Opinion

After Richard Spencer’s anti-Semitic Tirade, Will the U.S. Media Now Stop Glamorizing Well-dressed White Nationalists?

The mainstream media is noisily shocked at the leaked audio of Richard Spencer’s racist rantings. But it serially platformed him – and his boosters from the left

Richard Spencer speaking in Texas
Spencer Selfidge/Reuters

On Sunday, far-right grifter Milo Yiannopoulos leaked explosive audio of fascist leader Richard Spencer ranting in the most profane terms imaginable: "Little fucking kikes. They get ruled by people like me. Little fucking octaroons. My ancestors fucking enslaved those little pieces of fucking shit." 

Spencer’s meltdown occurred in Charlottesville immediately following the failed Unite the Right rally, and Spencer had just heard the news that a deranged Nazi had driven a car directly into a group of protestors, killing Heather Heyer

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In the short audio clip, Spencer vents his spleen against Jews and Black people, proudly recounting his ancestors’ role in slavery and announcing that his kind rules over the rest. The audio is not surprising for its content, since Spencer’s fascist commitments have long been known

The level of Spencer’s vitriol recorded on tape, however, revealed the shocking animus that has always underpinned the ideology espoused by a man once feted by the press as the "dapper" voice of a tame and genteel white nationalism.

For this very reason, the audio sparked backlash against members of the mainstream media who have serially offered someone who has been banned from entering numerous European countries a platform to mask his views in poisonous platitudes like "peaceful ethnic cleansing." 

And to be sure, there is no lack of blame to go around. Aside from CNN hosting Spencer just months before the leaked audio, a clip Spencer himself proudly shared on Twitter, photos can be found of Spencer drinking at a bar with a well-known reporter, and multiple mainstream headlines gratuitously praise his appearance and demeanor.

The media’s thirst for platforming him is made more inexplicable in view of Spencer’s divorce filings with his ex-wife, Nina Kouprianova, revealed allegations of brutal domestic violence months ago - but that didn’t stop him from getting gigs on CNN. 

However, as is often the case, left-wing critics of the media stop short of personal reflection, forgetting their own incestuous flirtations with Spencer’s "alt-right" movement. 

The popular anti-establishment podcaster, "The War Nerd" (John Dolan), did not just interview Spencer; he wrote for Spencer in the far-right Taki's Mag during the inception of the alt-right 10 years ago. Of the "anti-war" Dolan, Spencer confessed, "his taste for blood and guts surpasses mine."

Dolan’s articles included typical white nationalist, "Great Replacement" tropes about demography, including one titled “War of the Babies” that ranted against the supposed "conquest-by-immigration we’re seeing now in Europe and North America." 

In this case, a prominent member of the contemporary left was not simply smugly interviewing an emerging leader of the alt-right; he was helping the alt-right shape its supposedly "irreverent" content at its very birth.

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Dolan’s podcast is shared with cohost Mark Ames, and the two co-edit a site called The eXile, which stemmed from an English-language tabloid published in Moscow featuring a regular column written by a Russian fascist, whose partner would find an eager translator in Spencer’s then-wife. 

Yet Dolan continues to gain a large audience from his appearances on popular left-wing podcasts like the million-dollar grossing Chapo Trap House, whose own entrepreneurial hosts have defended the bloodthirsty regime of Bashar Assad just as Spencer and the alt-right have done.

Another Chapo guest, an anti-PC opponent of open borders from Ireland, Angela Nagle, sat with Spencer just a year ago for a smooth interview in a cool, outdoors setting at under a big tent. Spencer said of Nagle's book on the alt-right, Kill All Normies, "she ‘gets’ us more than any conservative critic."

Perhaps that's due to the unfavorable way Nagle views campus activism, her advancement of a "conservative leftism," and her chummy relationship with the "Marxist libertarians" of Spiked, the site founded by Living Marxism contributors, now funded by the hard right Koch brothers, which has been characterized as operating "as handmaidens of the alt-right.

Although Nagle fell out of favor on the left after journalists uncovered sloppy plagiarism in "Kill All Normies," the tendency to downplay the vitriol and tacit, deep-seated violence of the alt-right remains. 

For instance, when the Proud Boys bussed to Portland, Oregon, with a gang of fascist skinheads this summer, Nagle fan and civil libertarian Glenn Greenwald denounced the grassroots protestors for targeting "the easiest and least powerful targets" instead of the "CIA, NSA, huge corporations, Silicon Valley masters of the universe," which he termed “the most powerful centers of neo-fascist power.” 

Greenwald’s criticism of anti-fascist protestors reflects a misunderstanding of how fascism views itself, a failure common among important parts of the left. One can oppose major nodes of the U.S.’s corporate power and security state, on one hand, while simultaneously opposing major fascist groups organizing on the streets and on campuses on the other. It is not either/or.

Members of the alt-right fight with protesters outside of a Richard Spencer speech on the campus of Michigan State University, March 5, 2018.
REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

There are easier cases to understand where there is no such bifurcation, such as when wealthy sectors of Silicon Valley embrace neo-reactionaries, or important political movers like the Mercers support Milo Yiannopoulos’s mainstreaming of white nationalism. But where that marriage of issues doesn’t take place, community defense is essential. It is not a substitute for broader organizing, but it is a necessary component of it.

The Trump era has seen two important cross-plays against left-wing and anti-fascist social movements. "Leftists" like Greenwald and Nagle find platforms on far-right media like Tucker Carlson’s Spencer-endorsed show, while Spencer himself have found a place in more centrist media, which love to run puff profiles that glamorize and mainstream alt-right leaders. 

As "leftist" voices so energetically critique liberalism and “social justice warriors,” and find unlikely bedfellows on the right, they obscure the normalization of fascism. Stuck in the crossfire, as usual, and more exposed than ever, are those communities most impacted by fascist violence, who have been denied a voice.

If it has any purpose at all, Richard Spencer’s shrieking racist tirade should give those self-righteous critics on the left pause for thought - and self-reflection.

Alexander Reid Ross is a Lecturer in Geography at Portland State University. He is the author of Against the Fascist Creep (AK Press, 2017). Twitter: @areidross