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.