US POLITICS

Cucks & Kek: Racism’s Old Guard Reaches Out To An Online Generation

Richard Spencer wants to bridge the gap between intellectual racists and millennial alt-right trolls. And it's working

US POLITICS
Illustration: Vocativ
Nov 22, 2016 at 12:40 PM ET

“Tonight I’m here to talk about Jews.” That’s how Kevin MacDonald, a 72-year-old former professor at California State University, Long Beach, prefaced a speech he gave to a crowd of about 200 people on Saturday night at a conference center in Washington D.C. He then went on a 25-minute anti-Semitic tirade as attendees — most decked out in suits and many with similar crop-top haircuts — sipped drinks and listened intently to the dean of America’s white supremacist club spout off decades-old conspiracy theories about one of the world’s oldest religions.

Most of those in attendance were much younger than the aging former academician, but they share a similar ideology on racial identity; they’re part of the alt-right, a budding political movement based on white nationalism and supremacy that was mainstreamed in the 2016 presidential election, and that has become a formidable factor in the contemporary political climate as a result.

MacDonald represents the old guard of America’s intellectual bigots. A once-tenured professor, he’s been a major voice among anti-Semites and white supremacists since the mid-1990s. But MacDonald wasn’t the star of Saturday’s show — that honor belonged to Richard Spencer, the self-declared originator of the term “Alt-right” and the defacto leader of the movement. Spencer, at 38, is the president of the National Policy Institute, which sponsored Saturday’s conference. He’s also the new face of intellectual racism in America, and he’s using his relative youth, technology — along with fantastical tales of a fictitious God-like figure called “Kek” spawned from memes in the bowels of the internet —to lure millennials into the movement.

“No one will honor us for losing gracefully. No one mourns the great crimes committed against us. For us, it is conquer or die. The mainstream media, or perhaps we should refer to them in the original German, Lügenpresse,” Spencer quipped, referring to a term favored by the Nazis for “lying press,” prompting a brief chuckle from the crowd. “It’s not just that they are leftist and cucks. It’s not just that many are genuinely stupid. Indeed, one wonders if these people are people at all.”

He then went on: “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” he said, as the crowd erupted, many giving Nazi salutes as they repeated Spencer’s Third Reich-themed battle cry.

More Donald Trump, The “Gateway Drug” To White Supremacy

Spencer’s speech was geared towards newcomers to the white supremacist movement, angry, young white men who may not be familiar with the tired rhetoric of hate-speech dinosaurs like MacDonald. The terms used in Spencer’s speech — “cucks,” “Kek,” “shit lords” — are the preferred lexicon of online denizens of the new racism. Cuck is a racially tinged term for a fake conservative, Kek the aforementioned meme-God, and shit lord is an insult for someone who’s being sexist, racist or homophobic that’s been gleefully re-appropriated as a term of pride.

This is new territory for Spencer, according to Marilyn Mayo, a research fellow with the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, which monitors groups like the alt-right. Previously, she said, Spencer has distanced himself from well-known racists and anti-semites like Kevin MacDonald as he attempted to subtly “inject white nationalism into conservative politics.” Now, she said, he realizes he needs to also appeal to the younger, more extreme members of the alt-right.

“I have watched over the past year or so that Richard Spencer has embraced the sort of internet troll aspect of the alt-right,” Mayo said. “He’s been talking about the memes and the red pill/blue pill stuff. I think he realized he needs to appeal to that segment of the alt-right to keep the momentum going.”

The alt-right is divided into different sects: ideologues like Spencer, who has a masters degree from the University of Chicago, and racist Internet trolls who harass people in the safety of cyber-space and generate memes featuring things like a cartoon frog they call Pepe. Spencer is bridging that divide by embracing the millennial latter sect — and its fantasyland rhetoric about red pills and blue pills, and its overt anti-semitism — and bringing them into the more publicly palatable intellectual faction of the movement.

The concept of red pills and blue pills comes from the movie The Matrix — in which Neo, the movie’s protagonist can take a blue pill and live forever in fantasy or a red pill and see the truth. The concept has become common in the vernacular of the internet troll sect of the alt-right movement, and is a frequent refrain that even a suit-and-tie racist like Spencer has adopted — “red-pilling” someone is exposing them to reality, which in the mind of the alt-right is a world where white people are losing a perceived fight to African-Americans, Latinos, immigrants, and anyone else who is not of European ancestry. The Jews, of course, are the cause of all of it, if you ask an alt-right Internet troll — and Spencer has started playing to that part of the movement.

In the real real world, however, Spencer is just feeding a beast that, until recently, has lived anonymously in the glow of its computer screen. With Trump’s mainstreaming of much of their political ideologies, those on earth to serve “Kek” are crawling out of the shadows — and Spencer is their guide.

Spencer, who has a masters degree in humanities from a fairly prestigious university, even mentioned “Kek” in his speech, at which point a man in the back of the room yelled “praise Kek.” He was sitting at a table with a man dressed in a hooded cloak resembling that of a Wiccan priest.

This is the real world in which much of the alt-right resides — a real world that even educated racists like Spencer need to embrace to continue their snowballing movement, according to the ADL’s Mayo.

“The display of anti-semitism at this event is like nothing I’ve seen before at these conferences,” Mayo said. “It’s been in the last year that we’ve seen Spencer bring outright anti-semites into his part of the alt-right.

“I think they’re emboldened by the election,” she continued. “They’re legitimized. They can get away with more now and push the boundaries even further.”

Spencer’s star within the alt-right movement hasn’t always shined as bright as it did on Saturday night. Prior to his recent overtures to the younger half of his movement, Spencer was often criticized by more extreme members — generally found within the pseudo-anonymous echo chambers of Websites like Reddit and Stormfront — who felt his brand of toned down anti-Semitism wasn’t representative of the true crux of the alt-right. In September, Spencer caught some heat within the movement for supposedly having positions that were too friendly towards Jews for his alt-right brethren.

Andrew Anglin, a proud, wear-it-on-your-sleeve alt-right neo-Nazi and publisher of the Daily Stormer blog — required reading for the extreme alt-right — came to his rescue.

“Following the first-ever alt-right press conference run by Richard Spencer, there was some controversy within the movement as to what was said, particularly surrounding the issue of not having any positions or policies and several statements praising the Jews,” Anglin wrote in a September 11 blog post. “I always try to stay positive about anything anyone is doing in the movement, so I don’t really feel a need to criticize Spencer too much. He went up there and gave a speech and made it clear he supports a White-only nation.”

The ADL’s Mayo believes this is a shift for Spencer, from moderate, intellectual white nationalist to the leader of a growing band of keyboard racists who he is helping come out of hiding. And it seems to be working.

“Usually the only way we can be heard is online,” said a man in his early 20s whom, after what appeared to be a few cocktails, did not want to give his name — despite the fact that he was wearing a name tag identifying him as a “millennial” named Richard. “We don’t meet much in real life. This is fucking awesome, man.”

Indeed, Spencer is courting disaffected, white millennials, perhaps no more apparent than his special guest at a cocktail party the night before the conference. It was Tila Tequila, a former nude model turned reality TV star.

As this reporter was leaving Spencer’s conference, a man wearing a Trump-inspired “Make America Great Again” hat asked me and a reporter for the New York Times why we weren’t staying.

“There’s gonna be dancing,” he said, before listing off bands that Spencer had lined up to play the after party.