When Richard Spencer, the Alt-Right leader and social firebrand, came to Michigan State University this week, four police officers suffered minor injuries and twenty-five people were arrested. According to The Chicago Tribune, only 150 tickets were issued to the event, but even fewer people attended because of the violence that broke out between Spencer supporters and antifascist protestors.
Spencer’s white supremacist rants are deplorable. His apocalyptic vision urges white people to take action before their doom comes. He tells hearers to join his movement if they “want to live,” and warns that American society may end up in a “hot war” waged by people of color against whites.
Richard Spencer may speak with a prophetic passion as he describes, preacher-like, his peculiar end-times revelation, but his views are anything but Christian. His apocalyptic vision contradicts the vision of the New Testament. The hatred he instills and the violence he promotes have nothing in common with the teaching of Jesus or his apostles.
Indeed, Spencer arrogantly claims that Jesus was mistaken when he said, “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” Spencer, who misunderstands what meekness is, states: “I have never gained anything in my life or my career by watering it down to be just a little bit more palatable. The meek shall never inherit the Earth.”
Either Jesus was right, or Richard Spencer was. For my part, I’ll stand with Jesus, not Spencer.
But I also wouldn’t stand with some of the people who protested against Spencer at MSU. They adopted the very tactics civilized people ought to deplore, shouting vile obscenities at police, and using violence against both police and the people attending Spencer’s lecture. If the hope for peace rests on the shoulders of such people, we’re all in big trouble.
I was once invited to join a protest march against a practice that was deemed racially insensitive. The woman who invited me was a 60s radical for whom the Vietnam war protests marked the high point of her life. She was constantly trying to regain the old sense of purpose and camaraderie she had found on her college campus so long ago.
Perhaps the protestors at MSU were cut from the same cloth: people who were not protesting injustice as much as they were fleeing their own purposelessness. Perhaps they just needed a cause with which to identify themselves. But if their cause is peace, they are going about things the wrong way.
It’s not that they were wrong to take a stand, but taking a stand is different from taking a club, or brass knuckles and knives, as some protestors did. The protestors would have done better to stand for something good, instead of merely standing against something deplorable. The local Episcopal church planned a celebration of diversity to coincide with Spencer’s speaking engagement and received more than 1,000 RSVPs. Imagine if Spencer’s speech had gone on without incident: the local news would have reported that Spencer spoke to 150 attendees, while the diversity celebration attracted more than 1,000. Even Spencer’s supporters would then have had to face the fact of his obvious lack of appeal.
The truth is that hatred, whether it wears a swastika or an Antifa mask, is still hatred. And hatred will never dispel hatred, it will only increase it. Good alone has the power to overcome evil. That is a lesson that Jesus taught and St. Paul reiterated, but that we are regrettably slow to learn.
If one person on the MSU campus had truly engaged Spencer’s muddled supporters with love, he or she could have done more to stop the insanity than all the violent protestors combined. Calling people names only reinforces their prejudices, but a reasoned and respectful debate invites people to reexamine their assumptions. Hearts and minds may not be changed in a day, but they will not be changed at all by busting heads.
The way out of this mess is not to the hard right with Richard Spencer, nor to the hard left with the Antifa protestors. It is not even to the soft right or the soft left. The only way out is up. Our sundered society needs help from above.
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 3/10/2018