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(CW: Anti-Semitism, ableism and ableist slurs, sexual assault, transphobia and transphobic slurs.)
A few years ago the neo-Nazi Richard Spencer appeared on Compound Media’s The Gavin McInnes Show. McInnes, founder of the hate group The Proud Boys, was out that day, with comic Dave Smith sitting in. “When Gavin asked me to guest host, you were the first person I wanted to talk to,” Smith told Spencer, who proceeded to lay out his dream of living in a white ethnostate. “I want to have a country where the population is European people,” he said. “We want to be in control of the state. We want to use it for the flourishing of our people.”
Smith took little issue with this vision, and even pushed back against its critics. “I don’t think it’s really fair to say every other group is allowed to have an in-group preference, but you’re the worst person in the world for having an in-group preference if you happen to be white,” he said. “Especially with all the blatant anti-white stuff that the left has become more and more transparent with over the last decade.” After the interview, he pondered the merits of Spencer’s ideology. “I understand if you don’t like it, but I really do say, if you sit there and compare it to what the people who are so against him advocate, I actually think it’s not as brutal.”
Smith’s next guest was a neo-Nazi named Christopher Cantwell. This was in early 2017, months before Cantwell earned the nickname “The Crying Nazi” after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. At the time, he was merely a fascist podcaster with openly racist and anti-Semitic views; he told Smith he considered it his job to shift the Overton window such that people like Richard Spencer seemed reasonable. A bit later, he expressed his hope that the Trump Administration would turn his dream into reality: diminishing the left’s influence by ending immigration and cutting off funding for public housing, which he described as “subsidizing the breeding of demographics that breed for Democrats.”
Smith pushed back—on the logistics. He questioned Cantwell’s assumption that the government shares his interests simply because it’s led by Donald Trump, “a guy who put maybe two or three outsiders on his Cabinet, who runs these entire departments that are still filled with all the commie neocons.” As for Cantwell’s complaints about “demographics that breed for Democrats,” Smith said: “Even when we had all the demographics that we love… they’re the ones who gave you the income tax, all these welfare programs, all these wars, the Federal Reserve, all the stuff we hate.” The government doesn’t just subsidize the “shitty” neighborhoods, he added: it also taxes people who work in “good” ones. “There's a reason why before the government got involved in some of these programs, the Black community was doing better than they are now, in terms of legitimacy and things like that.”
Despite their disagreements, Smith ended the interview on a positive note. “I do enjoy your work,” he told Cantwell. “You’re a very talented guy.”
The fragmented nature of modern media consumption is a blessing and a curse for comedy. Unless you listen to every single podcast in existence, you might never know that a comic on your lineup breaks bread with neo-Nazis, or that the weekend’s headliner at your local club believes Jews run the media, banks, and academia. My aim with this new series, Who Goes Nazi?, is to expose the very real influence of white supremacist ideology—and white supremacists themselves—in contemporary standup.
We’ll start with Dave Smith. You may recognize him as a member of the comedy group Legion of Skanks, with Luis J. Gomez and Big Jay Oakerson. Today I will introduce you to Dave Smith the ruthless ideologue, a man whose politics have more in common than not with those of Richard Spencer, Christopher Cantwell, and Gavin McInnes.
Some background. Smith is an anarcho-capitalist libertarian. He believes that in a stateless world where private enterprise runs everything, with no government or taxes or war, people will truly be free. In his view of history, America was never better than in the period between the Civil War and World War I, an era he describes as “the biggest experiment in free markets,” resulting in “the wealthiest country in history.” He learned much of his philosophy from Murray Rothbard, the libertarian economist who supported KKK leader David Duke, wanted to repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and ardently believed in race science. This last point was essential to Rothbard’s vision of an ideal society. As critic John Ganz observed in a 2017 essay describing his appeal to the alt-right, Rothbard believed “the ideological rampart of the post-welfare order against egalitarian attacks would have to be scientifically dressed up racism, defending the ‘property rights’ of the rightful masters, sorted to the top by the ineluctable logic of the market.” Smith echoed Rothbard earlier this year when he said biological racism is “a scientific fact.”
