White nationalist alt-righter claims 'Hail Trump' comments were 'ironic'

The white nationalist who said "Hail Trump" and "hail our people" during a conference in Washington D.C. on Saturday — and who received straight-armed Nazi-like salutes in response — told NBC News Monday that his comments were meant to be "cheeky," "exuberant" and "ironic."

The remarks from Richard Spencer, whose National Policy Institute was described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as one of the most influential purveyors of academic racism in the country, were published in a video by the Atlantic on Monday.

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Spencer, 38, told NBC News that the conference was the "next step" for the "alt-right," a soft euphemism for the once-fringe network with ties to white nationalism that vaulted into the mainstream political scene with Donald Trump's chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and includes everyone from hardcore white supremacists and neo-Nazis to critics of so-called "political correctness."

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"We need to take this next step in terms of professionalization and in terms of being able to influence people," he told NBC News, adding that he is "very willing to criticize" Trump and say "things that he's not willing or able to say."

In a statement, the Trump transition team said that the president-elect "has continued to denounce racism of any kind and he was elected because he will be a leader for every American. To think otherwise is a complete misrepresentation of the movement that united Americans from all backgrounds."

In the video, Spencer appeared to raise a glass after saying, "Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory."

In response, some in the crowd, which had gathered at the Ronald Reagan Building and which the Atlantic estimated to be 200, saluted.

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"There's an ironic exuberance to it all," Spencer claimed. "I think that's ... one of the things that makes the alt-right fun, is that we're willing to do things that are a bit cheeky."

At other points in his speech, Spencer used a term employed by the Nazis to attack the media — "Lügenpresse," German for lying press — to describe the mainstream media.

"It's not just that many are genuinely stupid," he said of reporters. "Indeed, one wonders if these people are people at all."

One tactic of Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime was to declare enemies inhuman.

Spencer speculated that the media may be "soulless golem," a reference to magically animated beings from Jewish folklore.

At another point, Spencer said that to be "white is to be a striver, an explorer and a conqueror ... We don't gain anything from [other racial groups'] presence. They need us and not the other way around."