What a Jewish Journalist Saw in Charlottesville

Nathan Guttman meets with white supremacist leader Richard Spencer and dozens of his supporters after the alt-right rally was broken up by police

White nationalist Richard Spencer, center, and his supporters clash with Virginia State Police in Lee Park after the "United the Right" rally was declared an unlawful gathering August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
White nationalist Richard Spencer, center, and his supporters clash with Virginia State Police after the "United the Right" rally was declared unlawful, August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP

I had come to Charlottesville, Virginia for the “Unite the Right” rally to gauge the level of Jew hatred, amid all the racism and bigotry. So when, after a night of hate-filled demonstrations and a morning of clashes, the mayor cancelled all permits and kicked the white supremacists out of Emancipation Park, I wasn’t sure what to do until I got wind of a rumor that one hard-core gang had decamped to another park in this idyllic college town.

I headed to McIntyre Park with a few other reporters and was glad — if that’s the right word — to find a crowd of about 100 flowing into the space. A few miles away in downtown, a driver had rammed his car into counter-protesters, killing one and injuring 19. But in McIntyre Park, a riotous group of men — one bare-shirted, the better to show off his swastika tattoo, another being treated for a deep gash in his head — was shouting angrily, at reporters, communists, socialists, bitches ... and Jews.

“[L]ittle Mayor Signer — SEE-NER — how do you pronounce this little creep’s name?” asked Richard Spencer, a right-wing leader who dreams of a “white ethnostate,” as he stood on a bench under a tree to rally his troops, deprived of their protest.

The crowd knew exactly how to pronounce his name: “Jew, Jew, Jew, Jew” some shouted out. The rest burst out in laughter. And that was one of the only moments of levity the alt-right audience gathered under the tree enjoyed.

“The idea that I’d ever back down to such a little creep like Mayor Signer,” Spencer went on, “They don’t understand what’s in my heart, they don’t understand the ‘alt-right,’ they don’t understand this whole movement.” The term “alt-right” has many meanings, but Spencer’s mission is the salvation of what he sees as an oppressed white race.

After stepping down from the bench, I asked Spencer about the reference to the mayor and his faith. Signer, a Democrat who assumed office last year, is Jewish.

“I didn’t say that,” Spencer said. “I don’t know if he’s a Jew or not. Is he?”

A member of the group of supporters surrounding Spencer and the reporters volunteered an answer: “He is a Jew.”

“I actually don’t care. He could be Ethiopian,” Spencer added. “The way that he acted is absolutely outrageous. He looks like a fool and we’re going to make him look like an even bigger fool. That’s a lot of fun.”

When another reporter asked Spencer why he is using offensive language when speaking about a mayor who was democratically elected by residents of the city, Spencer responded: “Who cares? Hitler was elected. That’s what you guys always say.”

But then Spencer, a relatively young member of the American far right, was eclipsed by the arrival of an elder of the movement with even more name recognition and status.

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