COLLEGE STATION, Texas—An anarchist in a black mask picked up a handful of rocks and threw them at a trio of white nationalists.
“Leave, Nazis!” he screamed.
The men ducked slightly and kept walking. They were the target of students and protesters all Tuesday night here, where alt-right leader Richard Spencer gave a speech about the importance of white Americans reclaiming the country.
Meanwhile, a Holocaust survivor spoke across the street.
“I hope that we can have more upstanders now than bystanders in World War II,” said Max Glauben, 88, who was 15 when his family were placed in the Warsaw Ghetto before being sent to a series of concentration camps. Glauben lost his father, mother, and brother in the years that followed, ultimately moving to Texas in 1947.
The campus of Texas A&M was the latest pressure point in an America where men like Spencer have been emboldened by the election of Donald Trump, their previously under-the-surface white-nationalist views now available for the entire country to view and discuss.
Vincent Snyder, one of the trio of white nationalists who ducked rocks and dodged spit and vitriol here, is more than happy to have that discussion.
Spencer spoke about “white identity and why whites shouldn’t be put down by people like Black Lives Matter,” Snyder told The Daily Beast. The 25-year-old from Houston made it into Spencer’s event, which was overwhelmingly attended by students and protesters who heckled him at times and hammered him with questions about race, immigration, and genetics as well as allegations that his alt-right rhetoric has been inciting violence.
Spencer denied the claims.
“I’m inciting violence? I doubt that,” he said in response to a question from the audience.
What followed was one of several heated moments between Spencer’s supporters and protesters. A bit of pushing and shoving went on inside the small theater, Snyder said, and he wasn’t there long before leaving to try to help his friends get in.
“There were two people there dressed up as clowns, and they were dancing around with their gay little signs,” Snyder said. “There were minorities and commies getting pissed off and shouting.”
For his part, Spencer responded to protesters and students in a way reminiscent of Trump on the campaign trail. “She’s dancing, perhaps she’ll lose some weight,” was among the many appearance-based retorts. Later, Spencer told the crowd to "cool down the autism a little bit."
Those gathered outside the hall were just as upset by Spencer’s presence on campus. A crowd of thousands gathered in protest of Spencer’s appearance near trees dedicated to the 55 alumni who died in battle in World War I. They chanted:
“Si, se puede!”
“The whole world is watching!”
“Black lives matter!”
“I’m a national socialist,” Snyder said as Spencer remained inside, taking questions from the audience. “Scary, huh?”
Snyder dismissed the slaughter of Jews as an unfortunate side effect of national socialism in Germany, preferring instead to recall the alleged positives that came out of that tortured era of history.
“As soon as you say you’re a national socialist someone jumps on you for [the death of] six million Jews, but that’s not part of my belief system,” Snyder said. “When I talk about national socialism, I’m talking about what Hitler did to get workers back on track.”
Getting Americans back to work is a key platform of every presidential campaign. But for Donald Trump—who recently disavowed Spencer’s actions after an event in which he invoked Nazi symbolism by saying “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!”—getting American jobs back is the No. 1 rallying cry.
He saved more than 1,000 of them—scratch that, about 700 of them—at a Carrier plant in Indiana. He has promised that his proposed policy of deporting millions of immigrants will bring even more back to American workers.
But Snyder, an avowed white nationalist who was additionally pegged as a Trump supporter by students here, didn’t even bother to vote for the president-elect. So what does his presence at Spencer’s event have to do with Trump? Perhaps nothing. The president-elect would agree; he seems to believe Spencer’s popularity in particular and the growing presence of the alt-right in general have nothing to do with his unexpected win.
In a lengthy question-and-answer session with editors and reporters at The New York Times two weeks ago, Trump said he doesn’t know if “it’s reporting or whatever” that was responsible for the rise of the alt-right during his campaign.
“I don’t know where they were four years ago,” he went on to say about Spencer and the alt-right.
They weren’t speaking on college campuses as police in riot gear separated them from protesters and students. They are now.