Virginia church condemns white supremacy after ‘alt-right’ figure moves to neighborhood

Holding signs at Alexandria protest

From left, David Hoover, the Rev. William Roberts and the Rev. Heather VanDeventer represent Christ Church Alexandria at a protest Jan. 29 outside a townhouse where white nationalist Richard Spencer recently set up shop. Photo: David Hoover.

[Episcopal News Service] An Episcopal church in Virginia is speaking out against white supremacy after a key figure in what is known as the “alt-right” movement took up residence mere blocks from the church in the historic Old Town Alexandria neighborhood.

Members of Christ Church Alexandria joined other local churches last month in a peaceful protest outside the apartment where Richard Spencer is reported to have set up shop, and another protest is planned for later this month.

The suburban Washington, D.C., church, meanwhile, issued a statement last week making clear it stands against white supremacy and in support of inclusiveness, echoing similar statements made by Alexandria city officials.

“We, the Vestry and clergy of Christ Church Alexandria, hereby reaffirm our baptismal covenant to respect the dignity of every human being,” the statement reads. “In alignment with the Episcopal Church of the United States, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, and the community of the City of Alexandria, we reject white supremacy in all forms. White supremacy is a sin and is antithetical to the teachings and example of Jesus Christ. We will continue to strive through our ministries and our worship to love our neighbors as ourselves.”

The church’s statement doesn’t specify motivation or name Spencer, but the Rev. Noelle York-Simmons, the church’s rector, confirmed Spencer’s presence in their community was part of the context in which the statement was written.

“We decided we needed to voice what we believe theologically about who we are and who and how we welcome,” she said, adding that white supremacist views “don’t reflect what many of us believe to be American values.”

Spencer has been described by the New York Times as a “white nationalist leader who is a top figure in the alt-right movement, which has attracted white supremacists, racists and anti-immigrant elements.” His profile rose after the presidential election when he led attendees at a Washington conference in a chant of “Hail Trump!” drawing national headlines for its echoes of Nazi salutes.

He also generated headlines for getting punched in the face on Inauguration Day, a moment that was caught on video and then widely discussed and debated.

His move to Alexandria may have drawn less notice nationally, but it has been a hot topic locally. It appears to have been reported first by The Atlantic, which said on Jan. 12 that Spencer was interested in “setting up a headquarters in the Washington area.”

Spencer and cohort Jason Jorjani “imagine the space as a kind of office-salon hybrid for the alt-right, a private space where people in the movement can make videos, throw parties (there’s an outdoor patio) and work on the nascent website.” The article also noted Spencer planned to live in the top level of the townhouse.

Reaction from Spencer’s new neighbors was swift and decidedly negative, according to AlexandriaNews.org. It reported the townhouse is about six blocks from City Hall on King Street, the main commercial strip in Old Town Alexandria.

In response to calls to city offices, Alexandria communications director Craig Fifer released a statement, saying, “There is no place for hate or intolerance in Alexandria. The mayor and City Council have consistently reaffirmed that diversity and inclusiveness are integral to our community.” He cited a November 2016 “statement on inclusiveness” issued by city leaders.

“The city has no authority to regulate residential or commercial property owners or tenants who follow the law while purchasing or leasing space,” Fifer told AlexandriaNews.org. “But while we uphold the First Amendment right to free speech, we will not permit harassment or hate crimes in our city.”

The Washington Post also reported on reaction in the neighborhood to Spencer’s move, in a Jan. 17 column headlined, “For one Alexandria neighborhood, the ‘alt-right’ is all wrong.”

“I think the first step is to bear witness,” Dennis Maloney, a consultant in Alexandria, told The Post. “Maybe it’s a simple matter of getting people to stand outside that building with signs saying: ‘We are not tolerating this. You are not welcomed.’ There is no reason why we can’t exercise our freedom of speech. That might invite them to engage.”

Protest in Alexandria

About 100 people were reported to have joined the protest Jan. 29 outside the building on King Street. Another protest is planned for Feb. 19.

Christ Church was one of several congregations to follow through with that plan, holding a peaceful protest outside the building on Jan. 29. David Hoover, one of the protest’s organizers and a member of Christ Church, held a sign saying, “God loves all.” His husband, Bill Roberts, held a sign that read “Racism hurts everyone!”

“When Episcopalians are baptized we promise to renounce the evil power of the earth,” Hoover told AlexandriaNews.org. “And white supremacy corrupts God’s creatures. So that’s why we’re here.”

Nearby merchants also have put signs in their windows with messages opposing intolerance, York-Simmons, Christ Church’s rector, said, and another protest has been scheduled for Feb. 19.

It serves as a reminder to the community, she said: “Our city just doesn’t have room for hate speech.”

