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By Aidan Mattis
On Friday afternoon, an article was published here on The Libertarian Republic called “I Had Coffee With Richard Spencer (Sort Of).” The article covered an over the phone interview with the man widely acknowledged as a leader of the Alt-Right, in fact the man who coined the term in the summer of 2008. I was the author of this article, and I conducted the interview. While the article was intended as an objective look at the beliefs of the notorious White Nationalist, Richard Spencer, it was received with mixed reviews on both ends. Vehement anti-semitism met left wing, anti-free speech fascism in the comments section. I expressed my exasperation via my personal twitter, and found myself further mired in controversy.
If everyone could stop commenting antisemitic things on my article about @RichardBSpencer that would be great
— Aidan Mattis (@aidan_mattis) March 5, 2017
— Libby Walters (@loretayoungslks) March 6, 2017
“Aidan, I’d bury this article if I were you. Richard Spencer wants non-white people exterminated from this country, by any means necessary. And you’re trying to normalize him,” wrote one user, “Can this man even name one thing he’s lost to a person of color? How could you have neglected to ask him that? This article was lean on the facts, in addition to being grossly offensive.”
As any writer should do, I took the criticism seriously and combed my article for offensive comments that I had made. I found myself calling Spencer articulate and polite and one point, and at another I said every voice deserves to be heard. These comments did not seem offensive to me. Could my description of Spencer be considered praising, and thus offensive to non-whites? Perhaps, but was that enough to warrant the suggestion that I scrub the article from the web? Probably not. This drove me to a certain realization.
The offense taken by those who criticized the article did not seem driven by the writing itself, nor by my tone, but by the fact that I would even give this person (should I dare to humanize him) a platform on which to display his “wretched beliefs”. I’d gone into the field under a white flag of truce and requested an audience with the devil himself, and that was maddening to them. I was accused of being “too fair” and informed by people who did not interview Richard Spencer that I knew less about Richard Spencer than they did. Still, there is nothing, to my knowledge, that indicates any support for Spencer in the article. There could have been more questions regarding what people of color have done to him to make him hate them, but at no point did he inform me that he hates people of color.
To be honest, I didn’t even write down a script of questions and follow ups. Richard and I had a conversation driven by questions I made up on the fly, solely because for the purpose of objectivity and spontaneity. There was no hidden intention behind the words we exchanged, at least not on my end, so why confuse the situation? If I had cornered Spencer, he might have lashed out or closed up. Instead, he was open and honest with his interviewer because he trusted that his words would be relayed fairly.
As Bill Maher said regarding Milo Yiannopoulos’s appearance on his show, “sunshine is the best disinfectant”. I disagree with Spencer on a great deal of what we discussed, but that does not mean I should not seek to understand his point of view. If one is of the mind that Spencer is a “bacterial curse” on this planet, then let articles and interviews like mine bring Spencer into the mainstream so that everyone can know how despicable you believe he is. If, however, your concern is that people will agree with him and this could be dangerous, then argue for Spencer to engage in televised debate. Defeat him with facts, logic, argument, not with censorship. Encourage journalists to write objective pieces and let people decide if they like him or dislike him. Promote sources that engage in the philosophy, in terms of journalism, claimed by Fox News: “We report, you decide.” I reported, I relayed Spencer’s words to the public, and now the public can decide whether or not they agree with him.
It seems that not everyone hopped on board with this idea. I was told that I should not have been objective, that I should have either attacked Spencer or kept my mouth shut. This, of course, is not an isolated event. UC Davis shut Milo Yiannopoulos down, UC Berkeley caught on fire to keep him silent. DePaul University threatened to arrest Ben Shapiro for setting foot on campus. Even left leaning Dave Rubin was shut down via surprise security charges at the University of Southern California, as reported by Heatstreet. So called “anti-fascist” groups and even university officials are quieting freedom of speech on the grounds that it may offend a group of people, squelching debate and discussion of issues that matter simply because two parties do not agree.
In a society that values free speech and debate, we should never promote any action to prevent people from exchanging ideas with their fellow citizens. In the words of Evelyn Beatrice Hall on the attitude of French philosopher Voltaire “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. This virtue long valued in western culture today hangs by a thread, its future uncertain. On both sides of the mainstream political spectrum and among all the alternates, there is a growing polarization, a lack of willingness for any party to engage another, and if left unchecked it will drive a nation once praised as the freest place on Earth into dust and ruin.
As Americans in the 21st Century, we inherit and perpetuate a culture in which every individual from Kanye West to the mailman has a political agenda or opinion. Peoples’ beliefs may vary wildly from the left to the right to all over the place. They may believe things that we find despicable, we may believe things they find abhorrent. Does this mean we shouldn’t hear each other? Does this mean we should sit at the same political dinner table and simply pretend the other is not there? How do we progress, how can we claim that we seek to understand, when we refuse to grant one another a fair chance to speak their mind? I gave this man a chance, not to defend himself, but simply to state what he believes. If that is controversial, then I am happy to be controversial.