Conversation with a White Nationalist

Richard Spencer, White nationalist
Richard Spencer, White nationalist

Richard Spencer is among the tens of millions of Americans who are excited about Donald Trump’s coming presidency. The 38-year-old white nationalist heads a small organization, called the National Policy Institute, and believes people of different skin color are inherently different, hate each other and should live separately.

Al Letson
Al Letson

Reveal’s host Al Letson talked to Spencer the day after the election. You can hear the whole conversation above and read the transcript below. While the months of campaigning were often devoid of real exchanges of ideas, this is the opposite: a frank and deep conversation, revealing starkly different views of the same world.
For instance, Spencer tells Al his long-term dream is an “ethnostate” – a territory set aside for people of European descent.
“So that we would always have a safe space,” Spencer says. “We would always have a homeland for us. Very similar to … how Jews conceive of Israel.”
Living all mixed together, he suggests, has not worked out that well.
Spencer also says he believes that Trump opens the door for white identity politics to become an overt and welcome part of mainstream conversation in America for the first time.
Al, who is African American, asks how Spencer is different from members of the Ku Klux Klan or other racists who “hung people up from trees.”
His answer is worth hearing.
Spencer is well-educated and well-spoken, from a mainstream conservative family. Reveal profiles him in our upcoming episode and podcast, in partnership with Mother Jones magazine.

Al Letson: So Richard, it’s the day after Donald Trump won the election. I think so many people were surprised. Were you surprised by it?

Richard Spencer: I was surprised. And I, I didn’t believe it. And I’m not sure I believe it even right now. It’s all a little surreal. I mean I thought that he was, I thought he had a much better chance than people were giving him credit for. I thought it was a much better chance than say the 5 percent chance that the Huffington Post or The New York Times gave him. Or even like the 25 percent chance that Nate Silver was giving him. I thought, I thought he was going to bring in new voters. And I also thought that there were a lot of shy Trump voters out there. But even I couldn’t believe it when it happened. I was with a friend. We were actually at the Trump Hotel on election night and that was a lot of fun and we were just walking around town. We were both kind of like pinch us. I’m not sure it’s real. So it’s it’s been quite a day.

Al Letson: So now your candidate has won. What do you see the future of America being? Because, you know, I feel like Trump winning means that kind of all bets are off. Like everything that people may have thought was going to happen the day after and from here on after, can be shifted at this one moment in time. So I’m curious, like for you, what does the future look like? Or what do you hope the future looks like?

Richard Spencer: Yeah I think you’re absolutely right. I don’t think this was just an unusual election with an unusual candidate. I think this really was a paradigmatic shift. The new paradigm that Donald Trump brought into the world was identity politics and in particular white identity politics. And this, this question which he asked directly: “Are we a nation or are we not?”
And defining his political message not on conservatism. Because, I mean, Trump is not a conservative in the way that self-described ideological conservatives understand that term. He does not – his starting point is not freedom and liberty, his starting point is not tax cuts. His starting point is not an aggressive democracy promotion foreign policy in the Middle East. His starting point is nationalism. Are we a nation? Are we a people or are we not? And again, this is something that his critics said oh this won’t play, this is too toxic, it’s too awful.

Al Letson: To to you when he says that.

Richard Spencer: And this will never work. But it worked.

Al Letson: To you and he says are we a nation or not, does nation mean specifically white people? Because when I hear are we a nation or not. I hear him say all Americans. That’s that’s what I’m listening for. But but does that is that coded language and it says something different to you?

Richard Spencer: Well obviously there are people of other races who are United States citizens. They’re, they’re here. But what really defines the American nation. Is the American nation just defined as a kind of economic platform for the world? Is the American nation just purely defined by the constitution and some legalisms? No. The American nation is defined by the fact that it is derived from Europe. That European people settled this continent, that European people built the political structures, that European people influenced its architecture, its economy, its art, its way of life and society and so on. So America, I agree of course there are many different people here. But which people truly define what America is? Well obviously that could change.

Al Letson: Let me, let me let let me respond to that let me respond to it though. Because I would say that every culture that came to America helped shape America as it is now. It was all the people that were here that created what America is.

Richard Spencer: Well, that’s certainly true to a certain extent. But I would say that white Americans, European-Americans, in particular Anglo-Saxon Americans, Anglo-Saxon Protestants were this essential historic people. That they defined it in a way that no other people did. So, of course African-Americans have influenced American culture and American identity. Of course Asians have and so on. But it really was Anglo-Saxons who truly defined it. Who made America what it is. Who were indispensable. There are other people, you know, other races and all sorts of other different countries. But there has to be that founding people, that indispensable people that really makes the country what it is.

