Montana Politics The Media

Why Are the Lee Papers Normalizing Richard Spencer and Inflating His Influence?

Written by Don Pogreba
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Richard Spencer, according to a profile running today in the Lee Newspapers, is really blowing up, because his ideology was mocked on Saturday Night Live. He’s got a “magnetic field attracting and repelling those around him,” and people like to take selfies with him. Those were the dominant takeaways in a piece that seemed primarily about fueling Spencer’s assertion that he is an increasingly significant player in national politics.

Here are just a few of the glaring absences from the Lee piece:

  • There is no quote from any of the people in Love Lives Here who are actively working to counter Spencer’s hate in Whitefish.
  • There’s no quote from the Montana Human Rights Network, which has been monitoring and reporting on his work.
  • The piece neglects to mention that Spencer thinks that Hispanics and African-Americans have lower IQs and are predisposed to commit crime.
  • There’s no reference to the fact that Spencer called for “ethnic cleansing” as a means of restoring a white America in 2013.
  • The piece leaves out that Spencer used July 4, 2015 to approvingly reference Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens’s “greatest speech,” the Cornerstone Address, in which Stephens said “Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.”
  • There’s no reference to the fact that Spencer, who claims in the he’s not a white supremacist now opposes interracial relationships, shamefully told Mother Jones that he had dated Asian women before because “There is something about the Asian girls.”
  • There’s no mention of the fact that he was fired from his one real job before heading the National Policy Institute because a conservative magazine found his views too radical.
  • Left out is that Spencer’s views are so reactionary and racist that he’s effectively been banned from visiting Europe.
  • There’s no mention that Spencer, like President Trump, seems to idealize Russian authoritarianism, calling Russia “the most powerful white power in the world.”

And it’s not just the glaring absences in the piece. It’s the refusal to ask for substantiation. Spencer is clearly obsessed with the idea that he is incredibly important, noting the exposure he’s gotten in the past year and claiming that his organization has raised ten times as much money as it did just four years ago:

But the presidential race bolstered the cause, which Spencer said is an international one much larger than himself and his institute. He estimates donations to the organization are up by a factor of 10, and his exposure has shot up by a factor of 500.

That would easy to prove. Spencer, as the sole employee of his organization, surely could have provided information about donations. In fact, the National Policy Institute doesn’t even have their IRS information updated since 2013, the last report cited in the piece. Instead of taking a self-promoting racist at his word, perhaps the reporter should have asked for documentation that Spencer pulled in over a million dollars in donations last year instead of uncritically reporting that it’s the case.

Instead, readers were treated to a largely unquestioned series of faux sociological, racist observations by Mr. Spencer, including his assertions that he’s got the support of many mainstream conservatives, that African-Americans can’t really be patriotic, and that those of European descent have “more of a stake” in the United States because “our bones are in the ground.”

Strangely missing in that section was a quote substantiating Spencer’s claim about his importance to mainstream conservatives, a response from an African-American, or American Indian. Perhaps the reporter could have at least mentioned the incredible role played by American Indians in serving our military, but that might have taken time away from Spencer explaining university life or hip hop culture.

Even when the story did stray into the critical, it didn’t tell the whole truth. Referencing the infamous moment when Spencer and his brown shirts yelled “Hail Trump” at a D.C. conference, the story makes it a fun little joke:

After the election, a video of Spencer at a National Policy Institute conference in Washington, D.C., highlighted the leader. At the lectern, Spencer said “Hail, Trump,” raising a glass in a victory toast, and some participants responded with Nazi salutes; Spencer said the audience members were being cheeky.

According to the New York Times, Spencer preceded that cheeky moment by quoting Nazi propaganda in German:

But now his tone changed as he began to tell the audience of more than 200 people, mostly young men, what they had been waiting to hear. He railed against Jews and, with a smile, quoted Nazi propaganda in the original German. America, he said, belonged to white people, whom he called the “children of the sun,” a race of conquerors and creators who had been marginalized but now, in the era of President-elect Donald J. Trump, were “awakening to their own identity.”

And don’t even get me started on how badly out of context the quote from UM professor Tobin Shearer about political parties likely was. I’ve e-mailed for comment and will update either way.

I’m sure someone thought it was an excellent idea to sit down with Spencer, who thrives on attention and notice, and it may have been a good idea. Writing a critical profile, though, means more than quoting the subject at length and then doing a Google search for what the SPLC thinks about him. Spencer, as he so often does, used the piece to soften the virulent racism that is at the heart of his message. Spencer doesn’t believe, as the story asserts, “that race is a fundamental element of human existence;” he believes that African-Americans and Latinos are inherently inferior, genetically less intelligent and more likely to commit crime. He believes that we should impose “peaceful” ethnic cleansing to make this country “white” again. A piece that talks about his Google traffic and lets him soften those views is exactly the kind of normalization the press must avoid, but can’t seem to help themselves from writing.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a seventeen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate. In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

14 Comments

  • A lot of people are profiting from Herr Spencer’s adventures and visibility. The newspapers build circulation. Spencer may increase membership in his organizations. Andrew Anglin, whom I doubt will march in Whitefish, builds membership and boosts circulation of the Daily Stormer. Montana’s Democratic sent out a fundraising email trying to capitalize on fear of Spencer. Love Lives Here in the Flathead is earning support. And I’m sure the Montana Human Rights Network will raise money by pointing to Spencer as a villain who must be stopped.

    Few other than the business community in Whitefish, which fears the town will be tarred as a hotbed of right wing thuggery, have an incentive to stop talking and writing about Spencer.

  • Don, I normally avoid your blog for the sake of my blood pressure, but Lee’s poor reporting on the vileness that is Spencer must be exposed. And for doing so, I thank you.

  • Ignoring it never makes it go away.
    Now that we (the media) have eexposed this guy further and so forth, we have mass rallies against against hate the other day.
    That does not happen if we bury our heads in the sand. In fact, again the opposite instead of: it lays dormant and festers.

    • I don’t think anyone is suggesting the media ignore Spencer. I do think, though, that covering him without exposing his abhorrent views does a real disservice. This piece was not exposing anything, other than how Spencer plays the press.

    • I don’t disagree with the sentiment of the editorial, but I think the Missoula editors need to take a hard look at whether this piece achieve the aims they discussed. Of course, the press should expose dangerous views like Spencer’s, but this piece was soft, soft, soft.

  • Great article. Thank you. This paper has always been marginal, but the last few years it is very conservative and biased.

  • i noticed a similar situation last week in the flathead beacon when they ran a story about spencer but would not mention tanya gersh by name even though she was the real estate agent who threatened spencer’s mom with a 200 person protest in front of her property.

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