When alt-right leader Richard Spencer was thrown out of the Conservative Political Action Convention last Thursday, I tracked him down on his favorite place, the internet, to get his reaction.
I was attracted to Spencer not because of the media storm over the alt-right’s blatant racism or their affinity to identity politics, which propose that political community is rooted in race or social background rather than common human interests. Instead, I had a hunch his movement—and most of the fringe movements coming into the limelight because of Donald Trump’s surprise presidential victory—is nothing more than egoism on a national level.
Here’s what Spencer said when I asked him if he thought CPAC officials were justified for removing him from the convention:
“A major event like CPAC should be open to sharing ideas and debating one’s opponents in a civilized way. Indeed, I purchased a ticket and acted in a polite and courteous manner, and many journalists and attendees alike were interested in my ideas. Those who initiated my expulsion had the perfect opportunity to challenge those ideas but chose to ban them instead.”
Taken on its face, Spencer’s statement seems like a classic appeal to free speech. Events like CPAC should be places of discourse. Individuals should be free to spread their ideas to interested parties. CPAC was discourteous in removing Spencer—so much so that to some he seemed like a hero, despite his reputation as a white supremacist. This is all very odd coming from someone who has said he doesn’t believe in abstract discussions of rights or the individual.
Given that Spencer professes belief in the alt-right’s identity-based belief structure, it makes more sense to read his statement within his own ideology’s context. Even then, however, his protests against CPAC become nonsensical. If the essence of politics is to protect one’s heritage—whether it be racial, religious, or regional—then Spencer should have no complaint. CPAC acted rightly, maybe even admirably.
As an outsider to conservatism and a controversial racist, Spencer poses a threat to the ideas that CPAC speakers espouse each year. He also dresses well, articulates his thoughts clearly, and sets an example for young white men frustrated with the country they have inherited. By ejecting him, it could be argued that CPAC was only trying to suppress malignant influences to its own identity and preserve its conservative heritage.
Spencer’s CPAC debacle is old news by now, but it speaks to a greater problem with the alt-right and its rise in the public square. When viewed through the lens of its own ideology, Spencer and all other alt-right spokesmen are no longer just young men who want to debate white supremacy with a troubled populace. They’re egotists, advertising the latest radical chic cause because it feeds their self-obsession and attracts media attention.
All the hype on the internet about an alt-right revolution where Pepe the frog and cries of “Praise Kek!” reign supreme is just another manifestation of the movement’s vanity. On Twitter, in the news, at CPAC—Spencer epitomizes the attitude of a political faction that loves to belittle others and hear its own voice when it gets press.
When understood as just another identity-based political ploy, the whole alt-right movement becomes as cheap as Twitter-clown Martin Shkreli. The “pharma-bro” justified his 4,000 percent price raise on an AIDS treatment drug as a radical call for price reform in the pharmaceutical industry. But just as Shkreli received media attention for trolling the industry with a price hike, he used the money to buy a coveted two million dollars Wu Tang Clan rap album. An online battle ensued as Shkreli and the Staten Island rappers duked it out over whether his purchase was morally justified. In doing so, Shkreli gave up any war he may have been fighting against the pharmaceutical industry and revealed his true nature—an egotist only interested in the public’s constant gaze.
Spencer operates in the same way. Loaded with memes and sorry-not-sorry irony, he represents part of the future of American politics. He’s amassed a cult following of young people sick of the politically correct environment of the post-Cold War United States. He wears three piece suits and listens to Depeche Mode. He’s well-educated and runs a think tank near Washington, D.C. To the young, Richard Spencer makes himself out to be more than a man of ideas: He’s a cool guy who can stick it to the man. Which—let’s be real—is egoism.
In a political climate that gives credence to self-indulgent sadism of the alt-right, the most obnoxious and most ironic voices overpower anyone who wants to have a real political discourse. Discussions about the things inherent to all peoples regardless of their racial or cultural background—dignity of life and the freedom of the will—become impossible. We risk a society where stronger voices easily subdue the weak.
Don’t be fooled by the alt-right’s rhetoric about heritage and preserving American identity. They’re only concerned with one thing: trashing the rest of us to glorify their own egos.