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Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

As a professional racist, Richard Spencer’s career and life philosophy rest on a few basic bits of misinformation. The first is the innate supremacy of whiteness: The idea that white people’s superior inventiveness, strength and vision have made them high achievers who earned every bit of their status. The second is that non-white people (around the world, but particularly in the United States) serve only as a burden to white greatness. According to this historically revisionist theory, white people got to the top on their own, while people of color mostly just got in their way.

Spencer has repeated this racist lie many times. Speaking at the National Policy Institute, an innocuously named think tank run by Spencer to promote all things white power, he told an audience giddy over Trump’s election, “[White people] don’t exploit other groups. We don’t gain anything from their presence. They need us and not the other way around.”

He doubled down on those remarks when African-American pundit Roland Martin suggested centuries of free black labor had built America into an economic superpower, a truth Spencer dismissed out of hand. “White people ultimately don’t need other races in order to succeed, in order to be ourselves,” Spencer retorted. “Absolutely not.”

A leading figure of the alt-right movement lost his gym membership recently after a Georgetown University professor confronted him during a workout.The professor alleged he was a neo-Nazi.According to Professor C. Christine Fair, the Old Town Sport &Health club terminated Richard Spencer's membership a day after their confrontation.Fair added that when she confronted him, asking about his identity, he denied being the white nationalist firebrand.Spencer, who heads the National Policy Institute, has advocated for an ethno-state for white people.BuzzFeed published Spencer's membership termination letter, but it didn't cite a reason.

Spencer argued America had become a world leader “through the genius of Europeans…it has nothing to do with slavery….White people could have figured out another way to pick cotton….We do it now, we did it previously.”

As Lance Williams, writing at Reveal shows, Spencer’s answer is ridiculous, and not just because American history proves it wrong. Spencer’s own personal history, and that of his family, flies in the face of that illogical conclusion:

Spencer, along with his mother and sister, are absentee landlords of 5,200 acres of cotton and corn fields in an impoverished, largely African American region of Louisiana, according to records examined by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR). The farms, controlled by multiple family-owned businesses, are worth millions: A 1,600-acre parcel sold for $4.3 million in 2012.

The Spencer family’s farms also are subsidized heavily by the federal government. From 2008 through 2015, the Spencers received $2 million in U.S. farm subsidy payments, according to federal data.

The land was originally purchased during the Jim Crow era by Spencer’s maternal grandfather, R.W. Dickenhorst. The northern Louisiana region was a harsh place for black folks to live in the Civil Rights era, with a thriving Ku Klux Klan and a legacy of lynchings and anti-black violence. Dickenhorst, a well-to-do radiologist, grew even richer off his land holdings, thanks to the labor of poor black Louisianans who lived under the constant threat of white terror and were paid almost nothing.

Spencer’s mother, Sherry, inherited the lands when her father died in 2002. Those thousands of acres added lots of money to the Spencers’ coffers, as inherited land holdings have for millions of white Americans. The racial wealth gap currently stands at $13 to $1 for black and white households. The key to that difference is property ownership—the “central vehicle Americans use to store wealth” that is handed down within white families, according to Demos senior policy analyst Catherine Ruetschlin.

The Huffington Post cites a USDA report that states, “of all private U.S. agricultural land, whites account for 96 percent of the owners, 97 percent of the value, and 98 percent of the acres…Blacks possess 7.8 million acres ‘of overall rural land’ …For a century after the end of slavery, black farmers tended to be tenants rather than owners. Since the early 1970s, activists and scholars have warned that the rural black community was in danger of losing its entire land base. Land ownership by black farmers peaked in 1910 at 16-19 million acres, according to the Census of Agriculture. However, the 1997 census reports that black farmers owned only 1.5 million acres ‘of farmable land.'”

The story of white supremacy Spencer peddles, in which wealthy white people like the Spencers got that way by power and pluck, and not institutionalized black economic exploitation, is a myth. White people got a leg up on everyone else because of a system designed to enforce and maintain white power while ensuring black vulnerability and subjugation. Richard Spencer should know this, because he’s a case in point.

The finances of NPI, Spencer’s “up with white people” organization, are unclear because it “hasn’t filed a public report since 2013,” according to reporting by Reveal’s Al Letson. (The organization was stripped of its nonprofit standing by the IRS just this March.) Spencer dropped out of a Ph.D. program at Duke University to run his white power club, and has had no other identifiable paid work before or since. While donations are likely up from racists and Trump supporters around the country, family money has likely been hugely important to keeping Spencer and NPI afloat.

