Richard Spencer was supposed to lead the alt-right to legal victory over the nation’s liberal universities. Now he’s giving up on his war on colleges, and begging for help in a serious lawsuit against him.
Spencer, a white nationalist, became a figurehead of the alt-right during the movement’s rise to prominence in the 2016 election, after which Spencer reworked a Nazi chant to praise Donald Trump during a speech condemning Jews. A series of media profiles described Spencer as a well-dressed leader who could legitimize the alt-right.
That was then.
In March, his longtime lawyer publicly quit the alt-right. Last week, one of Spencer’s assistants quietly filed an order dismissing Spencer’s last lawsuit against a college. Days later, Spencer was on YouTube asking supporters for $25,000 to support him through a lawsuit against him and other actors in the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia last August.
“Hi everyone, this is Richard Spencer. I am under attack and I need your help. Some of the biggest and baddest law firms in the United States are suing me,” Spencer said in the Friday video. “They’re going after everyone involved in the Unite the Right rally that took place in Charlottesville on August 12, 2017.”
The plea was a change from Spencer’s previous legal maneuvers. Until March, Spencer traveled the country giving speeches at less-than-receptive colleges. The speaking tour was as much about getting into legal fights as it was addressing students; many of his speeches were sparsely attended. Instead, Spencer and his assistants would wait for colleges to refuse them speaking space. Then they’d accuse the schools of trampling their free speech, and either sue the schools or threaten to do so.
“The speeches all followed a similar pattern: Someone who wasn’t a student, in most cases [Spencer’s booking agent Cameron] Padgett, would rent or try to reserve a room on campus for Spencer to speak,” the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote of the tactic. “If the university objected, Spencer’s booking agent would sue to force the speech and make the school pay for security.”
Sometimes the legal pressure bought Spencer a platform at the school. When Auburn University in Alabama tried to block Spencer from speaking at the school, wealthy former Ku Klux Klan lawyer Sam Dickerson supported Spencer in a legal action. A federal judge ruled that, because Auburn was a public school, it was required to host Spencer. Other public schools like the University of Florida also tried blocking Spencer in October, but eventually caved and let him speak. (Three Spencer supporters were arrested for a shooting on anti-Spencer protesters outside the Florida speech.)
But in March, Spencer lost his lawyer. Kyle Bristow had represented Spencer in successful bid to make Michigan State University host one of Spencer’s speeches. But days before that speech, Bristow publicly resigned from the alt-right and withdrew from several lawsuits on Spencer’s behalf, after the Detroit Free Press wrote a long profile detailing Bristow’s involvement with the alt-right.
Bristow picked the right time to bail. 25 people were arrested during brawls outside Spencer’s speech. The Traditionalist Worker Party, a neo-Nazi group that fought protesters and acted as Spencer’s security detail at the event, imploded the following week when its leader Matthew Heimbach was arrested for allegedly assaulting his wife and TWP spokesperson Matthew Parrott. Heimbach, who is married to Parrott’s stepdaughter, had reportedly been sleeping with Parrott’s wife.
That same week, Spencer announced the cancellation of his college speaking tour, blaming anti-fascist demonstrators who opposed him at every tour stop.
His legal challenges against colleges were also beginning to fail. Prior to the violence at Michigan State, Spencer’s booking agent Cameron Padgett was pursuing legal action that would force Ohio State University to host Spencer. After the MSU arrests, Padgett dropped the action against OSU. Padgett and Spencer also failed to file lawsuits they’d threatened against the University of Michigan and Kent State University. Last week, a Pennsylvania judge dismissed Spencer’s suit against Penn State University. Days later, Padgett and Spencer dropped a suit against the University of Cincinnati, the final school they were trying to sue.
With his college lawsuits dead and his lawyer gone, Spencer turned his attention to a larger lawsuit relating to his involvement in the Unite the Right rally, where armed white supremacists brawled with protesters and James Fields Jr., a man who marched alongside a neo-Nazi group, drove a car into a crowd of protesters, killing one and injuring more. The suit, which seeks unspecified damages on behalf of 10 anti-racist protesters injured at the rally, names Spencer as a defendant.
Even before Bristow distanced himself from the alt-right, Spencer claimed he was without a lawyer in the case, as no Virginia attorney would agree to represent him.
As of Tuesday, the federal court filing database PACER did not list Spencer as having a lawyer. His fellow defendants in the case, including members of the Unite the Right organizer Jason Kessler, accused murderer James Fields Jr., and members of hate groups like the TWP are all listed as having lawyers. (Leaked TWP chat logs show members complaining in March that the group’s disgraced former leader had not paid those lawyers.)
In his Friday video, Spencer begged supporters for $25,000 for his legal defense fund. He issued a similar plea on Twitter, asking his backers to please send him Bitcoin. The Bitcoin wallet he linked to has received just over 0.3 Bitcoin (currently worth about $2,763) since November 2017.
“We shouldn’t underestimate the challenge that this lawsuit represents. It is warfare by legal means, and it is designed to be debilitating and all-consuming,” said Spencer, who spent the past year pressing his own lawsuits.