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org. 

Comments

  1. I hope you will refrain from using alt-right in reporting – it softens the actual message of white supremacy.

  2. Dr. William A. Flint, MDiv, PhD says:

    When did the Episcopal Church turn into the Institutional Monster? Who are you to judge?

    • Richard McDonough says:

      Sir, Would you willingly agree to have Josef Goebbels as your neighbor? Or, Stalin? Mao, possibly? How about Idi Amin? The church is not the monster here. That title is reserved for Mr. Spencer and his neo-Nazi comrades. If it’s not the place of the church to take a moral stand then what, exactly, is it’s place?

    • Marie Miller says:

      Exactly!

  3. Tony Oberdorfer says:

    Now we have more and more members of the Episcopal Church engaging in boycotts and demonstrations against so-called”Nazis” whose views they disagree with in much the same way (perhaps without even realizing it) as the real Nazis acted in Germany many years ago. It is truly frightening.

    As a student in Munich during the 1930s my late father demonstrated against real Nazis. He would be as disgusted as I am with what’s going on inside the Episcopal Church today.

    • Bill Louis says:

      I feel the same way. I’m disgusted with the Church l.

      • Kilty Maoris says:

        It is no longer a church it is a group of rabble rousers. Time for all these whiners and complainers to pack it in and start paying their taxes. There is NO doubt now about their
        political leanings. Like England, the same branch of the church virtually has no more members just a skeleton crew to mop up and close the door.

        • Carmen Araoz says:

          Perhaps you would be more approving if they baked a cake for the Nazis? How sweet and completely blind.

          • Dr. William A. Flint, MDiv, PhD says:

            We are called to love. “As I looked out the window, I saw Nazi soldiers throwing Jewish babies into the fire alive and I wondered why. Why God would allow such evil? Then God spoke to me and said: “I love the Nazis as much as I do you and I died for them equally as did I die for you. Don’t worry about the babies, they are with me now. Worry about those who are living, even the Nazis, that they might come to the knowledge of my Love.”

            There is no more powerful force on earth than the Love of God. Judge not, less you be judged by the same standards.

    • Marie Miller says:

      Exactly!

  4. Martha Richards says:

    In Christ all people are equal and I am proud that the Episcopal Church is standing tall against bigotry of any kind. Whether you are Muslim, Jew, Black, White, Gay, Lesbian – it doesn’t matter, you are still a child of God. We have come a long way since I was a child in understanding that all people are/or should be equal and I don’t want to see things go backwards. And, if you aren’t an Episcopalian, you don’t know what is going on inside the church – so don’t judge it.

    • Tony Oberdorfer says:

      Having been confirmed in the Episcopal Church over half a century ago and as a member of one of the oldest Episcopal churches in Boston, I believe I know all too well “what is going on inside the church.”

    • Kilty Maoris says:

      Have you noticed these people have the right to get in the street and harass others who have the same rights they have? They can live anyplace they wish to. They have freedom of speech which isn’t limited to what you want to hear. Who are you to judge anyone? Nothing but a bunch of busybodies who are members of an already dead church made of the old people with nothing to do with their lives. Ignore them! They are truly very sick when in the name of their god they use it to harass others. Sick, sick old people whose lives are over.

  5. Who is Richard Spencer besides being a “member” of the Alt-Right? More importantly what is he “doing” to raise this notice? Strange, to me, is that we have Steve Bannon, with great influcence in the White House, and few people have raised public concern???
    Behavior – not Beliefs – are the real problem! It is actions that speak louder than words. Jesus was about how we behave as persons, especially as to how we behave toward others because all of loved by God.

  6. Nick Edwards says:

    Sounds like white people marching and protesting a black family that moved into the neighborhood back in the 60’s. Plain mean-spirited behavior.

    • Kilty Maoris says:

      The dead church is just rattling its bones. Don’t pay any attention to them. They are closing churches and schools every day and now have nothing else to do.

    • Carmen Araoz says:

      False equivalence at its finest. Do you believe your own lies or just expect others tondo so?

  7. Catherine Cheek says:

    In times like this, I am glad to be an Episcopalian. In Christianity, there is no place for ‘white supremacy’ or any other type of bigotry.

  8. Jesse Leeder says:

    I’m not Episopal but I respect what your doing. When I was growing up in the Midwest our faith groups of many types and colleges and citizens of colors came together to stop the promotion of hate groups. Its good to see some still doing the right thing.

    I think if we searched scripture with pure hearts, we would we should have many more things to stand up for.

