”
Political alchemy like Spencer’s discovers nothing and threatens to erode rights for all. Remember, in Roman times, Spencer’s ideal, slaves came in all colors.