Richard Bertrand Spencer, the white nationalist and so-called creator of the term “alt-right” who has gained a measure of notoriety since President-elect Donald Trump’s Election Day victory, filled a 400-seat ballroom Tuesday night at Texas A&M.
But the diversity he shuns was present in large numbers. Many African-American students and students of other nationalities and backgrounds came to hear Spencer’s message and, at times, they responded to him in midsentence and often challenged his unorthodox claims.
The number of supporters of the white nationalist leader, mostly white males, some of college age and others much older, appeared to be quite small. When Spencer made a particularly emphatic point, only a smattering of applause could be heard.
Meanwhile, on Joe Routtt Boulevard, between the site of Spencer’s speech at the Memorial Student Center and Kyle Field, where A&M officials put together a coinciding event called Aggies Unite, a sizable group of protesters marched, holding signs and chanting. Nearly two hours into the event, state troopers wearing helmets pushed the crowd away from the student center building and locked the doors to prevent people from entering.
Inside, the proceedings heated up only once, when an African-American student made his way into the aisle and stopped about 20 feet from Spencer, who was speaking from a lectern on a raised stage. He was soon met by a Spencer supporter, and as they stood chest-to-chest, others stood up and converged on the pair. Voices rose and there was a minor scuffle. Spencer looked on with a smile and told everyone to settle down.
Spencer, who spoke slowly and in a low monotone as if telling a gripping tale to schoolchildren, gave a brief history of the evolution of his organization, saying that President George W. Bush is the true founder of the “alt-right” because he knew the country had to move away from his Republican brand of politics. He said Trump’s victory was the start of identity politics in the U.S. and created the crack that has let a ray of light shine on Spencer’s views on race.
“Just the fact that Trump said, ‘Great. Make America great again,’ got out a message,” Spencer said. “No matter how vulgar he is, he had a sense of it. It made Trump an alt-right hero.”
Spencer seemed to particularly enjoy bantering with those who oppose him, often mocking them or making fun of their counter-arguments. He told one protester who was dressed like a clown and often paraded on the floor in front of the stage that maybe her constant exercise would help her lose some weight. He made fun of another person’s T-shirt.
Spencer: Trump will govern to aid white race
Mostly, Spencer, 38, urged European whites to stand up and be proud of their heritage. He rarely raised his voice and did not specifically attack a particular race or religion. After a video went viral showing his supporters giving the Nazi salute after he proclaimed “Hail Trump” at a Washington, D.C., rally following Trump’s victory, Spencer refrained from direct anti-Semitic comments.
Spencer said he believes that Trump will govern to aid the white race. During a meeting with The New York Times, Trump said: “I don’t want to energize the group, and I disavow the group.”
His 45-minute speech often rambled but mostly stuck to the repetitive theme of the greatness of European whites and a reawakening of a dominant white image by young people.
“Diversity is good. We’re all the same. We’re one world, come on man, we all bleed red,” Spencer said, his mock take on what liberals profess. “You might think that kind of glib liberalism is some underdog perspective, that you’re speaking truth to power by saying that nonsense. You are not speaking truth to power. The military-industrial complex agrees with you, so does every major corporation, so does the U.S. government.
“You are not speaking truth to power, you are power-speaking. These institutions do not want you to have a sense of yourselves. They do not want you to have identity and rootedness. They do not want you to have duties to your people. They do not want you to think of yourself as part of an extended family that is bigger than any single individual. Because the moment you have those duties, the moment you have that identity is the moment that you are no longer the perfect passive consumer citizen that they want to create.
“Have an identity. I don’t need to tell black people in this room to have an identity because you all got it. You know who you are.”
He was then interrupted by a man seated in the front row: “We know who you are, too.” Spencer, wearing jeans, boots a button-down and a vest, said, “Dude, you’re really lame, I mean honestly this world needs a better class of heckler, I mean just look at yourself. Go away.”
