Nina Kouprianova and Richard Spencer were married during a small ceremony in Niagara Falls in August 2010.
Spencer’s father is a doctor in the Dallas area. His mother, Sherry, is a socialite and artist whose home on Big Mountain in Whitefish, Montana, is full of tiles she painted herself. Kouprianova, an artist and photographer, got along with Sherry, who had one of her own mother’s rings resized as the engagement ring. It’s a beautiful large diamond in the middle of an art deco setting.
Kouprianova and Spencer scheduled a larger ceremony for January 2011 in Whitefish, where they planned to have skiing and dogsledding. The invitation was also done in an art deco style. Designed by Kouprianova, it depicted a man and a woman on a ski slope, each looking a separate way.
Kouprianova recalls being sick in the days before the Montana ceremony. She’d caught a stomach bug from Spencer’s nephews. As she lay in bed in a room in the Whitefish home, she says, Spencer came in and demanded that she go into the basement and watch a movie with him — a James Bond movie. Maybe the one with Famke Janssen, the Bond girl that Spencer often compared her to? She can’t remember, she says. She was so sick.
She told him no. He yelled at her. Then, she says, he pulled her down the stairs using her hair and her legs. What she remembers isn’t the pain so much as the faces of the tiny angel figurines that decorated his mother’s house — rococo angels with round cheeks, mouths parted as if mid-moan, naked with pale glowing folds of skin, staring at her with searching and plaintive eyes.
They had the ceremony. Kouprianova felt hopeful. Maybe it wouldn’t happen again.
Now, after eight years as his business partner and confidante, ally and enemy, Kouprianova is divorcing Spencer, America’s second-most notorious racist. The fallout is a bitter tangle of fear and rage, with dueling allegations of abuse and harassment. In the affidavit filed in their divorce proceedings is a copy of an email Kouprianova sent to Spencer on Jan. 4, 2011. She’s replying to an email he sent. “Did you arrive back…” the subject line reads. And in the body: “…safely?”
“Yeah,” she replied, “apart from seeing the bruises on my wrists and knees from yesterday’s adventure down your staircase that you sent me on, the trip back went without major incident.”
“Are you working tonight?” he replied.
Chris McGonigal/HuffPost Richard Spencer during an interview with HuffPost in a remote location outside Gainesville, Florida, on Oct. 18, 2017.
Spencer is often depicted as white nationalism-lite. Profiles of him in the past two years gild the racist, portraying him as suave, respectable, intelligent, in control. Journalists who have profiled him tell me he’s slick. He’s polished. He’s experienced. He’s polite. He wears suits and went to a private high school and Duke. Mother Jones coined the term “dapper white nationalist” to describe him. The Los Angeles Times noted that he “looks like many young staffers on Capitol Hill.”
Sure, he promotes an ideology of white supremacy and supports ethnic cleansing — but, you know, peacefully, and in a suit.
Despite Spencer and the so-called alt-right’s attempts to be respectable, violence seems to follow them everywhere. There was the death of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Virginia, a neo-Nazi Spencer follower threatening to feed a reporter into a woodchipper in Washington, D.C., beatings outside a tony club on the Upper East Side — and now, allegedly, violence in Spencer’s own home.
Spencer is often depicted as white nationalism-lite. Profiles of him in the past two years gild the racist, portraying him as suave, respectable, intelligent, in control.
When I eventually talk to Spencer, in the minutes before he yells at me, he insists he’s a private person. He doesn’t want to be there, talking to me. This is a private matter. Plus, he adds, Nina’s politics aren’t that much different than his. They were partners. Can’t I leave it alone?
But the affidavit that Kouprianova filed, alleging abuse, is public. The judge refused to seal the divorce records, citing the public’s right to know. So, what can the public know from this mess of personal pain, tragedy and loss? Why should anyone care that someone like Spencer is accused of beating his wife?
They should care because the abuse Kouprianova has described and documented would, yet again, put the lie to the whole idea of nonviolent white nationalism. Because it would show us once again that violence that sips fine wine and dresses up is still violence. I don’t know how often we have to learn this. After all, there is no more American story than taking a man at face value, giving him power, and only later seeing all the horror he has wrought.
Spencer denies ever physically abusing his wife. He admits only that he’s yelled at her and said terrible things — things he regrets.
“I get frustrated,” he says. “She makes me frustrated.”
Ilana Panich-Linsman for HuffPost Nina Kouprianova poses for a portrait in Whitefish, Montana.
