A spokesperson for US President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team denounced racism Monday night in response to a right-wing conference during which Nazi-like salutes were given to celebrate the victorious Republican candidate and a key speaker espoused white supremacist ideology.
At the same time, the US Holocaust Museum issued a chilling warning, saying the speech had closely mirrored the views of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.
The statements came after a video was posted by The Atlantic Monday night showing Richard Spencer, the head of the white nationalist National Policy Institute, as he evoked Nazi imagery and language, ranted about white supremacy, and alluded to Jewish control of the media during an NPI event in Washington.
“Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!” cried out Spencer, who is often described as the leader of the the American alt-right movement. A rapturous audience at the Saturday event responded with applause and several gave the signature stiff-arm Nazi salute.
In response, Bryan Lanza, a spokesman for the Trump-Pence transition team, insisted in a statement that Trump has a record of condemning racism, CNN reported. He apparently did not specifically comment on the NPI event.
“President-elect Trump has continued to denounce racism of any kind and he [got] elected because he will be a leader for every American,” Lanza said. “To think otherwise is a complete misrepresentation of the movement that united Americans from all backgrounds.”
Trump transition statement on alt right conference where neo nazis and white nationalists were praising Trump's election pic.twitter.com/XZCxVSS6Jt
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) November 21, 2016
“PBS Newshour” producer P.J. Tobia tweeted that Spencer had sent him a message insisting that the salutes were “clearly done in a spirit of irony and exuberance.”
Nonetheless, the conference has raised anew fears of rampant racism and anti-Semitism in the wake of Trump’s victory. While Trump’s team has sought to distance itself from racist elements among supporters, the appointment of Stephen Bannon as a top White House aide has raised hackles given his nurturing of the alt-right movement while at the helm of news site Breitbart.
Trump himself has been markedly silent on the issue, at one point even refusing to condemn ex-KKK leader David Duke.
Richard Spencer just texted me that the Nazi salutes at his Sat speech were “clearly done in a spirit of irony and exuberance.”
— P.J. Tobia (@PJTobia) November 21, 2016
The US Holocaust Museum issued a statement Monday night saying it “is deeply alarmed at the hateful rhetoric” at the NPI conference and that Spencer’s allusion to Jewish media control “closely echoes Adolf Hitler’s view of Jews and that history is a racial struggle for survival.”
“The Holocaust did not begin with killing; it began with words,” the museum statement added. “The Museum calls on all American citizens, our religious and civic leaders, and the leadership of all branches of the government to confront racist thinking and divisive hateful speech.”
During the NPI’s annual conference, held at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, DC, Spencer spoke in militaristic terms, expressing the movement’s need to “conquer or die,” and railed against the mainstream media which he smilingly called Lugenpresse, a term used by Nazis that translates as “lying press.”
He then appeared to insinuate that the media was controlled by Jews, referencing the Jewish legend of the Golem of Prague. “One wonders if these people are people at all,” he said of journalists. “Or instead soulless golem animated by some dark power to repeat” left-wing talking points.
Since Trump’s election, much ink has been spilled over his campaign’s part in the rise of the alt-right, a vague grouping of far-right nationalists who have taken a hard line against immigration and what they see as the cultural degradation of America.
Spencer, who is credited with coining the name, has made clear that in his eyes the alt-right is by no means a mere nationalist movement but one based on a doctrine of white supremacy and hatred toward Jews and non-whites.
Last week, Spencer’s Twitter account was suspended for violating prohibitions on “violent threats, harassment, hateful conduct,” leading him to lash out at what he called “corporate Stalinism” and say that “there is a great purge going on,” according to AFP.
Alexander Fulbright contributed to this report.