People like to compare Donald Trump to Hitler, both for legitimate reasons and because people love comparing people they don't like to Hitler. After he announced his proposal for banning all Muslim travel to the United States, actual Nazis announced their support of him, which essentially functions as an anti-endorsement of the Republican presidential candidate, who despite logic and reason, continues to lead in the polls.
It's not just the Nazis who like Trump. It's the white nationalists, too. Take Richard Spencer, who heads up the nationalist think tank National Policy Institute and has been described as an "academic racist" by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Spencer is of a new breed of white nationalist, who on the surface eschews outright racism and instead prefers to remain upbeat, simply stressing that he's really, really amped about being white.
"[Trump] seems to genuinely care about the historic American nation that is white people." —Richard Spencer
He is also, to a lesser degree, amped on Donald Trump. He told me he appreciates the fact that Trump brings identity into politics in a way that few other candidates have done, and that Trump is actively driving people towards the nationalist cause.
Charming in a sociopathic sort of way, Spencer bristled when I asked him over the phone if he identified as a white supremacist; he prefers the terms "alternative right" and "identitarianist" over "racist" or "white supremacist." To be an identitarian, Spencer says, is to say, "Identity is the most important question to answer. Who are we racially? Who are we historically? Who are we in terms of our experience? Who are we in terms of our community?" This is a fancy way of saying that he is a racist.
He repeatedly referred to himself as a "nerd," professing a love of classical music and a philosophical alliance to Heidegger (after we got off the phone, he sent me an article he'd written on why the "alternative right" should go see the new Star Wars movie). Being affably racist is sort of Spencer's "thing"—a 2013 Salon profile of him found the writer agreeing with his views on big-box stores one moment, only to become horrified once he started calmly advocating for sterilizing minorities.
Speaking to me from his Montana home, Spencer and I had a conversation about why he likes Donald Trump, why Trump's campaign makes space for more candidates with white suprema—uh, "identitarian"—views, and why the "alternative right" is not particularly interested in Jeb(!) Bush. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
VICE: Would you say that Donald Trump is expressing "identitarian" values when he advocates for banning Muslims from the United States?
Richard Spencer: I'm glad Donald Trump is running for president. He's brought an existential quality to politics. He's talking about, "Are we a nation? Is America a nation?" That's a big question. I think in a way, his proposal to ban Muslims is obviously being sparked by the Paris terror attacks, as well as the ongoing refugee crisis throughout Europe. I think one thing he's saying is just, "We don't want that here." I think identity does play a role in this. He's basically saying that if you are a nation, then at some point you have to say "There is an 'Us,' and there is a 'Them.' Who are we? Are we a nation?" In that sense, I think it's really great.
Besides this specific initiative, would you say he's an identitarian candidate?
Look: I don't think any mainstream candidate is going to satisfy me. I don't think he's an identitarian—to some degree he's a mainstream Republican. I think the fact that he brings identity into play and asks these big questions means that it's a great thing that he's running. He's making people think. Mass democracy is usually either boring or stupid. It's about all these wonky, technical things that no one understands, or it's like a reality show—which candidate had an affair, which candidate you'd like to have a beer with. And I think with Trump, politics is real. It's existential. I don't think he speaks for me, but I do think he's getting at these questions that I really care about. He kinda came out of nowhere. I never expected him to run, and I never expected him to be this radical.
You said politics sucks because it's like a reality show, so I find it very ironic that you're enjoying the campaign of a guy who's essentially a reality star.
[Laughs] That's the funny thing about Trump—he's used his power as a celebrity and his aura of fame not to acquire more fame like Kim Kardashian taking an Instagram photo of her butt. He seems to genuinely care about the historic American nation that is white people. The fact that he's using celebrity in order to be a radical politician… I never expected it. It's almost as if Kim Kardashian decided to talk about Nietzsche on YouTube.
Actually, Kim Kardashian has been petitioning for the acknowledgement of the Armenian genocide this year.
I did not know that. That is interesting. Maybe I should rethink Kim Kardashian.
Are there any other candidates that you like?
Not really, actually. I don't like the Republican party, generally. I don't see any other candidate who talks about things the way Trump does. I think Trump is really sui generis. I have no interest in Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, or any of these other people. I definitely think I speak for a lot of people on the alt-right and Twitter when I say it's really about Trump. If he drops out or loses, we're not all going to become fascinated with Ted Cruz or Ben Carson. Trump is something different.
Do you think he might turn more people towards your views?
Yes. Unquestionably. I think it's happening. It's amazing how many people I've met who have said, "I just discovered these ideas six months ago." You could say something's in the air, maybe Trump opens up space because he's so bombastic and willing to talk about the things that people don't want to talk about. Even if you don't agree with him, there's almost a liberating aspect to him. He's willing to go there. He's willing to talk about the things that make people uncomfortable. Trump has unquestionably brought people to our ideas.
Do you think he's a sign that an identitarian candidate could have a shot at public office?
The conservative movement—like National Review nerds, the leaders of CPAC—these people hate Trump with a passion. But he's just defeated them; he's made them look stupid and weak. The Republican establishment hates this; this is not what they want. Maybe all of these forces are old in the tooth and they're going to go the way of the dinosaur. Trump has shown you don't need to kowtow to those forces to win. I never would have expected it.
It seems like Trump has been able to use this celebrity to clear out all this space, and even if he doesn't win, it's very likely that the next guy saying the same stuff that he's saying could win some sort of office.
I've never thought about that before, but I totally agree.
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