Richard Spencer, Wilsonian Progressive

I’ve never interviewed a white supremacist before, so I didn’t know what to expect when Richard Spencer showed up to talk to me, with my film team present and the cameras rolling. Spencer is often portrayed as the most dangerous man in America. A profile of him in the Atlantic Monthly likened him to Hitler with the title, “His Kampf,” and when he showed up to speak at the University of Florida the governor declared a state emergency. Normally you have to be a hurricane or an epidemic to qualify for that designation.

My wife Debbie and I had arranged security—after all, we are both immigrants from Third World countries and Spencer is not known to be a fan of our type. But from the moment we saw him, we knew we had nothing to fear. Spencer came alone, unaccompanied by goons. He looked around nervously, giving me an eager-to-please smile. I saw right away he is a cordial, diffident guy. Dressed in a tweed jacket, he looked somewhat like an academic from a previous era.

“No, I’m not a Nazi,” Spencer said right away. “I’m not a neo-Nazi. I’m not any of those things.” Why then, I asked him, did you and your pals give the Nazi salute, the raised arm and the “Hail Trump”? At first Spencer pretended it was no big deal. “Well, you know, we have Hail to the Chief, lots of things.” But when I pressed him acknowledged it was for effect, a kind of up-yours to the politically correct class. “I was being provocative.”

Spencer said he wasn’t a white supremacist either, but he admitted to being a white nationalist. “I don’t believe in nationalism in terms of silly or hokey flag-waving, and I definitely don’t believe in nationalism in the sense of Europeans fighting one another. I believe, actually, in a greater brotherhood of European peoples.” Would this, I asked, include Greeks and Italians. Spencer said yes. “We’re all cousins. We’re all part of a big extended family.”

What’s so great, I asked him, about the white race? Spencer spoke of what he termed its “Faustian spirit. The white race is expansive whether in terms of conquering, in terms of exploration of the seas or space, or scholarship and analysis of science. We possess something that’s peculiar to use, and it makes us special.” And was that something, I inquired, in the genes? “It is,” Spencer replied. “No question. Everything is in the genes.”

My real interest was to find out what Spencer really believed, with a view to figuring out where he really belongs on the political spectrum. I asked him whether he sought to conserve the principles of the American Founding. He responded, “I’ve been critical of the American founding throughout my career.” The whole concept of individual rights, he said, was “problematic.”

Me: So, all men are created equal. True or false?

Spencer: False, obviously.

Me: The idea that we have a right to life, true or false?

Spencer: I don’t think we have rights to really anything.

I asked Spencer about his advocacy of a concept called the white ethno-state.

Me: What I take you to be saying is that the white ethno-state would have a powerful state at the center of it.

Spencer: No question.

Me: But this notion of limited government . . . As you know, the founders saw the government as the enemy of our rights.

Spencer: No individual has a right outside of a collective community. You have rights, not eternally or given by God, or by nature.

Me: Who gives them to us?

Spencer: Ultimately the state gives those right to you. The state is the source of rights, not the individual.

Me: Would it be fair to say you are not just against illegal immigration but immigration, period?

Spencer: I’m definitely against illegal immigration. That’s an easy one. I’m against replacement immigration in the sense that I’m against immigration coming in from the Third World that is ultimately going to change the ethnic and cultural constitution of the United States. I wouldn’t say I’m against immigration in itself. I would actually be happy to open the door to white South Africans among many who are truly suffering. I would be happy to take in those refugees.

‘A Romanticization’ of Race
I asked Spencer about his favorite presidents. Reagan? “I do not think he was a great president.” Lincoln: Spencer blamed him for starting “an unnecessary war” instead of negotiating a solution with the slave-owners. Spencer wasn’t too hot on Washington, either. Who, then, were his favorites? “There’s something about Jackson,” he said, “There’s something about Polk, who took something from Mexico and made it ours.” I pointed out to him that they were both Democrats.

Finally I asked Spencer about the movie, “Birth of a Nation.”

Me: Have you seen it?

Spencer: Yes, I have.

