November 8th, 2017

Richard Spencer is a whiny little twit, but he’s a dangerous whiny little twit. That’s why Gary Younge finally decided that interviewing the wasted mass of human genome was important. In Why interviewing Richard Spencer was a risk worth taking, Younge explains:

In July this year, I interviewed the American white supremacist Richard Spencer, for a documentary on the roots of white anxiety in America. In the course of our exchange he claims that Africans contributed nothing to civilisation (they started it), that Africans benefited from white supremacy (they didn’t) and that, since I’m black I cannot be British (I am). A clip of that interview that has now gone viral.

The most common response to that video has been a variation on the theme of physical retribution (“I can’t believe you didn’t punch him”; “I’d have punched him”; “Someone should punch him”). That’s not my style. But beyond that, many have raised the issue that I raised all those years ago – “Why give him a platform?” “Who stands to gain from this?” These are reasonable questions. Indeed I asked it myself, on camera, before I interviewed him, saying: “I’m quite conflicted about interviewing Richard Spencer. Ordinarily, giving someone like that oxygen is something I think journalists shouldn’t do.”

So why did I? Well, the primary reason was journalistic. The documentary seeks to unearth the roots of white anxiety in America and how that is affecting the nation’s politics. Given US president Donald Trump’s record of race-baiting it seemed like racism should be in the mix. There were some things we did take off the schedule—like an interview with the Ku Klux Klan—because we felt they did not represent anything significant. But Spencer seemed to have a different currency. He coined the term “alt-right” – a synonym for the extreme right. Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist at the time of the interview, used to run Breitbart News (and since his resignation from the post does again), which he boasted was a platform for the alt-right.

I prefer alt-wrong, but that’s just me. Younge continues:

Having established that we would interview him, the next question was: how. For the risk remains that in giving him time we legitimise him as acceptable mainstream actor and dignify his views as being both reasonable and credible.

Throughout this trip, and throughout my career, I have met many people with views I’ve found objectionable. My general strategy is to let people speak for themselves and faithfully relate what they say—challenging only factual inaccuracies—in the hope that I can draw out why they think what they think. To be as empathic as I can, in the hope that I can work out where they are coming from.

But it was my view, shared by the team, that this was different. Spencer’s supremacist views are well-known. So while we would put Spencer on camera, the aim would be to challenge his views not indulge them. The aim was to be civil but firm. My first question—“You want to create a nation of dispossessed white people. Is that right?”—was hardly a curveball.

What did we expect? From what we had seen before, he would appear charming and reasonable while giving his egregious and offensive views an intellectual gloss. He would find it in his own interests to be believable and engaging, and my task would be to get the mask to slip.

What we did not expect was that he would be ignorant, historically illiterate, incoherent and personally insulting. The reason I called time on the interview was because Spencer was spent—beyond baiting me, he had nothing to offer, and frankly, I had no desire to hang around a white supremacist conference a second longer than I had to.

I’ve become accustomed to 21st-century racism being far more sophisticated, and we were concerned about giving him a platform. We didn’t anticipate that he’d bring the gallows and the rope and finish the job himself in such ostentatious fashion. By the end of the interview I don’t think anybody is in any doubt about what his views are. The risk resides in whether, having seen the interview, people are more likely to identify with him and his views or less. On balance, given his performance and the response, we think it was a risk worth taking

Younge’ documentary, Angry, White and American, airs tomorrow night in England. I’m hoping that Younge’s work becomes available online shortly thereafter.


  1. Mary Jo says:

    The video clip leaves me gob-smacked. Thank you for posting this. I very much want to see Younge’s documentary.

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