Let’s Not Allow a White Nationalist to Ramble About Depeche Mode
Richard Spencer protests the idea that he’s a Nazi, though as an admitted white nationalist and someone once filmed giving an energetic “Heil Hitler” salute, he must understand how he’s won the label. Spencer is one of the leading figures of the alt-right movement, that noxious brew of quasi-earnest, quasi-ironic conservative-ish white nationalists who worship memes and fear women. Earlier this year, he gained some notoriety when he got totally socked in the face during an anti-Trump protest at inauguration weekend, a moment that was replayed and re-memed endlessly by an internet happy to mock a bigot. It was a fun day.
With the downfall of alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos still fresh in news cycles, the mainstream conservative moment is trying to distance itself from Spencer and his ilk. Today, Spencer was barred from entering Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the annual fan convention for avid conservatives eager to discuss the best way to murder gay people. As he was being ejected, Spencer held an impromptu quorum with media members, and offered a seemingly unprompted comment about the pop culture preferences of fascists. “Depeche Mode is the official band of the alt-right,” he said, according to New York reporter Olivia Nuzzi, who also added “I did not ask this question to be clear.”
Now, Depeche Mode experimented with militant imagery on occasion, but their music was hardly fascistic. They once released a song called “People Are People” which featured the explicitly not-racist-at-all lyric “People are people so why should it be / You and I should get along so awfully.” Bands of moody, queer-leaning synth-pop bands generally are not known for having bigoted fanbases, and replies to Nuzzi’s tweets by Depeche Mode fans were along the lines of “nooooooo.”
We e-mailed the band for comment. “What a ridiculous claim,” their publicist wrote. “I hope you aren’t reporting that as true. Depeche Mode has no ties to Richard Spencer or the alt right and does not support the alt right movement.” Soon after, Spencer made it clear he was just having a goof. “I was joking obviously,” he wrote on Twitter. “I’m a lifelong Depeche Mode fan.”
Nevertheless, leading publications like Esquire, New York, Entertainment Weekly, Pitchfork, and NME (to name a few) ran with the story, riffing both on Spencer’s original claim and the band’s pointed response. (A version of the statement e-mailed to SPIN was quoted in many of these stories.) Rolling Stone actually interviewed Spencer, printing a literal white nationalist’s blithe musings on Depeche Mode without criticism.
One could imagine the band panicking just a little. Earlier this week, they’d announced a new remix album for their recent “Where’s the Revolution” single, which went largely uncovered by the music press. Today, they were forced to issue statement after statement clarifying that no, they in fact do not approve of racism.
Spencer, on the other hand, got the benefit of seeing his name in the press some more, owing to his unslakable thirst for attention, and his seeming imperviousness to verbal criticism. (He panicked over getting punched in the face, but his main complaint about being called a Nazi is that it’s a dated term.) It was a perfect con: say some wild shit off the top of your head, and get yourself out there with no effort when everybody fails to get the gag. “Of course DM isn’t connected to me,” he wrote. “Are you going to take every joke I crack literally?”
Since Trump got elected, many culture publications have shifted to include politics in their regular coverage, SPIN included. It’s more than a matter of public interest: Stories about politics traffic better across the board, because the horror of the Trump administration affects everyone. Still, there’s a very thin line between covering the important news as it happens and blindly chasing the dog whistle of an attention-grabber like Spencer, whose ploys rarely have anything to do with stuff that matters.
People can’t be blamed for wanting to take him seriously: Spencer is someone who once advocated for “peaceful ethnic cleansing,” a disgusting sentiment whether or not he was “joking.” But we should really know better than to leap to leverage such an obviously tossed-off statement into a story.