Kouprianova grew up in Moscow in the 1980s. The oldest daughter of academics, she was raised to discuss ideas around the dinner table. After the Soviet Union collapsed, the world she knew fell apart. Her family moved to Canada and she fell in love with heavy metal, traveling to festivals in Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Baltimore.
It was a violent, sexist world. One time, she went backstage to meet the members of a band she loved. They made disgusting comments about her body and tried to grab her ass. She was 16. She saw bloody fights break out between antifa and skinheads. She dated someone in the metal scene who was abusive. It was a world that was supposed to be violent and extreme. She was desensitized to it.
Kouprianova met Spencer on Facebook in 2009. They had a mutual friend in common — she doesn’t remember who — back when friending was a simple gesture. They felt an immediate connection and began exchanging messages.
Spencer lived in New York, where he worked for Taki’s Magazine, the far-right magazine founded by Greek multi-millionaire Panagiotis “Taki” Theodoracopulos. Spencer wore professor sweaters and they talked about “Eugene Onegin,” art and Soviet films. His Facebook page was filled with pictures of him with Ron Paul.
Kouprianova was impressed. She was a bright history Ph.D. student at the University of Toronto who wore army fatigues to class, wrote well and had a passion for Japanese culture. Her dissertation was titled “Revolution, Tradition and Modernity: Russian Consumer Advertising in the Era of NEP.”
He asked her to write for him. She filed blog posts about Russia and Canada and weighed in on politics, Russian culture and Obamamania in Canada.
Spencer came to visit her in Toronto, and when she left in the fall of 2009 to go to Russia to do research for her dissertation, he begged her to come back. He missed her. They were in love. Kouprianova returned and spent the holidays with Spencer’s family. She was in awe of what appeared to be the perfect nuclear family. They were married on Aug. 31, 2010.
“I didn’t understand the nuances of American politics,” she says now. “I knew he was conservative, but…”
I know what she means. In 2005, I married a libertarian and in 2018, I divorced a Trump supporter.
The move was slow. Like boiling a frog in water. By the time the frog realizes what’s happening, he’s holding a Tiki torch.
But maybe that’s disingenuous. Maybe we were just young. Maybe we were just deluded or deluding ourselves.
In an affidavit filed in June, Kouprianova claims that her eight-year marriage to Spencer was rife with abuse — emotional, financial and physical. In July 2014, when Kouprianova was four months pregnant, according to the affidavit, Spencer pushed her down and held her by her neck and her jaw. She has pictures of the bruising.
In an email about the incident, he apologized, saying he felt “terrible.” There was also the time he pushed her into the stove when she was pregnant, she says. He would wake her up screaming at her, telling her to kill herself. She recorded hours of him screaming at her, some of which she transcribed and included in the affidavit.
It might be hard to understand why someone would stay in such a violent relationship. Spencer — who, again, denies ever physically attacking his wife — has questions: If he was so violent, why didn’t Kouprianova call the police? Why didn’t she leave?
It’s hard to explain if you’ve never been there. I can tell you the statistics on abuse, how it takes most women seven tries before they finally leave their abuser. I can tell you how abuse requires the slow breakdown of self.
“You are worthless.”
“You are a disgusting cunt.”
Screenshots of text messages Nina Kouprianova says she exchanged with her husband, Richard Spencer.
Over and over until you can’t breathe, can’t understand, can’t see your way out. There is the isolation and the shame.
Kouprianova tried to reach out to her family, but she struggled to tell them the extent of what was happening. Her mother thought they were having the same fights every couple has. The few friends Kouprianova had in Toronto didn’t like Spencer. Right after the wedding, she moved to a new country, a new place, and was surrounded by Spencer and his friends and family.
I can also tell you that abuse rewires the brain, creating neural pathways that make victims either hyper- or hypo-aware. This means they are either incredibly sensitive and jumpy, or desensitized. Kouprianova was desensitized. Spencer would threaten her, intimidate her, call her disgusting and ugly. She would respond in a monotone.
But one of the things that helps explain why she stayed is what’s hardest to comprehend about Kouprianova: She and Spencer were partners.
She wrote for the same publications he did — Taki Magazine and Radix Journal. She translated Aleksandr Dugin, the fascist Russian philosopher who once called for the “genocide” of Ukrainians. In 2017, she mulled the idea of “peaceful parting” as an alternative to ethnic cleansing to reach Spencer’s “dream” of an ethnostate for people “of European descent.” She helped Spencer with technical work and graphic design. She answered interview questions for Spencer through email.
“You do Richard Spencer better than Richard Spencer,” he told her.