Rothbard was also a self-described “historical revisionist.” Drawing on the work of Holocaust denier Harry Elmer Barnes, he argued that France and Russia were the real aggressors in World War II, and that Nazi Germany acted defensively rather than in pursuit of world conquest. His influence is detectable in Smith’s belief that Nazi Germany’s crimes are somehow minimized by the Soviet Union’s. “Whatever it is that you think Hitler did wrong—and you could certainly just argue that he didn't win the war, or didn’t have enough time to do more damage, maybe thats a plausible argument—but he killed like 11 million or 12 million people, they estimate, through genocide,” he said in a 2017 episode of Part of the Problem. “It’s bad. But it’s nothing compared to what the communists have pulled off… When you look into what Lenin and Stalin did, the numbers they did, it dwarves what Hitler did. And that's not even throwing in Mao.”
He continued: “In the same sense that Germany, after losing World War I, in the Treaty of Versailles, they had to sign off on being fully responsible for the war… I just don’t think that’s fair. If you look at all of World War II throughout all of Europe, there's a lot of evil to go around. A lot of evil to go around. The Nazis, because they lost, they get sentenced with all of that.”
Smith’s sympathies extend to the contemporary far-right. He’s deeply concerned about anti-white racism, and believes “demographic changes” in America—the “profound shift that white people will soon be a minority,” as he described them to Richard Spencer in 2017—are worthy of serious discussion. While he has never described himself as a member of the alt-right, he’s expressed admiration for the movement on multiple occasions. “Where I am sympathetic to the alt-right is the blatant racism of the left, the anti-white racism, just outrageous and disgusting,” he told Spencer. “And it's cartoonish. I can't even believe they're so open with it, that they wouldn't keep it in their pocket. I mean, say whatever you will about the right bigotry, the right wing bigotry is always in your hip pocket a little bit.”
A few minutes later, Smith suggested the right’s bigotry isn’t all that unreasonable: “The idea that if you reject the idea of these demographic changes and say, ‘I don’t like that,’ that you’re now the most evil person in the world… If you went to Italy and said ‘Hey everyone, in 50 years this is gonna be mostly French,’ they’d be like ‘No, that’s bad,’” he said. “And I don’t think that makes them evil for wanting to maintain their country.” When Spencer praised the alt-right’s willingness to be branded neo-Nazis, Smith replied: “I like that about the alt-right. They are willing to say what they think.”
Smith’s embrace of the far right is rooted in his fervent anti-Communism. He believes the left, historically speaking, is responsible for more death and destruction than the right, and that few learn about these crimes because communists still run America’s major institutions. This is not hyperbole. Smith explicitly believes “cultural Marxists” and Jews run the mainstream media, universities, the banks, Hollywood, and much of the federal government. In a 2015 conversation with Gavin McInnes, he said most liberals have no idea “there are cultural Marxists at the top trying to engineer society” according to their “Stalinist agenda.” He elaborated on his notion of Jewish influence last year, in a critique of former New York Times writer Bari Weiss’s book How To Fight Anti-Semitism. “My view of how you fight anti-Semitism would be to deal with the arguments that people are putting forward,” he said:
If you’re gonna say that when a society is dying, people start blaming the Jews—well, okay, but what’s the next obvious question? Why are they blaming the Jews? Why is the society dying? Do Jews have anything to do with the society dying? Are they maybe disproportionately representing the forces that are killing the society? I mean, how are you going to bring up this topic and avoid that central question, right?
So what I would say—and I’ve said before, when we’ve talked about this question—is I go, well, look. I mean, Jewish people are very overrepresented in many fields. The idea of just saying, “Oh, there’s a Jewish conspiracy,” it’s like, well, no, I don’t think there is blatantly a Jewish conspiracy—although, by the way, Jews, much like other groups, have an in-group preference, and lots of Jews like to do business with other Jews, and treat Jews differently than they treat people who are not Jews. That’s something that most Jews are at least aware of. But I think the same could be said for Chinese people, or Japanese people, or Black people, or lots of others.
