The St. Mark’s School of Texas takes pride in its enviable facilities, low student-teacher ratio and number of successful alumni, including actor Tommy Lee Jones, actors Luke and Owen Wilson and NFL wide receiver Ty Montgomery.
But it wants nothing to do with one of its graduates, who lately has been attracting attention to the North Dallas private school for the wrong reasons.
Last week, members of the St. Mark’s class of 1997 started an online fundraiser with a single mission: to repudiate Richard Spencer, a prominent leader of an extremist movement he calls the “alt-right,” which seeks to establish a whites-only state.
To the apparent chagrin of many St. Mark’s alumni, Spencer is a fellow “Marksman” who graduated from the prep school in 1997.
Most recently, a video of Spencer stoking a crowd at a white nationalist conference in Washington, D.C., spread widely. In the video, he can be seen shouting “Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!” as some in the crowd throw their arms up in Nazi salutes.
It is unclear who exactly started the fundraiser to disavow Spencer: A disclaimer on the “ST. MARK’S UNITED AGAINST RICHARD B. SPENCER” CrowdRise page says “this campaign is led by concerned alumni from the Class of 1997. It is not sponsored, managed, or initiated by St. Mark’s School of Texas.”
But the campaign’s message minced no words.
“We are of different political parties and views, but unite in recognizing that these values are under attack by our white supremacist classmate Richard B. Spencer ’97,” the fundraiser description reads. “Spencer’s views are un-American and a threat to civil society. We reject them and urge everyone to join us in condemning him and his agenda.”
According to the CrowdRise page, proceeds from the fundraiser will benefit the International Rescue Committee, a refugee resettlement nonprofit with an office in Dallas. The organization’s efforts to welcome and integrate refugees “whose lives have been wrecked by unimaginable tragedies” are in direct conflict with Spencer’s vision for an all-white America, the fundraising campaign noted.
“We proudly support IRC’s efforts and denounce those like Spencer who consider refugees a threat,” the campaign said. “Rather, like the many previous generations of Americans who have come here under similar circumstances, they are a source of American strength and pride.”
The fundraising page also linked to a video of Spencer and the Nazi-saluting crowd at the Nov. 19 white supremacist conference in Washington.
One St. Mark’s alumnus, journalist Kurt Eichenwald, tweeted about the fundraiser Saturday, calling Spencer “nazi scum.”
As of Monday morning, the campaign had raised nearly $45,000.
One donor suggested revoking Spencer’s diploma. A few others quoted the inscription on the Statue of Liberty.
“To denounce the individual who has turned his back to the values that were taught to us all,” Michael Dinh, who identified himself as a member of the class of 1999, wrote with his donation.
Spencer did not immediately respond to a Facebook request for comment. Recently, his Twitter account was suspended, spurring him and other members of the white nationalist movement to migrate to a social-media platform called Gab.
On Gab, Spencer posted Sunday about the St. Mark’s fundraiser — “Terminal WASP decline in a nutshell” — with a link to a blog post he wrote titled “The Preppy Purge.”
“The Brooks Brother Brigade turns on one [sic] its own,” he declared in the blog post, referring to alumni of the private school.
“The most revealing part of this story is that my classmates’ response to viewpoints they don’t like is to commit civilizational suicide even harder than before,” Spencer wrote. “They are raising money for resettling refugees in their city, damaging the lives of White people who lack their privilege.”
He noted in the blog post that when he attended St. Mark’s, it was “overwhlemingly [sic] Angl-Protestant,” whereas today students of color make up nearly half the student population.
“If this episode doesn’t express the end stage of WASP decline, I don’t know what does,” Spencer wrote.
Although the CrowdRise campaign said it had not been started or sponsored by St. Mark’s, the school has taken steps to distance itself from Spencer.
On Friday, St. Mark’s headmaster David W. Dini released a statement that rejected Spencer’s “hateful, divisive, racist and anti-Semitic views.”
Dini’s statement did not mention Spencer by name, but alluded to recent news stories about “one of our graduates that conflict directly with our core values and principles” and referred to a St. Mark’s alum “leading a white nationalist meeting in Washington, D.C.”
“This has been deeply troubling and terribly upsetting to our whole school community,” Dini wrote. “At St. Mark’s, we reject racism and bigotry in all its forms and expressions. Our mission, values, and programs stand in direct opposition to these vulgar ideas. In light of such comments, our mission to develop boys of strong character, compassion, empathy, and courage has increasing relevance and importance.”
According to its website, St. Mark’s is a private, all-boys school that enrolls 865 students, of which 46 percent are students of color. The school boasts of preparing “young men to assume leadership and responsibility in a competitive and changing world.” St. Mark’s accepts 22 percent of its applicants, and 100 percent of its seniors go on to attend a four-year university, according to the school.
After attending St. Mark’s, Spencer graduated from the University of Virginia, then earned a master’s degree in the humanities from the University of Chicago. He is the head of the National Policy Institute, which bills itself as an “independent research and educational foundation” but is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for espousing far-right, white-nationalist views.
As reported by The Washington Post’s John Woodrow Cox, those who study hate groups say Spencer is “dangerous because, when he doesn’t want to, he doesn’t look or sound or act dangerous.”
“Richard Spencer’s clean-cut appearance conceals a radical white separatist,” said the Southern Poverty Law Center, which described him as an “academic racist.”
As evidenced in the now-viral video, “alt-right” groups such as Spencer’s have been energized by the presidential election of Donald Trump, who has been criticized for being slow to disavow white supremacists who cheered his campaign.
In a meeting with the New York Times last week, Trump tried to distance himself from white supremacists, although he was prompted to do so. The president-elect added that he did not intend to “energize” such groups.
“Those groups clearly see something and hear something that causes them to believe he is one who sympathizes with their voice and their view,” Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), who is black, told the Associated Press. “Donald Trump has to take responsibility for that.”
Cummings was one of 169 members of Congress who signed a letter opposing the appointment of Stephen K. Bannon as Trump’s White House chief strategist. Bannon, a former chairman of Breitbart News, told Mother Jones in August that the news site served as “the platform for the alt-right.”
The Anti-Defamation League condemned Bannon’s appointment in a scathing statement.
“The ADL strongly opposes the appointment of Steve Bannon as senior advisor and chief strategist in the White House,” the organization wrote. “It is a sad day when a man who presided over the premier website of the ‘alt-right’ — a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed anti-Semites and racists — is slated to be a senior staff member in the ‘people’s house.’ ”
Abby Ohlheiser contributed to this report.
Correction: A previous version of this post erroneously said that former presidential candidate H. Ross Perot attended St. Mark’s School of Texas. His son, H. Ross Perot, Jr., is an alumnus.