White nationalist Richard Spencer wasn’t fazed by the protesters who turned up at his Texas A&M University appearance on Tuesday.
“We triggered the world,” Spencer told “Nightline.” “I think it’s good to trigger people a little bit. When you get triggered it means that you’re shocked, you thought something that you haven’t thought before. It means that you have an open mind and you can start to see the world differently.”
But what Spencer actually triggered on campus was the unified presence of thousands of people demonstrating their opposition to his views by attending a competing event at a the university’s football stadium.
Spencer is credited with coining the term “alt-right,” which he described as “the identity politics for white people in the 21st century.”
“I think the alt-right has gained a great deal of ground, precisely because we are provocative,” he added. “And precisely because, to use bad language, we don’t give a ---- on some level.”
Spencer, 38, came to national attention when video surfaced of him at a Washington, D.C. conference in November shouting “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory,” as some members of the crowd raised their hands in a Nazi salute.
Spencer said he yelled out “Hail Trump,” “in the spirit of irony and exuberance.” He added that he saw the president-elect as someone who “sling-shotted our movement into fame.” The moment he found out Trump won the presidency, Spencer said if felt like a kind of “miracle.”
“If someone had told me two years ago that Donald Trump would be the alt-right hero and he would be president, I would be like, ‘What ridiculous movie are you talking about like this is not real life,’ but it is real life,” Spencer said.
Trump has said he disavows and condemns the alt-right movement.
In an interview with “Nightline,” Spencer claimed he is not a white supremacist or a racist, but it is difficult to understand his incendiary rhetoric any other way.
He told Mother Jones magazine that “Hispanics and African Americans have lower average IQs than whites and are more genetically predisposed to commit crimes” -- a pseudo-science argument of white supremacists which has been widely discredited. But Spencer called it “an empirical fact.”
“When you study, say average intelligence say around the world, and you keep getting the same answer, at some point you are going to have to look towards genetics as a cause,” Spencer said.
His deeply inflammatory world view involves an all-white “ethno state” where races are segregated through peaceful “ethnic cleansing,” though he has been quoted before as saying that it could be bloody.
“I think the current paradigm we’re living under is going to lead to blood and tears,” Spencer said. “I don't know exactly what is going to happen but yes I do think that if there is going to be a major crack up… predominantly on racial lines.”
Spencer’s organization, the National Policy Institute, is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for promoting far-right, white-nationalist views.
“The term alt-right is really nothing more than a re-branding of white supremacy for the digital age,” said Southern Poverty Law Center president Richard Cohen. “I don’t think anybody should be fooled by what it is at its core and that is white supremacy.”
Spencer, who was raised in Dallas but now lives in Montana, has been banned by local businesses in his neighborhood. His own parents, he says, "think I'm a little crazy.” Alums from his Class of 1997 at the elite prep school St. Marks he attended in Dallas started a fund for immigrants to repudiate his views. He said he has been banned from 25 European countries for his views.
“I’ve been banned from most of Europe,” he said, with a smile. “A lot of things have been strained because of my activism, yes, it’s been very difficult.”
But Texas A&M decided not to ban him, citing freedom of speech. The university did not invite Spencer to speak on Tuesday, but a room was booked on campus by a former student.
“Our leadership finds his views as expressed to date in direct conflict with our core values,” Texas A&M spokeperson Amy Smith said. “Private citizens are permitted to reserve space available to the public as we are a public university.”
Texas A&M President Michael Young said, “I believe we live in a world where differences actually makes us stronger.”
Rather than keep quiet about Spencer’s visit, the university managed to turn it into a teachable moment -- allowing Spencer’s freedom of speech, while supporting protesters' freedoms of expression as well.
Hundreds gathered outside the university’s student union hours before Spencer was scheduled to speak, holding signs and essentially drowning out Spencer's speech with chants and jeers. One yelled out, “Go home Spencer, we don’t want you.” Students wrote messages on a makeshift "unity wall" on the campus that included "Aggies Against Hate," "Love & Respect," and "United We Stand."
Former Texas A&M student Adam Davies was one of the protestors shouting at Spencer.
“I want people to … see through their lies and their misguidance. They are not alt-right, they are not racial realists, they are Neo-nazis,” he said. “It’s unacceptable even remotely feasible, try to make it so they can have a conversation about ethnic cleansing.”
A&M Ph.D. candidate Adam Kay, who helped organize Tuesday’s protests, said, “We're here to celebrate diversity and protest at the same time. It’s been crucial since the beginning not devolve into hate ourselves.”
In the end, the vast majority of Spencer’s audience inside his Texas A&M appearance were there in protest.
Tensions erupted during Spencer’s speech several times and the night ended with police in riot gear pushing people out of the building where he spoke.
“I see myself as mainstream,” Spencer said. “I'm trying to normalize racism… I'm trying to normalize my ideas, our ideas of the alt-right, yes. I do not want the alt-right to be a fringe movement, I want the alt-right to be a dominant movement.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center said there has been a spike in hate crimes since after the election with 867 hate crimes reported in 47 states. The organization said the first line of defense is spotlighting what they consider dangerous hate speech.
“[Spencer] is the head of the alt right … and quite frankly Mr. Trump ran a racially divisive campaign, so I think the media has an obligation to cover Richard Spencer,” said SPLC’s Richard Cohen.
In the end, the protestors who showed up at the Texas A&M Kyle Stadium -- including students, anti-hate groups and the university’s president -- sent a powerful message of tolerance and diversity to drown out what they considered was a repugnant and unwelcome din nearby on campus, with loud, boisterous chants of “Aggies United” filling the air.