Over the weekend, a group of Nazis and white supremacists who have converged in recent years in an amorphous configuration euphemistically referred to as the “alt-right” met for a confab in the nation’s capital to scheme about what they’re going to do after helping elect an orange-colored Twitter egg to the Oval Office.
Their ringleader is Richard Spencer, a craven man best known for apparently coining the term “alt-right” back in 2008. He’s also a man who has starred in some truly shameful media coverage of this weekend’s gathering.
The liberal magazine Mother Jones seized on that news peg to re-up its profile on Spencer with a horny tweet hailing him as “dapper,” which the mag later deleted without comment.
Set aside the fact that Spencer looks far closer to a rumpled B-spy movie villain than anything resembling “dapper,” the way the piece itself handles Spencer, one of Washington’s new power brokers who has advocated for government-forced sterilization of ethnic minorities, is worth dissecting.
Mother Jones describes Spencer (emphasis mine) as:
An articulate and well-dressed former football player with prom-king good looks and a “fashy” (as in fascism) haircut—long on top, buzzed on the sides—Spencer has managed to seize on an extraordinary presidential election to give overt racism a new veneer of radical chic. In some ways he resembles an older generation of “academic racists”—or “racialists,” as he prefers to put it—who’ve long sought to professionalize a movement associated with Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.
He may be a fascist, but he sure is hot!
Mother Jones wasn’t alone. A heavily-criticized piece from the Los Angeles Times glamorized the white supremacist with a lead image of Spencer posed like a rebel-with-a-cause bad boy wearing black Ray-Bans.
Unlike its West Coast counterpart, the New York Times article about the gathering actually quoted the downright horrifying details of Spencer’s address to a crowd of supporters:
But [Spencer’s] tone changed as he began to tell the audience of more than 200 people, mostly young men, what they had been waiting to hear. He railed against Jews and, with a smile, quoted Nazi propaganda in the original German. America, he said, belonged to white people, whom he called the “children of the sun,” a race of conquerors and creators who had been marginalized but now, in the era of President-elect Donald J. Trump, were “awakening to their own identity.”
As he finished, several audience members had their arms outstretched in a Nazi salute. When Mr. Spencer, or perhaps another person standing near him at the front of the room — it was not clear who — shouted, “Heil the people! Heil victory,” the room shouted it back.
But even the Times shied away from confronting the direct implications of Spencer’s rhetoric. It stuck with the “alt-right” euphemism as a description for the openly neo-Nazi rant it had recorded and wondered:
Is [“alt-right”] a name for right-wing political provocateurs in the internet era? Or is it a political movement defined by xenophobia and a dislike for political correctness?
The extreme hesitance from some media organizations to call the alt-right what it is–a ragtag collection of mama’s boy white supremacists and meme-loving Nazis–is bad enough. Still, at least the Times didn’t comment on whether or not Spencer was looking dashing while the Nazi salutes were taking place. Framing this movement’s blatantly fascist figurehead as someone fuckable, rather than deeply abhorrent, is an especially troubling development.
As we all try to heed calls not to normalize the casual racism of Trump’s pending administration, let’s never lose sight of the fact that a Nazi wearing a suit, tie, and a slicked-back haircut is still a Nazi, no matter how many dumb stories suggest otherwise.