WASHINGTON D.C. — During a media interview this afternoon alt-right founder Richard Spencer, in the nation's capital for inaugural events, was punched in the face by a masked assailant who swooped in front of the camera and clocked Spencer in the cheek.
Just before he was attacked, the self-avowed white nationalist was heckled by bystanders.
"Are you a neo-Nazi?"
"Do you hate blacks?"
Spencer smiled and said, “no” to both questions. And then someone in the crowd asked him what was on his lapel. She was referring to a Pepe the Frog pin, the alt-right symbol often used to disparage Jews and African Americans.
When Spencer looked down at his lapel, the attacker moved in.
A few weeks ago, I interviewed Spencer by phone regarding his controversial platform and his goal to restore what he calls post-America to its white roots. We talked about the University of Virginia, his goals in life and how he believes what he is doing is a way to honor his European heritage. He denies accusations that he is a racist, a fascist, a white supremacist.
He told me he was tired of young white men getting passed up for jobs and opportunities and he was out to change the world. “It all starts with consciousness. Consciousness is everything. All I want to do is change the way people think,” Spencer said.
Earning a reputation for wearing expensive suits and Hitler youth haircut, Spencer is smooth in his academic approach to his white nationalist beliefs. He often wraps his rhetoric in historical and poetic contexts.
Unlike some white supremacy groups, those following Spencer, follow his fashin sense, also wearing suits and donning the familiar haircut. And he told me he was happy the alt-right had a haircut and a look.
When Spencer saluted then president-elect Trump at a National Policy Institute conference in Washington, D.C. shortly after the election, he was catapulted into the international spotlight.
With his right arm extended forward Mussolini and Hitler style, he cried out, “Hail Trump. Hail our people, hail victory.”
And the crowd cheered, returning “Seig Heil” cries and salutes to their white nationalist leader.
As part of reporting my story, I talked to Marilyn Mayo, an Anti-Defamation League investigator who said that Spencer’s style of white supremacy was dangerous because he was repackaging hate to make it seem acceptable.
So I asked him about Mayo’s comment.
“She said you are dangerous, is this true?”
Spencer quickly agreed.
“Changing the way people think is dangerous,” he said. “It’s dangerous for me too.”
And perhaps it is after all.