White nationalist Richard Spencer fuels protest as he mocks critics in Texas

Activists host anti-discrimination concert as supporters of the far-right figurehead make views known: Hitler definitely made Germany great again

On one side of the road, a concert to promote diversity, tolerance and inclusion; on the other, a speech by a prominent white nationalist. And between them, in the street, were verbal clashes between protesters, counter-protesters and police.

While Donald Trump was 1,200 miles away at a North Carolina stop on his thank-you tour, the cultural and political fault lines deepened by his electoral victory were reflected in the febrile mood on the Texas A&M University campus on Tuesday night, during an appearance by Richard Spencer.

Spencer made headlines last month at the annual conference of his far-right National Policy Institute thinktank in Washington when he declared: Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory! and some in the audience gave Nazi-style salutes.

The 38-year-old, who has been discussing his extremist views for years in relative obscurity, quickly became a totem for liberal fears and far-right hopes that Trumps victory in the presidential election would promote a pro-white, anti-multicultural agenda into the mainstream.

On Tuesday, Spencer described the Republican president-elect as a kind of alt-right hero, even if not a supporter, because Donald Trump was the first step towards identity politics in the United States The alt-right is fundamentally about identity, the Trump campaign was fundamentally about identity, were connected to him.

During his campaign, Trump was pointedly slow to disavow any links to the far-right movement. His appointment of Stephen Bannon, the former executive chairman of Breitbart News, as his campaign CEO was seen as a further embrace of the far-right movement in the US. During the campaign, Bannon had touted the website as the platform for the alt-right.

Only belatedly did the president-elect publicly disavow the movement, telling the New York Times two weeks after his victory that he did not want to energize the group.

White nationalist leader Richard Spencer of the National Policy Institute waves goodbye after his speech. Photograph: Spencer Selvidge/Reuters
At A&M, when asked if he repudiated the Nazi salutes seen at his last public event, Spencer said they had been done in exuberance and fun. He was booked to appear in a conference room at the student centre by Preston Wiginton, a former A&M student who, like Spencer,
has been banned from entering the UK for his extremist views.

Officials at a college with a reputation for being predominantly white and conservative expressed vehement opposition to Spencers presence. The university said it was unable to ban him because it is a public entity and individuals have the right to book event spaces. As a riposte, the university leadership organised an Aggies United anti-discrimination show featuring speeches and music in the Kyle Field football stadium that faces the student centre.

Hundreds gathered to demonstrate in the space between the two buildings.

He says that white people need their space in America, so that white people can live and do their thing. That was called Lebensraum in 1930s Nazi Germany, said Adam Davies, 25, a Jewish former A&M student. Thats no different from what they were advocating then they tried to make minorities leave by making it intolerable for them.

Wendi Bellar, a 36-year-old PhD candidate, said this was an important moment to protest, to counteract what she called Spencers preaching of hate.

I think weve already seen a move after Trump was elected of people feeling more comfortable saying these views out loud. Theyre getting louder and I think we need to get loud as well and say that its not something that we are going to bow down to, we are going to fight it.

But just 100 metres away, dozens lined up for a chance to see the far-rights rising star.

I think that definitely the alt-right will continue to grow and that it will continue to spread, said Hazzard McCree, a 27-year-old from Houston. I think that Trump is not explicitly a white nationalist; I dont think he promotes that sort of thing. However, I do think he promotes the sort of hard work and self-actualization I think that hell promote an environment in which white people will thrive.

Undocumented Texas A&M students and their supporters protest silently as Spencer speaks. Photograph: Spencer Selvidge/Reuters

Standing next to him and also wearing a Trump-issue red Make America Great Again baseball cap, a 30-year-old who gave his name as Ricotta said Spencer is probably a little bit less extreme than wed prefer, but hes a good spokesperson.

Asked what kind of extreme outcome he would like to see, Ricotta said: 1933, the year Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany. Like him or not, Hitler definitely made Germany great again, at least for those 12 years, he later added.

Oozing the self-assurance of a man who believes the moment is his to seize, Spencer articulated his views during a fractious two hours in front of a crowd of about 300. At least half of them were present seemingly out of curiosity or hostility. Spencer was hissed and heckled throughout, evidently relishing the dissent as an opportunity to mock and taunt his critics.

Spencers slow oratorial style is designed to make his arguments appear reasonable and logical. But there were serrated edges in Tuesdays slick presentation. America, at the end of the day, belongs to white men, he said. This country does belong to white people, culturally, socially, politically, everything we defined what America is.

In a question-and-answer portion, Spencer derided a man wearing a beat the hell outta hate T-shirt as fat and a loser. He repeatedly gave evasive answers to a black woman who asked him to state clearly whether he believes white people are superior to other races, prompting a minor confrontation when she did not give up the microphone and someone tried to wrestle it from her. Thats why we want our own country! one man yelled.

A woman in a clown costume walked silently up and down the aisles with a series of punning placards deriding Spencer. Hes the real Bozo, one said. A second clown joined her. Outside, university police said, two people, neither one a student, were arrested during protests which were tense for a while as officers in riot gear forced the crowd away from the student centre.

Spencer, meanwhile, wrapped up with a defence of free speech, walked past a couple of police officers and through a rear exit door. He is planning a college tour in 2017.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/dec/07/white-nationalist-richard-spencer-texas-am

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