On August 24, 2020, Joe Biden received an unlikely endorsement by way of a late-night tweet. Richard Spencer, a known white nationalist frequently seen giving Nazi-style salutes to his followers, is the man credited with coining the term “alt-right”. Seemingly the last person to support Biden, let alone a democrat, Spencer is also the man who posted this endorsement on Twitter.
Upon first glance, this statement of support is shocking. It brings into question the principles upon which Biden has based his campaign: if someone known for desiring an all-white ethno-state could publicly advocate for Biden, who is Biden really? This endorsement reminds of the several notable republicans who have also shied away from Trump recently; is this shift of party ideology a growing trend, even reaching the extremes of the alt-right? Or, is Spencer simply “trolling” his large audience of both those who will return his Nazi salute, and those who view him with disdain?
Opinions on Spencer’s tweet are lacking in major media outlets, but one article argues the latter: “Spencer has and continues to support Trump’s policies, from his stance on immigration to Black Lives Matter” (Rosenberg, 2020). The author, Yair Rosenberg, argues that this tweet is merely a way to troll Biden and his supporters, in turn harming the campaign and its credibility, suggesting that it is best to ignore fake endorsements like his. But Biden’s campaign did not. In fact, soon after, the campaign responded, vehemently refusing the so-called support. Perhaps this clear disavowing of Spencer and what he stands for renewed some of the damage this could have created for Biden’s chance of winning the presidency. But, it could have also further catalyzed the trolling.
Spencer’s more recent tweets paint an even more confusing picture. While Rosenberg indicates that Spencer faked support to harm democrats, his internet activity poses another possibility.
Take the above retweet, for example. Spencer appears to be openly criticizing Trump’s handling of the pandemic, stating that he responded to it so poorly that Biden is the better option. This seems to reinforce his support for Biden as a presidential candidate.
Spencer also simultaneously criticizes the continuing Black Lives Matter movement (BLM) in the United States, while reposting tweets like the one below, further bringing into question his loyalties, especially in a time where Republicans have either not condemned, or actively praised the actions of the teenager in question. Although this tweet argues that white people are the ones being killed in the protests, the contradiction between being anti-BLM protests and also against letting white people fight against the protestors remains (one would think that a white nationalist would be in support of people like the 17 year old with a gun who killed and harmed protestors).
Finally, and perhaps most perplexingly, Spencer posted a tweet in support of Hillary Clinton majorly critiquing Trump. Arguably more radical than his endorsement of Biden is his support for Clinton effectively saying that Trump must meet defeat in November. While Spencer and Clinton remain in disagreement for their reasons for desiring Trump not be re-elected, his support for removing him from office still apparently remains. Spencer clearly wants an end to the BLM protests, and believes that Trump should use the force within his capacities to end them, no matter how violently. Similarly to Trump’s failed response to COVID-19, Spencer posts that he has also failed to use his executive authority to “crush the rioters and looters”.
The question still remains as to the sincerity of Spencer’s posts. Perhaps Rosenberg is correct in proposing that it is all a facade meant to take down the left, or maybe Spencer is earnestly tired of Trump’s America and regrets his 2016 vote. Either way, he moves through the alt-right movement with contradictions galore, despite always remaining a white nationalist and Nazi supporter. A move to support the left by a figure like Spencer is by no means a victory for Biden, simply because Spencer has not altered any of his deeply-held, blatantly racist ideologies. Instead, it suggests that the American political system is increasingly polarized, even confusing, and that the ways the public and those within the system can manipulate its action and motives are profound. If Spencer can support Biden for reasons so contradictory to someone like Clinton, yet still claim to support him, then again, the question becomes: for whom are we really voting, and why?
Rosenberg, Y. (2020). No, White Supremacist Richard Spencer Didn’t Seriously
Endorse Joe Biden. https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/news/articles/whit
Screenshots taken directly from Spencer’s twitter account. https://twitter.com