There is no more American story than taking a man at face value, giving him power, and only later seeing all the horror he has wrought.
In 2016, she wrote a letter to a Montana paper, the Flathead Beacon, defending Spencer. She compared the town’s reaction to Spencer to a witch hunt. She wrote about her grandfather, a Russian Orthodox priest, who, according to family lore, was jailed and shot by the communists.
She has vigorously defended Russian nationalism, Putin and Russia Today, the government-funded English language news agency. In 2010, after two women carried out suicide bombings on the Russian metro, Kouprianova in a blog post on a site called Alternative Right blamed the progressive policies of Europe:
“Suicide bombers target busy subway stations, while Chechen children refuse to learn the Russian language in Muscovite public schools. In London, politicians flirt with Sharia law, as that city gets further ghettoized. In France, second-generation Muslim rioters caused €200 million worth of damage in one year. In Sweden, the number of immigrant-linked rapes has quadrupled over the past twenty years or so. And, in Fort Hood, Texas…”
Spencer acknowledges Kouprianova’s contributions to his work but insists he’s his own person. “She didn’t make me who I am today, but she clearly supported what I was doing, there’s no question,” he says. “I am proud of our collaborations.”
Kouprianova explains the op-ed by saying she was trying to fix her marriage. She was isolated, with a young child. She insists Richard Spencer is responsible for Richard Spencer.
Ilana Panich-Linsman for HuffPost Nina Kouprianova takes her basset hound, Rody, out in Whitefish, Montana.
This fall, I went to see Kouprianova in her 800-square-foot apartment in Whitefish where, until November, she was working as a building manager for Sherry Spencer. Surrounded by the gray shoulders of the Rockies, hemmed in by Douglas fir, lodgepole pines and alpine larch, the town is a beautiful trap. Kouprianova has no car; Spencer took it when he left. She receives only $550 a month for child support and no alimony.
What she has left are two small children, a basset hound named Rody, the apartment, and no way out.
Kouprianova double-checks the locks and jumps whenever Rody growls. On walks with her kids, she scans every driver’s face, making sure it isn’t him.
Once, when Kouprianova was pregnant, she and Spencer went into town to get coffee. The barista started yelling and refused to serve them. “I was just standing there, watching her yell, my belly is out to here,” she says, holding her hand a foot from her stomach.
The barista was mad at Spencer, but moments like that leave a mark. Kouprianova is ashamed. She has some friends but doesn’t open up to many people. She’s worried about her children; she wants them to have friends and lives. She’s trying to cobble together freelance work. But — she shrugs and gestures to the apartment, which is clean but cluttered with cloth hampers filled with toys, shelves of books, stuffed animals lined up on the couch. There isn’t room for everything. Most of the furniture, like the side table with gold-painted scrollwork, is a hand-me-down from her mother-in-law.
In the apartment, at the small table that’s littered with small dinosaur figurines and stuffed animals, she plays me some of her audio recordings of Spencer — until my hands are shaking and I bite the inside of my mouth, tasting blood, trying not to cry. Kouprianova sits still, her eyes deep and dark and emotionless. She tells me about him pushing her into the stove when she was pregnant, dragging her down the stairs by her arms. She plays me recordings of him screaming at her while the children sob in the background. Telling her he will “Fucking break [her] nose,” telling her to go kill herself, to jump off a bridge.
“Will your parents even go to your funeral?” he taunts in one recording. I can hear the high-pitched sound of cartoons playing in the background ― the children are right there. In one recording, he wakes her up at 1 a.m. to repeatedly ask her what her problem is.
“Let me sleep,” she begs. “You are waking up the baby.”
“I would recommend that you murder yourself because you have nothing to offer the world,” he says. “You are profoundly disgusting.”
In another video, he berates the 65-year-old babysitter, who testified against Spencer in the custody hearing.
“Do you think you are not stupid and ugly?” he says. She tries to record on her phone, but he snatches it out of her hand. The baby is in his arms screaming.
“[You are a] fucking sub-mediocre human being,” he says.
“[A] fucking moron.”
In the background, a small, scared voice calls out, “Papa, stop.” He doesn’t stop.
‘Will your parents even go to your funeral?’ he taunts in one recording. I can hear the high-pitched sound of cartoons playing in the background ― the children are right there.
For the past few months, Spencer has only been allowed supervised visits with the children, but he will soon be allowed unsupervised visitation at his mother’s house. This worries Kouprianova, who is concerned about her children being at a home with guns in it.