When confronted about the land parcel during the Reveal podcast, Spencer refused to answer Letson’s questions about how much of those cotton-fueled profits have been filtered into his white power organizing machine. He also countered that he is “not involved in any direct day-to-day running of the business,” which is a moot point. Spencer later stated he is “proud of [what] my grandfather…built” and—without admitting that the Spencer story invalidates the lie of white American exceptionalism—copped to having gotten a boost from black labor.

“We’ve all benefited from white privilege,” Spencer says in the recording. “I want my children to have white privilege.”

What Spencer really wants is a future in which his children and other white people don’t have to compete for a country and power he believes they are entitled to by race. White supremacist ideology is precarious and insecure because it’s constructed out of lies. That’s why black literacy was illegal for centuries, and why white racists—including Steve Bannon—want Trump to impose laws that stop nonwhite immigrants from taking over Silicon Valley today. White people have always needed to exploit other races to get ahead, and they still do. Ask some of those white California farmers who didn’t realize they voted to keep their own Mexican farmworkers out of the country.

What Spencer is really offering his followers is a delusion of white superiority and a fable about coming white marginalization. They’ll buy it, because it fits their victim narrative and sense of entitlement, while soothing their insecurity about white extraordinariness. In that way, Spencer and Donald Trump have the same racist hustle.

Kali Holloway is a senior writer and the associate editor of media and culture at AlterNet.

This article was made possible by the readers and supporters of AlterNet.


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The Arizona 2020 election "audit" under way

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As ongoing threats by Trump loyalists to subvert elections have dominated the political news, other Republicans in two key states—Florida and Arizona—are taking what could be important steps to provide voters with unprecedented evidence of who won their most close and controversial elections.

In both battleground states, in differing contexts, Republicans are lifting the curtain on the data sets and procedures that accompany key stages of vetting voters, certifying their ballots, and counting votes. Whether 2020’s election-denying partisans will pay attention to the factual baselines is another matter. But the election records and explanations of their use offer a forward-looking road map for confronting the falsehoods that undermine election results, administrators, and technologies.

In Republican-run Florida, the state is finalizing rules to recount votes by incorporating digital images of every paper ballot. The images, together with the paper ballots, create a searchable library to quickly tally votes and identify sloppily marked ballots. Questionable ballots could then be retrieved and examined in public by counting boards to resolve the voter’s intent.

“The technology is so promising that it would provide the hard evidence to individuals who want to find the truth,” said Ion Sancho, former supervisor of elections in Leon County, where Tallahassee is located, who was among those on a January 4 conference call workshop led by the Division of Elections seeking comments on the draft rule and procedures manual revisions.

Under the new recount process, a voter’s paper ballot would be immediately rescanned by an independent second counting system—separate from what each county uses to tally votes. The first digital file produced in that tabulation process, an image of every side of every ballot card, would then be analyzed by software that identifies sloppy ink marks as it counts votes. Several Florida counties pioneered this image-based analysis, a version of which is used by the state of Maryland to double-check its results before certifying its election winners.

“The fact that it has overcome opposition from the supervisors of elections is telling because the number one problem with the [elected county] supervisors is [acquiring and learning to use] new technology; it’s more work to do,” Sancho said. “The new technology doesn’t cost much in this case. Everyone has scanners in their offices already because every voter registration form by law must be scanned and sent to the Division of Elections.”

The appeal of using ballot images, apart from the administrative efficiencies of a searchable library of ballots and votes, is that the images allow non-technical people to “see” voters’ intent, which builds trust in the process and results, said Larry Moore, the founder and former CEO of the Clear Ballot Group, whose federally certified technology would be used in Florida recounts.

But Florida’s likely incorporation of ballot images into its recount procedures, while a step forward for transparency, is unfolding in a fraught context. In 2021, its GOP-majority state legislature passed election laws that are seen as winnowing voters and rolling back voting options. In other words, it may be offering more transparency at the finish line but is also limiting participation upstream.

The new recount rule is expected to be in place by this spring, months before Florida’s 2022 primaries and midterm elections. Among the issues to be worked out are when campaign and political party officials and the public would observe the new process, because the election administrators do not want partisans to intentionally disrupt the rescanning process. These concerns were raised by participants and observers on the teleconference.