Al Letson: I disagree with you completely but I’m going to go past that because I want to get back more to your idea about what the future’s going to be. Because if you see America as a place that was predominately created by white people, and for white people, which – I’m not sure if I disagree with the for white people – but I would definitely say if you see that is what America has been, is that where you see it going?

Richard Spencer: To be honest. That’s that’s not where I have seen it going. Over the course of my lifetime. I’ve experienced something that is quite the opposite of this notion of an America of and for white people. I have experienced a great transformation of the American nation and American culture and society. I’ve certainly experienced through immigration a move towards multiculturalism and multiracialism. But there is, you could say, a moral component to it as well. Where we live in a world of a white guilt complex. Where if a non-white actor is hired for this new movie role or more non-white applicants apply to this college or there’s a new non-white CEO of this major corporation, that’s thought of as inherently a good thing morally speaking. We need more of that. We need less white people in positions of power. We need more non-white people in positions of power. So this has been my experience I’m 38 years old. I was born in 1978. This has been my experience of America. It has not been – the arrow has not been pointing towards a country of and for white people.

Al Letson: I guess the point that I would make there is that like, if you look at the numbers, a majority of the power in this country is controlled by white people.

Richard Spencer: Yes.

Al Letson: If you look at Hollywood just, if you just look at Hollywood right now, like majority of the films that are being made star white people. If you look in colleges and look at the admission rates like you see majority of that is white people. And I think that what you’re talking about is that, you know, the world or the country is trying to find a balance where everybody gets a seat at the table. Where it’s not just so white people get all of this stuff and everybody else gets left into the corner. You know, I hear this argument a lot where I hear people talk about things like there’s BET Black Entertainment Channel and people wonder like why isn’t there a White Entertainment Channel. But every time I cut on the TV and look at just any TV station, majority of what I see is white. So therefore like there already is a White Entertainment Channel. We don’t need a White Caucus in Congress because most of Congress is white.

Richard Spencer: I think there is a certain degree of truth to what you’re saying. If we were living in, say, 1965 but we’re not living in that world anymore. Yes, white people are generally better off than many other people. But again, the question really is, which way is the arrow pointing? All of these institutions are not acting on behalf of white people. They are acting on behalf of non-white people. And you can talk about this being fair, or what have you. But I will be brutally honest with you. Fairness has never been really a great value in my mind. I like greatness and winning and dominance and beauty. Those are values. Not really fairness.

Al Letson: So Donald Trump is your perfect candidate.

Richard Spencer: Yes. Look, again, I don’t think Donald Trump is me. I don’t think Donald Trump is alt-right. I don’t think Donald Trump is an identitarian as I would use that term. I think Donald Trump is a kind of first step towards this. He’s the first time that we’ve seen a genuinely if, you could say incomplete, politician who’s fighting for European identity politics in North America. This is the first time we’ve seen it.

Al Letson: How do you maintain it though? Because the numbers are going against you. Pretty soon white people are going to be the minority in America like in the next, what 40 years?

Richard Spencer: Yes. By 2042 white, if nothing else changes, white people will become a minority. Also the majority of births right now are actually to non-white people. So there is a dramatic transformation taking place. Now, what is going to happen in that? Are we going to all, in 2042 are we going to all decide oh well you know race doesn’t mean anything anymore. Identity is meaningless. We’re just all atoms here in the United States and we all go shopping in the same store. We just have different skin colors. No. I don’t think that’s what’s going to happen. I think whites are going to be, they’re going to have a amplification of their consciousness of being white. That this whole process we’re experiencing is not going to bring about racelessness. It’s going to bring about a new consciousness amongst white people that actually wasn’t there before.

Al Letson: So, what happens with that consciousness?

Richard Spencer: Well it’s not necessarily, look, it might not be about maintaining an all white society. I don’t think I can snap my fingers and we could go back to 1965 before the major immigration act under LBJ that really dramatically changed the country. I don’t think that. But I think the only way forward is through identity politics. And the only way forward for my people, for us to survive and thrive, is by having a sense of identity. And I don’t know what the future is going to hold, but we need that.

Al Letson: So earlier when you were talking to our producer and reporter you talked about that you wanted a white ethnostate. Is that the end goal, the white ethnostate? Because I guess like I don’t understand how you get to a white ethnostate if already you’re beginning to lose the numbers.

