Following the white supremacist violence in Virginia this week, far-right social media superstars began disavowing and smearing Alt-Right leader Richard Spencer as part of a reignited attempt to sanitize their prior relationships to the white nationalist Alt-Right.
Spencer, the self-described father of the Alt-Right, was scheduled to be a speaker at Saturday’s “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, before the rally devolved into violence, culminating in a car attack that killed a counter-protester. Since then, Spencer has sought to be at the center of news accounts of the events, including holding a press conference at his home to praise President Trump’s defense of the white supremacist protesters.
Spencer first began to be seen as toxic by the movement he helped to launch after journalists filmed him giving a Nazi salute and making the declaration “Hail Trump” at a post-election event. Since that moment, many online social media personalities who achieved fame by pandering to the Alt-Right and its followers have attempted to distance themselves from Spencer and claim that they are part of the “New Right” rather than the Alt-Right—attempting to hide the fact that they achieved fame by effectively acting as spokespeople for the Alt-Right’s signature ideologies.
In the wake of the events in Charlottesville, these figures have been renewing their attempts to distance themselves from the Alt-Right and Spencer.
Online personality and self-declared “New Right” leader Mike Cernovich took to Periscope yesterday to accuse Spencer and other Alt-Right protestors in Charlottesville of being “deep state” operatives and claimed he regretted not letting his friend physically assault Spencer at a party he hosted last year. He went on to claim the “Unite the Right” rally was a “media psy-op” operation designed to tie prominent white supremacists like Spencer and David Duke to President Donald Trump and to “make people afraid that there’s all these Nazis out there when there really aren’t.” This comes despite the fact that Cernovich has echoed the sentiments of the Alt-Right, including claiming in a since-deleted tweet that he became “Alt-Right” after realizing “tolerance only went one way and diversity is code for white genocide.”
Likewise, online “New Right” social media troll Jack Posobiec, who has spread harmful conspiracy theories and promoted Spencer, claimed yesterday that Spencer is “what controlled op looks like,” insinuating that Spencer is a pawn of nefarious actors hoping to smear the conservative movement rather than a legitimate white supremacist:
This is what controlled op looks like pic.twitter.com/jQvpwVgORr
— Jack Posobiec 🇺🇸 (@JackPosobiec) August 16, 2017
Beyond the so-called “New Right” media personalities, other figures who had been sympathetic to the Alt-Right in its formative years have disavowed Spencer as they claim they should not be labeled Alt-Right. Ezra Levant, owner of The Rebel Media, condemned Spencer and the “far-right political movement” as “not conservative” in a staff memo this month, despite the outlet’s reputation as an international platform for Far-Right and Alt-Right figures and its prior defenses of the Alt-Right.
Presidential advisor and former CEO of Breitbart News Steve Bannon, despite the fact that he once called Breitbart “the platform for the Alt-Right” and allowed the publication of an article that praised Spencer, told The American Prospect yesterday that “ethno-nationalism” such as that promoted by Spencer at Unite the Right is “a fringe element” of “losers” and “a collection of clowns” and “the media plays it up too much, and we gotta help crush it, you know, uh, help crush it more.”
And perhaps the highest-profile media provocateur associated with the Alt-Right, Milo Yiannopoulos, claimed in a “Breitbart News Radio” interview on Monday that Spencer and other protesters at the Unite the Right rally were “from the wacky, fringe, white supremacist right” and “really don’t have many supporters in America at all,” despite having previously praised Spencer as one of the “intellectuals” of the Alt-Right movement.
The seemingly synchronized condemnation of Spencer is only happening now as “formerly” Alt-Right media figures realize that it has become increasingly toxic to be identified as members of the Alt-Right, especially in the aftermath of violent events at the Unite the Right rally. It’s easy for these figures to condemn Spencer, given his loss of influence over the Alt-Right movement as it exists today. The Alt-Right has grown beyond Spencer, and if far-right media figures think they can save face by disavowing an Alt-Right has-been, they will.