  9. I am so proud of these Jesus Followers!!!!! Thank you!!!

  10. Mary Frances Schjonberg says:

    We here at ENS remind you of our commenting policy (found here http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/comment-policy/). Our policy says, in part, that we want these conversations to be “safe, open and respectful, and so we moderate comments. We reserve the right to remove any comment that we consider to be inappropriate for any reason.” Comments critical of the Episcopal Church are approved as long as they conform to our policy. We have deleted some comments submitted on this story. Please be civil with each other as you discuss this issue.

  11. Ronald Davin says:

    Remember the signs,”The Episcopal Church Welcomes You “, times have changed.
    What is next ? The Episcopal equivalent of Kristallnacht for anyone they don’t like ?

  12. Wilfred. Richards says:

    Isn’t this reaction similar to what it was like,when blacks used to move into a white neighborhood?This appears to be a storm in a teacup.Now the better thing to do is try the art of conversion.Inother words,preach Christ crucified.

  13. Alda Morgan says:

    Reading this conversation, like reading the one about the National Cathedral Choir’s singing at Trump’s inauguration, deeply concerns me. It is full of rudeness and disrespect for each other.
    I share the feelings of the “progressive” side of this conversation, but I am concerned that we often come off sounding self-righteous and unaware of how our actions and statements sound like a contradiction of what we say we believe in. We proclaim that Christians should be open and inclusive, but these actions and statements seem to contradict what we proclaim. We truly are a seriously divided country. I am as worried about that as I am about what’s going on (or not going on) in Washington. Christians are also called to be peacemakers and that is often much harder than protesting. How can we learn to listen to each other? That doesn’t mean we have to agree, or even stop the protests, but it might help if we could learn more about each other and why we feel as we do. Invite Spencer and his troops in conversation. It won’t solve the whole problem, but it might be a first step toward finding ways to live with each other with some respect. And it might help all of us to talk with each other with respect.

    • From what I gathered in the article, these were peaceful protests. Places weren’t destroyed. People weren’t hurt. I think it’s important for the church to take a stand. Right now the primary message from the loudest Christians in the US is that people aren’t welcome. I’m a Christian and they don’t speak for me.

  14. F William Thewalt says:

    Once again the E’s of 2017 feel a need to make a stir for no real reason. We are becoming the laughingstock of Christian communities. How on earth do you grow the church when we have a bunch of ninnies protesting every perceived wrong?

  15. Donna Jerome says:

    Episcopal Church is sadly now a political lobbying organization. Breaks my heart!

  16. Doug Desper says:

    I wonder why Jesus never led protests. He had ample opportunity. He could have put a lot of people in their place – and deservedly so.

    Nothing in front of Pilate’s Hall? Nothing in front of the Roman Barracks? Nothing in front of the tax collectors’ favorite gathering spots? Nothing outside the Jewish Temple and seat of power except to move money changers on — but that was in His own house. He felt that He had the right to do that since it was his place. But, not on the streets, not elsewhere? If anything, He invited Himself to eat with people and He spent awhile with the “enemy”; people like the Centurion.

    Maybe Jesus never protested because it’s an easy – and often reckless – way to instill power and fear. It’s much harder to reconcile with one’s adversary. Very hard work. I imagine that He would have lead the Church to knock on the door of Mr. Spencer’s house to spend awhile with him. Protests – especially in front of someone’s private home – instill fear and exercise power. Relationships are much tougher. The disciples at first turned away in disgust at having to do that — but they would have to leave the Lord behind if they didn’t.

  17. Terry Francis says:

    I have a question for all my progressive brothers and sisters. If someone from the alt-left movement had moved into this neighborhood, would you have responded in any way? If someone like Bill Ayers, who bombed public buildings in the ’60’s and ’70’s to protest U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war had moved in, would you have protested? If a bunch of the people who set fires, damaged property and attacked people on the Berkeley campus because they didn’t want right-winger Milo Yiannopoulous to speak there, had moved into the neighborhood, would you have protested their presence? Let me answer that for you. NO. Unfortunately only those who preach hate and intolerance on the right get your attention. Never those on the left. While Richard Spence’s opinions are reprehensible, he hasn’t broken any laws and yet you protest outside his apartment and plan another one later on that month? Here’s a radical idea. Instead of protesting how about going up to Mr. Spence’s door, knock on it, and when he answers invite him to join you and your friends at Christ Church Alexandria the following Sunday. He’ll probably say no but it still beats protesting outside his place, and takes a heck of a lot more courage.

  18. Terry Francis says:

    Carmen Araoz, you need to get off your self-righteous high horse and change your attitude toward people who disagree with you. Your sarcasm and lack of civility contributes nothing to the discussion.

  19. Stuart Lauters says:

    Was ANYONE paying attention to the readings last Sunday: Matthew 5:38-48

    Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

    “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

    Sadly, protesting is here equated with prayer. Disgusting, really.

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