Politics & Government

St. Mark’s Headmaster (Indirectly) Addresses Alt-Right-Founding Alumnus

David Dini handled the controversy well.

stmarks

You may have heard of Richard Spencer. He’s the white nationalist who is given credit for founding the alt-right movement. Over the weekend, about 200 people met in D.C. at a conference staged by Spencer. Here is how the New York Times described a speech he gave Saturday night:

He railed against Jews and, with a smile, quoted Nazi propaganda in the original German. America, he said, belonged to white people, whom he called the “children of the sun,” a race of conquerors and creators who had been marginalized but now, in the era of President-elect Donald J. Trump, were “awakening to their own identity.”

Spencer is a graduate of St. Mark’s, a fact that I believe was first pointed out in a recent Mother Jones profile. When that story came out, I teased a number of Markesmen I know about this dubious distinction. In response, one of them passed along the below letter to alumni from St. Mark’s headmaster David Dini. He sent it Friday, in preparation for Thanksgiving. While he didn’t name Spencer, Dini clearly had him in mind when he wrote this. It’s a nice piece of work and offers some thoughts we’d all do well to bear in mind, so I thought I’d share:

As we prepare to break for the Thanksgiving holidays, I want to take this opportunity to express my appreciation to you and reflect on the many blessings we enjoy at St. Mark’s. This week the Junior Class once again led a very successful McDonald’s Week with activities that brought together boys of all ages, parents, faculty, and Hockaday students, to raise money for Austin Street Shelter. Yesterday, we gathered the whole School community in the Great Hall to celebrate Thanksgiving Convocation, and as I look out my window at The Path to Manhood statue, I see the smiling faces of family members who’ve come from around the world to participate in Grandparents’ Day with our boys.

The first half of the school year has certainly been fulfilling. Students continue to thrive and contribute across the campus, stretching themselves in every way possible and developing into character-driven men. Some of the notable highlights include: Gopal Raman ’17 being recognized in a White House ceremony as one of only five National Student Poets, preparations for the Science Center expansion, including the construction of the new Winn Science Center, last week’s Evensong that highlighted the Roosevelt Family Organ and the largest Choir in several decades, and finalization of Goals for St. Mark’s IV strategic plan for the future. We’ve also honored two St. Mark’s legends who are celebrating their fiftieth anniversaries as educators, Frank Jordan and J.T. Sutcliffe, and welcomed a tremendous group of new teachers that build on the strength, character, and commitment of our current faculty.

As we look to the future and wrestle with the challenges of our time, it is important to reflect on who we are as a School community. The divisiveness and incivility that has permeated our society presents both challenges and opportunities. As a School firmly rooted in the mission of educating young men who will make a positive difference in the world, our work has never been more important. One of the hallmarks of our School is that we treat one another with great care and respect, honoring our important differences while at the same time focusing on the common values and principles that bind us together.

In recent days and weeks, you may have seen the School’s name mentioned in news articles that featured ideas contrary to fundamental values we hold dear. As you know, St. Mark’s is a diverse community, deeply committed to including and valuing students of different backgrounds, races, religions, beliefs, and experiences. I want you to know that our commitment to these ideals is paramount and immutable.

Throughout the course of this fall, we’ve been mindful of our responsibility to give Marksmen the preparation they will need not only for success in college, but more importantly the fundamental concepts, virtues, and skills to serve and lead in adult life. I saw an example of this recently when boys in Lower School Chapel were asked to define empathy, and a first grader raised his hand and said, “It’s when you feel what someone else feels, and then you do something about it.” I can’t imagine saying it any better. And thankfully, this is what we see in our boys every day.

I want to thank you for your unwavering support as we work together to advance the mission of our School, and wish you and your family a peaceful, joyous, and blessed Thanksgiving. I look forward to seeing you on campus soon.

With great appreciation,

David W. Dini

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Comments

  • OldLakeHighlander

    Economically and Socially Insulated White Males can do some crazy stuff. Word, Brah.

  • Amy S

    And then he explains to NBC News he was only being ironic. You know what’s ironic? His followers don’t understand irony.

