If Richard Spencer Were Missing Teeth And Wearing Overalls, He Never Would Have Been On TV
Last night, an audio recording of neo-Nazi Richard Spencer, purported to be his reaction to Heather Heyer's murder, went viral on Twitter. It came from Milo Yiannopoulos's YouTube page. Yiannopoulos is reportedly very upset about the fact that Spencer is allowed to continue having a Twitter presence while he has been banned from the service.
It's extremely disturbing and I won't blame you if you do not want to hear it.
In the recording, Spencer is heard hysterically shrieking all of this bullshit at the top of his lungs:
"We are coming back here like a fucking hundred times. I am so mad. I am so fucking mad at these people. They don't do this to fucking me. We are going to fucking ritualistically humiliate them! I am coming back here every fucking weekend if I have to. Like this is never over. I win! They fucking lose! That's how the world fucking works! Little fucking k*kes. They get ruled by people like me. Little fucking oct*r**ns. I fucking... my ancestors fucking enslaved those little pieces of fucking shit. I RULE THE FUCKING WORLD! Those pieces of shit get ruled by people like me. They look up and see a face like mine looking down at them. That's how this fucking world works. We are going to destroy this fucking town."
The significance of this outburst is not just that it is nauseating and racist. Richard Spencer is always nauseating and racist. It's that he loses his shit and sounds like a pathetic crybaby. This is very far from the image of the "dapper Nazi" who doesn't hate anyone, but just loves white people, that Spencer has been trying to cultivate lo these past several years. But this shit comes out. It always, always comes out.
But we need to talk about how and why he was able to cultivate that image in the first place, and what it says about our culture.
Richard Spencer was able to become the "Dapper Nazi," got to be on TV sharing his views, got to have people commenting on his outfits instead of the disgusting things he believed, for the same reason Ted Bundy was a highly successful serial killer. When women saw Ted Bundy, they saw a nice-looking, well-put-together, seemingly affluent man, sometimes with his arm in a cast, and they clocked him as "safe." If he had been dressed like a slob, if he had been unattractive, they might not have been so willing to help him with his groceries.
If Richard Spencer hadn't been so "dapper" and "clean cut," if he had been overweight, if he had been missing teeth, if he were not so "well-spoken," even if he simply had an accent traditionally associated with lower classes, he would not have been put on TV the way he has been.
He would not have been invited on CNN to talk about how Trump isn't doing enough for racists.
No one would be talking about how he's trying to make racism "cool." And if they did, it would land in a very different way and we all know it.
Notice that they're not putting the violent Proud Boy with the overalls on TV for color commentary.
There are lots of people with abhorrent views out there. They went with Spencer for a reason.
Although Spencer's appearances were meant to highlight the terrifying rise of white supremacy in America in the age of Trump, there is an element of racism (in addition to the blatant classism) in the fact that he was able to get on TV and say these things in the first place. There are people of all races who believe some crazy ass shit, but it's a whole lot easier to get on TV and talk about your particular brand of crazy (and not be treated like a fool) if you happen to be a preppy white guy.
If someone is white, if they are well-groomed, if they are articulate, there is a reluctance to read them as inherently "unsafe," even if they are Richard Spencer or Ted Bundy. Spencer knows this and takes advantage of it. He's been doing the David Duke Playbook. In the 1970s, Duke sought to "rebrand" the KKK and make it classy. Instead of hoods, he wore suits. Instead of hollering about how much he hated black people, he would very politely say that he didn't hate anyone, he just really loved white people. Well, at least when he was on television.
He's not the only one to do this. Neo-Nazi Patrick Casey, of Identity Evropa, now known as the "American Identity Movement," managed to get on an episode of the Today Show in which the host could not stop himself from repeatedly talking about how they were "clean cut" and had no tattoos.
One thing I've said a lot over the past few years is that the old 1980s and '90s talk shows were far better at the whole "sunlight is the best disinfectant" thing when it came to having white supremacists on TV. Part of it, a big part of it, was that the way they were pushed to behave on these shows, much like Spencer's outburst, was viscerally repulsive to pretty much everyone in a way that a man in a suit talking about how he doesn't hate other races, he just loves white people, just isn't.
Another thing worth pointing out is that the racists featured on these shows looked poor, they were rarely what one would call attractive or hip — outdated mullets, big hair and missing teeth being common — and we need to consider that this is a large part of what made them seem more threatening, more foolish and more immediately repulsive. It's easy to laugh at those people when they call themselves "the master race." It's what made their views seem more invalid than Richard Spencer's views, even though they are the exact same views.
While humanity in general has long associated beauty with morality and ugliness with immorality — Cinderella and her Ugly Stepsisters, etc., etc. — American culture adds an extra layer to this by very strongly associating affluence with morality and poverty with immorality far more than other cultures do. Perhaps because of the country's history of Calvinism and prosperity theology, perhaps because the lack of birthright nobility makes us see wealth in this country as having been earned with hard work, whether or not that is actually the case. Perhaps it's a combination of the two.
Either way, it's a thing and it's a problem on both sides of the coin. It makes us too willing to deem people who are attractive and affluent-looking as inherently "safe" and "reasonable" even if they are extremely dangerous, and more likely to treat those we read as poor or unattractive unfairly.
No one should need to hear Richard Spencer acting "undignified" to see through his act, and I'd hope most people did not. But maybe now we can stop putting Nazis on TV and spending more time talking about their sartorial choices than doing any actual disinfecting.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Previously, she was a Senior Staff Writer at Death & Taxes, and Assistant Editor at The Frisky (RIP). Currently, she writes for Wonkette, Friendly Atheist, Quartz and other sites. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse