The Charlatans of Lexington

In the decent pursuit of honesty and in striving for truth, we must consider and be exposed to broad, diverse viewpoints on all sides of the ideological spectrum. Actively seeking out different experiences and opinions helps us to properly understand complex political events. However, within that spectrum we need not, in fact we must not, include or interview people who provide false narratives that provide a foundation for political movements that work against the truth and provide opportunities for debasing and bigoted viewpoints within our society. Unfortunately, our peers here at Washington and Lee decided to do just that, interviewing Richard Spencer in what, at best, can be understood as a vain attempt to broaden readership through outrage and, at worst, can be seen as a gross willingness to spotlight outstandingly racist and frankly ahistorical political theory in a misguided attempt to broaden our understanding of the events surrounding Charlottesville and the rise of American Nazism.

This article has no interest in discussing or even mentioning the ideology Spencer discusses in his interview with the Spectator. The information he provides, at almost if not at every turn, has absolutely no historical backing. In fact, the interviewers from the Spectator admit to the lack of any legitimate historical foundation in his political theory, constantly making asides to mention Spencer’s historical missteps. These asides themselves, these “commentaries”, highlight exactly why the Spectator’s interview of Spencer carry no intellectual merit; as writers, we decide, in an interview, who we platform. We decide whose opinions we want the world to see. The Spectator chose Spencer. The Spectator chose a zealous relic of a time and place that should be gone yet that through him we continue to legitimize. More than anything, the Spectator chose horribly wrong.

The Spectator’s approach to the interview itself, too, should disgust even the most casual reader. In a University that treasures honesty and integrity, the interviewers with Spencer showed absolutely none. To ask questions of Spencer such as “What are the end goals of your ideal society?” and “So, would both liberals and conservatives be welcome in the identitarian movement and your ideal “ethno-state?” (a true reach across the aisle) fails to even attempt an honest challenge of Spencer’s incendiary political ideals. In fact, these questions provide a platform for Spencer to promote the very ideals that caused violence in Charlottesville and have eroded American political ideals since our founding. The very notion of an ethno-state directly violates the notions of stark individualism and radical equality we as Americans hold so dear yet constantly fail to maintain. Ideals we fail to attain not only because of the Richard Spencer-s of the world but also because of those that enable him. To quote Martin Luther King’s letter from a Birmingham jail, “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not…the Klu Klux Klan, but the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.” This is no time for apathy, but to stay true to their name, the Spectator did nothing but watch as Spencer attacked racial equality.

The Spectator may point me to their emboldened statement claiming that, “the Spectator does not condone or endorse the opinions expressed by Mr. Spencer in this interview. His views are his own and they do not reflect the views or opinions of the W&L Spectator or its staff.” However, next time I implore the Spectator to have either the wisdom not to interview a man they recognize as a “charlatan” or the courage to ask a single piercing question. If you must interview a racist, at least ask him why he’s so damn racist. And no, asking where he developed his identitarian theories does not cut it. That doesn’t begin to cut it. If we are to continue to preach democratic values as a nation, our institutions must not be afraid to call out lies, to accuse with proof our charlatans. If, according to your commentary, you knew Spencer’s historical information to be incorrect, his viewpoints to be inoperable, his political theories to be hateful and ignorant then why, at no point, did you challenge him?

Do not mistake The Spectator’s interview of Spencer for an honest attempt at a more complete understanding of that horrifying weekend in Charlottesville. We all knew and know Richard Spencer’s thoughts. We know, of course, because we’ve seen and heard and felt the impact of racists, like Spencer, throughout American history. Next time, I challenge the Spectator to seek out instead the groups attacked by Trump’s policies. Interview a dreamer who has lived in the United States since birth yet might be staring down deportation. Interview Heather Heyer’s mother who watched her daughter die at the ends of a political movement that steeps their beliefs in racist ideology. Interview the millions of Americans who wake up every day facing a nation that has and continues to feel threatening. Don’t talk to Spencer. Do the work to elevate the conversation above politics of white supremacy. Elevate the voices of the millions of Americans with an actual stake in the resistance to Trump, who understand why the events of Charlottesville strike fear and creates anger. Do not mistake The Spectator’s interview of Spencer for an earnest intellectual conversation. The interview propagated a point of view that we must outright reject, a point of view that threatens the lives of Americans far more representative of the American dream than Spencer.

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