1200 Weimer Hall | P.O. Box 118405
Gainesville, FL 32611
(352) 392-5551

A service of the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida.

© 2024 WUFT / Division of Media Properties
News and Public Media for North Central Florida
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Q & A With Richard Spencer

White nationalist Richard Spencer at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, in December 2016. Gainesville officials are continuing to make preparations for Spencer's scheduled appearance at the University of Florida on Oct. 19, including for the appearance coinciding with the city's Pride Week. (AP/file)
White nationalist Richard Spencer at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, in December 2016. Gainesville officials are continuing to make preparations for Spencer's scheduled appearance at the University of Florida on Oct. 19, including for the appearance coinciding with the city's Pride Week. (AP/file)

National Policy Institute’s President Richard Spencer is scheduled to speak on the University of Florida’s campus Oct. 19. The event will take place at the Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts at 2:30 p.m.

While UF disagrees with Spencer’s rhetoric, as a public university, they cannot prohibit Spencer from speaking. They have rented the center to the National Policy Institute and worked to provide additional security for the event.

“Since safety of students, faculty, staff and visitors to campus is the University’s top priority, UF will end up paying at least $500,000 to enhance security on campus and in the city of Gainesville,” Janine Sikes, UF spokesperson, wrote in an email.

Spencer spoke to WUFT's Grace King and expressed his feelings about the speech, public universities and what his ideal country would look like.

King: What do you think is misunderstood about you and your position?

Spencer: Well, obviously the greatest misunderstanding is that we come to intimidate people or we come to engage in violence or anything like that, that’s obviously false. And if you look at our actions and you don’t listen to the hysterical screeching of our distractors, but if you look at what we say and most importantly, what we do, it’s clear that we are peaceful people. We want to speak to our people primarily. We want to wake up white Americans and white people around the world. We want to inspire them. We want to change their hearts and minds and how they see the world. And so that’s what we are doing, and if you judge us by our actions, that’s clearly what we’re doing. So all of this talk of “Richard is going to come to the University of Florida and inspire violence,” it’s totally silly. The people who are going to, if there is violence, the people who are going to engage in it, are going to be the so-called anti-fascists, and they are effectively a narco-communist, and I’m not trying to slander them, that’s how they think of themselves. And they believe that I and many people like me, and also many people who are just mainstream republicans and conservatives, do not have a right to speak, we aren’t fully United States citizens, and they have a right and a duty to attack us, to set us down, mutter our free speech, to threaten and intimidate us. And again, this is not me saying this as someone who disagrees with them. This is how they think of themselves and this is what they explicitly talk about and this is what they explicitly do. And if there is any kind of altercation at the University of Florida, and I certainly hope there isn’t, it will be because of these Antifa related groups. Now what I do hope, is that there is certainly no violence, but that there is a real furtive debate, if people want to engage with me in a Q&A session, whenever I do these things, I do at least an hour of Q&A. I want to engage with students, if they want to engage with me and tell me how much they think my views are wrong and terrible and so on, that is great. I will listen to them and I will engage with them. That is what I am there for. But they have to listen to me, too. They have to grant myself and people like me a real platform. We have to have a seat at the table, and that is all that I am demanding. A seat at the table, like any other speaker, controversial or not at the University of Florida.

King: So why Gainesville? Why the University of Florida?

Spencer: Well, we have picked out a number of public universities and I’ve already spoken at Texas A&M, I’ve spoken at Auburn in Alabama, we actually have a number of other universities, like Michigan State University, Penn state, Ohio state, and I would like to see a private school too. There is no particular reason why we chose Florida, but the fact is, it is a major institution, one of the most important in the country. It is also a public institution, and therefore, it isn’t just a university, it is also a public space. It is an “academical village,” as the University of Virginia described itself, that’s where I graduated from where, you know, it’s not just about scholars and research, it’s about people debating and talking about ideas. Talking about ideas that are controversial, that are dangerous. That’s what a university in its ideal form should be about.

King: So there’s various reports that have called you a white nationalist, white supremacist, Nazi. Do any of those apply to you? How would you describe yourself? 

