Richard Spencer Loves White People Who Make Stuff. His Family Takes Handouts.
While he talks about how when “people aren’t just giving you something, it feels all the better,” his family has been cleaning up on grants and loans from the racist USDA.
Richard Spencer became a media fixture in 2016 because the overwhelmingly white and middle-class American press was impressed by a white supremacist they found unnervingly relatable, in possession of not only all his teeth, but also “articulate,” “intellectual” and “a neat dresser.” The “white rights activist,” as one mainstream outlet I shit you not described Spencer in 2017, painted himself as the leader of an iconoclastic and edgy new ideology—the term “alt-right” was coined by Spencer in 2008 —as if white supremacy, anti-Blackness and hating Jews isn’t the absolute least transgressive, boringly predictable basis for any American political movement.
Spencer pushes the same tired, debunked, institutionalized race science that—from the 3/5ths Compromise to The Bell Curve to the current anti-history effort—has always justified white American power and the racial caste system that supports it. “We build, we produce, we go upward,” he said in 2016. “We don’t exploit other groups. We don’t gain anything from their presence. They need us, and not the other way around.”
But Spencer’s own wealth comes in part from government handouts and racial exploitation. Back in 2017, the Center for Investigative Reporting found that Spencer’s family owns 5,200 acres of Louisiana cotton and cornfields, farmland that was “subsidized heavily by the federal government,” collecting $2 million in federal payments between 2008 and 2015. Since that report ran, it appears the family has continued to accept funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dickenhorst Farms, owned jointly by Spencer, his mother and his sister, received payments of $50,000 and $94,147 in 2018 and 2019, respectively; since 1994 it’s taken $1,245,118 in government support.
The Poor Richard Partnership farm company, co-owned by Spencer and his mother, got small loans of $1,555 in 2018 and $2,869 in 2019; since 1994, it’s taken in $112,853. Another family property, listed as being owned by Spencer’s mother and sister, received $4,564 in 2018, $24,012 in 2019 and $1,792 in 2020; since 1994, it’s taken in $108,384. The family’s other farm companies—Spencer Farms, Dickenhorst Trust, Sher-Di-Je Land—have not gotten federal loans in recent years, though each has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in the past. In “the makers and takers” spirit that Mitt Romney talked about, the Spencers are moochers.
Sure, there’s the hypocrisy of Spencer, whose family land holdings—a huge source of intergenerational wealth—were bought by his maternal grandfather, RW Dickenhorst, during the Jim Crow era, when Black folks were often denied access to or quite literally chased off their land. There’s also the fact that much of that land was likely worked by underpaid and exploited Black laborers. But the Spencers’ wealth growth with the aid of loans from the United States Department of Labor is particularly significant because the USDA systematically denied Black farmers loans and other kinds of financial aid for decades, even as it was distributing that federal taxpayer money to white farmers.
Multiple federal agencies have written reports attesting to the USDA’s racist lending policies—including the USDA itself. Way back in 1965, the United States Commission on Civil Rights wrote “that racial discrimination” at the USDA “has served to accelerate the displacement and impoverishment of the Negro farmer,” and cautioned that “it should be a matter of national concern that the gap between Negro and white rural residents in the South has increased during the very period when the programs of the Department were helping thousands of rural white families to achieve substantial gains in income, housing, and education… Negroes have been consistently denied access to many services, provided with inferior services when served, and segregated in federally financed agricultural programs whose very task was to raise their standard of living” by the agency.
The USDA’s refusal to give federal funds to Black farmers—resulting in foreclosures and reduced-price sales of Black lands to white buyers—has contributed heavily to African-American farmers losing 90 percent of the 16 million acres they once possessed. As a result, white people own 98 percent of America’s farmland. In 1990, the House Committee on Government Operations wrote that the USDA “tacitly permitted race and ethnicity to become a criteria for assistance, thus betraying its mission, denying its purpose, and neglecting its responsibility. Instead of giving them a hand, the [USDA] has categorically and systematically denied minority farmers access and full participation in the multitude of federal government programs designed to assist them. This committee has uncovered clear and convincing evidence that [the USDA], through systemic discrimination, is directly responsible for the loss of land and resources these farmers have experienced.”
But Spencer—who once said that the feds “subsidize people and institutions who make our lives worse just by the sheer fact of their existence”—and his family continue to benefit from the long-standing white affirmative action programs in place at the USDA, which endure today. Thanks to the government, Spencer and his family were able to sell 1,600 acres of their land in 2012 for $4.3 million, further enriching themselves.
The irony of Spencer complaining about America subsidizing people who make the world worse is surely lost on him. While he has been cagey about how much money went into his own pocket from the farmland his family owns, some of it may well have helped underwrite his pet causes and events, including his now defunct super-racist “think-tank.”
There have recently been reports of Spencer being in a bad place since the MAGA heights of 2016. This past May, a federal court ordered his organization to pay $2.4 million to an anti-racist protester injured by neo-Nazis at the white nationalist Unite the Right march in Charlottesville, Virginia. In 2018, his wife publicly accused him of emotional and physical abuse amidst their divorce proceedings. On October 25, he and a bunch of other fascists will face trial for their role in organizing Unite the Right. Spencer will be representing himself—which tells you a bit about his client —since his lawyer quit last year over unpaid fees. At a recent hearing, Spencer called the case against him “financially crippling,” and complained that because of “deplatforming efforts against me, it is very difficult for me to raise money as other citizens are able to.” In other words, he believes anti-racist efforts have effectively barred him from access to money and other necessary resources to live a decent life. Must be rough.
A few years back, Spencer—who is a big fan of calling Black people stupid— declared that “to be white is to be a striver, a crusader, an explorer and a conqueror,” and praised white people’s ability to “overcome” any obstacle.
“When you accomplish something and you’re struggling, when you accomplish something and people aren’t just giving you something, it feels all the better,” Spencer said in another interview. “I mean, it really feels joyous.”
Now would be a good time for him to give up all that land and money that the government is still “just giving” him and his family and conjure a triumph of the will.