Richard Spencer is one of the leading voices of the alt-right movement in the United States. He was scheduled to be one of the main speakers at Saturday’s event in Charlottesville. Spencer forcefully advocates a set of white supremacist views about race and religion that I find personally abhorrent. Nonetheless, back in April I wrote an op-ed in the New York Times defending Spencer’s First Amendment right to speak at Auburn University, drawing an analogy to the right of the American Nazi Party to march in Skokie, Illinois, in 1978.
On August 1, I received an email from Spencer, which led to the following exchange:
Dear Professor Stone,
This is Richard Spencer of Alt-Right fame.
I greatly appreciated your op-ed in the New York Times last April; indeed, I think it will be looked back upon as significant in changing the contemporary free-speech debate.
As you might know, I’m a Chicago alumnus. [Spencer received an M.A. from the University of Chicago in 2003.] I’m eager to return to campus, particularly [because the University has made clear that it] will not be a “safe space,” in the sense of protecting students from dangerous ideas.
In this line, would you be interested in engaging me on campus, or sponsoring an event at which I speak? This could take many forms: a formal debate (probably my least favorite idea), a discussion with you or another professor, or a speech and AMA with the student body.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Dear Mr. Spencer,
My strong support for the right of students and faculty to invite speakers to campus to address whatever views they think worth discussing does not mean that I personally think that all views are worth discussing. From what I have seen of your views, they do not seem to me at add anything of value to serious and reasoned discourse, which is of course the central goal of a university. Thus, although I would defend the right of others to invite you to speak, I don’t see any reason for me to encourage or to endorse such an event.
But what are the views of the alt-right that Spencer advances? Shortly after the election of Donald Trump, John Woodrow Cox wrote an excellent piece in the Washington Post describing those views, after spending some time with Spencer. “For years,” Cox wrote, “Spencer and his followers worked in obscure corners of the Internet to promote pride in white identity and the creation of an ‘ethno-state’ that would banish minorities.” Cox added that “no one is more critical to the alt-right movement than Spencer,” who “envisions a world in which his ideals are embraced by the mainstream” and who “has vowed to keep pushing until that happens.”
At the end of an alt-right dinner which Cox attended shortly after Trump’s election, Spencer closed the proceedings by declaring “‘Let’s party like it’s 1933,’ referencing the year Hitler was appointed Germany’s chancellor and the Nazis embarked on the creation of their own ethno-state. Beneath chandeliers and amid dark, wood-paneled walls, the alt-right erupted in cheers. Spencer, his expression now serious, waited for them to quiet, then spoke once more. ‘Let’s party like it’s 2016!’ he shouted, raising his bare arms and pumping them in the air as the room roared even louder.”
At the very core of the alt-right’s goal is “an all-white country.” Echoing Rev. Martin Luther King, Spencer declared: “I have a dream.” When asked how that dream could be achieved in a nation with more than 100 million blacks, Asians, and Latinos, he replied: “Look, maybe it will be horribly bloody and terrible. That’s a possibility with everything.”
At the end of the event that Cox attended, Spencer “referred to the media as the lügenpresse, a Nazi-era term meaning ‘lying press.’” He then proclaimed that: “We willed Donald Trump into office. We made this dream our reality. For us, it is conquer or die. For us, as Europeans, it is only normal again when we are great again? Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!”
No, I think I personally won’t invite Spencer to speak on campus. And I hope others will have the good sense to recognize ugly, ignorant, vile, hatred when they see it. But if our students or faculty want to hear what he has to say, I will vehemently defend their right to do so. And then I will make clear to anyone who cares to listen why I disagree with him.