On Tuesday, Richard Spencer—who is the actual throw-up in the back of your mouth—visited Auburn University in Alabama to spew his white nationalist rhetoric. Following the donnybrook that happened in Berkeley, Calif., last week, every media outlet prepared for another showdown between his supposed legion of neofascists and students opposed to his nonsense. I even went to bear witness to the expected tumult.
After his appearance, headlines everywhere documented the thousands of protesters, the brief skirmishes and the First Amendment legal battle that paved the way for his speech. There is one thing they all failed to mention about the brouhaha that ensued:
No one really cared.
That’s right. The whole “celebrity founder of a nationwide ‘alt-right’ movement” narrative is a scam. Richard Spencer is simply an overhyped, racist, Kardashian-like curiosity. He is a media-driven drama queen starring in a reality show that no one cares to watch. He has very few fans and almost no devotees. Richard Spencer is a hoax.
When news outlets report the story of Spencer traipsing around the country on his college tour, they leave out the part where he is almost never invited to these colleges. There was no neo-Nazi student group at Auburn that scrounged up the money to hear his convoluted theories. When he appeared at Texas A&M in December, it was because some random dude who wasn’t even a student rented a conference room on campus.
Spencer is exploiting a loophole at many public universities that allows anyone to reserve space at taxpayer-funded institutions. According to Auburn’s student newspaper The Plainsman, Spencer forked over $700 to rent James E. Foy Hall, plus additional security fees. There was no more demand for Spencer at Auburn than there was for the Black Student Union fashion shows held in the same room when I was a student at Auburn.
Even some of the protesters admitted that they had gathered because of media reports or had just stumbled across the protesters on their way to class or to the library. While there were a few dedicated anti-fascist protesters and students holding signs opposed to Spencer’s visit, there wasn’t a palpable sense of outrage. Mixed in with signs of “Fascism Is Wack” and “Will trade racists for refugees” were students just there for the memes, or some who wanted to remind people that J. Cole went platinum with no features.
Many of the people who lined up to attend Spencer’s speech were there either to disrupt him or out of curiosity. “We just want to hear what he has to say,” said one of the black students in line to fill the 400-seat room. One of Auburn’s football players, a senior who milled outside among the few hundred protesters, added, “To be honest, I just heard of the guy today.”
And the hordes of white supremacists who showed up for the showdown? Nonexistent. One brave guy holding a homemade sign who looked like a mix between Hulk Hogan and Jed Clampett tried vigilantly to argue that the Holocaust never existed, but his argument was quickly taken apart by students with inarguable facts and one woman who poured her can of soda over his head (ironically, a Pepsi). A few yokels wearing Trump hats waited outside but were not allowed in.
And this is Spencer’s little secret: He has no following. He gets online donors to sponsor his appearances (this one sponsored by a white supremacist website), and he pulls the strings of the national press like a puppet master, letting it hype up his traveling circus. In reality, he’s the white nationalist version of a club promoter—with beautiful women and bottles of champagne on the flyer calling it the “Scorpio bash of the year,” but when you get to the party, it’s usually just a few lame guys drinking Bud Light and women taking Snapchat selfies in the bathroom while Drake whines over the speakers.
Ain’t nobody checking for Richard Spencer. He’s a product of self-promotion and fake news. He’s a charlatan trying to create his own The Real Housewives of White Supremacy. Cardi B has almost 10 times the measly little 56,000 Twitter followers that Spencer has. Who do you think would get more people to hear them speak at a local university?
Which is why, by the time his speech was over, the room was almost empty. No one even wanted to hear what he had to say. The few people who stayed were actually chased off campus by protesters, while Spencer sneaked out a back door and left. The two arrests that happened weren’t even news compared with what happens on a football Saturday afternoon in “The Loveliest Village on the Plains.”
In the end, there is as much reason to fear Richard Spencer as there is to fear Honey Boo Boo. He has convinced mainstream media to hop on his merry-go-round of circular logic where large crowds show up because the news keeps reporting that large crowds will show up. We should be concerned about the rise of the white nationalist movement, but being mad at Spencer is like losing a baseball game in Philadelphia and getting mad at the Philly Phanatic—he’s just a mascot. The systemic, ingrained 400-year-old version of American white supremacy has no face and is much more dangerous than a douchebag we all know had his high school girlfriend stolen from him by a black guy.
As I was leaving Auburn, I heard a young gentleman of no color try to explain to a black woman why Spencer had a right to speak at the university. He spoke about the First Amendment, freedom of speech and the Constitution. The black student interrupted him: “Would you let him speak in your living room?”
“No,” he replied.
“How about in your front yard?”
“Of course not,” he answered.
“Well then, don’t tell me about how I should act, then,” she retorted. “I live here.”