It’s just, Jews happen to be very powerful and control large areas of different industries. Jews are vastly overrepresented in the warfare state and the people who push the warfare state. The country of Israel has a little bit of something to do with our foreign policy. They seem to be way onboard with every one of these disastrous wars that we’re fighting. And when it comes to banking and the mainstream media, let’s just say there’s a few of ‘em out there. There’s a few floating around.
So if you’re somewhere where you’re overrepresented by like 3000 percent, to just dismiss it as a conspiracy theory—listen, I’ve always tried to go from the tack where I’d be like, “Well, look, I get what you’re saying, there are a lot of Jews in this area, but that really doesn’t have anything to do with Barry the dentist from down the street. And Barry the dentist—like, Jews are way overrepresented in dentistry also, and they’re doing a pretty good job, right? Your teeth are being fixed. Jews are overrepresented in physics, that’s helped our lives a lot.”
So you try to point out that it’s like, “look, I understand where you could go down this path, but really your problem is more with the policy than it is with the Jewish people. And you really don’t want to just be hurting innocent people or hating innocent people, ‘cause that’s kind of wrong and a waste of time.” I just think that’s a more effective way to fight anti-Semitism, to actually speak to those people, and say “Look, I get what your concern is.”
A bit later he argued that American Jews complain too much, when really they should be grateful for what America’s given them:
I think any minority group in a country, if you only make up a small percentage of the group and you're doing very well in that country, I think if anything, if you're talking about the country, you should be kind of thankful. It’s like, “Hey, thanks guys, you guys did a lot to help build this country that we're thriving in. I hope we're doing everything we can to make your lives better too, 'cause you're doing a lot to make our lives better."
That's a good way for us to all work voluntarily together. And if there's one group of your tribe that's doing something that hurts everybody else, it'd be good to call that out. And go, “Hey, stop doing that.” And if for nothing else, just for strategic reasons. Because if you're two percent of the population and you're doing something to fuck over the other 98 percent of the population, it's like, “Hey, they got a lot more people than us. So maybe we shouldn’t do that. Probably not in our self interest to do so. People are kind of tribal. They might start to blame all of us.”
So I'm gonna say, “Hey, I'm calling out the neocons, the Federal Reserve, the people who control the mainstream media,” right? I don’t know. That seems fairly reasonable to me. Now that’s about as much of a collectivist as I care to be… I don’t know, I don’t really have any control over them. I don’t even have a very strong Jewish identity.
Clearly. I don’t know what brought Smith to such anti-Semitic dogma, but I suspect his kinship with neo-Nazis might have something to do with it. Both Cantwell and Spencer have discussed conspiracy theories of “Jewish power” on Part of the Problem. In 2017, days after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Cantwell told Smith not to worry about Nazis taking power: with Jews banned from prominent government positions, he said, more libertarian outcomes would result. Smith, who considers himself a logical man willing to adopt any position backed by a good argument, took the idea seriously. “I don’t care about any law that says anyone can’t serve in a government that should never exist to begin with,” he said. “I was just saying this about trannies and the military, I don’t give a shit about that… I don’t care about your right to discriminate, ban me from whatever you want to ban me from, I could give two shits about any of that.” His problem was that if you ban Jews, you lose the good Jews: not only the Federal Reserve chairman, but also “the guys who taught Ron Paul economics.”
Smith’s biggest disagreements with neo-Nazis are tactical: he’s onboard with the white ethno- part, less so the state. “I’ve never in any sense promoted white nationalism,” he said on the podcast Lions of Liberty a few months ago. “I think it is frankly a retarded idea that is irrelevant and never going to happen and evil—at least, evil if it’s relying on government force.” He finds it perfectly reasonable for whites to want to live among other whites, so long as they don’t get those pesky governments involved. “The right to discriminate is something we should all fight for,” he said on his podcast this year. “It gets very demonized, but you want to be able to decide who’s gonna come into your business, who’s gonna live in your community. That’s a big part of what a lot of the new right is about. I believe in the right to discriminate.” And he easily rationalizes fascist violence as a necessary response to leftist opposition—which, as we’ve seen, he defines broadly. In that post-Charlottesville conversation, Cantwell said of the left, “If I can use the government to do horrific things to them, I will, because they’ve been doing horrific things to us for centuries.”
