Richard Spencer, the white nationalist/neo-Nazi/alt-right activist who was previously seen holding a tiki torch in Charlottesville, held a gathering yesterday at the University of Florida in Gainesville. The University had no responsibility for the event, as Spencer rented the space himself through his National Policy Institute, and he was even denounced by UF President Kent Fuchs:
For the record, I don't stand behind racist Richard Spencer. I stand with those who reject and condemn Spencer’s vile and despicable message https://t.co/eHFuUUchbh
— W. Kent Fuchs (@PresidentFuchs) October 19, 2017
Florida governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in preparation for Spencer’s visit, and students and Gainesville residents responded to his visit in many ways. Children made chalk drawings on the sidewalk celebrating diversity; socially conscious UF students created an assembly on race relations that had twice as many participants as Spencer’s event. And many people who attended only did so to rip on him and his Nazi friends: event organizer Cameron Padgett, Identity Europa leader Eli Mosley, and podcaster Mike Enoch.
Much of the event played out to a half-empty audience. If it weren’t for media and protestors, the only people present would’ve been a couple rows in the front of Spencer’s supporters. The rest of the time, he was drowned out by the hecklers and the brave students and reporters who asked him questions.
When Spencer emerged onto the stage, he found himself subject to chants of “Go home Spencer, go home!” and “Say it loud, say it clear, Nazis are not welcome here!” Reveling in the hate, he admonished them: “You are all, each one of you…at the premiere event for the question of free speech in this country! You all know that! And this is how you behave!” This didn’t deter them, since they moved on to screaming, “Nazis have no right to speak! Nazis have no right to speak!”
Taking a page from the Bret Easton Ellis Podcast, Spencer went on to condescend to the students for “attempting to turn your academic community into a stifling place…Is this what you want? Do you want to go through your lives without questioning a single thing that’s been taught to you from the day you entered preschool?” While he never mentioned the words “safe space,” he echoed the popular belief that today’s millennials are unable to handle ideas that challenge them – which fails to take into account the students drowning him out by shouting “Black lives matter,” a phrase which, with its belief that the lives of black people should not be cut short by the forces of bigotry, is too much for people like Spencer to handle. Who’s the snowflake now?
For forty-five minutes, Spencer, and his three cohorts, who also took turns on the microphone, were unable to quiet the audience long enough for Spencer to give his prepared speech. When they finally realized that their attempts were futile, Spencer decided to move on to the Q&A, and that’s where the protestors really shined, as their questions forced him to confront the worthlessness of his beliefs and of his movement. The first person to come up asked this:
First Questioner: Why do you think that you’re welcome here when it literally took you a court order to get you here? The only people who support you are the state, so why are you on that stage?
Spencer: We have a tremendous amount of support – (cut off by loud boos) – Oh, see? I’m sorry. This is so pathetic. Are you afraid I might say something? Are you afraid you might hear something you’re not ready for?
Like our President, Spencer used this opportunity to brag about his past experience speaking to colleges, claiming he’d filled whole football stadiums with people who weren’t as hostile to him as the Florida students were. That probably had to do with the fact that many of his university appearances took place before the events at Charlottesville, which were raised by the second questioner:
Second Questioner: Mr. Spencer, you have the right to free speech, but the Supreme Court has decided that you don’t have the right to incite violence…
Spencer: The Supreme Court didn’t decide that! That’s the law, obviously!
2: Let me finish my question please. I get it. You don’t directly say “Kill black people, kill Jews, whatever,” but your followers seem to take the idea of a white-only ethno-state to heart, and they are the ones going out and committing violent acts in your name and in the name of your movement…how do you respond to people who feel that you should take responsibility for the actions of others that your words are encouraging?
Spencer: What are you referring to? Name a single incident in which some alt-right-ist murdered someone!
2: Charlottesville! You organized that rally, people came w/riot gear, and someone died! And that was under the name of your movement! How do you not take responsibility for the actions of those people?
R: Absolutely not! That is not what happened w/the death of Heather Heyer. It remains unclear! The fact is, there is a young man –
Crowd: (chanting) It’s your fault! It’s your fault!
When Spencer finally did answer the question, he provided a valuable lesson in how he and like-minded conservatives never answer questions directly. He used his answer to exonerate himself, claiming that he wanted peace, and said he was unwilling to blame James Field, Heyer’s murderer, until the investigation was completed. He then accused her of not holding her “Marxist professor[s]” and antifa to the same standard, without providing counterexamples to prove that “both sides” were to blame. The irony of this statement is that while Spencer continually denigrated the crowd for refusing to allow a dialogue to occur between them, he believes in dialogue as a one-way street, allowing him to talk over his questioners rather than engage with them.
This occurred time and time again throughout the session, as Spencer insulted and mocked the beliefs of those who questioned him. One asked how it was possible to have a “peaceful ethnic cleansing” and he tried to compare what he wants to what Woodrow Wilson wanted at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 (Wilson may have been racist, but any history buff knows that he had next to no say in the results of that conference.) Another lectured him on his misunderstanding of free speech, telling him “fascism should not be up for debate! We already did this in World War Two!” In return, he learned that Spencer views the United States as hypocrites for “winning that argument with bullets and bombs,” asking, “We debated by bombing Germany?”
In perhaps the most notorious exchange of the day, a journalist asked him how many lives he felt Black Lives Matter was responsible for taking. When Spencer refused to answer the question, he pivoted to asking how many lives he believed Hitler was responsible for, to which Spencer tried to challenge him on the number of deaths caused by Israel. The journalist gave as good as he got, attacking Spencer for attempting to turn the tables because he “was afraid to agree with the fact that Hitler’s policies led to the deaths of white people.” “I’m not Adolf Hitler!” he retorted, eventually calling the journalist “autistic.”
Many of the students who came up to question Spencer only wanted to insult him. Here’s a couple of the best ones:
Third Questioner: Could everybody in the front row turn around and look at me real quick? [Referring to Spencer’s supporters] Well; fuck you, and fuck you too!
Fourth Questioner: (who asked this four times) What are you still doing here?
Seventh Questioner: Given how ugly all you guys are, why do you say white people are supreme?
Ninth Questioner: I believe we’re both here because we believe in the freedom of speech – even the speech of idiots like you!
Final Questioner: How did it feel to get punched in the face on camera?
Give that last questioner, a self-described “beautiful brown woman” of Egyptian and Puerto Rican descent, a medal.
Forced to wrap the event half an hour early, Spencer exited by, once again, insulting the attendees: “The world is going to look at this event and… have a very different impression of the UF because you acted this way! And let me tell you, the world is not going to be proud of you!” He promised one last time that he would continue to “speak truth to power” and left the stage, delivering one final blow to those who actually need to speak truth to power. Richard Spencer and his supporters may try to spin the event as a victory for them, but in truth, it was a disaster, as Floridians and UF students proved that in today’s society, there should be no room for hate-mongers like him.
And yes, if you see him, it is OK to punch him.
Note: For anyone who wants access to a transcript of the event, I made one yesterday, from which I was able to pull the excerpts quoted in this article. If you want a copy, message me at @J_Fassler on Twitter.
Jeremy Fassler is a writer and journalist living in Brooklyn, New York.