Me: What did you think of it?

Spencer: It’s an amazing film, one of the most important films ever made.

Me: Leaving aside its technical merits, the notion that the sex-crazed blacks are taking over the country and the Ku Klux Klan was a redemptive movement of white identity to clean the place up—you agree with that?
Spencer: It was a romanticization of the first Klan in response to Republican Reconstruction. It’s an idealized vision that paints in really broad strokes.

Me: But it’s your music.

Spencer: Sure. It appealed to many, Americans including presidents.

Woodrow Wilson’s Heir
As I interviewed Spencer, I kept saying to myself, obviously this guy is not a conservative, but what is he? He’s not a progressive in the contemporary sense, either. And yet his ideas are so familiar. Only toward the end of the interview did it hit me. Spencer’s views are virtually identical to those of the progressive racists of the Woodrow Wilson era. He even dresses the part. Basically, the guy is a relic.

In a purely logical sense, Spencer should be a progressive Democrat. Progressive Democrats invented the ideology he espouses, and even today the Democratic Party is the party of ethnic identity politics. Spencer’s problem, however, is that the Democrats mobilize black, Latino and Asian identity politics against that of whites. Since whites are now the all-round bad guy, Spencer’s brand of progressivism is no longer welcome at the multicultural picnic.

Thus Spencer, a man without a party, turns to Donald Trump. Now, there is very little on which Spencer and Trump actually agree. Trump is a flag-waving patriot who cherishes the American Founders; Spencer isn’t and doesn’t. Trump believes our rights come from God; Spencer is an atheist. Trump wants to keep illegals out so legal immigrants and other American citizens—whether white, black or brown—can thrive. Spencer wants more white immigrants, fewer if any black and brown ones. In sum, Trump is generally “conservative” in his ideology and Spencer is clearly not.

Why, then, did Spencer vote for Trump? Why does he consider himself on the right? The simple answer is that Spencer has no place else to go, so he is trying to carve out a niche for himself in the only party where he can find some measure of agreement, however small. Trump isn’t embracing Spencer’s agenda; rather, Spencer is embracing Trump’s agenda because his own is politically irrelevant.

Look at it from Spencer’s point of view. If you’re a white nationalist who wants racial preferences for whites, would you rather go with the Democrats who want racial preferences against whites, or with the Republicans who want racial preferences for no one? Clearly the latter.

If you’re a white nationalist who wants to eliminate minority immigration altogether—legal and illegal—would you rather vote for the Democrats who encourage more illegals, with a view to gaining more future voters, or for the Republicans who generally support legal but not illegal immigration? Again, the answer is obvious.

We can see the same phenomenon on the Democratic side of the aisle. Consider a Communist who wants to impose a 100 percent tax rate and abolish private property. Would such a guy prefer the Republicans, who affirm property rights and seek to lower the tax rate, or the Democrats, who push for tax increases and more regulation of private property rights? Obviously the latter. Does it follow, then, that the Democrats are the party of Communism or that they should be required to publicly repudiate the Communist vote? Not at all; no one even asks this of them.

To sum up, white nationalism is not “conservative” or Republican, even if some white nationalists end up in the Trump column. Nor is the bigotry of the white nationalists—naked and repulsive as it is—the most potent form of racism in America today. The institutionalized racism of the Democratic plantation, anchored in black ghettos, Latino barrios and native reservations, is far, far worse.

This article is adapted from Dinesh D’Souza’s new book Death of a Nation, published by St. Martin’s Press. His movie of the same title is now out in 1,000 theaters nationwide.

Photo credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

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About Dinesh D'Souza

Dinesh D’Souza has had a prominent career as a writer, scholar, and public intellectual, and has also become an award-winning filmmaker. Born in India, D’Souza came to the U.S. as an exchange student at the age of 18 and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Dartmouth College. Called one of the “top young public-policy makers in the country,” D’Souza quickly became known as a major force in public policy through his books, speeches, and films. His latest book and film, Death of a Nation, hits stores on July 31 and screens on August 3.