The Arizona Template

In Arizona, Maricopa County issued a report on January 5, “Correcting the Record: Maricopa County’s In-Depth Analysis of the Senate Inquiry.” The report is its most substantive refutation of virtually all of the stolen election accusations put forth by Trump loyalists who spent months investigating the state's presidential election.

Beyond the references to the dozens of stolen election accusations put forth by pro-Trump contractors hired by the Arizona Senate’s Republicans, the report offered an unprecedented road map to understanding how elections are run by explaining the procedures and data sets involved at key stages.

The report explained how Maricopa County, the nation’s second biggest election jurisdiction (after Los Angeles County) with 2.6 million registered voters, verified that its voters and ballots were legal. It also explained key cybersecurity features, such as the correct—and incorrect—way to read computer logs that prove that its central vote-counting system was never compromised online, as Trump supporters had claimed in Arizona (and Michigan).

“I’ve never seen a single report putting all of this in one place,” said John Brakey, an Arizona-based election transparency activist, who has sued Maricopa County in the past and routinely files public records requests of election data. “Usually, it takes years to understand all this.”

Taken together, Florida’s expansion of recounts to include using digital ballot images, and Maricopa County’s compilation of the data and procedures to vet voters, ballots, and vote counts, reveal that there is more evidence than ever available to confirm and legitimize election participants and results.

For example, Maricopa County’s investigation found that of the 2,089,563 ballots cast in its 2020 general election, one batch of 50 ballots was counted twice, and that there were “37 instances where a voter may have unlawfully cast multiple ballots”—most likely a spouse’s ballot after the voter had died. Neither lapse affected any election result.

“We found fewer than 100 potentially questionable ballots cast out of 2.1 million,” the report said. “This is the very definition of exceptionally rare.”

When Maricopa County explained how it had accounted for all but 37 out of 2.1 million voters, it noted that the same data sets used to account for virtually every voter were also used by the political parties to get out the vote. Thus, the report’s discussion of these data sets—voter rolls and the list of people who voted—offered a template to debunk voter fraud allegations. This accusation has been a pillar of Trump’s false claims and is a longtime cliché among the far right.

It is significant that this methodology, indeed the full report, was produced under Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a conservative Republican who has repeatedly said that he had voted for Trump, and was fully endorsed by Maricopa County’s Board of Supervisors, which has a GOP majority and held a special hearing on January 5 to review the findings.

In other words, the report is not just a rebuttal for the Arizona Senate Republican conspiracy-laced post-2020 review. It is a road map for anyone who wants to know how modern elections are run and how to debunk disinformation, including conspiracy theories involving alleged hacking in cyberspace.

“There is not a single accurate claim contained in [Arizona Senate cybersecurity subcontractor] CyFIR’s analysis of Maricopa County’s tabulation equipment and EMS [election management system],” the reportsaid, referring to accusations that counts were altered. “This includes the allegation that county staff intentionally deleted election files and logs, which is not true.”

When you add to Maricopa County’s template the introduction of a second independent scan of every paper ballot in future Florida recounts, what emerges are concrete steps for verifying results coming from Republicans who understand how elections work and can be held accountable.

Of course, these evidence trails only matter if voters or political parties want to know the truth, as opposed to following an ex-president whose political revival is based on lying about elections. However, more moderate Republicans seem to be recognizing that Trump’s stolen election rhetoric is likely to erode their base’s turnout in 2022, as Trump keeps saying that their votes don’t matter.

“You’ve got Republican buy-in,” said Florida’s Sancho, speaking of his GOP-ruled state’s embrace of more transparent and detailed recounts. “And Republicans, more than anyone else, should be concerned about whether their votes were counted as cast and as the voter intended.”

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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Michael Carvajal

Photo by Tom Williams via Reuters

The search is on for a new director of the federal Bureau of Prisons after Michael Carvajal announced on January 5 that he’s retiring from his appointed post and will leave when the Department of Justice finds his replacement.

The Biden Administration needs to replace Carvajal with a person who knows prisons inside and out: someone who’s been incarcerated before.

When President Joe Biden announced his first round of cabinet picks just weeks after being elected in 2020, then Vice President-elect Kamala Harris said: “When Joe asked me to be his running mate, he told me about his commitment to making sure we selected a cabinet that looks like America – that reflects the very best of our nation.

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