Comedian W. Kamau Bell prides himself on using his CNN show United Shades Of America to occasionally expose awful people with awful ideas so that we can have a better understanding of where those awful people are coming from, and he leaned into that premise as hard as he could for his most recent episode. Tonight, Bell interviewed none other than Richard Spencer, the neo-Nazi prick who made us all laugh when he got punched in the face that time. The episode itself was based around current opinions on immigration and refugees, which naturally brought Bell directly to an event being held by the National Policy Institute, a white supremacist organization led by Spencer.
The episode featured a lot of heartwarming little chats with refugees and immigrants about what they went through to come to this country, and it all lead up to a one-on-one chat with Spencer that directly positioned him as the opposition to all of those feel-good stories. In the clip below, you can see Spencer gleefully describe how much he loves white privilege, and as off-putting as that is, the moments where he tries to come across as friendly and personable are even more unsettling. Just look at the way he talks about how uncomfortable he is with the idea of a black man playing James Bond, which he plays off like it’s some kind of joke. That’s the trick with Spencer and his brand of pseudo-hip neo-Nazism, though. He actually is horrified by the idea of a black man encroaching on something he perceives as exclusively white.
In the rest of the interview, he made a note to separate how cool his “alt-right” team is when compared to traditional conservatism—as if there’s something more traditional than white supremacy. He also tried to position the “alt-right” as a movement based on branding, with him condescendingly telling Bell that he wants white people to be as smart as black people by embracing their skin color. Meanwhile, Bell showed a surprising level of restraint, letting Spencer dig his own hole while occasionally intercutting with notes about how Spencer probably hasn’t seen Hidden Figures and may not understand what the first Thanksgiving was all about, but there are some delightful little shots where they showed Spencer’s face while Bell was talking and he couldn’t help but scowl or shake his head. It’s pretty creepy stuff, especially when paired with his whole “I’m so friendly” act. It also ends with Bell joking that he’d like to stop by Spencer’s neo-Nazi party that night, an idea that Spencer rejects almost as hard as a black James Bond.
Of course, before anyone criticizes Bell for giving guys like Spencer a platform, he wrote a piece for CNN‘s website in which he explicitly rejects the idea that simply letting someone like Spencer on TV helps create more people like him. Bell argues that interviewing Spencer on TV helps show people that creeps like him really do exist in this country, and that there really are people who believe the hateful things he spews. Bell believes that shining a light on Spencer and his racist cohorts will do more harm to their movement than good.