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Richard Spencer, that punch, the Alt-Right and violence

31 Jan , 2017  

Nick Rodrigo is a researcher at the Afro Middle East Centre in Johannesburg. His writing has appeared in The New Arab, Middle East Monitor, and The Daily Vox

The Alt-Right is the glossy term used to describe the resurgent White Supremacist movement infiltrating mainstream American politics.

Under the helm of its articulate leader Richard Spencer, the Alt-Right has striven to frame racist, sexist and white supremacism as intellectually rigorous and compelling viewpoints and the election of Donald Trump has brought them crashing into the headlines, and given them a broader platform within American political discourse

Here are but a smattering of Spencer’s views on key issues as documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center:

On mixed communities:

“Hispanic immigrants have been assimilating downward across generations towards the culture and behavior of African-Americans. Indeed, one possible outcome of the ongoing demographic transformation is a thoroughly miscegenated, and thus homogenous and ‘assimilated,’ nation, which would have little resemblance to the White America that came before it.”

On his White utopia:

“Our dream is a new society, an ethno-state that would be a gathering point for all Europeans. It would be a new society based on very different ideals than, say, the Declaration of Independence.”

On the reintroduction of Apartheid:

“Today, in the public imagination, ‘ethnic cleansing’ has been associated with civil war and mass murder but this need not be the case. 1919 is a real example of successful ethnic redistribution—done by fiat, we should remember, but done peacefully.”

On Trump’s presidency:

“Trump was the first step toward white identity politics in the United States. He is not going to be the last. The alt-right is a new beginning.”

On the day before President Trump’s inauguration Spencer was on the streets of Washington being interviewed by an Australian journalist. Unaware that an antifascist demonstration was enveloping him he was punched in the face by a member of the Black Block, an anti-capitalist grass roots movement.

The punch was caught on camera and became an overnight internet sensation, prompting a deluge of memes and gifs. It has also sparked an online debate on the moral and practical validity of deploying violent tactics against Nazis.

Vice ran an article with the former New York Times ethics columnist Randy Cohen declaring that it is never okay to punch someone, no matter how odious their views are, and that it does little to serve the proposed cause of fighting racism.

In a separate interview with Raw Story, Cohen further reiterated his points in the Vice interview, stating that violence must only be used in self-defense. In the same article Aine Donovan, the director of the Ethics Institute at Dartmouth contended that “violence begets violence. Civil society is based on civil discourse”.

The promise of a civil society has never existed

The condemnations of these leading ethicists are predicated on a number of ideological and practical fallacies; based on the idea that we all share a society moulded by civil codes and conducts, wrought by the bill of rights and declaration of the rights of man.

This despite the fact that the bill of rights was co-written by a man who reportedly raped his own slaves, this liberal idea of civil decorum and freedom of speech has never existed in the United States.

University academics have been purged from their positions since the expansion of further education, African Americans have had dogs set on them merely for demanding the right to vote and a fair education.

Today woman rape survivors are slut shamed whilst Latinx migrants are chased down by vigilantes in the searing Arizona desert. The contours of American civil society has been shaped by the maintenance of White supremacy, settler colonialism and capitalism.

Spencer’s views are but one symptom of this metasystem, the natural conclusion of White privilege attempting to come to terms with a world in flux. Spencer’s words may seem repugnant to liberals, but they are fertilised by their own dismissal of racial grievances as secondary issues.

If white supremacy is a weed, then the logic of mainstream liberalism is the bed from which it grows. Dialogue can only occur at germination, but when the nettle is fully grown, it must be ripped out by the root.

Erasing the humanity of others forfeits your right to engage in civilised debate

Despite his protestations that he is not a White Supremacist, Spencer’s has consistently upheld and promoted views which fundamental denial of humanity to non-Whites. On a website he previously edited, the Alternative Right, an essay was ran called, “Is Black Genocide Right?”.

Spencer’s views, and that of the movement he has positioned himself as the leader, cannot hold space within any civilised debate as they diminish the experiences, perspectives of black, and brown people.

In her seminal work “The Origins of Totalitarianism” Hannah Arendt notes that when the Nazi’s were consolidating their hold over Germany, well intentioned liberal Germans would fact check their claims concerning the humanity of Jews, the disabled etc. These claims in which humanity was removed from Jews were not a statement of fact, but rather the precursor to intent.

When Spencer states that non-whites should develop separately, and that whites are strivers and creators, the natural conclusion of this is the (re)introduction of a violent apartheid structure.

Spencer’s comments are moving the contours of debate, and deploying freedom of speech to defend this act ignores its founding utility- to hold power to account.

Spencer is scared, and his henchmen are crawling back under the rocks from where they came from

Since Spencer’s now infamous speech, hailing Trump’s victory to a throng of Nazi salutes, many associated with Breitbart news, the media platform which had declared itself the mouthpiece of the Alt-right, have chosen to distance themselves.

The kudos for this must go to the antifascist activists who have worked tirelessly against the alt-Right, not engaging but rather confronting Spencer and his ilk.

One tactic they have used is doxxing, where the identities of far right keyboard warriors are made public. Mike Enoch, host of the podcast “The Daily Shoah” was revealed to be Mike Penovich, a tech worker with a wife of Jewish heritage. Peinovich subsequently lost his job.

This tactic has been used against a number online Facists and even Spencer himself has admitted that it doxing is working, frightening those from organising online to disseminate fascist and white supremacist views.

But what of violence? Spencer has stated that he now no longer feels safe to attend rallies and is considering hiring a body guard. His own money, or that of his organisation – money which could be spent on another blogger on his website, or another speaker at his event, is being placed on his security.

He has to think twice about going anywhere, constantly looking over his shoulder. Spencer is now being stalked by the fear, which the victims of his ideology have been under for centuries. This is the only language the Alt-Right understands.

Violence, like non-violence, is a tool in the face of white supremacy and racism. It should never be valorised or turned into something higher than that status. In his essay on “Concerning Violence”, Guadeloupian psychiatrist-cum-Algerian Revolutionary implores us to remember this much.

Spencer’s assailant was from the black bloc and most likely white. If anti-racist allies are reading this, take note – the best use of your white privilege is putting your body on the line in direct action orientated anti-racist movements.

This brings us back to the underlying question in this article: Is it right to punch a fascist ideologue? Perhaps this question should be flipped and directed to a fascist – is it logical to expect decorum and civility when your ideas strip others of their humanity, and uphold a structure which breaks their bodies and removes their agency?

Finally, in case there are any quandaries concerning Spencer’s humanity, here is his latest tweet following the Quebec mosque shootings:

1 Response

  1. […] — Richard 🐸 Spencer (@RichardBSpencer) 30 January 2017 Consented […]

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