What was the purpose of having an Alt Right ‘Safe Space,’ other than to mock the idea that people need safe spaces sometimes?
When the idea was announced only a few days ago it seemed like an insulting media stunt, and it was, but it was also a strategic point for the growing Alt Right and its attempts to market racism and bigotry to Millenials. Richard Spencer of the Radix Journal and the National Policy Institute put together a video and a plan, to promote an outdoor meeting at the historic Sproul Plaza on the University of California and Berkeley campus. This was a place where 60s radicals joined together to confront the Vietnam War, and to build the Berkeley Free Speech movement. The point they were trying to make is that Berkeley is no longer a bastion of free speech because of the Political Correctness that has run rampant. Though this seems like the embarrassing overreach of angry children who are stomping their feet about no longer being able to say the N-word in public, what they are tapping into is a feeling in much of middle America of not understanding the new developments that have come in confronting interpersonal oppression.
The event was put together and manned primarily by Richard Spencer along with Nathan Damigo and Johnny Monoxide. Damigo is running the organization Identity Europa, whose name seems intended to conjure up the French organization Generation Identity that the American Alt Right often fawns over. That organization is built as a more radical alternative to the fascist Front National political party run by Marine Le Pen, which they think is too reformist and populist. Generation Identity has been pushing the “Identitarian” identification, which brings them somewhat in line with the fascist philosophy of the Nouvelle Droite movement and people like Alain de Benoit and Guillaume Faye.
Identity Europa began as the National Youth Front, but after a Christian group of the same name threatened to sue, Damigo changed it. That organization went into disarray when Nathan’s co-founder,Angelo John Gage, left the organization in October. When it was still the National Youth Front it had a back and forth relationship with the fascist and populist American Freedom Party, where they automatically registered NYF members with the AFP when they turned 35. NYF hit more hurdles when their fundraising efforts were canceled by both GoFundMe and IndieGoGo for violating the terms of service, which comes from the fact that you can only strategically phrase things so much before the open racism becomes obvious. The only real press that the NYF got on campuses was for trying to target professors at Arizona State University and Boston University for being “anti-white.”
Nathan is an example of the kind of middle ground that the Alt Right has always been on. Good looking, well spoken, dresses and combs his hair like a hip Banana Republic model; he is a good advertisement as he looks far from a Klansman (looks a lot like Richard, to be exact). He is an Iraq war veteran, but he is also a felon for a hate crime. Several years ago, after he returned from Iraq, he brutally attacked a Muslim man on the street, and robbed him. He went to prison for this, and, to be fair, is generally publicly apologetic for his behavior, but it actually reveals a driving set of perspectives that lie under his fashy hair. He has hoped that by being open about his conviction he would be spared of ridicule, but it is actually just provides more background about who he is and what has inspired his organizing program.
Though Identity Europa seems to be little more than his brainchild and attempt to coordinate with young people, they seem to attempt to be largely the same project that Youth for Western Civilization, the Traditionalist Youth Network/Workers Party, and the various White Student Unions are. They wish to make whiteness an identity battle, and present white advocacy as the same as Black and Latino rights organizations, including reaching out to communities of color to find “allies of color” who think that whites are being discriminated against on college campuses.
Johnny Monoxide is another level of racism piled on, which may be a testament to the way that the Alt Right has been mainstreamed by gutter podcasts like the Daily Shoah. In fact, Richard Spencer had moved on from even using the term Alt Right and was simply referring to himself as an Identitarian in the French model, but after places like The Right Stuff started popularizing the phrase he returned to it. Monoxide is best known for hosting the short-lived podcast on the Right Stuff/Daily Shoah podcast network, The Current Year Tonight. This is a joke from the Daily Shoah lexicon referring to how liberals will respond to racism on social media by saying something like “racism, its 2016,” so now they will just respond by saying “it’s the current year.” Monoxide matches the angry racialism of Mike Enoch and Seventh Son, yet, unlike them, he shows his face in videos quite often. In a recent set of videos at the Burlingame, California Donald Trump appearance, he made a series of videos where he mocked protesters, using racial slurs and “calling the Jew ‘the Jew.’” He was interviewed and filmed heavily by Infowars, the conspiracy website that has taken a hard right turn and now spends most of their time mocking women and leftists.
The entire event was live streamed by Red Ice Radio, the white nationalist podcast network that has become one of the largest in their movement. From a semi-professional studio built in their living room, married team Lana and Henrik provided stunted commentary as Johnny Monoxide live streamed from what appeared to be his phone and was able to hear them in an earpiece. Monoxide doesn’t seem too worried about being found out in the world for his behavior because he is a union electrician in the Bay Area. This doesn’t stop consequences from a counter-movement, but he is right that unions vessels of protecting their membership.
The event went as many expected it to go, including the organizers. Generally it was Spencer, Monoxide, and Damigo, and a couple of simple student protesters holding broad Alt Right sloganed signs as people came up and tried to argue with them. It was often an attempt to slip the group up on some kind of rhetoric, and a few Trump supporters, including students of color, came through to defend the group of racists. At one point, a loud man came through who obviously knew this was in progress and what it was. He identified Spencer as a “suit and tie Nazi” and called out Monoxide for being a union electrician. Spencer yelled back for the man to stop “whitesplaining” to the mostly non-white crowd, a move that he will likely be bringing up in speeches and podcasts for months with a self-congratulating smile.
While there were dozens of people that came through the square, none of them were necessarily set to argue the point because, as with most people, they were not trained to argue with a fascist whose entire purpose there is to bait you into an argument. Jack Donovan, a white nationalist allied male tribalist who rolls in these Alt Right circles, has a new book out calling Becoming a Barbarian. It is generally masculanist nonsense, yet one section has something that we thought was interesting to folks looking to confront fascism. Arguments, he says, are only between friends. There is no point in arguing with enemies since you have no stake in changing their mind. Let them have their ideas, and save disagreements between people that you really do want to find unity with.
We will never find political or social unity with Damigo and Spencer, and the arguments themselves end up being relatively politically useless. They want to get you to engage with them so they can hopefully have a chance to pontificate more rhetoric and then use very well planned verbal prose to try and sow doubt. Most people have not sat there and trained themselves to make arguments about race and IQ, to know the latest archeological evidence about pre-colonial Africa, to understand the nuance in race and crime statistics. Spencer knows this, and so he can use the very small amount of evidence he has to support his wild ideas and most people are not ready to combat it. In this case, he knows that getting people into the argument is a win. Most of the people in the square that day were strong voices that advocated for inclusivity and diversity. A conversation still should be had about what anti-fascists call the “no platform” approach, and why we should leave our arguments between comrades and those who are not open racists. While those people argued with them, Lana and Henrik mocked them on air, using racial language and laughing at each impassioned plea against racism.
Spencer and Damigo intended to use the Berkeley Alt Right Safe Space experiment to see if they were going to do this on other college campuses. Given the way that they discussed, promoted, and reflected on it, they likely will do this again.
This is not the last time that they will show up on campus, but a college anti-fascist movement can be equipped to handle their push when it returns.