A year after launching a barnstorming tour of the nation’s colleges, delivering at each stop controversial speeches designed as much to trigger protests from an increasingly energetic antifascist movement as they were to introduce racist ideas to America’s youth, Richard Spencer is hanging it up.
Spencer, the head of the National Policy Institute, announced over the weekend that he was ending his college speaking tour, saying he plans to make a “course correction” after his speech last week at Michigan State University drew a less-than-sizeable audience and ended with violent clashes and the arrest of one of Spencer’s closest confidants, a former school teacher.
“In our lives, we always need to be course correcting. We always need to take a step back and think, and ask ourselves honestly, is this the right direction?” Spencer said in a 25-minute video uploaded on Sunday to YouTube. “We need to do that with regard to my public appearances going forward or really any public appearance involving a controversial, alt-right identitarian figure.”
Spencer’s announcement ends an expansive effort that criss-crossed the country and involved repeated court battles –– some of which remain unresolved for speeches planned at the University of Cincinnati and Penn State –– as the white nationalist “alt-right” sought to spread racist ideologies among America’s youth. The effort led to repeated controversy as colleges and universities fought to restrict access and prevent violent clashes between the alt-right and the antifascist protests that followed Spencer wherever he spoke.
Protest groups responded to Spencer’s announcement immediately, with the “Stop Spencer at Michigan State University” group on Facebook claiming credit for ending the college tour.
“This is a huge win!!!!! We are powerful and can out-organize the fascists!!!!! We showed what our community stands for. Let’s keep building for the world we want, against white supremacy and all forms of domination,” the group wrote on Facebook.
In his video, Spencer attributes his decision to end the tour to the rise of antifascist protests surrounding his speaking engagements, which he attributes to smaller audiences in recent months, as well as the political climate following the Unite the Right rally last August in Charlottesville, Virginia, that ended with the death of a protester who was run over by an alt-right extremist protesting that day.
“What changed was Charlottesville. There were many things about Charlottesville that were very trying. There were some things that were just simply terrible,” Spencer said. “And even those trying things can be good: standing in the face of oppression, police oppression the oppression of free speech and free assembly.”
But that may be more of a rosy retelling of events than anything else.
In the days before Spencer’s scheduled speech at Michigan State University, Kyle Bristow, the alt-right attorney who worked to negotiate many of Spencer’s speeches, announced his resignation from the white nationalist Foundation for the Marketplace of Ideas (FMI) and his departure from radical right politics. No amount of spin can hide that, though Spencer sought to distance himself from Bristow’s departure and focus on the violence across the radical right.
“The idea of the college tour was not to inspire pitched battles between our side and the antifa,” Spencer said. “The idea of a college tour is going into the belly of the beast. It’s going into totally academic marxist controlled territory and giving a speech that introduces the basic ideas of identitarianism and the alt-right, to interface with students, and to present ourselves, to a degree, as a kind of curiosity.”
A kind of curiosity? In 2016, when Spencer announced he was turning his attention to college campuses, the intent was never to draw a curious audience. In fact, Spencer quite explicitly announced his intention to trigger a response from students and so-called social justice warriors upset by the promotion of racist ideas.
“Richard Spencer — the originator of the term ‘Alt Right’ and one of the most politically incorrect men alive — is coming to your college! He’ll debate your favorite feminist professor … make the SJWs (social justice warriors) cry … and rustle the jimmies of the campus, if not the world,” the announcement posted to Spencer’s Radix journal read in 2016.
Spencer’s tour ignited a passionate response –– one that has left the alt-right in the midst of a crisis of purpose and no clear path forward.
“We are facing a great deal of repression right,” Spencer said. “And the fact is yes, we can stand tall in the face of this. We should. But we should also start questioning our own methods and the direction we’re heading in.”
He added, “The fact is, until this situation changes, we are up a creek without a paddle.”