He’s a white nationalist, and he’s pondering a run for Congress.
Richard Spencer, whose National Policy Institute has been described as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and Anti-Defamation League, said he’s considering running for the Montana congressional seat expected to be vacated by Republican Ryan Zinke. Last week, Zinke was tapped by President-elect Donald Trump to lead the Department of Interior.
In an interview Tuesday, Spencer, a resident of Montana who also has a home and office space in the Washington, D.C.-area, said he’s “seriously” thinking about a run and would make a decision by early next year.
“This would be an insurgent campaign,” said Spencer, adding that he would run as an independent candidate. “My candidacy would be something everyone would be talking about and would observe.”
As the founder of the “alt-right” movement – a loose grouping of neo-Nazis, anti-Semites and misogynists, united in opposition to the perceived disenfranchisement of white men – Spencer has traversed the country in recent weeks for a host of speaking engagements. Interest in the movement has surged in the wake of Trump’s victorious presidential campaign, which was marked by divisive and racially coded rhetoric. Earlier this month, thousands of students at Texas A&M University protested a speech Spencer delivered in a campus banquet hall.
For Spencer, Trump’s candidacy and victory symbolized a “strong shift toward nationalism.”
“He was a breath of fresh air,” Spencer said.
In order to run as an independent to succeed Zinke as Montana’s only U.S. House member, Spencer would have to submit a petition with 15,000 verified signatures 75 days before the special election, according to the Montana Secretary of State’s office.
While Montana Democrats in recent days have strongly denounced any potential campaign by Spencer, Republicans have been more subdued. Jeff Essmann, chairman of the Montana Republican Party, told the Missoulian last week that he couldn’t comment on “the merits of any candidate or share my personal views on any of them.” But, he added, “in most corners of Montana, a Spencer candidacy would be viewed skeptically.”
So far, no Democrats have declared interest in the seat, although several Republican state legislators have stepped forward, including state Sens. Scott Sales of Bozeman and Ed Buttrey of Great Falls, and state Rep. Daniel Zolnikov of Billings.
On Tuesday, Rachel Carroll Rivas, co-director of the Montana Human Rights Network, castigated Spencer for considering a run for Congress in the state.
“He’s using a political platform to take these extremist ideas into our everyday discussion, and we should resist this at every turn,” she said. “Who supports Richard Spencer? … He’s supported by a bunch of online vitriolic trolls.”
As Spencer weighs a run for Congress, the Daily Stormer, a white nationalist website, in recent days has called on supporters to “take action” against Jewish people in Whitefish, Mont., where Spencer’s mother, Sherry, lives. It alleges that the “vicious, evil race” has forced Sherry Spencer to sell a building she owns in town. The website posted the names and addresses of several people in Whitefish.
“It’s not what I would do,” Spencer said of the Daily Stormer’s release of the residents’ personal information.
Carroll Rivas notes that should Spencer run, it would “not [be] the first time a white supremacist has run for Congress” in Montana.
Five years ago, John Abarr, a former organizer for the Ku Klux Klan, ran in the Republican primary for Montana’s congressional seat. At the time, he said, it was in response to the election of President Obama and was an effort to “save the white race.” Abarr eventually dropped out, citing a lack of support for his candidacy. And this year, a white nationalist, Taylor Rose, ran an unsuccessful GOP campaign for a seat in the state Legislature.
Several white nationalists elsewhere in the country have run for political office in recent years — Tom Metzger in California, David Duke in Louisiana and Arthur Jones in Illinois, to name a few. Duke has run for state and federal offices in Louisiana nearly a dozen times, including a failed bid for U.S. Senate last month, and served a term in the Louisiana House of Representatives.
When asked how he feels about Montanans not wanting a racist to represent them in Congress, Spencer chuckled.
“I’m sure there will be Montanans who say that,” he said. “Sure, that’s fine.”