Democracy Dies in Darkness


Georgetown professor confronts white nationalist Richard Spencer at the gym — which terminates his membership

By Faiz Siddiqui

May 21, 2017 at 6:07 PM

by Faiz Siddiqui

An Alexandria gym terminated the membership of white nationalist Richard Spencer last week after he was confronted by a Georgetown University professor who recognized him and lambasted him over his alt-right views.

C. Christine Fair, an associate professor at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, said she was working out at Old Town Sport&Health; on Wednesday when she spotted Spencer, president of the white-nationalist National Policy Institute.

Fellow gym patrons had told Fair how Spencer had been seen at the gym earlier that week, she said. When she recognized him as the man working out on the gym's second floor, she approached him. At first, she said, Spencer denied who he was.

"Are you Richard Spencer?" she asked him, describing the encounter in an online post. "No. I am not," he replied.

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Self-proclaimed white nationalist Richard Spencer spoke at Auburn University Tuesday, April 18. His visit sparked protests that turned violent and led to three arrests. (YouTube/Ryan Crumpler)

"I said, 'Of course you are, so not only are you a Nazi — you are a cowardly Nazi,' " Fair said in an interview, invoking a common characterization of Spencer. "I just want to say to you, I'm sick of your crap — that this country belongs [to people like you]. . . . As a woman, I find your statements to be particularly odious; moreover, I find your presence in this gym to be unacceptable, your presence in this town to be unacceptable."

Related: [‘Let’s party like it’s 1933’: Inside the alt-right world of Richard Spencer]

(Spencer has denied he is a Nazi. During a white-nationalist conference in November, Spencer was seen on video shouting "Hail Trump!" as crowd members replied with Nazi salutes.)

In comments to BuzzFeed, which was first to report the encounter and the termination of Spencer's membership, Spencer said he denied his identity because he wanted to avoid a confrontation.

"I said no because I wanted her to go away," he told the outlet.

Spencer could not immediately be reached for comment Sunday. But he provided an image of his termination letter to BuzzFeed and told the outlet that he didn't know why the gym revoked his membership. He described himself as a "well-behaved member" who strayed from controversy.

He told BuzzFeed that he was considering fighting back against the gym, but the article did not specify the type of action he might take.

Sport&Health; Clubs did not respond to emailed questions Sunday. When asked by phone whether Spencer's membership has been suspended, an employee who identified himself as a manager at the Old Town gym replied "no comment."

For Alexandria residents, the incident marked another chapter in a tense relationship with the public figure, who from his Old Town office advocates the alt-right, a small, far-right movement that seeks a whites-only state.

Spencer was punched in the face in downtown Washington on Inauguration Day by an anti-Trump protester and most recently was seen leading tiki-torch-wielding demonstrators in a Charlottesville protest of plans to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Related: [White nationalist Richard Spencer leads torch-bearing protesters defending Lee statue]

Fair said in her online post she "loudly identified [Spencer] as a neo-Nazi." Eventually, Fair said, Spencer asked for a trainer — a black woman — to help get him out of the confrontation.

"Seriously? This superior race of a white man needed the help of a female African American? What kind of martial race member is he?" Fair wrote in her post.

Fair continued to prod Spencer, and another gym member — apparently unaware of who he was — stepped in to defend him. Fair said she told the woman to Google him.

"Right now you're being ignorant, and you're actually enabling a real-life Nazi," Fair said she told the woman.

Finally, Fair said, the general manager confronted her for allegedly creating a "hostile environment" for gym patrons by loudly decrying Spencer. Fair responded that Spencer's views create a "hostile environment" for gym employees who are women and people of color.

Despite his silence on the matter Sunday, Spencer's Twitter feed provided insight into how he was reacting to the loss of his gym membership. He retweeted a message asking whether the termination of his membership means "we can start kicking Jews and coloreds out of our business establishments?"

Related: [After Trump victory, attendance rises at annual white nationalist conference in D.C.]

For Fair, the incident triggered a swarm of crude, hateful and anti-Semitic social-media postings and voice mails. Fair said she was contacted by a corporate representative for the gym last week, who informed her that Spencer's membership had been terminated. "I'd do it again," she said of the episode. "I told the fellow, 'I think we can have a deal here: You don't let any more Nazis in, and I won't be making a scene.' "

Faiz Siddiqui is a metro reporter covering transportation and local issues. He has previously contributed to NPR, The Boston Globe and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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