Richard Spencer: Right. The, the ideal of a white ethnostate, and it is an ideal, is something that I think we should think about in the sense of what could come after America. It’s kind of like a grand goal. It’s very similar to in the 19th century when the left had ideals of communism. It was you know, politics is the art of the possible. But philosophy is kind of the art of the impossible, so to speak. So that they were imagining a new society. And at some point they brought it into being. A similar thing could be said of Jews in the 19th century who were imagining Zionism. There’s a Jewish state in the Middle East. That that was impossible. That did not exist.

Al Letson: Richard, respectfully man, like so are you saying that like America has to end in order for your ethnostate to happen? Because if you are trying to have a white ethnostate, what you’re basically saying is that you have to forcibly remove people. Because I got to tell you like I’m African-American and I’m not leaving.

Richard Spencer: I don’t.. this shouldn’t be taken as a cop-out but the fact is I don’t know. Because I don’t know what history has in store for us. I don’t know how history is going to unfold. What I do know is that for my people to survive we have to have a sense of who we are. We have to have, we have to have identity. And we don’t always have it. We don’t have an ethnic ethnic racial consciousness. Now in terms of an ethnostate, I don’t know how that will be possible. I mean, for leftists in the 19th century, communism seemed just downright impossible. Over and over again. But history presents opportunities and it becomes possible. So, the ethnostate’s not going to happen next week. It’s most likely not going to happen through Donald Trump. What the ethnostate is, is an ideal. It’s a thing, it’s a way of thinking about we want a new type of society that would actually be a homeland for all white people. All European people. So that would include Slavs, that would include Germans, that would include Latins, it who would include people of all ethnicities that we would always have a safe space. We would always have a homeland for us. Very similar to, very similar to how Jews conceive of Israel.

Al Letson: Sure. Are you going to do that in Europe?

Richard Spencer: Again, I’m not trying to, this is not a cop-out. I don’t know. All I’m saying is that you have to dream before you can build it. And we have to have this idea in our mind. I don’t know where it will happen because I don’t know how history is going to unfold. All of this stuff might very well not happen in my lifetime. But the thing is, I know that in my lifetime I’m going to have opportunities to fight for the survival of my people and my civilization.

Al Letson: I’ve done some some reading on you. Just a little bit of research and watched a couple of videos. And you’re a handsome guy man, and you’re well put together. You’re really smart. And I’m I’m actually enjoying, like having this conversation with you. But, what’s the difference between you and the racists that like, you know, hung people up from trees? What’s the difference between you and the Klansmen that burned crosses on peoples lawns? What’s the difference between you and you know, the people who don’t look at me, an African-American man, as a full human being? Like what’s the difference. Because you know you have this great sheen about you. Like and I don’t necessarily agree with your views but this is America and I totally support you being able to have those views. But you know, I mean to me it just sounds like the same old thing that I’ve heard before in a different packaging.

Richard Spencer: Well, I don’t think it is the same old thing we’ve heard before. I think you just said that it’s not. That you’re actually intrigued by it. I don’t, you know, look I’m not going to comment about you know some hypothetical Klansman or or whomever.

Al Letson: There’s no such thing as a hypothetical Klansman because the people that I’m talking about exist. They have gone out, they have burned crosses on people’s lawns. They have lynched people. They’ve done horrible horrible things. They are the first American terrorists. So it’s not hypothetical. I’m not comparing you to this thing that I’m just dreaming up. I’m comparing you to history. And I’m not intrigued by your ideas. I’m saying to you that like your ideas sound just like them, except you wear a nice suit and you can speak to me directly. And I respect that about you. I respect that you and I can have this conversation, that you’re not wearing a hood, but it’s the same thing. And that’s so that’s what I’m asking. Like what is the difference?

Richard Spencer: I’m sure there is some commonality between these movements of the past and what I’m talking about. But you really have to judge me on my own terms. Like I am not those people and I don’t fully know, I don’t know in the specifics of what you’re referring to. Like I am who I am. And you, if you’re going to treat me with good faith, you have to listen to what I’m saying and listen to my ideas. I think someone who would go down the path of becoming a Klansman or something in 2016, I think that is, those people are very different than I am. It’s, it’s a it’s a non-starter. I think we need an idea. We need a movement that really resonates with where we are right now.

Al Letson: Richard. How are you different from them? Because you are talking about a white ethnostate. You’re saying that white people don’t have space in this country. I heard the interview with our producers. And one of the things that you said is that you were going to be able to talk to people of color about going along with your white ethnostate. And so – you’ve got a person of color right now. Talk to me about your white ethnostate.

Richard Spencer: Let’s not talk about the ethnostate. Let’s talk about identity. Who are you? If I say that, don’t think about it just answer. Who are you?

