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Romano: Love to hear your Nazi speech, but I’m washing my hair

By John Romano
Richard Spencer, center in sunglasses, and his supporters clash with Virginia State Police after hundreds of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the "alt-right" clashed with anti-fascist protesters and police in August in Charlottesville, Va. [Getty Images]

A year ago, he was racismís favorite twerp.

Just another silly troll with a smattering of online followers.

He published obscure Internet magazines and was a one-man boardroom for the white-identity think tank known as the National Policy Institute.

And then came Richard Spencerís big career break:

He was discovered by liberals.

Oh, they howled. They dithered and they stewed. They showed up in Charlottesville, Va., and turned what should have been a creepy spectacle into Spencerís Nazi-festooned coming-out party.

And, just like that, he morphed from a cultural sideshow to a national figure.

Which brings us to Spencerís speech today at the University of Florida. A speech that has prompted the governor to declare a state of emergency before the first word is spoken. An appearance that has already been dissected on the pages of the New York Times and Washington Post.

An event that has led me to ask one favor of you:

Donít do it.

Donít give Spencer and his warped followers an outsize presence. Certainly not the kind of in-your-face collision that turned Charlottesville into a tragedy a couple of months ago. Watch, if you must. Laugh, if you can. Just donít match their level of hatred toward one another.

It is exactly those types of confrontations that raise the profile of Spencer and his misguided minions. And, as Charlottesville demonstrated, it gives a layer of cover to politicians who need to exploit that type of divisiveness to appeal to their base.

Yes, yes, yes. Iíve heard all the rhetoric about needing to confront evil. And there is surely some truth to that. But there is also a lesson to be learned about perspective.

Richard Spencer was a minor player 12 months ago, and heíll be a minor player 12 months from now. The only way his influence grows is if he remains in the spotlight. And the best way for him to command that spotlight is to encourage the kind of showdowns heís hoping for today.

If you think the far-right fringe of America is reprehensible, then be better than that. Donít make the far-left look just as radical and just as unhinged. You might think youíre staking out the moral high ground, but you still look like a mess when you agree to wrestle in the mud.

This country is in trouble, I will not dispute that. Economic disparity is teetering at an unhealthy level. Automation is changing the employment landscape. The cultural divide between blacks who feel disenfranchised and whites who feel unfairly blamed seems to be getting uglier by the day.

Those are real issues. Thatís a real cultural war.

And issues about the education gap, health care policies, law enforcement abuses and unfair wage practices should be confronted as often as necessary.

But thatís not what Spencerís speech is about.

He is an outlier. An instigator. A boogeyman in a hipsterís vest.

It is true, he has more followers than America would like to admit. But they are still just a sliver of the population, and influential only if we allow them to be.

So let them have their moment in Gainesville today. Just donít give them the influence they crave.

After all, if a racist talks to morons in a forest, does he make a sound?