HuffPost also obtained text messages from Spencer’s current girlfriend, Megan Bobonick, describing him screaming at her, too. Bobonick acknowledges sending those texts but denied that any of Spencer’s behavior rises to the level of abuse.
In November of 2018, Bobonick wrote a post on Medium, insisting that Kouprianova was hounding her online and on her phone. In our interview, Spencer implied that maybe Kouprianova had leaked nude photos of her online. When I asked Kouprianova about all of this, she shrugged — not confirming, not denying. If anything illegal was done ― leaks, harassment ― let the police get involved, was her stance. It’s Spencer’s stance, too. Even in the falling apart, it’s easy to see how the two of them got together.
Kouprianova and I discuss her complicity and her relationship. She says she now denounces his ideology. But only as the visit was ending did I think to ask about my complicity — the media’s complicity in making Spencer who he is, in enabling all of this. After all, if Kouprianova deserves to be implicated in Spencer’s actions because she enabled him, what does the media deserve? What do I deserve?
Ilana Panich-Linsman for HuffPost Nina Kouprianova walks with her children in Whitefish, Montana.
After a six-hour interview, I tell Kouprianova I am going to talk to Spencer. I say something about him perhaps yelling at me. Her jaw tightens. The color drains from her face.
“Don’t try to make him mad,” she tells me. “It’s not worth it.”
She’s been jumpy whenever the dog growled. But this is the first time I’ve seen her afraid.
Richard Spencer sits in the breakfast room of the Best Western in Whitefish with a glob of mustard on his face. He’s eating a sandwich from Panera — roast beef and gouda. He doesn’t notice the mustard and I try not to stare at it. He’s talking about voting. He’s talking about the death of the right. I let him talk while he eats his sandwich. I don’t care about any of those things. I’m just here to find out what he has to say about the allegations in Kouprianova’s affidavit.
But he talks with his mouth full. He’s explaining John Judis’ The Emerging Democratic Majority. It’s the weekend before the midterms, and he’s telling me he predicts a blue tide. He licks the mustard off his face. Takes a bite. Another glob of mustard appears.
In just an hour, he’s yelling at me.
But before that, after he finishes his sandwich, I tell him I want to know why he told his wife he wanted to “fucking break [her] nose.”
“I did not break her nose,” he says. “It’s tough talk, words said in anger. There is a red line between actually doing something.”
He tells me that I need to understand the context of their relationship. She wouldn’t listen to him. So yeah, OK, there is no question he’s said things he regrets. Things that are unkind and bad. He does this with friends and family, too. It just is what it is.
And those recordings Kouprianova made? Well, those are what make the situation toxic. Montana is a two-party consent state for recordings. Kouprianova is the one doing something illegal. The recordings are illegal. He would never record. Kouprianova recording him yelling is just her resorting to a manipulative tactic.
Spencer absolutely denies the physical abuse. He scoffs at the idea of financial abuse. And he doesn’t deny telling his wife to kill herself or threatening to fucking break her nose. OK, what he said was nasty. But Kouprianova? Well, she is isolated from the community. She’s an anti-American analyst. She’s a Kremlin mouthpiece.
He reminds me he is only there because he feels he has to be. He has no desire to smear Kouprianova. If he was so bad, he argues, why didn’t she leave?
I ask him if he’d let her leave. He says he would. But when I ask why he won’t give both his children passports so she can go to her parents in Canada, he says she’s a “flight risk.” But still, he insists, why didn’t she leave?
I tell him about the cycles of abuse. The statistic about women trying to leave seven times before succeeding. In response, he tells me he left. He came back. He is the victim here. He absolutely feels emotionally abused. He is a reasonable human, he tells me.
But how does a reasonable person scream at their wife and tell her to murder herself in front of their kids?
He’s leaning forward over the table now. His dapper hair is falling into his face. He asks me where I went to school and what my graduate degree is in and smirks when I tell him about my MFA in creative writing.
This is the cycle. I ask about the abuse; he tells me there is a greater context. I ask what context justifies the words he’s not denying. He insists I’m being unreasonable; I ask again. He tells me he’s a victim. He’s left her five times. And where is the crime in what he did?
According to Montana law, a “person who purposefully aids or solicits another to commit suicide, but such suicide does not occur, commits the offense of aiding or soliciting suicide.”
He demands to go off the record.
When we go back on the record, he apologizes for what he’s said during that time. “Look, I take back anything that you might have taken as an insult,” he says. He was just frustrated, after all. I made him frustrated.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated incorrectly that Nina Kouprianova and Richard Spencer held a second ceremony in Whitefish in December 2010. It was held in January 2011.