  • Mavdog

    When the “America First” rhetoric started, the comparisons to the 1930’s seemed to be a bit of a stretch.
    Now, not so much. The white nationalist are nothing more than modern Nazi. Our nation’s leaders, and specifically the Leader-to-be, must openly denounce them.
    Unfortunately there’s silence….

  • JamieT

    Well, let’s see.

    Richard Spencer graduated from St. Marks 20 years ago, and no one at D Magazine gave him the time of day until they thought he might prove useful in passive-aggressively smearing Donald Trump. The TrumpBurner formula works like this: Trump=bad. Alt-Right makes Trump=even badder. Nazis in all but name make Alt-Right=even badder which makes Trump=even badder=even badderer. And because this whole gambit needs an ostensible Dallas connection as a fig leaf (hell, even a Cedar Hill connection would do)…what…who…ah!: Richard Spencer graduated from St. Marks 20 years ago. QED: Trump=Hitler, Dallas-flavored.

    Yoga like this may be why we miss pension problems in the crib from time to time.

    But now that he seems to be of such use, both FrontBurner and Spencer appear to be mutually profiting nicely from their newly discovered relationship. While the majority of posts on FrontBurner never receive comments at all and, presumably until proven otherwise, correspondingly fewer page views, this renewed attempt to push the Spencer-founded-the-Alt-Right meme in the shadow of the Trump election has gathered four now as of mine. By the way, it doesn’t take much digging by a non-journalist like me to find that Spencer is a member of the Alt-White, only a particular subset of the Alt-Right according to one of the Alt-Right’s most vocal bloggers. And, by the same token, Spencer and his Alt-White now profit in turn from the higher profile they continue to receive from D Magazine. A win-win in anyone’s book.

    Someone pointed out the same thing about David Duke: it’s not so much that David Duke really gives a flip one way or another about Donald Trump, he just understands the obvious, that more people will pay attention to him if he invokes Trump’s name.

    In an age where all journalism has collapsed into click-bait journalism, any way an outlet can work a Kardashian or a Trump or whatever the click of the moment happens to be into the output automatically becomes good journalism. Or good conversation, if that’s the height of the bar.

  • Amy Patrick

    A rather lukewarm, kumbaya-flavored denouncement of a vicious alumnus. Rather what I would expect of a school who, when I was one of several seniors at Hockaday taking coordinate courses at St. Mark’s, pooh-pooh’d the rather vile log of sexual harassment incidents that we girls collected throughout the year with a hand-wavey “boys will be boys” reaction. I’ve heard tell of a number of racist and anti-Semitic incidents which occurred regularly, as well.

    I’ve worked as a structural engineer in the construction industry for fifteen years now and have never encountered such a hostile environment as St. Mark’s. I have many, many friends who went there, and my brother is an alumnus, as well, and they’re all deeply good and brilliant and wonderful people, but the St. Mark’s environment was a perfect incubator for this manner of trash. The environment at St. Mark’s is already one that its lauded alumni must overcome or push past or grow out of, but worse: on occasion, it produces someone like Richard Spencer. The environment does no good to the amazing young men that St. Mark’s turns out into the world, and it’s clear that they need to do some housekeeping.

    Unfortunately, it’s even more clear from his response that David Dini doesn’t realize the gravity of the situation.

    Amy Barr Patrick
    Hockaday Class of 2000

    • Steven R. Klemow, MD

      I can only respond to your thoughtful comment with my personal experience. I graduated from St. Mark’s in 1987. I took several classes at Hockaday as well, and remain close friends with countless former students of both schools from my year and others.

      I am a gay man, who pursued a career in HIV medicine. I was not out at the time I attended high school, but I attribute this to the cultural climate of that time, and LGBTQ awareness and cultural competency have gained momentum on the campus, and have been highlighted with considerable sensitivity and sophistication in The Remarker. And I applaud the current administration’s efforts to promote diversity and inclusion, which I believe is genuine.

