Richard Spencer: Prepare for More White Nationalist Flash Mobs

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White supremacist Richard Spencer talks with reporters during the first day of the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, on February 23. The most recent demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia, represents a new tactic for white nationalists. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The protest caught residents of Charlottesville, Virginia, by surprise, even if the symbols used were instantaneously familiar to them. With no warning, roughly 40 white men clad in dress shirts and khakis lofted tiki torches into the night sky on Saturday night in front of the city's covered statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee—the third such protest against the monument's planned removal staged by white nationalists this year.

"We did not publicly announce this [third] Charlottesville event," Richard Spencer, the chairman of the "alt-right" think tank National Policy Institute tells Newsweek, speaking of how the gathering caught residents of the city by surprise. "The people who got invitations had been vetted. This was a small, tightly controlled event, and it was, in a way, an attempt to build a new model" for protesting.

"We could come back with three or 10 times the number of people in the future," Spencer adds.

Spencer tells Newsweek that people can expect to see "lots" of pop-up rallies like this in the months ahead and categorizes them as something that can be "replicated by others" who are sympathetic to his distant dream of creating a white ethno-state.

Meanwhile, counterprotesters in Charlottesville are becoming increasingly worried about the city's ability to protect them from what they perceive to be active intimidation by white supremacists. They say they are already working hard to adapt to the new approach showcased by Spencer on Saturday night. His latest rally comes two months after Heather Heyer was killed in August when a man drove a car into counterprotesters at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville.

"Individuals are becoming increasingly ready to mobilize," Mimi Arbeit, an organizer with Showing Up for Racial Justice Charlottesville, tells Newsweek. "People who have never been part of organized leftist movements in their lives before want to contribute to what's going on."

Spencer was joined on Saturday by familiar faces like Mike Enoch, a prominent white nationalist speaker, and Eli Mosley, the Leader of Identity Evropa, a white nationalist organization that is working to recruit new members on college campuses like the University of Virginia, which is based in the city. The men chanted "You will not replace us," a refrain that has been used at previous rallies (along with different, anti-Semitic variations of the same words), and sang an off-key rendition of "Dixie," the ubiquitous 19th-century anthem that emerged from the tradition of blackface minstrelsy.

The white nationalists also chanted "We will be back!" during the rally, but Spencer denies having specific plans for another demonstration in Charlottesville, at least not at the moment.

Spencer first emerged in the public's consciousness through a video made shortly after the election of Donald Trump and first published by The Atlantic. In it, he was seen speaking to an audience of supporters in Washington, D.C., saying, "Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!" as some members of the crowd responded by giving a Nazi salute. Asked whether the creation of a white ethno-state in America would lead to an extreme display of violence against people of color or an ethnic cleansing of nonwhites, Spencer says no and denies any personal affinity for Nazism.

"I was being provocative," Spencer tells Newsweek of the "Hail Trump" footage.

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Marcus Martin hugs his fiancée, Marissa Blair, during a memorial for Heather Heyer at the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 16. Heyer was killed when a car rammed into a crowd of people protesting a white nationalist rally. Photo by Andrew Shurtleff-Pool/Getty Images

But Charlottesville activist Emily Gorcenski argues that Spencer's motives for staging the recent white nationalist events are to frighten people.

"We're terrorized. We're living in a constant state of fear," Gorcenski tells Newsweek, speaking of Spencer's third tiki torch protest in the city. "I don't think it's about the statues at all. [Spencer] wants to create a race war in America and widen a pre-existing power differential" between whites and people of color, she says.

Speaking to Newsweek, Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer, a Democrat and vocal critic of white supremacists, calls Spencer a "clown" and a "troll." He acknowledges that Spencer presents unique challenges to a city that is still recovering from the chaos that ensued there in August.

"The nature of the troll is to pull you down off of the high path into a dark corner," Signer says of Spencer's protest movement. "He's a clown, and he's putting on a show, but our city is not going to be distracted from the work we have to do and the jobs we take very seriously."

Signer tweeted on Saturday night that the city was looking into "legal options" to prevent future protests, and Spencer responded with mockery, calling the mayor a "doofus." The mayor elaborated to Newsweek that he was quite serious in his statement and spoke energetically about his desire to put an end to the culture war that has engulfed his city.

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A protester in Minneapolis carries an image of Heather Heyer during a demonstration against the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 14. Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

"In my view, the use of torches, alongside this environment of sowing division and bigotry, is inherently intimidating and violent," Signer says of the symbols used in Spencer's events. "Especially in the context of torches being used as a prelude to terrorism on August 12" with the death of Heyer, Signer adds.

The mayor says he could not elaborate on what kind of legal actions could prevent Spencer from staging similar protests, but he suggested that the issue is being examined thoroughly by the city.

Spencer says he knows Signer wants to silence him. "I have zero confidence in Charlottesville or Mike Signer to protect our rights [of free speech]," he says.

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White nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the Ku Klux Klan and the “alt-right” faced off with police outside of Emancipation Park during the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Spencer doesn't deny accusations that his repeated trips to the city, and the imagery of the torches, are not simply an attempt to keep Confederate statues standing. He says the monuments "are a symbol or a metaphor for a much larger issue" for white nationalists who view their removal as part of a broader "anti-white agenda."

"Who knows if we could have a white ethnostate in the future? Perhaps," Spencer says of ambitions beyond protecting monuments to the Confederacy. He claims that for now his aims are simply to increase the level of what he describes as "white consciousness."

Richard Spencer: Prepare for More White Nationalist Flash Mobs | U.S.
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