LINDA DAVIDSON/THE WASHINGTON POST VIA GETTY IMAGES The National Policy Institute, a think tank that promotes white nationalism, recently hosted an “alt-right” conference in Washington D.C.
WASHINGTON ― If you want to know why the unabashedly racist and Nazi-sympathizing “alt-right” movement is making a mark on the Trump administration and beyond, look no further than Tila Tequila and her white nationalist friend, Richard Spencer.
In one of the more bizarre and scary things to transpire in an already bizarre and scary political season, Tequila ― the social media presence, former TV host and current porn star ― attended a conference of white nationalists in Washington this weekend. On the surface, it was odd that the Vietnamese-American, born Thien Thanh Thi Nguyen, was there. Yet her presence squared perfectly with Spencer’s political and messaging strategy, and that of his National Policy Institute, which organized the event.
“The alt-right is willing to work with allies of color,” Spencer told journalists on Saturday. At that moment, it was hard not to think of Tequila, who had tweeted a photo of herself making the Nazi salute with the caption, “Seig [sic] heil!” the night before.
To be sure, Spencer views most non-white races as genetically inferior, has a deep mistrust of Jewish people and associates with neo-Nazis. He wants to see Europeans and people of European descent “protected” from other races through state-sponsored segregation. The list goes on.
However, it’s Spencer’s deft packaging of this hate speech that made him the informal head of the self-styled “alt-right,” a movement of quasi- to full-blown fascist writers, listless brown shirts and disgruntled meme creators. He feints at multiculturalism, expressing his respect for “Native Americans,” the “spirituality” of African-Americans and the aforementioned “allies of color.” His white nationalist spouting is filed with academic jargon ― founding an organization with the distinctly bland name “National Policy Institute” and calling one’s movement “alt-right” is no small part of that strategy. All this is not a new approach, but one Spencer is chillingly good at.
Even though he’s nearing 40, Spencer is so good at playing wonky millennial it makes you want to vomit. Think of him as an Ezra Klein for people who wouldn’t mind putting people named Ezra Klein on a train. He’s active on social media ― that is, until he’s kicked off of it for hate speech ― and loves calling mainstream Republicans “basic bitch conservatives.”
Spencer’s invitation to the convention perfectly encapsulates how he straddles youth culture and hate culture. It featured a hipster-fresh graphic with the letters “A R” ― for alt-right ― in a decidedly tubular early-’90s font. The letters were splashed over an ethereal stock photo of a woman in a wheat field, and the whole thing was reminiscent of the mashup album covers you see on SoundCloud. That woman in a wheat field can also be found on David Duke’s Twitter page.
This stock photo woman in a wheat field is popular in white nationalist circles.
Spencer exudes the same kind of millennial élan as a lot of the young professional white guys in Washington D.C., with his clean-cut face framed by an angular jaw, square chin and neatly cropped “high and tight” haircut ― a ‘do that might once have been associated with the Hitler Youth, but now is far more likely to recall actor Ryan Gosling. He’s a neat dresser, and if he weren’t spouting off about Muslim gangs or the need to give preferential treatment to European immigrants or how women like being raped, Spencer could just as easily be one of those dime-a-dozen yuppies who have way too many opinions about IPAs and “fun” socks.
His CV is distressingly familiar, too: a B.A. from the University of Virginia, an M.A. from the University of Chicago and a stint as a Ph.D. candidate at Duke University. He even landed a piece in The American Conservative.
Still, Spencer’s conference wasn’t a gathering of minds. It was a smorgasbord of angry dudes. Dudes in “Make America Great Again” hats, dudes selling ‘80s-chic posters of President-elect Donald Trump that read “Trump DEPORTATION FORCE,” dudes flipping through books with titles like The Perils of Equality and The Problem of Democracy, dudes who hissed when reporters asked Spencer questions, American dudes with Gosling haircuts, English dudes with Gosling haircuts, Dutch dudes with Gosling haircuts.
To say 9 in 10 attendees was a dude would be charitable. There were some older attendees, whose professorial attire and seething resentment for contemporary society recalled the angriest people to ever attend a history department faculty meeting.
And then there was Tequila ― who rose to cultural prominence in the late 2000s only to flame out with a series of anti-Semitic gestures and statements. She was a perfect set piece for Spencer: a D-list celebrity ― a woman of color, no less ― with a less-well-known track record of bigotry. Tequila provided a irreverent kind of pop culture flair to the outwardly staid event. In return, she got attention.
Seig heil! ✋ pic.twitter.com/FhuFuZq6Sc — Tila Tequila (@AngelTilaLove) November 19, 2016