I went looking for Trump supporters and I found white supremacists
He just sounds like he knows what he’s talking about, in a really dangerous way
Disclaimer: I’m a pretty liberal person, I’m against racism, I do not believe that the best America is an all white one and I would quite literally set myself on fire before writing “Trump” on my ballot in November. However, I am reporting these events as they happened and in the most accurate way I can. This is what happened on Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley yesterday.
I was initially on the look out for a Trump rally on campus. Instead, I found advocates of “European Identity” and white nationalism from “Identity Evropa,” a group promoting these ideas. They don’t like the phrase “white supremacists” although there are those, myself and the Southern Poverty Law Center included, that would argue that’s the only accurate description.
The Trump supporters were not what I expected. These people were articulate and while most refused to give me their credentials, seemed more or less educated, teeth intact. I spoke with the man who appeared to be the leader, the one everyone naturally gathered around, Richard Spencer, for about 40 minutes. I didn’t learn this until after the interview was over but Spencer is the President of the National Policy Institute in DC, a white nationalist think tank. The entire time he was civil, articulate, witty and charming. I see why people follow him. He just sounds like he knows what he’s talking about, in a really dangerous way.
Let me paint this picture. It’s an overcast, cold and rainy day in Berkeley on Sproul Plaza. We are steps away from where Mario Savio championed putting “your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels” of the machine. I start interviewing Spencer after talking to a few of his friends and/or colleagues that seem more like dedicated lackeys than anything else. His authority was never made explicit to me but it was palpable, whether or not formally in charge, this man was the one they followed. As I start talking to him, his friend/supporter/cameraman, whose name I did not catch, videotaped the first few minutes of our conversation for a program called “Red Ice” that I later learned describes itself as “covering politics and social issues from a pro-European perspective.” The podcast version of their show has been censored on iTunes and is not recognized in podcast listings through Windows.
It started like most interviews, we spelled our names, etc. I asked him what ethnicity and gender he identifies as. He laughs at the idea of identifying as one of these and says “I’m a man” as if it is so unquestionably obvious, like ‘Can’t you sense my manliness?’ The lackeys laugh too – someone just asked their alpha male if he was male at all.
By now, they have assembled. About 20 men from his group have gathered in a circle around us, just he and I in the center of this storm’s eye of a white supremacist hurricane. For a moment, I am very conscious of being a tiny 5 foot woman surrounded by 20 men at least a foot taller than me while I challenge their alpha. I pause, but persist, I won’t be deterred by some tall people standing near me.
To the ethnicity he says he’s European, more specifically German and English. Then he inserts a sarcastic, “I identify as a black lesbian” and the lackeys roar with laughter. The camera guy asks if this offends me, I tell him the joke is offensive but if he did genuinely identify as that, that’s fine. This only makes them laugh more. Spencer continues on this, asking me how I could believe something so ridiculous. He argues that race isn’t about choice, it’s about biology, and I concede this. I clarify that I am not talking about race, I’m talking about ethnicity which, although often misused, refers to culture, not necessarily biological heritage. He scoffs. We move on to gender. I tell him I was asking about his gender, not what genitalia he has. To this he says “Wanna find out?” and they all erupt in laughter.
I ask what he thinks about Donald Trump, Spencer says, “He’s a great phenomenon…it’s been really great for the ideas of our movement,” that movement being white nationalism. I ask him about his political identity and, after noting that he hasn’t voted in over a decade because of dissatisfaction with candidates, he tells me this: “I think alt right is a really good term to use…It’s something different than conservatives, it’s something different than Republicans. I also like to use the word ‘identitarian’…I think it’s a very good term because what is most important is European identity.”
We discuss the impact of identity on the ethnicity/race argument, I bring up that choice can be important for mixed race children who have two or more different races and possibly multiple cultures as well. In response he says, “But that’s hybridization…I agree that someone who is a hybrid of two different races– they have an identity crisis…that’s why race is so important.”
Asked if he believes that people of different races are fundamentally different as people, or if it is just the difference of skin color, he says, “Yes, I believe they are fundamentally different as people. I think race is not just skin deep, it’s much deeper than skin. Skin is, in a way, an important difference between the races but it’s kind of a dispensable one. I don’t think it’s the most important thing in terms of racial differences.”
He then continues when I ask him to elaborate on these differences, “I think one of the examples of racial differences is, that is probably most obvious, is in general intelligence. There are clearly empirical differences between the races.”
Here I’d like to note that, throughout the over 2 hours of conversation I had with Spencer and other supporters of European identity and white nationalism, there were frequent allusions to studies and statistics and quantitative measurements of the superiority/inferiority of races but not once did anyone tell me a number or cite an actual study, I am not just leaving them out. They may exist, but since I was given absolutely no information I cannot speak to the validity of these ‘studies.’
