The long-simmering battle between neoconservatives (“hawks” or “interventionists” in journalistic shorthand) and paleoconservatives (otherwise known as “isolationists” or “non-interventionists”) has for decades played out in the pages of small but influential magazines, think tank panel discussions, C-SPAN call-in shows, and even presidential campaigns. But only recently did this dispute spread to the lily-white slopes of a Montana ski resort.
In early 2013, longtime GOP foreign policy hand, one-time lobbyist for the Georgian government, and former John McCain advisor Randy Scheunemann found himself on a chairlift at Whitefish Mountain next to Richard Spencer, the director of the National Policy Institute, a white nationalist think tank. NPI is headquartered in Whitefish, Montana, where Scheunemann owns a vacation home, and though both were members of the town’s Big Mountain Ski Club, neither man recognized each other at first, until Spencer, according to Scheunemann, asked him where he worked.
Upon saying “Washington” and giving his full name, Scheunemann says, Spencer responded, “I know who you are,” and started “berating” Scheunemann “for being a neocon and for believing in this whole democracy BS.”
Spencer’s diatribe occurred at that awkward moment just when you’re edging off the lift and onto the slope. Too flabbergasted to react, Scheunemann instead waited for his son, who was on the next chairlift, to ascend the top of the mountain. Spencer skied off.
Ninety minutes later, Scheunemann told the organizers of the ski club about the chairlift incident. “I did not expect the club leadership to do anything,” Scheunemann told The Daily Beast, explaining that he just wanted them to “know that background because if I saw him again I would be likely to punch him in the face.” According to Scheunemann, one of the club’s leaders replied that he would be “justified” in punching Spencer.
Scheunemann, meanwhile, had no idea who Spencer was, and did some homework. What he found was chilling. Spencer recently made international headlines after his NPI attempted to hold a conference in Budapest featuring some of the continent’s most notorious extreme right political activists, including the neo-fascist Russian philosopher Alexander Dugin. “I’m sympathetic toward Putin in many ways,” he recently told Buzzfeed. Russia has the opportunity, to put it bluntly, to make the world a better place.” The Hungarian government, citing a questionable interpretation of its constitution, banned the conference, arrested Spencer, and deported him from the country. (In his Twitter handle Spencer now humbly refers to himself as an “international thought criminal.”)
Spencer has been an up-and-coming figure in the obscure precincts of the white nationalist subculture that likes to adopt a veneer of academic respectability. In addition to heading up NPI, he also publishes a journal, Radix, and oversees a small publishing house. Though their ideas are not entirely different from those of old southern segregationists, they’re expressed with the verbosity of a highly literate professor. Spencer has an impressive academic pedigree, having earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Chicago, a master’s at the University of Virginia, and he was engaged in doctoral work at Duke University around the time of the infamous incident in which a black stripper falsely accused a group of white players of rape. Spencer mysteriously left Durham without finishing his studies, “presumably with his racial animus enhanced,” according to one source familiar with Spencer’s background.
After spending time as an editor at the Pat Buchanan-founded American Conservative, Spencer decided to leave the confines of paleoconservative journalism for outright white nationalism, assuming the leadership position at NPI and its affiliated Washington Summit publishers in 2011. At a conference organized last year by American Renaissance, another white nationalist publication, Spencer called for a “white homeland” to be created via a process of “peaceful ethnic cleansing,” about which he did not elaborate. Echoing Martin Luther King Jr., Spencer declared, “I have a dream.”
Fast forward to the next winter. Horrified that a leading racist activist would be a member of the same ski club, Scheunemann confronted Spencer at the annual Christmas party in December of 2013. “Do you want to talk now before you can run away you fucking racist pussy?” Scheunemann asked. Again, Spencer scurried off. (Scheunemann notes that Spencer’s parents, who used to live in Whitefish just five minutes from Scheunemann, “had a massive 8 foot by 10 foot Ron Paul for President sign in their front yard” during the 2008 campaign).
This time, with ample evidence to back his case, Scheuneman complained to the club’s organizers, outraged that they had offered someone (especially a highly controversial public figure) full membership without consulting other members, an apparent breach of protocol. And so Scheunemann offered an ultimatum: Kick Spencer out, or he would leave.
The club chose to keep Spencer. None of its leaders responded to queries from The Daily Beast.
Asked for comment, Spencer replied, “Randy Scheunemann has given you a gross mischaracterization of events. However, I will not elaborate for the simple reason that this is a private matter involving a private organization. I refuse to bring private matters into a public discussion.”
Asked if he misses his time in the Big Mountain Ski Club, which offers its members perks such as early morning runs on the slopes with the ski patrol before the mountain opens to the general public, Scheunemann has no regrets.
“I don’t want to be in a club that has this overt racist in it,” he said.