Smith took this in stride. “With the modern radical left wing party, it’s like you’re having a conversation with someone and then they punch you in the face,” he said. “The only logical response is to get up and fight.”
We can situate Smith’s anti-Semitism and anti-communism in his broader philosophy of Western chauvinism. “It’s just completely naked and obvious that the left is dominated by anti-white bigotry,” he told Cantwell. “Everything out of their mouth is something anti-white, anticapitalist, anti-western culture.” In the Part of the Problem episode with Spencer, he said, “Of course I prefer western civilization, everybody here prefers western civilization whether they’ll admit it or not.” His body of work suggests he likes three things in particular about “western civilization”: capitalism, masculinity, and whiteness.
As a libertarian, Smith believes America’s government is the cause of America’s ills. The period between slavery and World War I was the height of American prosperity, in his view, because that’s when the markets operated free of government interference. But it wasn’t until Lyndon Johnson built a social safety net that things really started going downhill, he told Gavin McInnes in 2015:
You have this massive massive welfare programs really coming into every—I mean, you can look at it on a chart, if you look at the poverty rate in America, it's going down basically for our entire history and then in the sixties it levels off when the government started fighting poverty overtly. I mean, it's just so obvious that this has been a complete and utter disaster.
Smith blames welfare for “splitting apart the Black family,” low “legitimacy rates” in Black communities, and anti-immigrant sentiment. In a 2017 episode of The Anthony Cumia Show, he said immigrants in the early 1900s assimilated more easily into American society than immigrants today, because “there was no fucking welfare back then.”
There wasn't all of this… federal intervention, education and medical care, like, all this shit. If you're going to guarantee—like, we didn't break the taxpayer at the expense of immigrants. When the immigrants came in, they had to add something to the fucking pie. Like, “You better get to work. You got a trade? If you don't have a skill, you're not going to survive." So when you have a free market, it kind of has this natural cleansing process, where it's like, you come here for your freedom. When you have a welfare state, people end up coming and getting on the fucking dole. And then it builds all this fucking resentment. Like you said, there's resentment either way, but then it's a bit more like justified resentment.
Tied to Smith’s disgust with social welfare is his belief in the decline of American culture. “We’ve been through a cultural shift that was pretty insane,” he told Spencer in 2017. “We went from a time when teenagers’ pop culture 50, 60 years ago in this country was watching a sitcom where someone was like ‘Gee, Pa, let me help you with some yard work,’ and ‘I sure do love being an American.’ And now they’re listening to music that’s like, “Put your pussy on my face.” It’s the most drastic cultural change you could imagine.”
This cultural shift is a major theme in his 2017 special Libertas, which opens with a winding bit about the Access Hollywood tape. Smith argues that women actually like to get grabbed by the pussy, an applause line, and balks at liberal outrage over Trump’s comments: how dare commentators like Jake Tapper lie about what men are and how they talk? Later he says Americans “live in a pussified, feminized culture, and we’re very hostile to men, and the entire thing is falling apart.” He pins the dilution of masculinity on the decline of domestic manufacturing (“We don’t make anything in America. Nothing is made in America. It’s all made in China.”), upon which he blames the national debt, which he sees as an existential threat to the nation. Elsewhere he suggests hostility towards men “started in the 90s, when we started ruining everyone who had an affair. We can’t have an honest conversation anymore. No one can just say the obvious truth, which is that great men cheat. That’s why they got great.”
You might be thinking, surely these jokes do not reflect greater and more disturbing depths of misogyny. I am sorry to disappoint you. In a 2017 episode of Part of the Problem, Smith argued that drunken sex cannot possibly be rape. “You can discuss the nuance of the morality of somebody being like, of you going out and getting a girl fucking hammered who you know wouldn’t have sex with you normally, then getting her hammered and having sex with her when she’s 12 shots in,” he said. “But I don’t know, man. If you’re 12 shots in and you’re stumbling home and you’re like, ‘Come here, fuck me,’ cry me a fucking river. You didn’t get raped. You didn’t get raped, I’m sorry.”
