By Ferren Olmsted-Meade
On January 20, Inauguration Day, people from all walks of life took to the streets. Among those was self-proclaimed white nationalist, Richard Spencer. As he was being interviewed by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, a masked individual approached Spencer and proceeded to punch him in the face.
Violent threats and actions towards Spencer are not a surprise, and at the very least understandable, due to his many racist remarks, including what he terms “peaceful ethnic cleansing.”
Spencer was one of many racist extremists who felt a sense of victory at the election of Donald Trump.
“Whether it’s nice to say or not, we won and we got to define what America means and we got to define what this continent means,” said Spencer. “America, at the end of the day, belongs to white men.”
Although Spencer has claimed he does not associate with the label Neo-Nazi, in 2007, he was fired from his position as the assistant editor for The American Conservative magazine, because his views were considered too extreme, according to the founding editor Scott McConnell. In March 2010, Spencer founded AlternativeRight.com, where he coined the term alt-right, a far right movement known for their anti-immigrant, anti-semitic, and anti-feminist views. Then, in 2016, during the annual conference for the National Policy Institute, a white nationalist think tank, Spencer gave a speech in which his audience responded with a wave of Nazi salutes.
“Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!” Said Spencer.
Due to Spencer’s white supremacist ideologies and hate-filled words, it is hard not to cheer on the masked assailant. Many people are even going as far as to encourage more people to follow in the perpetrator’s footsteps. Some have also called it an act of patriotism, using Captain America and Indiana Jones as examples of American heroes fighting off Nazis.
“I would have punched him,” said freshman Chloe Lupini. “I’m not saying violence is the answer, but when someone is an openly racist public figure you have to expect that to happen.”
Part of the reason for such a bold outcry to Spencer’s ideals is his status as a public figure. Public figures, like Spencer, need to be held to a higher standard than the general public. Their words and actions reach a broader audience, setting the standard for the rest of the world, and often normalizing their behavior. If someone spouts dangerous and harmful views towards minorities, others who may have previously kept their racism and prejudices quiet may feel more inclined to act on their biases.
Since Spencer’s creation of the alt-right, its members have been running a growing number of websites, publications, and publishing houses that either promote or tolerate white supremacist ideas. Through these various forums, their main goal is to recruit even more people to their racist and often harmful cause.
Others have weighed in on the incident, condemning the person’s use of violence. Many view it as undemocratic, by silencing opposing views. It can be hard to have a healthy dialogue when physical force becomes an accepted response to others. Some also argue that the use of physical force is merely fighting fire with fire, perpetuating the already existent outrage and tension, without creating an actual solution to the problem.
“If I were to be violent against that kind of thing it would only prove their point,” said junior Naomi Verne.
However, minorities do not view Spencer’s way of thinking as just an opinion, but as a very real threat to their life and well-being. Violence is not the first choice for many, but is often a last resort to those who feel that their own, and their family’s lives are at stake. While many understand and often agree with non-violent methods of resistance, some feel those who advocate for genocidal ideologies do not deserve civility.