Richard Spencer isn’t having fun anymore. In a lengthy YouTube video posted on Sunday, the white nationalist announced that he would be suspending upcoming public speaking engagements and halting his controversial “college tour.” He said of his rallies, “When they become violent clashes and pitched battles, they aren’t fun.”
“I really hate to say this, and I definitely hesitate to say this,” said the poster boy of the so-called alt-right. “Antifa is winning to the extent that they’re willing to go further than anyone else, in the sense that they will do things in terms of just violence, intimidating, and general nastiness.” He stated that the willingness of far-left activists to use any means necessary in attempts to shut down his speeches has left the far right “up the creek without a paddle.”
Spencer’s announcement came a week after he gave a scarcely attended speech at Michigan State University. The appearance drew antifa protesters that clashed with Spencer’s far-right supporters, landing 20 people under arrest — nearly all from the antifa contingent.
Spencer’s statement, celebrated by antifa groups and supporters across social media, offers a sharp rebuttal to the glut of claims that antifa practices serve as a gift to the far right. Antifa, which is short for anti-fascist, is not a group or an organization, but a set of political practices aimed at expunging neo-Nazi, white nationalist, and adjacent groups from public spaces on and offline. While these practices, which include but are not limited to physical confrontations, have been deployed against fascists since the early 20th century, President Donald Trump’s election and the resurgence of overt white supremacy brought antifa opposition to the fore. Where white nationalists gather — from Berkeley to Boston to Charlottesville — antifa has been there with the intent to disrupt those gatherings.
A cottage industry of panicked media commentary has dedicated itself to decrying the threats that antifa and its “no-platforming” stance pose to free speech. Suffice to say, this all-too-prevalent media position is deeply flawed. The aspect of those criticisms that is relevant for our purposes here is the claim that antifa action is not effective. Critics even claim that antifa’s approach is counterproductive, giving oxygen to the attention-grabbing white supremacist fire it would extinguish. Noam Chomsky was far from alone in calling antifa “a major gift” to the far right. Instead, critics argue that the best way to defeat the far right was to debate them, to shed light on the paucity of their arguments, to reason white supremacy away.
Spencer’s latest message suggests the very opposite. “The idea of a college tour was going into the belly of the beast — going into academic, Marxist-controlled territory — and giving a speech that introduces that basic ideas of identitarianism and the ‘alt-right,’” he said in his video, emphasizing the use of “public-facing” events to spread and normalize the “alt-right” message. Anyone who has watched Spencer and his ilk in public debates with liberals on the question of race should see how the belief that his violent white supremacy can be reasoned away is flawed. He sticks to his guns about the necessity of a white “ethno-state,” and his liberal interlocutors call him a monstrous racist. The result is that anti-racists agree with the liberals and racists agree with Spencer. The effect, as both sides hold to their arguments, is mere entrenchment of an intolerable status quo — or, worse yet, closet racists decide Spencer’s arguments license them to come out publicly, too.