      Today, I am in contact with most members of my class, and I have never once encountered anyone with prejudicial views towards race, gender, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs–and I am very sensitive to these issues, as an intersectional advocate. I also think it is somewhat spurious to claim anti-semitism at St. Mark’s, since my class was approximately 40% Jewish. As was my father.

      I don’t think St. Mark’s produces people like Richard Spencer. I think a student like Richard Spencer simply attended St. Mark’s. Certainly none of the teachers I had at the time taught him these despicable views. And although I would applaud David Dini for naming Spencer by name when denouncing his actions, I suspect there were issues of libel or potential risk of retaliation that may have put existing students and faculty in harm’s way.

      Regarding your experience with sexism, that is your truth and purview, and I support you on these issues without reservation. But I’m not certain that this is a function of the culture of St. Mark’s per se; such dynamics are arguably present in our society as a whole, particularly at the times you and I graduated.

      With respect,

      Steve Klemow
      St. Mark’s Class of 1987

  • Jim Wasserman

    Sorry, but saying “You might have seen news articles…contrary to fundamental values” is not clearly disassociating. Dini never mentions Spencer by name (would you accept a denunciation of Hitler’s speech as far enough if it generally referred to “contrary to our values?”), and judging by the people who are surprised at the news he went to St. Mark’s, Dini’s message was not clear. Spencer has clearly said this is not the country for non-white, non-Christian, non-heteros like me (SM class of ’79) and many other alums. There were many incidents then, when I taught SM boys in the ’90s (via Hockaday), and now.

    Spencer needs to be NAMED and CLAIMED. Anything less than that is a cop out and, to quote Dini, “contrary to the fundamental values we hold dear.” That’s why I think this is a good opportunity for SM to look at itself in the mirror and assess the dirt under the carpet of high pronounced ideals (as they encourage their boys to do). I give Jesuit credit for doing some self-examination when the video of its alum saying racist things at OU came out. It may not be politically wise, but Jesus showed sometimes you gotta turn over some tables in anger.

  • DubiousBrother

    Are we to be as judgmental about the University of Virginia, University of Chicago or Duke University as St. Marks? I suspect that Spencer’s “higher” education had more of an influence on his world view than his high school diploma. Where did he attend kindergarten?

    • Jim Wasserman

      All excellent questions. Dubs. I hope that every institution that Spencer was a part of examines if they in any way contributed to his views. There is never harm in self-reflection and assessment. As far as judgment, i do not say St. Mark’s contributed to Spencer. Rather, any judgement on my part against St. Mark’s is for obfuscating the connection by not naming him; seems more of a political than actual reply to the situation, which hardly helps in (I hope) our common goal to figure out how such ideas get inculcated.

      • JamieT

        Mr. Wasserman, because, as someone pointed out, Richard Spencer and his white nationalist hordes only managed to draw some 200-odd people to their recent NPI assemblage, 38 times fewer people than the 7600 who attended this summer’s BronyCon,

        http://img09.deviantart.net/5e41/i/2013/221/7/9/bronycon_2013_rainbow_dash___wonderbolts_by_gmancommand-d6hdkcj.jpg

        while it is indeed the case that those those 200-odd strong may certainly be enough to terrify, sack, and pillage the average Kroger, savaging the beef jerky section and laying waste to the Red Bull, I feel confident enough to speak on behalf of all those institutions you mention to suggest that they would all be more than happy if you simply volunteered for the tasks you put to them yourself.

        That way you could be completely assured that your feelings were adequately addressed, and those educational administrators could in turn get on with their much-needed safe psychological space development and management.