Spencer: I would describe myself as an identitarian, and that means that my starting point for thinking about politics is identity. It is that question, which is a question, of who am I, and who are we. That is, who am I, as an individual and who are we as an extended family. Other political movements have different starting points. The left might start with the class struggle or the quest for equality, or I’m not even sure I can describe what the current left starting point is. The right in the United States often started from the standpoint of the Constitution, free market capitalism and the opposition to the Soviet Union, or what have you. Our starting point is identity, and that’s a rich, dense concept. It includes, certainly elective identity, it includes one’s immediate family, it includes where one grew up, what language one speaks, one’s religion, one’s deeply held spirituality and use of this kind. And at the foundation of anyone’s identity is race. That is something that one can’t choose, something that one is born into. And race, as a foundation, informs everything. So, identity should not be equated with race. Identity is a lot more than race, but race is at the very foundation of everything. It’s a sine qua non of who we are and who any individual is. So that, something, of how I would describe my starting point to thinking about politics. So therefore, in the way the alt-right, which is an identity movement and it is an identitarian movement, we are much more flexible on a lot of policy issues. We think about what serves and protects our people and inspires flourishing. We are not fiercely dedicated to free markets at all costs, like a conservative or libertarian. We are actually collectable on a lot of issues and actually on a lot of issues, and you can see that in my 8-minute, called the Charlottesville statement, where I did a 20-point statement where I try to outline what the alt-right is, in my view, and it made a tremendous amount of agreement with people who identify with the alt-right. You might actually find a lot of our views to be liberal, or even leftist. We are open to protecting the environment, we are open to maintaining livable cities, we are open to protecting rural areas, but we believe that the government has a role to play in human affairs. So again, the starting point is key, we start from a point of protecting our people and our identity and then we move out from there and start to think about politics.

King: When did you start to develop these identitarian views, when you were younger or did something happen to cause you to start believing this way?

Spencer: One could say that I’ve been like this since the womb. There is a continuity, I can look back at my younger self, even if I disagree with my younger self for a little bit, I can still understand that I am that same person. So I do think that political views and ideologies are heritable to a very large degree. When I was a younger person, there wasn’t an alt-right, the internet was barely developed at all and I was searching for a way out of what I found to be the nihilism of modern American life, that is that all one’s can be satisfied through shopping or individual’s desires is in the right to buy or do what everyone pleases. That’s the ultimate goal in life with this kind of nihilistic liberalism. I saw that all around me, I saw the destruction of my country, the fact that the United States was becoming a less livable place, a less beautiful place. I was searching for a way out of that. A way to articulate my critique of that and the way out to achieve something that I can be connected with traditions, that I can have a vision of the future and so on. And yeah, so I went through an evolution, you can say in terms of my views. But for a long time, I have been an identitarian. I preferred that word about 10 years ago. But for a long time, I’ve recognized that race is real and race matters and race is the foundation of identity, but I have also recognized that beyond that, beyond the racial issue, which is of course the most controversial one, that the United States really needs to change in some fundamental ways. It needs to change culturally and socially and politically, in terms of our foreign policies and relationship to the world, and so on. And that’s how I came to be, there wasn’t just one moment of epiphany or something that happened to me or something like that. I would say that if there is one moment that kind of put me on this course, it was probably a catalyst and not a cause. That was the George W. Bush administration and the Iraq war. I would say that the alt-right really does emerge from the anti-war movement, it emerges from a rejection of Bush, a rejection from the Iraq war. The sense that something had gone terribly wrong and that we needed to re-think everything. We didn’t just need the same old conservatism, we needed something fundamentally different. If I were to point to one moment, I would say that’s it.

King: And when you mention these cultural, social and political changes in the US. What would your ideal changes be like?