‘Have an identity’
Spencer continued his thought: “Have an identity. I don’t need to tell that to African-Americans, I probably don’t need to tell that to Native Americans or Indians or Asians or anything, but I will tell that to white people: Have a goddamn identity, have a sense of yourself.”
Throughout his speech, Spencer spoke of the ills he sees in a multicultural Texas and United States. He referenced the 1956 John Wayne movie “The Searchers,” set during the Texas-Indian Wars, saying, “Texas is a wonderful place to live and there are a lot of white man’s bones in the ground to make that happen. White people did it. And I’m not going to ever claim that there was not a lot of brutality that went along with it. But, we did it. Our bones are in the ground. We own it. At the end of the day, America can’t exist without us. We defined it. This country does belong to white people.”
During a question-and-answer session that lasted more than an hour, one African-American student asked Spencer how he planned to get rid of him. Spencer smiled and told him he wasn’t going to get rid of him despite having dedicated his speech to the topic of the greatness of a one-race state.
Several hours before the event, a group of protesters stood outside the student center across the street from Kyle Field. They took took turns leading chants from a bullhorn.
“The argument is he has the right to speak on campus and our right is to protest peacefully and that’s what it looks like most people are here to do,” said A&M senior Eder Colecio of Fort Worth.
Luke Daggett, 20, came up from the San Antonio area to show support for Spencer because he believes that “international banking and other financial interests have a vested interest in turning humanities, including white people, into interchangeable economic units,” and also to promote “national identity.”
Josh Wilkinson, 40, works for the university libraries and came out to denounce Spencer and his views.
“It looks like A&M is their test case on moving into universities. That says a lot about us, so we have to respond in kind,” he said. “We are not the university Richard Spencer thinks we are. We have to make it clear as day to him that Texas A&M isn’t that kind of campus.”
A&M officials swiftly released a statement weeks ago when College Station resident Preston Wiginton invited Spencer to campus and rented the ballroom. They denounced Spencer and his views in the statement, but said they respected his First Amendment right to speak on campus. Officials planned the “Aggies United” event at Kyle Field, calling it “an opportunity to stand together in unwavering conviction that Aggies are strongest when united.”
It featured award-winning actor and best-selling author Hill Harper, singer-songwriter Ben Rector and Grammy-nominated singer, actress and model, V. Bozeman. Former A&M student Roland Martin, host and managing editor of TV One’s NewsOne Now, and Max Glauben, a Holocaust survivor who has captivated audiences with his recounting of his World War II experiences, also participated.
At one point during his speech, Spencer thanked A&M president Micheal Young for conducted the event because it showed the emerging strength of his movement.
“We win,” Spencer gloated.
‘Professional racist in khakis’
Spencer grew up in Dallas and attended the prestigious St. Mark’s School, whose Class of ‘97 started a fundraiser against him. He earned degrees at the University of Virginia and University of Chicago. Ever since leaving a doctoral program at Duke, he has spread his beliefs rather anonymously on the internet. But he has gained a boost first by President-elect Donald Trump’s incendiary campaign toward immigrants and minorities, and again by Trump’s appointment of Steve Bannon, the former chairman of white-nationalist megaphone Breitbart News, as his chief strategist.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors the activities of hate groups, has called Spencer “a suit-and-tie version of the white supremacists of old, a kind of professional racist in khakis.”
He lives in Whitefish, Mont., where his parents own a $2.4 million home, according to state records. His father, William Spencer, is an ophthalmologist at Texas Retina Associates in Dallas.
“I do not feel comfortable speaking with the press about this,” William Spencer said. “This is my son, first of all. I have no desire to do anything that might be in any way construed, or say anything that might be construed as detrimental to him. The best thing I can say is nothing.”
Spencer started an entity called the National Policy Institute, which bills itself as a registered not-for-profit organization “dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent in the United States, and around the world.”
This report includes information from The Associated Press.
Jeff Caplan: 817-390-7705, @Jeff_Caplan