Jezebel recently published an article about how Richard Spencer, the infamous neo-Nazi, is a leopard who seems to have changed his spots. The article trafficks in the typical millennial irony gossip characteristic of Jezebel; rather than diving deep into perhaps Spencer’s recent political activities, it instead bases itself off Spencer’s recently uncovered Bumble profile.
Now, unearthing Bumble profiles is a time-honored form of antifascism; I brook no dissent with the approach. But where the article succeeds in its Mean Girls-esque roast, it falls short in its critical analysis of whether Spencer is actually telling the truth.
He is not. Richard Spencer is not reformed. Despite his protestations, he is still a white nationalist.
The article is careful to balance Spencer’s commentary with a retort from Integrity First for America, the organization that brought the devastating lawsuit Sines v. Kessler to a successful verdict holding Spencer and his co-defendants liable for the rally violence. But it fails to look at the evidence.
It’s true that Spencer’s political beliefs are more complex than reducing him to a basic 1970’s-era skinhead or 1955-era Klansman. These complexities do nothing to reduce the hatred or bigotry present in Spencer’s beliefs. Because of these nuances, which are really unimportant to anyone outside of a small handful of people who track and characterize far-right movements, it’s easy to get confused when Spencer comes out against the Republican party or in favor of Joe Biden. These political beliefs may even be sincerely held, I don’t know. It doesn’t really matter. Liking Joe Biden doesn’t make you not a white supremacist.
The fact is that if Richard Spencer did want to repent for his many wrongs, there are paths to remediation he could take, but has not. He has in the past, before his life was ruined in Charlottesville, rejected attempts by Christian Picciolini, a former neo-Nazi turned deradicalization expert, to help him find a way out of hate. Spencer faces no closed doors when it comes to embarking on this journey.
Part of redemption is acknowledging harm, and precisely here is where Spencer is moving in the opposite direction. The former neo-Nazi leader—that’s former leader, not former neo-Nazi—has within this calendar year participated actively in the white nationalist scene. This is well after the devastating federal court verdict found him civilly liable for being part of a conspiracy to commit racially-motivated violence.
And Spencer did commit racially-motivated violence. During direct examination during Sines v. Kessler, Plaintiffs' attorney Michael Bloch embarked on a lengthy but effective process to get Spencer to admit to his violent participation. While Spencer’s participation in planning chats and networking with lead organizer Jason Kessler was damning in and of itself, it was Spencer’s actions on the night of August 11 that did him in. The key parts of the transcript follow, where I have omitted some procedural commentary, but the unedited version is publicly available:
BLOCH: Okay. Let’s play the last ten seconds or so of the video.A Okay. I’ll listen.
BLOCH: Did you hear that, Mr. Spencer?
SPENCER: I heard it this time. “We need some more guys to fill in this way to block them off,” is that –
BLOCH: “To block these guys off.”
SPENCER: “To block these guys off.”
BLOCH: Now, the fact of the matter is, Mr. Spencer, you surrounded them at the statue and you wouldn’t let them out; isn’t that true?
SPENCER: They were surrounded, and for a time they were fully surrounded. They eventually did leave.
BLOCH: And my question is you surrounded them at the statue and would not let them out, right?
SPENCER: For a time, yes.
BLOCH: Do you recognize this, Mr. Spencer, as a tweet you sent?
BLOCH: This is a tweet, Mr. Spencer, that you sent – that you tweeted on August 11th, correct?
BLOCH: And you’re replying to a tweet that says, “They surrounded us at the statue. They wouldn’t let us out,” right?
BLOCH: And you retweeted that with a quote, and your quote was"fact checked, true," right?
BLOCH: Thanks. And would you agree with me, Mr. Spencer, that the reason why you were trying to pin them in at the statue was as a sign of dominance?
With this, Spencer’s entire defense fell apart. In the climax of a sequence of devastating questions, Spencer was forced to admit that he and his group forcefully surrounded counter-protesters, denied them exit, and beat them, as a purposeful display of dominance. This testimony alone met all the elements needed to find Spencer liable.
The tweet in question was Richard Spencer quote tweeting me on August 11. I said, “they surrounded us at the statue. They wouldn’t let us out.” Spencer quote tweeted with three fatal words. “Fact check: true.”
Richard Spencer will play at politics until his dying breath. But if he embarks on a path to redemption, a real, honest-souled journey of repentance, then I assure you I will be among the first to know: I’m near the head of the queue of people owed an apology. It hasn’t happened yet, and I won’t be holding my breath.