Richard Spencer, figurehead of the alt-right, squirmed and tried to deflect questions Thursday as plaintiffs’ counsel asked him about organizing the violent August 2017 rallies in Charlottesville.
Spencer, a graduate of the University of Virginia and largely credited with coining the term “alt-right,” is just one of more than a dozen defendants in the federal Sines v. Kessler lawsuit. Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia soon after the Aug. 12, 2017 Unite the Right rally, the lawsuit seeks to hold the defendants responsible for allegedly conspiring to come to Charlottesville and commit acts of racist violence.
In the years since the UTR rally, Spencer’s influence has dissipated significantly and his well of financial resources has apparently shrunk to such a degree that he is unable to afford legal counsel, leading to him representing himself.
On Thursday, Spencer was called to the stand by the plaintiffs as an adverse witness — the second instance of this so far — following defendant Matthew Heimbach earlier in the week. Spencer’s testimony lasted for the bulk of the day, as attorney Michael Bloch of the firm Kaplan Hecker & Fink pressed Spencer about comments he made at the rallies and during a previous deposition.
Perhaps the most damning testimony was centered around the UVa torch march, which occurred on Aug. 11 and saw Spencer lead dozens of white men with tiki torches down the UVa lawn to a statue of Thomas Jefferson, surrounding counter-protesters and inciting violence.
At one point Bloch asked Spencer if he led the torch march, which the defendant denied, leading Bloch to present evidence to the contrary.
“I was certainly at the front. I mean, we could quibble about who’s leading, and I don’t want to do that,” Spencer said after he was presented with evidence of him leading the march. “But I remember absolutely seeing [fellow defendant] Jason Kessler there. It was his event, but I was in the lead.”
Much of the hearing went the same way: with Bloch asking a question, followed by an answer from Spencer and then evidence to that partially contradicted Spencer’s answer.
Similarly, Spencer tried to deny that he and the marchers purposely surrounded the mostly-UVa student protesters who gathered around the base of the Jefferson statue.
“I don’t think it was any one person’s decision,” Spencer said. “It just seemed to kind of occur organically because we all ended up at the statue so there was a kind of bottleneck and it just kind of naturally seemed to form a circle. I didn’t hear anyone say you know, next step and circle them or anything it just seemed to naturally occur.”
Bloch quoted prior deposition testimony from Spencer in which he said, “at some point, the alt-right decided to surround the protesters.” Spencer claimed this was a similar sentiment to what he just said, a claim he made often Thursday when presented with prior comments that appeared to conflict with his trial testimony.
The jury and Spencer were also presented with a video from that night that depicted Spencer standing near the statue as someone nearby said, “We need some more people to fill in this way to block these guys off.”
“The fact of the matter is, Mr. Spencer, you surrounded them at the statue and you wouldn’t let them out, isn’t that true?” Bloch said before presenting the defendant with one of his tweets.
The Aug. 11, 2017, tweet said: “They surrounded the statue. They wouldn’t let us out. Spencer quote-tweeted that post the same day, with the defendant adding “Fact check: true.”
Earlier in the proceeding, Spencer was asked about his use of slurs, which the defendant said he does not believe in using publicly.
“I don’t believe in demeaning anyone to their face,” Spencer said. “In any circumstance, that’s nasty.”
Bloch then introduced audio from a rant Spencer issued Aug. 12, 2017, which was recorded without his knowledge. In the audio, which went mildly viral soon after the rally, Spencer can be heard expressing rage at the city of Charlottesville and using slurs to describe those he finds responsible: Jewish people and people of mixed-race.
“I rule the f——— world, those pieces of s—- get ruled by people like me. They look up and see a face like mine looking down at them,” Spencer said in the audio clip. “That’s how the f——— world works. We are going to destroy this f——- town.”
Spencer denied that this audio represented his sincerely held beliefs, arguing that a sincerely held belief is something that has been “thought through and seriously criticized and sincerely held,” and compared it to someone’s religious identity.
“There are also moments like that, that capture my most childish, embarrassing sentiments; the animal brain, you could say,” he said. “I say things like, world,’ which is obviously absurd. That was me as a seven-year-old and it’s a seven-year-old that’s probably still inside me.”
Although the bulk of Thursday’s hearing involved Bloch questioning Spencer, some of the defendants were able to cross-examine him as well. Counsel for defendant James Fields and defendants Michael Hill, Michael Tubbs and the League of the South used their time to mostly ask logistical questions about the rally, ending their cross quickly.
James Kolenich, counsel for Kessler, Nathan Damigo and Identity Evropa, was surprisingly hostile in his questioning of Spencer, a sharp contrast to the behavior seen from the attorney during Heimbach’s cross-examination.
Much of Kolenich’s questions revolved around Identity Evropa, which the attorney said once had more than 1,000 members. Two of these purported members — Greg Conte and defendant Elliott Kline — worked for Spencer, though only Conte was paid.
“Conte was very enthusiastic about things like security and demonstrations and so on, so he was in charge of that kind of stuff for me,” Spencer said. “He would report back to me or not, he was sort-of a strong, silent type.”
Kolenich asked Spencer if was trying to “send his employees into identity Evropa to take control of that organization,” which the defendant denied.
Cross-examination of Spencer is expected to resume at 9 a.m. Friday.