In case you missed it, on Friday, January 20th 2017; after the 58th Presidential Inauguration, Richard Spencer was giving an interview with some members of the media on the street corner. He was offering nothing new, just the same old rhetoric.
If you’re not familiar with Richard Spencer, don’t be surprised. You may not be unless you frequent white supremacist websites, Breitbart, or you consider yourself a member of the ‘alt-right’. He is their symbolic leader. From March to December 2007, Spencer was an Assistant Editor at The American Conservative magazine; however he was fired because his views were considered too extreme. From there, he became executive editor of Taki's Magazine from January 2008 to December 2009. In March 2010, Spencer founded AlternativeRight.com, a website he edited until 2012. There, he claimed to create the term ‘alt-right’. In January 2011, Spencer became Executive Director of Washington Summit Publishers. In 2012, he founded Radix Journal as a biannual publication of Washington Summit Publishers. In January 2011, Spencer also became President and Director of The National Policy Institute, a conservative think tank previously based in Virginia and Montana.
Now, most of this seems legitimate, right? Sure. It’s all part of the DC machine. People get fired and move to the next place to spout their brand of political thought. But, there are hints that more is involved when it comes to Spencer.
In 2014, Spencer was deported from Budapest, Hungary, and he is now banned from 26 countries in Europe (for three years), after trying to organize National Policy Institute Conference, a conference for white nationalists (Promoting White Nationalism is against the law in many European countries). Then, during a speech Spencer gave in mid-November 2016 at an ‘alt-right’ conference, attended by approximately 200 people in Washington, D.C., audience members cheered and made the Nazi salute when he said, "Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!"
Richard Spencer doesn’t seem like a figure that any decent person, would want to thank. But you’d be wrong about that. Richard Spencer is a new hero of mine, but not for the reasons you’d might expect.
The story about the Washington audience giving him the Bellamy salute (the Nazi salute) made him the poster boy for white nationalists. He became the symbolic head of everything that moderates, of all creeds and colors, should hate. But, he was embraced by those who support the new administration. Not since David Duke has a figure been so publicly hated.
But- IT WAS NECESSARY.
History shows that, at almost every turn, fighting abstract concepts is futile: whether its McCarthy’s search for Communists in America or our current “Global War on Terror,” very little is accomplished by fighting an abstract concept. What these fights allow is for other issues to be suppressed in of the minds of the public at large and for it to remain hidden, simmering just below the surface. It is only when we can identify a person with a movement that true progress can be made.
Back to the subject at hand: why you should thank Richard Spencer. Well, because he became self-anointed as the head of the new ‘alt-right’. That means the movement now has a figurehead on which to direct ire. And direct they did.
You may have seen the interview I mentioned earlier; the one on the street during the inauguration. It’s become somewhat infamous because a protester approached off-camera and punched Richard in the face, and then disappeared back into the crowd.
I have watched this video, no less than twenty times. I have seen it remixed at least 100 times while being set to music. We featured it on two consecutive weeks on the podcast I host. It’s a hilarious video.
But, the reaction to the video by the public at large is the important thing.
On social media, #PunchAFascist started trending. Middle age house wives from the middle of the country were cheering the punching of a man on a street corner during a protest. These same people, in months past, were being judgmental on the protests in Ferguson, Baltimore, and many other places when trash cans or cars were burned. But now- they cheered.
This shows a very important shift. For the first time, at least in my memory, people are recognizing violence as legitimate speech.
Now, an important distinction: no one is arguing that these actions are protected speech. Obviously, no police officer is going to treat the violent protesters with the same respect as those who follow the laws and procedures.
BUT- people across the country and the world are acknowledging that, at some level, violence can be a legitimate form of speech and protest. In the words of our new President: This. Is. Huge.
It should be noted that my position on the legitimacy of violence is clear. If not, please check out the Acceptability of Violence series.
My point of view is not typical; it is certainly extreme. But the fact, that moderate leftist have now accepted and encouraged any violence as protest and speech is AMAZING. It means that a dramatic shift is underway in American political thought.
Some might argue that agreeing with punching a Neo-Nazi, or even encouragement to punch other fascists does not nearly equate with a dramatic shift in thought. But, it goes against the weight of history from the left.
Throughout history, political activism (of all types) on the left has lived by the mantra of ‘turn the other cheek’. And no one is exempt. A fine example comes from Congress. When one party has control of both houses of Congress and the Executive, it seems that much can be accomplished. However, when Conservatives control one or both houses of Congress, in the past few iterations at least, they become little more than obstructionist to a Democratic Executive. When the situation is reversed, the Democratic Congress attempts to negotiate with the Conservative Executive and continue moving the government forward- a concern not shared by the Conservative majority. Moreover, when Conservative movements spring up outside the government, one will find that Conservatives generally use attack methods (both in action and argument) to move their objections forward. The Conservatives will also often use violence, intimidation, and other actions to continue their cause. However, liberal movements, generally, strictly adhere to the precepts of non-violence and refuse to attack in the same way.
As a side note to this discussion: in my life, I have participated in both Conservative and Liberal movements. The Conservative movements generally have the feeling of an army on the march. They are all focused on one objective and are generally well organized. The same cannot be said about the Liberal movements; which often are a hodge-podge of issues and causes and the actions themselves feel more like a concert or party than a serious action. The rare exception is the recent BLM marches; in which I felt a sense of solidarity and purpose.
This call from the left to use violence, even if it is merely focused on fascists, shows an important change in tactics. There is a concept in warfare that you must meet the enemy where they are and on their terms. Even the US, globally, has adhered to this policy in its foreign relations. This is the concept that the left MUST explore; and it seems that the seeds of that very idea are being planted. But that is not enough.
These seeds must flourish. We must nurture this sentiment and cause its flowers to bloom in the hearts and minds of moderate leftists. These are the first moves towards a truly successful leftist movement. We must meet the enemy where they are and confront them on their own terms.
This is a Call To Action.
To the Members of the politically active left: recognize this. You have finally understood the source of the sentiment shared by your more extremist brethren. We must allow no quarter. We must not allow the opposition to rest. We must meet them where they are and on their terms. No longer can we draw a line and say ‘this far and no farther;’ it is time to start pushing back and moving forward. You have, in your own way and on your own time, come to us. You recognize that there are occasions in which violence is speech and is necessary.
Now we need you to come a little farther. We need you to realize that fascists are not the only threat to our way of life. The ‘alt-right,’ Neo-Nazi’s or other white supremacists groups may be the most vocal, but realize that Conservativism as a whole wants nothing more than to take us backward. In order to move forward, we must fight. Whether they are skin-heads marching and ‘heil’-ing, or ‘alt-right’ers talking about friendly cleansing, or the religious-right protesting against women’s health, or the ‘working class’ blaming the loss of jobs on other workers (and not the CEOs and BoDs of these companies, or the intelligesia or leadership class using race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or any other factor to divide us.
If you are willing to take the first step against an enemy of democracy and a working, cooperative nation; just come a little farther. We’re already here, and we’re waiting for you. We’ll be here to stand right beside you, hold you up, take you forward with us; and if necessary, drag you kicking and screaming across the finish line, and once you’re there, you’ll thank us.
Welcome to The Resistance.