Then there’s the transphobia, as we’ve already glimpsed in his comments on the trans military ban. Elsewhere in that conversation, Cantwell accused activist Emily Gorcenski, a trans woman, of lying about him. Smith replied, “Can’t trust a tranny. They lie. It’s inherent in the nature of being a tranny, it’s wrapped up in it. They are a lie… They’re literally lying about their gender, so I can’t trust you on anything else there.”
These remarks were not one-offs. They represent Smith’s stated belief in the illegitimacy of trans identity. In his 2017 appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience, he said being asked to acknowledge someone else’s gender is a violation of his “freedom of thought.” “The idea that gender is a social construct is pretty well accepted on the left, and to me that is insane,” he said. In a tirade against the left last year, he went further:
It’s not as if they go, “Hey, the fight for, let’s say, transgender rights is that transgender people have the right to have gender reassignment surgery, they have a right to hang out with people who accept them.” It’s like, “No, you gotta recognize that that’s’s a woman.” And you’ll be like, “Yeah, but it’s kind of a man who just had a surgery, so I don’t really recognize”—and even if they didn’t have a surgery, it could just be a man who says, “I identify as a woman,” they’ll literally—they’re calling Caitlin Jenner a woman before she got her dick cut off. You could literally be a man with a penis and go, “I’m a woman,” and they go, “That’s a woman,” and you go, “No, it’s a man.” And they go, “Hater! Hateful person!” And it’s like, there’s something interesting about that, where you’re like, “So you have to control how I think about this. You have to control what I say and what I think.”
Smith has distinguished himself from the alt-right by insisting he still recognizes humanity where the alt-right does not. “I haven’t lost humanity for people of other races,” he said on Part of the Problem in 2017. “I have a lot of friends of different races and I think we’re all people still to some degree… if something fucked up happens to innocent Black people, I feel bad for them.” When Cantwell referred to murdered Charlottesville protestor Heather Heyer as “that subhuman filth that’s now exactly where she belonged,” Smith said he usually doesn’t feel bad for protestors who get killed by cars they were blocking, because “you’re kind of kidnapping that guy right now. You’re holding someone against their will.” Then he offered a bit of sympathy: “Was she actually blocking the car? Or was she just some lost fucking young person who thinks she’s in some righteous march… There’s lots of people who were in that ideology and then came around later in life… And I do still have some humanity for someone who might’ve been—if they were just caught in the wrong place.”
He didn’t quite articulate the thought, but his meaning was clear. In the same sense that he cares about anti-Semitism insofar as it might deprive society of Jewish libertarians, he still has “some humanity” for Heather Heyer because she might not really have been a communist. Had she not been murdered, she might eventually have come around to his side. Smith’s recognition of humanity, evidently, is tied to his perception of utility: an immigrant’s worth is determined by their productivity; Black victims of violence earn his empathy if they’re “innocent.” More succinctly: he sees humanity where he chooses to see it.
Dave Smith is a podcaster with a large audience of mostly young, white men (as he told Richard Spencer.) He built that audience consorting with avowed white supremacists and neo-Nazis; there can be no question that he shares followers with the likes of Richard Spencer and Gavin McInnes. He presented their ideologies credibly alongside his own, which includes anti-Semitism, misogyny, racism, transphobia, and xenophobia. He’s also a political commentator who used to appear regularly on Fox News and an active voice in the Libertarian movement. His politics are no mere thought experiment. He’s trying to build the world he envisions, and people are listening to him.
He’s also a comedian of no small stature the New York comedy scene. The standup community there is relatively small; the Legion of Skanks touch almost every corner of it. Before they became a fixture at The Stand, their home was The Creek and the Cave, a beloved alt venue in Queens. (They moved last year in response to backlash over their booking of neo-Nazi Milo Yiannopolous.) From 2016 through 2019, their festival Skankfest featured just about every club comic in the city, including mainstream stars like Jim Gaffigan and Bill Burr. I doubt these headliners knew much about their host, or what kind of audience he attracted. But that’s just how the business works. You can have hundreds of hours of nakedly neo-fascist material and no one will ever know but the people who like it.
Turns out, there are enough of them to make a steady living.
Header image via Dennis Jarvis.