Richard Spencer seeks prominence for his National Policy Institute – but he said Wednesday he doesn't want the spotlight on the mountain city of Whitefish because of his own white nationalist platform.
And he said he didn't believe a proposed armed march through Whitefish, touted by a white supremacist website, would happen next month.
"I didn't move to Whitefish for politics. I don't take part in local (Whitefish) politics," said Spencer, who has said he's considering running for Congress if U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke of Montana is confirmed as President-elect Donald Trump's Interior secretary.
Spencer, head of the institute "dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent in the United States," has been in the midst of an anti-Semitic firestorm – and ensuing pushback – in Montana since Trump's election.
Last week, a website called The Daily Stormer with a tab called "The Jewish Problem" asked readers to "TAKE ACTION" against Jewish people in Whitefish. A post claimed the "vicious, evil race" had harmed the business interests of Spencer's mother and were harassing her, and it posted pictures of people in town and urged an internet "troll storm" against them.
Some of the Whitefish residents named as targets are involved in Love Lives Here, a group that fights ethnic, racial, gender and religious discrimination.
The Daily Stormer said an armed march, with "skinheads bused in from California," would take place in Whitefish the second week in January. Wednesday, it said interest from representatives of "at least three European nations" in attending the march showed support for "global white racial solidarity against the international Jewish agenda."
Spencer, though, said he didn't believe such an event would take place: "There's not going to be a pogrom in Whitefish. It's just ridiculous to think that."
Literature disparaging Jews and citing the American Nazi Party has appeared elsewhere in Montana since November's election. The Montana Human Rights Network and Southern Poverty Law Center have attributed the increase in anti-Semitic actions at least in part to the election of Trump, although the Republican president-elect has publicly said "stop it" to perpetrators of hate crimes.
This week, Montana politicians and tribal leaders said Montana will not be a place that tolerates threats and intimidation by white nationalists. One letter signed by U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines, U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, Gov. Steve Bullock, and Montana Attorney General Tim Fox, offered Jewish people full support and said people who hold anti-Semitic views will find "no safe haven here."
A "Love Not Hate" gathering is planned in Whitefish on Jan. 7 to counter white supremacist views.
Spencer, who is in Montana and spoke with the Missoulian over the phone, said he will not be bullied into leaving Whitefish, where he likes to spend summer and part of winter and has a right to live in peace. He also said his opponents won't be able to push around his family.
"How did I damage the Whitefish community? Please explain to me how I did that."
In fact, he said his only interaction with Andrew Anglin, who runs The Daily Stormer, has been a telephone conversation, and he has no power over Anglin. Anglin's website includes an explicit disclaimer stating it opposes violence, but the call to "TAKE ACTION" might be interpreted as an implicit directive to take action beyond trolling.
"I do not think he is explicitly or implicitly calling for violence," Spencer said. "Now, of course, there might be some nut who does something. But you can't really hold anyone accountable for that. There's some nut who will attempt to murder Ronald Reagan to impress Jodi Foster."
Spencer said he does not consider the phrase white supremacy – "a scare word," he said – a euphemism for white nationalism, and he does not intend to back down from people affiliated with Love Lives Here, including rabbis.
"I'm not going to obey them, and just the notion that they are trying to run me out of town is ridiculous," Spencer said. "And I'm not going to do anything at their behest. Anything.
"I might stay here to piss them off. I'm dead serious."
The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified the National Policy Institute as a hate group.
Last month, a video of a National Policy Institute conference showed some participants raising their arms in a Nazi salute, and Spencer, at the podium, said "Hail, Trump." He said Wednesday that Trump has already disappointed him, but he said the participants were being cheeky with the salutes at the time, and he himself did not salute, but was just raising a glass.
The conference took place just after the election, and people felt celebratory, Spencer said. And he said whenever "there's any authentic movement for identity," those involved get labeled as Nazis or Ku Klux Klan members.
"I think at some level, people just wanted to throw that back in their face. It was a big eff you, in a way. That was the motivation," Spencer said.
He said white supremacists want to rule over other races, but white nationalists are different: "I don't want to do that. That is supremacy. Nationalism is a much different concept. It is about valuing one's own and becoming who you are, having a sense of one's self – at least nationalism properly understood."
Although participants at the annual conference were reveling in Trump's win last month, Spencer isn't as enthused about the president-elect as he was during the campaign. Trump as a potential presidential candidate was "very exciting," Spencer said, but as the real estate mogul prepares to take the reins, he's been disappointing.
A lot of his cabinet picks have been letdowns, including Rex Tillerson as secretary of state and Goldman Sachs alum Steven Mnuchin as treasury secretary, he said. The latter, Spencer said, "seems to be going against everything he (Trump) was running for."
"I've become far more skeptical of Donald Trump over these last couple months. He's disappointed me pretty greatly, to be honest," he said.
He also said the West was not won on the basis of diversity and tolerance, and he described the joint statement by Montana politicians in support of tolerance as "obviously stupid."
"They might as well hold hands and sing Kumbaya," Spencer said.
He places the blame for the focus on Whitefish at the feet of people with Love Lives Here. Spencer said they thrive on drama, and the only reason a problem exists is because that group and the Montana Human Rights Network claim some ideas are bad and hateful.
"I have their best interests at heart, and people like Love Lives Here don't. Love Lives Here just wants to stir up trouble," Spencer said.