Spencer: Well, first off, I think that some major changes could take place with immigration. Between 1924 and 1965, there was effectively no net immigration into this country. And that coincided with some of the greatest strides that the United States has ever made, in terms of national unity, in terms of economic flourishing, so that’s not my chief goal, in terms of going to the moon. So I believe that that was no coincidence, that we really became a nation, maybe for the first time you could say, and that regional differences were resolved during that period. So I would hope that we could have a similar period like that, of net-neutral immigration. That is if the same amount of people more or less, who leave, and there is immigration like that, will come. So that we can maintain the country as it is. I think there are some major differences that I would have in some of the foreign policies. I don’t believe that it is the prerogative of the United States to engage in all of these senseless wars around the world, to think that we have to overthrow regimes, like the Assad regime in Syria, or Iran or anything like that. I would want to deal with the world in a much more peaceful fashion. I also think that there could be a tremendous amount of change in terms of domestic policy. That is domestic policies that recognize that we need to worry about the demographic future of this country, that, as sing-songy as this may sound, the children are our future. And that we want to inspire people to have strong families and to bring better children into the world and that we want to build a world that is better for those children. This is a sketch, of course, but yes, there will be dramatic changes in terms of foreign and domestic policies, if alt-right ideas or identitarian ideas were to inform politics, as opposed to conservatives or liberal or leftist ideas, which is basically what we’ve had for a long time.

King: Now, the University of Florida is a very diverse campus. What is going to be your message to these students?  

Spencer: I’m going to talk about the necessity of identity. It affects with something that is not a foreign concept to many of those people that you’re referencing, when you have the non-white students, and so on. For them, race really does matter. To tell an African-American student or a foreign exchange student something like “oh you’re not really African, that doesn’t really have anything to do with your life or you’re not truly Indian, that’s just a meaningless, social construct or whatever.” No one will ever say that to them. And for those individuals, their racial or ethnic, genetic identity, that really, really matters. That’s never in dispute. It only matters when white people say the same exact things that these others say. I’m going to talk about the necessity of identity. In the sense that we need it, but also in the sense that it’s a historical outcome of the world, that which, I’ve experienced in my entire life and the country has been experiencing, really since 1965, but in particular the last three decades, that being a world of mass immigration and multi-culturalism and multi-racialism, white people will begin to understand themselves as white. If one lived in an all-white country, and not just all white, more or less, Protestant country, or Anglo-Saxon country, then one is like a fish swimming in water. One’s identity is never brought into question. Now, any multi-cultural country that question “who are we” is raised, and one has to answer it, one has to address it, one can’t just wave one’s hand and wish it away. And so that’s what I’m going to talk about.

King: Do you think an all-white country will be better?

Spencer: The United States was a really wonderful place when it was an all-white country, no doubt. There were amazing achievements. I think that there are, whenever there are countries that where people feel at home, where there is a general homogeneity that they feel that they can trust their neighbor, something that they have something deeply in common with their neighbor, then undoubtedly this country cannot just be happier, they can inspire more flourishing. But yes, they can be more successful as well, they can be proud of who we are. I don’t want a world in which there are no more nations, I don’t want a world in which there are no more Africans, or no more Europeans. Or even within Europeans, I don’t want a world where there are no more Italians or Scotsmen or anything like that. I don’t want a world of a homogenized, beige map. That strikes me as horrifying and in a destruction of rootlessness of not really just Europeans but of all cultures.

King: So would you agree with what Hitler tried to do?

Spencer: No.

King: Why?

Spencer: I don’t agree with the invasion of Poland, with the invasion of the Soviet Union or anything like that, you’re just bringing out something from the past that I obviously don’t have any connection to.

King: Is there anything you’d like to add to those fearing your visit on the 19th?

Spencer: No, I will add this: I hope that people come out and I particularly hope that people who disagree with me come out. I will listen to them. That is a promise I will definitely make.

King: Is there anything you’d like to say to the president of the University who has expressed that he does not want you here?

Spencer: Ah. Well, I want to be there. I would be happy to get into a debate, a respectful debate with any member of the community, including the president of the university.

Mercedes Leguizamon is a reporter at WUFT News, she can be reached at 786-619-4733 or by email at mercedeslegui@gmail.com and mercelegui@ufl.edu