Richard Spencer, the one-time national leader of the alt-right movement who headed a Washington, DC, “think tank” promoting his racist ideology, strode confidently to the witness stand in the Charlottesville federal court Thursday morning.
By lunchtime, Spencer would become frazzled and irritated as an attorney attempted to undress his suit-and-tie brand of white nationalism and expose him as a violent racist who behind closed doors worshipped Adolf Hitler, launched into antisemitic tirades, and was bent on sparking a “bloody and terrible” race war to create an all-white “ethnostate.”
He was the latest person to testify in the high-profile civil trial that will decide whether a conspiracy to commit racially motivated violence existed among 24 white supremacists — including Spencer — who organized the deadly “Unite the Right” rally on Aug. 11–12, 2017. They are being sued under the 150-year-old Ku Klux Klan Act by nine plaintiffs, who are seeking not only damages for their personal injuries but to bankrupt and dismantle the white supremacists’ organizations.
Over the course of hours of direct examination, Michael Bloch, the plaintiffs’ attorney, stripped away the polished veneer that Spencer, whom the Southern Poverty Law Center has called “a kind of professional racist in khakis,” typically presents. Under questioning, Spencer, who was once punched in the face in a viral video that sparked widespread conversation on the ethics of punching Nazis, discussed a report he authored that focused on the bogus claim that Black people are intellectually inferior to white people. Spencer also admitted to using hate speech in private while at his apartment, which other white supremacists had dubbed the “fash loft”; he confirmed that “fash” in that context meant “fascist.”
Bloch played a significant portion of a leaked recording of Spencer from Aug. 13, 2017, the day after a neo-Nazi rammed his car into “Unite the Right” counterprotesters in Charlottesville, killing activist Heather Heyer and injuring dozens of other people. In the recording, originally published by alt-right figure Milo Yiannopoulos in 2019, Spencer is heard addressing fellow white nationalists and current codefendants Nathan Damigo, Jason Kessler, and Elliott Kline. Spencer can also be heard shouting racist and antisemitic phrases.
“Little fucking kikes. They get ruled by people like me. Little fucking octoroons... I fucking... My ancestors fucking enslaved those little pieces of fucking shit. I rule the fucking world,” Spencer is heard saying. “Those pieces of fucking shit get ruled by people like me. They look up and see a face like mine looking down at them. That’s how the fucking world works. We are going to destroy this fucking town [of Charlottesville].”
Questioned by Bloch on Thursday about the recording, Spencer owned up to the remarks but claimed they didn’t represent who he is.
“That is me at my absolute worst. I won’t dispute that that’s me, because at the end of the day I have to live with that,” he testified. “My animal brain. That’s me as a 7-year-old. It’s a 7-year-old that is probably still inside me. I’m ashamed of it. That is a childish, awful version of myself.”
Spencer said he doesn’t “believe in demeaning people to their face.” But he admitted he privately used slurs to describe Jews and Black people.
Bloch showed another video of Spencer delivering a speech at a booze-soaked afterparty for a torchlight event in Charlottesville in May 2017. In that footage, Spencer is heard saying, “I was born too late for the Crusades. I was born too early for the conquest of Mars. But I was born at the right time for the race war.”
In yet another video from the party that was played for the court, Spencer is seen giving a Nazi salute and chanting, “Sieg heil!” The footage was reminiscent of the 2016 video of the white nationalist leader addressing a crowd after Donald Trump’s election victory in Washington, DC, where he shouted, “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!”
Spencer testified that his alt-right movement had been growing and gaining momentum at the time he began helping to organize the “Unite the Right” rally. But he denied that the violence at the event was planned.
That issue is at the heart of the lawsuit, brought by civil rights nonprofit Integrity First for America on behalf of the plaintiffs.
Bloch, however, presented evidence that he said showed that Spencer and his codefendants had methodically planned for racist, antisemitic violence there. He showed text messages between Spencer and other alt-right figures in which they discussed how they would “dominate the streets” and that “2016 was the meme war, 2017 is the IRL war.”
He tried to dismiss the “dominate the streets” remark as merely “a metaphor for having a presence and engaging in [a] demonstration.”
Bloch also showed that Spencer had difficulty telling the truth when it came to his communications with other white nationalists and alt-right figures in the run-up to the “Unite the Right” rally.
Presented with evidence of dozens of text message exchanges between himself and neo-Nazi and codefendant Christopher Cantwell after claiming they had communicated a handful of times and “ate lunch once,” Spencer stumbled.
“Between July and August you exchanged 88 text messages with Mr. Cantwell,” Bloch told him, referring to evidence submitted to the court. “But you said, ‘We shared a few text messages, seven in total.’ Isn’t that what you told the jury?”
Spencer fell silent. After a long pause, he said, “I think I was referring to instances.”