USA Politics

CPAC dismisses Richard Spencer: How conservatives are severing alt-right ties (+video)

Richard Spencer, who claims to have coined the term 'alt-right,' was asked to leave a conservative conference Thursday, one of several times this week that conservatives have stood up to right-wing ideas and personalities judged to be offensive.

Richard Spencer, a leader and spokesperson for the so-called 'alt-right' movement, speaks to the media at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Md., Thursday after organizers asked him to leave the conference.
Joshua Roberts/Reuters | Caption

Richard Spencer, a white nationalist and a leader of the so-called "alt-right" movement, says he has been booted from the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) by organizers who disagree with his views.

CPAC spokesman Ian Walters told NBC that Mr. Spencer’s ticket had been refunded, saying that his views were "repugnant."

A controversial figure, Spencer is credited with coining the term alt-right, which refers to a branch of the right-wing that has roots in white supremacy. Spencer has also addressed crowds where his cry of "Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!" was met with what looked like Nazi salutes. His presence has spurred outrage and protest at venues around the nation.

“I think everyone – everyone recognizes that there has to be identity politics in the world, that white people defined the United States and we're now experiencing an increasing minority status,” he told NBC Thursday, noting that he had credentials and had spent about an hour at the event speaking with attendees and the media before he was “politely” asked to leave.

Unfazed, Spencer said that attendees, especially younger ones, expressed more interest in his new ideas than those of aging conservatives.

“The fact is, people want to talk to me,” he said. “They don’t want to talk to these boring conservatives.”

Conservatives have decried what they see as a “politically correct” movement over the past several years, arguing that liberal “snowflakes” are too easily offended by controversial speech. President Trump garnered favor among large swaths of voters using brash rhetoric and that exact argument, rallying against new societal norms that have made some take pause when choosing their words, especially relating to religion, gender, and race.

But recent action on the part of conservatives could show that there is a line to be drawn when it comes to allowing free expression, at least on platforms that represent their party.

Spencer’s removal comes just days after CPAC disinvited Milo Yiannopoulos, a former editor at the right-wing news outlet Breitbart, from speaking at the conference. While Mr. Yiannopoulos has received backlash over the years for his disparaging comments about women, minorities, Muslims, and transgender people, it was unearthed comments in which he advocates for pedophilia that led CPAC to cancel his appearance.

While some have called those who push the envelope on free speech by adopting offensive language “heroic,” others have noted that using the First Amendment for the purpose of shocking the masses and stoking controversy isn’t the best way to show appreciation for the right.

“It’s the principle that’s heroic, not the people that push the bounds of the principle,” Ken Paulson, president of the First Amendment Center, told The Christian Science Monitor earlier this week. “If you want to have a public examination of the First Amendment, there are thousands of hardworking men and women … who can provide remarkable perspective and can do it in a way that doesn’t scorch the earth.”

Spencer’s dismissal from CPAC followed a speech earlier Thursday that addressed growing concerns about the conservative’s entanglement with the alt-right.

Dan Schneider, executive director of American Conservative Union, which runs CPAC, denounced the alt-right as anti-Semitic, racist, and sexist on Thursday, a move many moderates and Democrats have been calling on officials to do for months.

But in doing so, he argued that the group was on the extreme left, not the right, as many have accepted.

“There is a sinister organization that is trying to warp its way into our ranks,” Mr. Schneider said in one of the conference’s first addresses. “We must not be deceived by [a] hateful, left-wing fascist group.”

As CPAC continues, many conservatives hope that leaders will find a new way to define themselves during a period of uncertainty.

"I think the conservative movement is hopeful, but wary," Tim Phillips, president of Koch-brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity, told the Associated Press prior to the conference.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.