Opinion |

Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer 'Rebrands' Race Hate Tour of U.S. Campuses as Free Speech

Milo's campus antics self-imploded. But Richard Spencer and his anti-Semitic acolytes must not become the next alt-right campus free-speech 'martyrs'

Nancy Goldstein
Nancy Goldstein
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FILE PHOTO: Richard Spencer, a leader and spokesperson for the so-called ?alt-right? movement, speaks to the media at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, U.S., February 23, 2017
Richard Spencer, a leader and spokesperson for the so-called alt-right movement, speaks to the media at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Maryland. February 23, 2017Credit: JOSHUA ROBERTS/REUTERS
Nancy Goldstein
Nancy Goldstein

It’s a sadly ironic day when Richard Spencer, the white supremacist fond of castigating the "lügenpresse", gets busted manufacturing fake news of his own. But that’s precisely where he finds himself.

Over a week ago, TPM’s Allegra Kirkland revealed that Cameron Padgett, who peddles Spencer’s college speaking engagements and then sues schools that refuse to host him, citing public safety concerns, has been lying about his age, story, and ideology.

Because Padgett, despite Spencer’s strenuous efforts to spin him as an energetic young student spurred into spontaneous, unpaid action on behalf of Spencer and the First Amendment by his enthusiasm for free speech, is no "amazing kid" as Spencer opines.

Richard Spencer's campus fixer: Cameron Padgett who calls himself an "identitarian" (not a white nationalist) and insists "advocating for the interests of white people" doesn't make him a racist Credit: David Goldman/AP

Despite the appearance of being yet another 21st-Century Lost Boy - inchoate, alone, and with a penchant for paranoid, Jew-hating racist conspiracy theories - Padgett’s a 29-year-old graduate student in finance at Georgia State, hyping Spencer to a slew of schools that don't include Georgia State.

It remains unclear why Padgett would shill Spencer to the University of Florida, Louisiana State University, Penn State University, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and Ohio State University, while denying his own school the benefit of Spencer’s wisdom.

Because Spencer’s "brave young man" hid behind his lawyer when we corresponded via Twitter DM, despite my pointing out how strange it might sound for a self-described free speech advocate to go silent.

Still, Padgett refused to respond. What was the name of the "free speech organization" to which he donated the remainder of the financial settlement he received after last April’s successful suit against Auburn University, which cited public safety concerns when it tried to cancel Spencer’s appearance? When would he approach Georgia State about having Richard Spencer speak? When would his lawyer correct the press release and complaint that incorrectly stated his age as 23?

Quoth Padgett: "I am going to decline to comment. Thanks!"

It’s almost as though someone had advised Padgett to remain silent after his recent multiple media embarrassments, which included Padgett serially tweeting anti-Semitic memes and making a string of loopy but damning statements to reporters.

Here’s Padgett kvetching that schools won’t pay security for Spencer and that Jews get all the breaks and aren’t white.

And here’s last Friday’s doozy, where Padgett retweets some troll comparing Israel to a parasite and the U.S. to its host, including a comment thread full of images likening Jews to vermin, monkeys, and germs. ("Let’s party like it’s 1933," as Padgett’s boss, the allegedly not-inciting-violence Spencer, has said.)

And then there was that thing where Padgett tried to explain "Identitarian" - Spencer’s latest attempt to rebrand "racist" - telling the local Atlanta NPR station that it means "not degeneracy, basically." Padgett helpfully clarified that "Violence, sex before marriage, that kind of stuff, pornography - that has not been good for society at all."

It’s almost as though some mash-up of resentment, insecurity, and ahistorical mumbo jumbo, seasoned with racial seperatism, rather than "free speech," was the primary ingredient in Padgett’s stew. Or as if Spencer were using some misguided fan-guy with no media training to peddle his half-baked ideas to a marketplace of ideas with no interest in his wares.

Because that’s the really big lie Spencer is trying to purvey from behind the thin scrim of Padgett’s untruths and delusions.

The lie is that Spencer and his ideas are actually in deep demand from hordes of downtrodden conservative students, yearning to breathe free in the stultifying atmosphere of "political correctness" hanging over college campuses like a dense black (and brown and Jewish and Muslim and female and LGBT) fog.

No, Virginia (and Alabama and Michigan), there is no "threat" to "whiteness." Nor, apparently, any truly organic groundswell of support on college campuses for this tired but toxic lineup.

White supremacist Richard Spencer addresses 'alt-right' supporters at what they called a "Freedom of Speech" rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. June 25, 2017Credit: JIM BOURG/REUTERS

Poor-Padgett-in-hiding embodies white supremacists’ failed bid for respectability and popularity. From the weepy, lonely "I want a president who doesn't give his daughter to a Jew" Chris Cantwell to the unwanted Richard Spencer, they have been unmasked as a handful of isolated Nazi wannabes, trying to provoke riots in a failing bid for coverage, martyrdom, and relevance.

That’s why they’re picking on kids and schools, this straggle of NIMBY conservatives, hawking other people’s universities to line the pockets of paid racist talking heads, while trying to pass themselves off as the true, beleaguered upholders of the Constitution.

Sad, angry, unpopular boys, pounding the sandbox in fury at being asked to share their toys, or yield even one inch of ground to the other kids, as though the legitimate existence of other people threatens to eradicate them.

Justice Louis D. Brandeis famously said, "Sunlight is the best disinfectant." George Bernard Shaw quipped, “I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it."

We should remember both these axioms. Let Spencer speak, unopposed and unwatched. And let sunlight reveal him and his neo-Nazi also-rans for what they truly are.

Nancy Goldstein has written for the Guardian, the Washington Post and The Nation. Twitter: @nancygoldstein

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