I ask him if this has implications for superiority or inferiority of races over each other. He tells me, “When you say ‘superior’ you have to ask in what, and yes, in terms of doing verbal reasoning, yes, Ashkenazi Jews [for those unfamiliar this means Jews originating in Eastern Europe] are superior to Europeans. In terms of mathematical or spatial reasoning, East Asians are superior to Europeans. So yes, you could say that once you get a specific measurement there are differences where you can say one is superior or inferior.” This is a great example of him saying something that could not be described as anything but racist, but doing so articulately which is so much more pernicious. It sounds like it makes sense because it is said intelligently, that is, until you examine what he is really saying.
He elaborates on some more racial differences: “If you look at sprinting [laughter from Spencer and others], which is the most obvious one, in terms of fast twitch muscles, in terms of different centers of gravity, and even different physical shapes and things like that, clearly West Africans are superior to East Asians in sprinting. It’s very hard to argue when you look at the Olympics or the outcomes of most sporting events.”
I ask him about what this means for overall superiority or inferiority of races and he tells me, “An African with a strong sense of himself, are they really gonna care that, on average an East Asian is more likely to score higher than he is on an IQ test. Who cares?” I’d like to point out that it seems like he cares.
I noticed that he seemed to be avoiding the traits and tendencies of white people. So I ask, what about white people? He uses his go-to white person example, Beethoven, “I think only people of European descent could have created some of these world historical masterpieces that, I think, actually, all races value. Beethoven could only be a European, he could only be someone of Germanic descent as well.”
This all raises the question, so what’s your solution? How do you think we should operate the world differently with this information in mind? So I ask and he answers, “Multiracial and multicultural societies are going to have a great deal of distrust and unfortunately a great deal of unhappiness in them. There’s going to be a great deal of conflict that is really inherent to the system.” In other words, we should not live in multiracial, multicultural societies because the races are not meant to cohabitate.
A bystander interjects something about slavery so I ask, what do you think about slavery? He condemns the irresponsible, short sighted slave owners who “brought Africans to this continent so that they could profit. They put profit over the future of their people and that is utterly contemptible.” When he says “their people,” he is referring to the people of the slave owners, Europeans. The offense of slavery, he says in this quote, is that Europeans foolishly, and blinded by money, brought Africans to this country of European people and that is an irresponsible choice for the future of the European race in America, creating “this horrible situation that we’re still living in now.”
Another bystander brings up Hitler. First, he dismisses the question as being historical and therefore irrelevant, he says he’s looking to the future instead. So, I ask, seven times before getting a straight answer, if he condemns the attempt of Adolf Hitler to create a purely “Aryan” country.
After saying “I think Hitler is misunderstood” and telling me he does condemn violence, he finally answers whether or not he condemns Hitler, saying, “No, I don’t. The idea that someone would want a country of their own, that someone would want a country that’s defined by their ancestors and their people, I do not condemn that.” He is so skillful at making white supremacy sound like a nice fairy tale that he can almost make Hitler sound like someone who just wanted a quaint little Germany with his extended family – almost.
On this note, and after a digression about the likelihood of Trump interning muslims, which Spencer does not think is likely, I ask him, what’s the end game? He gives me the “medium term” and the long term. First, he “want[s] European Americans to have a sense of themselves. I think at this point they, we, don’t. We have a sense of ourselves as individuals, we might even have a negative sense of ourselves.” The long term?
“I think we should have a new Roman empire. My ultimate dream, and this is probably not something that’s going to happen in my lifetime, it’s very similar to leftist dreaming of communism or Jews dreaming of Zionism, would be yes, a grand ethno-state for all Europeans to come together.”
We discuss women’s role in society – he thinks we can work but are meant to be, and have a responsibility to be, mothers first. I ask if 1950’s style gender roles are preferable in his opinion, he says “To what we have today? Sure, it’s preferable because what we have today is very bad.” He continues to say that we are naturally less capable in STEM fields and says that while society is forcing women to try to participate in them, “it hasn’t worked because it’s running up against the brick wall of biological reality.”
I asked him to clarify. When I asked, “Just to be clear, do you think that women are less capable at math and science than men?” he responded, “Yes.”
When I countered, “What do you say to the fact that I am a science student at one of the best science schools in the world and I am a woman getting straight A’s and beating many of my male peers?” he said, “That’s great. It’s an exception.”
When I ask him for final thoughts on whether or not European Americans are more intelligent than other races he says, “Yes, in terms of a lot of things society values and I value, Whites are going to be better.”
For some final details on these men, they are a part of the group “Identity Evropa” which advocates for white nationalism and European identity. None of these men, and all were men, are UC Berkeley students, one was a Berkeley graduate. All were voting for Donald Trump.
Richard Spencer flew to Berkeley from Virginia where he is the President and Director of the National Policy Institute, described as a “white nationalist think tank,” in hopes of bringing Berkeley the case for white nationalism. Beyond what he said here, he has been quoted as saying “Martin Luther King Jr., a fraud and degenerate in his life, has become the symbol and cynosure of white dispossession and the deconstruction of Occidental civilization. We must overcome!” in a column from the National Policy Institute. The Southern Poverty Law Center describes him as an “academic racist.”