  • Josh Hunter

    Every comment here is lazy disingenuous pathetic conflation.
    Anyone who supports white identity is tarred as a NAZI or KKK or supremacist full of hatred,
    You are no different than those you attempt to demonize, worse in your bigoted hypocrisy.
    Using a German word for lying press when the press is lying like it has in this article is not NAZI propaganda you dimwitted non-thinkers. You are shuffled into your little boundaries of what you are allowed to think is acceptable and pass that indoctrinated policing onto anyone else.
    Now you flock of cowards in an effort of sanctimoniousness driven by your own slave mindsets and racist diversity doctrine that is fine with anyone else from another race saying anything Spencer said but because he is white you equate NAZI like every person against the Alt-Right does and you brand as such and your drones like Antifa invade their gathering and scream your mind numbed rubbish.
    The problem you have with Spencer’s speech is everything in it is correct if you actually tok the time out to listen without triggers in your head propagandist framing you might realize he is correct and cowards can’t take that because not one of your ancestors would be smiling upon your weakness to stand up while you fight for someone else to not stand up for yourself, your people it’s ancestry and your identities. You speak in sophist anti-white racism, you believe in concepts of race based privilege and you endorse policies based on that racial prejudice. This is exactly what it is, you only shelter and engender racism and you mob of drones accept it because they are a white male, because it’s okay to attack them because they have always taken it, >yes they always have< who do you think they are the eternal banker and the politician the 1% not the working man on the street? Yet you consider them a caricature in your head not what they actually are in that diseased dis-associating brain that sticks with the herd at all costs.
    Eventually it gets old to suffer such garbage thrown upon you by all those that fight for ideals or self interest and your racist hypocritical cries turn now again, when one takes a stand against such hate, you in turn and spout more racism of white fragility or misandry of masculinity so fragile.
    This bigotry is no different than what you braying morons accuse others, the hatred of an identity, you fail to see maligned for your fantasies. Your race as the reader matters not to your discriminating prejudices, it's what your actions show.
    Understand white toxicity white privilege, whiteness all off this rubbish is no different than the rambling of a certain figure you people love to conflate to, how about we consider what you say but change the identity hmm?? Jew Privilege, Toxic Jewishness, Jewishness. If Hitler had a system of engendering racial displeasure, envy and scapegoating towards anyone in a socially acceptable manner what better way than this? That's what you are hateful weak minded conflating sexist, racist, bigots. Drown in your hypocrisy or consider maybe these are actual people and they have reasons your bandwagon fails to get wading around in it's affirmations and self deception. In what way is diversity ever strength? It's a superficial distraction, it breeds contempt, it leads to nothing but conflict and allows you to be divided for divisions sake and then you fight it for what? The endless back and forth to deny one group to embrace another, there is no equality here in a segregated society of tribes as much as you sit back and deny your very being in your arrogance, the media fed narcissism that you are above nature as is the workings of your mind and everything is different in the kingdom of flora and fauna until you get to man then it's all equal. No you have fallen away from unification and strength to spread lies of false gods of diversity and forced equality essentially an act of aggression.
    You have to be absolutely blind to not see your country divided along racial lines in political voting all voting against the taxpayer the land owner the contributor, those building the country are those being exploited as Spencer says, but your mind is stuck in 400 year old tales 50 year old tales and yet you sit here and act like this is some type of happy integrated community?
    You kid yourself, you could not be more self-segregating in every walk of life that you are not forced into or indoctrinated into.
    People who cannot get into a school on merit should not be based on there skin, they should not be in a job that is not gender specific based on their sex.
    You attempt to enforce privilege outside other not equality under law in an effort of forced equity, for nothing other than virtue signaling and playing games with lives in the process. This is exclusion and marginalization and this is where the fight comes from and when you see your people being replaced in the lands that it lives in, that it built and that it conquered. With it's people so engineered to the point that they do not fight back for they are told they deserve it for actions of the past as though any sane group should not put up a fight. However you in fact jump on anyone who would fight for their right to survive and their people to thrive and go on like any other identity should be cheered on in doing, but not the white man, no, no they are insulated they are a magical creature fit only for scorn. They are no caricature they come in all walks of life. You people are of greater disgust to me than any of the labels you put on others. You are utterly sickening. Take a long hard look at your self. Your indifference to actual things happening vs the outcry for rights for less than 1% of the nation in a mental enslavement to the perceived stereotypical hierarchy of demographics completely ruins your perspective.
    Feel free to not reply to me if you haven't got the message by now, all I hear is cries of "Brains, Brains, Brains" here.How about instead you go and check out the person creating the story in this clickbait and their response to your media distortions