Education

UC Davis radio station catches flak for interview with alt-right founder

White nationalist Richard Spencer speaks at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla. His hourlong interview Feb. 5 on UC Davis radio station KDVS elicited angry responses.
White nationalist Richard Spencer speaks at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla. His hourlong interview Feb. 5 on UC Davis radio station KDVS elicited angry responses. AP

KDVS host Francisco Quintana introduced his guest on Monday’s radio show as “pretty exciting company.” That turned out to be an understatement.

Quintana’s hourlong interview with Richard Spencer, founder of the alt-right movement, elicited angry responses from several students who questioned whether UC Davis’ radio station should have given the white supremacist a chance to broadcast his views.

In Monday’s interview, which remains on KDVS’ website, Spencer asserted Mexicans had made no tangible contribution toward mankind in their home country or the U.S., advocated for single-race nations and questioned why America celebrates Holocaust Remembrance Day.

He became particularly animated when discussing a ban on immigrants from Muslim-majority nations similar to the one President Donald Trump is attempting to push through the U.S. Supreme Court.

“If you offer people a chance to live in a country that doesn’t have Muslims, I’m sure they would take it,” Spencer said. “It might actually pain them a little bit to say something – like, ‘Oh gosh, banning people for their religion, God, how could we do such a mean old thing’ – but the fact is they would ultimately be happier. They just don’t want to be the ones to say it, get their hands dirty, so to speak.”

Quintana asked pointed questions and argued with Spencer throughout the interview, but some listeners said the station should have never had him on.

In a statement to The Sacramento Bee, Basim Elkarra, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations – Sacramento Valley, said Spencer’s well-known beliefs should have kept him off the station’s airwaves.

“We are disappointed that a known white supremacist with a long history of anti-Semitic and Islamophobic views was given a platform to spread his vile, disgraceful views during a February 5, 2018, interview with KDVS,” Elkarra said. “We strongly condemn the offensive and dangerous comments made targeting Latinos, Jews, Muslims and other minority groups over the course of this interview. Spencer has a long history of making comments that are racist, sexist, and morally reprehensible and has been condemned by college campuses across the nation.”

Former Google employee Lauren Kirk-Coehlo was sentenced to five years of probation last June after admitting to wrapping bacon on door handles, shattering windows and ripping bicycle seats at the Davis Islamic Center.

A year before Kirk-Coehlo’s attack, members of a Jewish fraternity at UC Davis awoke to find swastikas spray-painted on their house’s exterior. More recently, three men pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of use of force to commit a hate crime, battery and disturbing the peace in October after assaulting a female black student.

“Over the last year, we have seen an incredible spike in hate crimes both locally and across the nation,” Elkarra said. “Speech designed to be incite violence against should have no place in our communities. Over the coming days, we hope that KDVS will work with student and community leaders to address concerns and work with leaders to ensure safety and security in the campus community.”

KDVS appeared to initially defend the interview on the station’s social media accounts before deleting at least one tweet. The station later posted their regrets from the interview to Facebook and announced a new screening process through a programming advisory board, as well as cultural sensitivity training for all paid staff. KDVS did not reply to a request for comment.

“Giving Spencer a platform by inviting him for a debate was beyond misguided,” the station said in the Facebook post. “KDVS strives to provide a platform for those in our community who need and are frequently denied one, and this was a major misstep from our station’s goals. We are taking steps to ensure nothing like this happens again.”

One of Spencer’s most famous public speeches came during the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., which led to 38 injuries and 32-year-old Heather Heyer’s death as supporters clashed with counterprotesters. College leaders have reluctantly allowed him to speak on campus under threat of litigation since then, though security costs for his appearance at the University of Florida reached up to $500,000.

KDVS receives no public funding, according to its website. The station relies instead on donations, underwriting from local businesses and a small stipend from the student-funded Associated Students of UC Davis to pay for its production costs. Spencer appeared on the show via a phone call.

The president of the National Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., Spencer earned a master’s degree from the University of Chicago and worked as an assistant editor for The American Conservative magazine before being fired for his extreme views.

He was banned from entering 26 European countries for the next five years in November, one week after Twitter removed his blue “verification” check mark as part of the social media platform’s crackdown on white nationalists.

Quintana, who also interviewed alt-right firebrand Milo Yiannopolous for the station last year, ended Monday’s conversation by denouncing Spencer’s opinions one last time.

“I just want to make clear to everybody listening that KDVS does not endorse views of the National Policy Institute or Richard Spencer,” Quintana said. “We are from a university that realizes that diversity is our greatest strength, and we don’t condone these views.”

Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos returned to the UC Davis campus Saturday for a rally, after a heated protest prompted organizers to cancel his speaking engagement Friday night.

Benjy Egel: 916-321-1052, @BenjyEgel

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