Richard Spencer. Merely hearing the name raises my hackles. And he is back in the news because … he lost his gym membership. The abbreviated version:
Richard Spencer was working out at the Old Town Sport & Health gym in Alexandria, Virginia, last Wednesday, when a Georgetown University professor, C. Christine Fair, recognized him and confronted him. When she asked if he was Richard Spencer, he initially denied it, but she persisted and proceeded to berate him, saying …
“Of course you are, so not only are you a Nazi — you are a cowardly Nazi. I just want to say to you, I’m sick of your crap — that this country belongs [to people like you]. . . . As a woman, I find your statements to be particularly odious; moreover, I find your presence in this gym to be unacceptable, your presence in this town to be unacceptable.”
According to reports, Ms. Fair did not let up and at some point in the confrontation, Mr. Spencer sought the aid of one of the gym’s trainers, an African-American woman. Eventually the general manager of the gym was called, and he chastised Ms. Fair, saying that Spencer had a right to join the gym, and accusing Ms. Fair of creating a hostile environment. Fair said that she told the general manager the employees of the gym — most of whom were not ‘white, Christian males’ — could file a class action suit against the gym “for being subjected to this man due to his public hate mongering.” Ultimately, the gym rescinded Spencer’s membership.
Now … I admit that on first reading this story, I did applaud, saying, “ha ha … he got what he deserved”. And part of me still feels that way. However … upon reading a response to one of Spencer’s twitter tweets about the incident, I had to double back and examine my own conscience, think with my head instead of my heart, and conclude that … in the absence of Mr. Spencer mistreating any employee or patron of the gym, his membership should not have been revoked. Sigh … it pains me to have to say that. Here is the tweet that kicked my thought process into gear:
Richard 🐸 Spencer Retweeted
TinkerBelle @A_Nice_Girl_ May 20
Does this mean we can start kicking Jews and coloreds out of our business establishments?
And when I read that, I thought about businesses that want to refuse to serve the LGBT community, those who would turn African-Americans away from housing in certain neighborhoods, and I realized this is no different. Yes, in my book Richard Spencer is a grade A jerk, a bigot, a homophobe, a racist, and yes, a Nazi. While he denies being a Nazi, he uses the stiff-armed salute at rallies and speeches, and his ideology is that of a white supremacist who believes white people to be superior over all others. So yes, he IS a Nazi. But, I think that as long as he is breaking no law, he has the same rights to enter a gym, a grocery store, or a public library as any of us.
I think I speak for many of us when I say that we are incensed when a baker refuses to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple, or when restrictive voter ID laws are passed to discriminate against minorities. We feel rage when people deny LGBT children the right to use a restroom at school. If we support discrimination by businesses against the likes of Mr. Spencer, then we are no better than the bigots, racists and homophobes who discriminate against blacks, Jews, Muslims, Hispanics, LGBT, and women.
If those of us who support inclusion and non-discrimination for all groups deny those principles to any group, then is not that a double standard? Are we not engaging in the very behaviour we disparage?
Personally, I believe that Mr. Spencer should be in prison, not for his beliefs, but because on multiple occasions he has been guilty of inciting to riot and hate speech, at the very least. He has been banned from no less than 26 countries in Europe. If it can ever be proven that he broke the law, encouraged others to break the law, then he should be arrested. But until such time, I do not think I can condone his rights being infringed because the majority of us find him and his ideas offensive.
It is much easier to applaud people like Spencer being kicked out of the gym, much harder to reach deep into the mind and determine what is right, but unless we are willing to have our opinions dismissed as “just another snowflake thought”, this is an exercise we must go through, and we must come to the fair and logical conclusion. I believe I have done this, though admittedly it is not one that makes me happy. But my conscience tells me it is the right conclusion.