It is odd when someone you know becomes a world-famous Nazi. You may not recognise the name Richard Spencer, but my bet is you soon will. He’s an American white-power activist who is often billed as the inventor of the ‘alt-right’. In the age of Trump, when everyone is panicking about the rise of extremism and the end of liberal democracy, he commands a lot of attention.
Spencer has emerged as a media anti-darling — a hardcore version of the gay British controversialist Milo Yiannopoulos, whom I also know a little. (Hark at my social life.) Milo does the camp feminist-and-Islam-baiting thing; Richard is a full-on white supremacist. They both exploit the growing market for troublesome right-wing bogeymen.
Nowadays I see headlines such as ‘Alt-Right Founder Questions Whether Jews Are People,’ and I say to myself, ‘Ah, Richard again.’ Soon after Trump’s election, he arranged a gathering of like-minded souls at the Ronald Reagan building in Washington DC. ‘Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!’ he concluded in a speech that was filmed. He and his fans smirked as they sieg-heiled each other. The television networks went bananas, which of course was just what Spencer and his gang wanted.
I know Richard because, at the end of 2007, I took his job at the American Conservative. The bosses had hired him because he seemed an original thinker. They quickly decided, however, that he was a bit hopeless and kooky. So they hired me instead. Richard didn’t bear a grudge. When we met at events in DC he seemed friendly, albeit mad as a bag of snakes. I noticed that he sweated a lot. He and his pals seemed to think fascism was edgy and cool — in the way that, say, a young Corbynite might think Fidel Castro (RIP) was a dude. Perhaps I didn’t take them seriously enough; their politics struck me as posturing. Richard went on to work for Taki’s website; that didn’t work out either (see page 55). He grew more and more extreme as the years went by. In 2014, he organised a conference for white nationalists in Hungary, which Viktor Orban’s government decided to ban. Richard was arrested, jailed, then deported. The experience seems to have been his Mein Kampf moment. He has since become convinced that esoteric racism is his destiny — or best route to notoriety — and that he must restore glory to what he calls ‘the people of the sun’. Oh dear. If he becomes Trump’s Reichsführer in 2021, I promise to take a share of the blame for my minor part in his story and pack myself off to the nearest concentration camp.
I went to Hungary too last week, though not, please believe, to hang out with ‘racial realists’. The great journalist John O’Sullivan invited me to his Danube Institute to talk about Donald Trump. The Institute, in beautiful Budapest, is a thinktank for the transmission of liberal conservative ideas, and the Hungarians I spoke to had mixed feelings about America’s president-elect. They do not so much object to his nationalism as his uncouth ways.
Along with Brexit Britain, the Hungarian government spies a new opportunity to establish good bilateral relations with the most powerful country on earth. Viktor Orban was the first European leader to support Trump. He announced that Hillary Clinton would be ‘deadly’ for his country, presumably because she would have placed Orban in her basket of deplorable leaders. As it turned out, Orban made the right call. He and Trump enjoyed a friendly telephone conversation on Thursday night. Orban reportedly told his new friend that he was regarded as a ‘black sheep’ in Washington. ‘Me too,’ said Trump. Orban’s advisers are now working with Trump’s transition team to set up a meeting.
Am I becoming a Trump bore? Increasingly, I’m unable to talk to anyone about anything without bringing up the Orange One. I spend hours poring over what people are saying about him on the internet. I alternate between getting angry at how mad everyone is going and going mad about how angry everyone is getting. ‘This is the biggest story of our time!’ I declare pompously at dinner parties, as those around me glaze over. I cannot stop myself. I don’t love or hate Trump. I’m just fascinated, having been out to America a few times to write about his rise for this magazine. Like everyone, I’m flabbergasted by the fact that he is now the most powerful man on earth.
It’s an unhealthy obsession. Last weekend, I took my boys to the mini-golf in Putney. It was great fun, though a couple of the holes had been flooded by heavy rain and were unplayable. What would the Donald do, I asked myself, as I marched back to the clubhouse — café, to be more accurate — and demanded compensation. The woman at the counter shrugged and gave me tokens so that we can play for free next time. ‘Winning!’ exclaimed my inner Donald.
Freddy Gray is deputy editor of The Spectator.