Al Letson: Sure. Sure. I’m an African-American male that has four kids. One of those kids is a white kid. I adopted him. He has no black blood in his body at all. He is the apple of my eye. He’s my 16-year-old boy and I love him to death. I have a child that’s biracial and I have two black kids. So. So yeah. I’m a black man who has love in his heart for everybody on this planet, including you. So that’s who I am. Who are you?

Richard Spencer: I’m Richard Spencer. I’m a European person. I, I’m part of this great story of Europe and our history. I was born in Massachusetts, I grew up in Texas. I like mountain biking. You know, what I’m getting at is that, when I ask you that, even, even despite the fact that you have, you know, I guess a white wife perhaps or a white child. You still answered that I’m an African-American male. And that has meaning for you. And I respect that. If you ask your average white person in America, “Who are you?” they are going to probably never get around to talking about their European identity or their heritage. They’re afraid of it. They know it. Everyone’s kind of racially unconscious. They know it in their bones but they’re not conscious. They don’t want to really talk about it and explore it and think about how that inflects their life. So that’s what I want to bring. I respect your identity. I respect the fact that you think about it seriously, that you take it seriously. I want white people to take it seriously. In terms of what I was talking about of like we’re going to do this together. I think that I want to see an identitarian future. I want to see people, different peoples, different civilizations having a sense of themselves and finding out ways to live together.

Al Letson: But a white ethnostate is not people living together. What you’re saying to me now is different from what you said before because what you said before would basically mean that I would live in one state and my son, my white son, would have to live in another state. You know, for me when we talk about like my blackness and me saying that I’m an African-American man. It’s true. I am proud of my blackness but I’m not advocating for ethnostate. So I want to respect you as a white man. I see that. I understand that history. I want you to respect me as a black man and see that and understand that history and then figure how we move forward together. That’s the difference between me and you is that I want to move forward together. And you feel like those fissures that are between us are too big to pass over.

Richard Spencer: I do respect your identity and I respect you as a black man. But the question I would have to ask is: Do you really think that we’re all better together? Do you think that modern America, contemporary America there’s greater levels of trust and togetherness than we had decades ago, or that other, you know, more ethnically homogenous nations have? I don’t think so. And I have to be honest. I think we actually kind of hate each other. And that is a very tragic thing. And that’s a very sad thing. And we don’t trust each other. And we can talk about how one day we’re going to all be holding hands, or we can actually be realistic about this and we can actually look at the power of human nature and the power of race.

Al Letson: If that is your worldview then I’m sorry. Because, like I said, like I I have white family members that I love. So no, I don’t think that we hate each other. I think that there is not a nation in this world that doesn’t have problems. But I would say that like when you just said like if we could go back x amount of years, would we be better? No, because I wouldn’t be talking to you right now. We wouldn’t, I wouldn’t be in the position that I’m in right now. And I’m, I’m sorry but like the mixing pot is already created. You’re talking about going into a stew that’s already been made. Spilling it out and picking out each individual ingredient and thinking that you’re going to have a whole thing that works again. And you won’t.

Richard Spencer: I think you’re using your own personal experience, and I think you’re being genuine in talking about it, but you’re projecting that onto everyone else’s experience. Look what just happened. I mean is this an example of how class trumps race? Is this an example of us getting together? No it wasn’t. Look, I can get along with non-white people. I do. There are certainly exceptions that prove the rule but the rule is the most important thing. And that is that when you have two really dramatically different cultures, two dramatically different races all being forced together it’s a recipe for turmoil. And distrust and hatred. And I don’t know of an historical example that contradicts that.

Al Letson: Listen, you and I could go back and forth nonstop. And if you ever want to have a conversation, like just to hear the other side or anything you feel free to call me up because I will talk to you all day. Because I think honestly, the only way forward is through. And the way through is that like people like you and I like actually have conversations. As much as I think that you’re dead wrong and as much as you think that I’m dead wrong we’re actually, the fact that we’re having the conversation is probably the best benefit that could come out of both sides of it. So, Richard, I appreciate your time. Thanks for talking to us. And yeah like I said man, seriously if you want to have another conversation, I don’t know how many black people you get to talk to in your life. But if you’d like to have a conversation at any time feel free to give me a call. And if you’d like to talk to my son I would love to put you on the phone with him to hear his experience of America.

Richard Spencer: Interesting. Let’s do it.

Al Letson: We’ll let you know if that conversation happens. Richard Spencer is a white nationalist. He heads the small think tank the National Policy Institute. Want to know how Spencer came to hold these views, after growing up in mainstream Republican Texas? Catch his backstory on our next regular podcast.  You’ll get that along with other post-election stories to provide reflection well beyond the vote count.

Thanks for listening…

Al Letson
Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.