‘Let’s party like it’s 1933’: Inside the alt-right world of Richard Spencer – Chicago Tribune

 In U.S.

Richard Bertrand Spencer had just told his guests how inspired he was by their presence when the rising sound of fury outside the dining room’s double doors reached his ears. He knew what it meant.

Spencer stepped into the open hallway and, there, beneath the wooden second-floor railing at Maggiano’s Little Italy in northwest Washington, more than 30 protesters were marching up the stairway toward him. Several held posters – “No to Racism and Fascism” – and blew whistles. “No Nazis, no KKK, no fascist USA,” they shouted, their voices intensifying as he came into view.

Ten feet from the top of the stairs, a Maggiano’s employee – a black man in a light blue button-down and red tie – spread his arms wide, blocking the mob from reaching the 100 or so white nationalists who had gathered at the restaurant on Friday for a private dinner. Spencer walked behind him and looked down at the activists. Then the man who’d coined the term “alt-right” grinned and waved.

For years, Spencer and his followers worked in obscure corners of the Internet to promote pride in white identity and the creation of an “ethno-state” that would banish minorities. Then came the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump, whose attacks on undocumented immigrants, Muslims and political correctness deeply resonated with them. They crusaded for him on Twitter and celebrated his improbable victory as a seminal moment for their cause.

They exulted again when Trump announced that his chief White House strategist would be former Breitbart News chairman Stephen Bannon, who once called his site “the platform for the alt-right.”

And no one is more critical to the alt-right movement than Spencer, its carefully crafted public face. Last weekend, the articulate, highly educated 38-year-old hosted a conference in the nation’s capital that drew nearly 300 white nationalists and at least 50 reporters. But his agenda reaches far beyond any single weekend gathering. Spencer envisions a world in which his ideals are embraced by the mainstream, and he has vowed to keep pushing until that happens.

Spencer, who splits his time between Arlington, Virginia, and Whitefish, Montana, has reveled in the coverage from traditional news outlets with huge audiences: NBC, NPR, CNN, The Washington Post, The New York Times. He would draw their attention again this week when a video of him at the conference shouting “Hail Trump” – and the Nazi salutes it elicited – went viral.

Somewhere deep down, Spencer said, he’s always had these beliefs. But the 2006 Duke lacrosse case, in which white members of the team were falsely accused of raping a black woman, made an impression, as did the writings of Jared Taylor, a prominent white nationalist who lives in northern Virginia.

And what do his parents think?

“They think I’m crazy,” he said.

His mother did not respond to a voicemail, and his father, an ophthalmologist, declined to give an interview, explaining in a text message that he was “very concerned that anything I might say could in any way be used to smear Richard. Richard is my son and as such I only wish to give him positive support whether I personally agree with him on all political issues or not.”

His relationship with his father is strained, said Spencer, who’s also separated from his wife, Nina, a Russian-born writer with whom he has a young daughter. Nina Spencer couldn’t be reached for comment.

“What I’m doing is hard,” he said. “It can have a toll on a relationship.”

An extensive profile in Mother Jones revealed that Spencer had previously dated an Asian American woman, and he acknowledged that some of his comrades would probably find that “terrible.”

Last week, he said he wouldn’t date a non-white woman again and that he still wants interracial relationships barred.

That belief is core to the alt-right’s most radical goal: An all-white country.

“We need an ethno-state,” he said in a 2013 speech, “so that our people can ‘come home again,’ can live amongst family, and feel safe and secure.

He ended his address by invoking Martin Luther King Jr.: “I have a dream.”

Last week, Spencer was reluctant to discuss how that dream would be achieved.

How, he was asked, in a nation with more than 102 million blacks, Asians and Latinos, could a whites-only territory be created without overwhelming violence?

Over chocolate croissants and an Americano coffee at a Corner Bakery Cafe, he avoided the question, discussing Nietzsche, communism’s origins, history’s unpredictabililty.

Then, at last, he offered an answer.

“Look, maybe it will be horribly bloody and terrible,” he said. “That’s a possibility with everything.”

Two days before the conference, while in mid-thought about the president-elect’s chief strategist, Spencer walked out of an Arlington Starbucks as his Lyft car pulled to the curb. The driver, who had a thick Turkish accent, popped the sedan’s trunk and loaded his luggage.

Spencer likes to describe Stephen Bannon as “alt-light,” not quite committed to the movement’s most radical objectives but receptive to some of the broader philosophies.

“He’s open,” Spencer explained.

As the car sped alongside the Potomac River toward Washington, he talked of the movement’s next target: Colleges. He plans to speak at both Texas A&M and the University of Michigan in the coming weeks and is convinced that the alt-right will appeal to students weary of politically correct campus cultures.

“I think there’s going to be a huge crowd,” he said. “The world is changing.”

He pulled his phone from his pocket. Grinning and giddy, he played a video taken at Michigan, where more than 100 students were filmed chanting: “No alt-right, no KKK, no racist USA.”

He played it again.

“We’re getting under their skin,” he said. “I take a sadistic pleasure in that.”

The Lyft arrived at a downtown hotel where Spencer had booked a room for the conference. He asked the driver to wait while he dropped off his bags.

And what did the Muslim immigrant, unaware that he was chauffeuring a leading white nationalist, think of the United States?

Much better than Turkey, the driver said in halting English. He beamed as he explained that his family had come here eight months earlier, just in time for the birth of his new baby – officially an American citizen.

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