By GRANT RAYCROFT
I went home for spring break last week and explored my old haunts. I live in Alexandria, Virginia, and so a frequent stop is Misha’s our local coffeehouse. Misha’s specializes in its jazzy laidback atmosphere which I can attest is superb. Yet every time I visited, I was nervous. I’d fix my gaze out the large window facing South Patrick Street towards a second story apartment on the corner.
I made a stop by Misha’s after visiting my favorite comic book shop with some old friends. I picked up my favorites like Wonder Woman and Action Comics. I got my order and as I made the way back to my car, I passed someone I thought I knew. We’d never met in person, his face was obscured by a pair of sunglasses, and of course I didn’t want to assume. However, his haircut was very distinct and he possessed an uncanny resemblance. Perhaps I was paranoid, I am now in that part of town, but not without reason. Because if this man was who I thought he was, his home would have been right across the street. This man in question would have been Richard Bertrand Spencer, neo-Nazi and leader of the Alternative Right.
For those of you who don’t know Richard Spencer, first of all I am jealous, but second some context. Spencer is the founder of the Alternate Right, better known as the “Alt-Right.” The Alt-Right is a white supremacist movement as described both by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Like many white supremacist movements, the Alt-Right engages in code words and dog whistling to get across its views. The SPLC describes them as “a suit-and-tie version of the white supremacists of old.” Case in point, Spencer heads the National Policy Institute, a think tank “dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent.” Oddly the NPI says nothing about the heritage, identity, or future of marginalized European groups. There’s no advocacy for European Jews, Romani, or Muslims. Instead, Spencer pushes for a white ethno-state that would exclude any that do not fit his rigid definitions of white or European. In his own words, “you are not us, this country is for us.” Spencer tries to appear academic so others might think his racist ideology comes from a scientific angle, what he calls. However, his terms falter against any respectable academic approach to race and hold up about as well as wet cardboard in the monsoon season.
Spencer’s living in Alexandria came to me as a shock. None other than my cousin personally tracked down Spencer’s new office in our city. While renting the property, Spencer plans to use it as a recruitment base for his white supremacist cause. I don’t think I have the power to express the horror of my city housing this man. With his hateful rhetoric, Richard Spencer advocates for the deaths of my friends and family. Now he lives down the street from them.
Spencer is more than someone on the political fringe. When residences organized against Spencer’s white supremacist efforts in his previous home of Whitefish Montana, his followers targeted them with anti-semitic hate speech, and even threatened an armed Nazi march through the town.
Sadly, this isn’t new for Alexandria, certainly not for Virginia. As a lifelong resident of this state I am aware of its racist history. The South is far too often characterized as the bedrock of racism in America from the Prince Edward County Public School closings to the Lynchburg State Colony. These horrible deeds are not exclusive to the South, it’s indicative to all of America. Yet it’s also within the South where the boldest statements against oppression are made. I am an alum of T.C. Williams High School, known for its early efforts to integrate. I am proud as it boasts a minority student population of 79 percent with over 100 native languages. I am proud to attend a university which housed and honors a forgotten Civil Right hero like James L. Farmer Jr. And I am proud as the community of Alexandria regularly protests the presence of Richard Spencer in our home city.
I was fortunate to stand with them over this spring break to hear from the other members of our community, activists, preachers, and politicians alike. And one thing that I am grateful for is that I know Spencer will never be one of our community. His racist rhetoric goes against what makes Alexandria great and he will never be welcome. It’s for that same reason I am proud to see the resistance from the swastika note posted on campus last month. While both my homes are now targeted by white supremacists, they cannot and will not define them.