Director’s Note, Dec. 2020: this post became Pharos’ most-viewed article as a result of media coverage of the (ultimately successful) North Carolina congressional campaign of Madison Cawthorn, whose real estate investment company is named “SPQR Holdings.” Cawthorn had also signaled his white supremacist leanings in an instagram post showing him visiting Hitler’s vacation home, something he said had been on his “bucket list for awhile.”
Senatus Populusque Romanus, “The Senate and People of Rome,” was a phrase used to describe the Roman state in Republican and Imperial times. It was and is often abbreviated as S.P.Q.R. Both the phrase itself and the abbreviation have remained in frequent use as a symbol of the city of Rome. It is also a favorite abbreviation of white nationalists, as the following examples demonstrate.
[Update: Scholars Respond to appropriations of SPQR by hate groups]
[Update: Prof. Sarah Bond has written an excellent article on SPQR that expands on many of the points we make in our follow-up to this documentation]
The use of the abbreviation by hate groups first came to Pharos’ attention when a group of Ohio University students attracted protests for flying an SPQR flag. The protestors said “someone at [the house] might be a Nazi” because the SPLC had reported that SPQR flags were flown at the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally of white supremacists and other nationalist groups. The students defended the flag as being simply a “Roman legion flag” and a “party flag.”
The debate is reminiscent of neo-Nazi attempts to rebrand the Nazi salute as “the Roman salute,” but our purpose in this post is not to pass judgment on the Ohio students’ intentions in flying the SPQR flag. Our purpose is rather to document unambiguous examples of SPQR being used by hate groups.
Our first several examples come from the forum at Stormfront.org, the webpage of Don Black, whom the SPLC calls “one of the most recognizable and active white nationalists in the movement today.” Pharos has previously documented this site’s use of ancient monuments as site logos. This site has been taken offline several times in recent months and as of this writing is not active, though many old threads are still visible online. We have linked to archived versions of the relevant posts below.
A thread started by user “ProudWhiteUK” asks for advice on what white nationalist tattoo he (presumably) should get. “Nothing to do with Nazism or any of that stuff,” he wrote, “more focused on British pride and anti-islam.” One respondent wrote “what about the Roman Legion SPQR? Britain was part of the empire for a time.”
The thread took a sinister turn as many contributors recommended against getting such tattoos because such obviously provocative signs of white nationalism impede the recruitment of whites to the movement. As one put it, “We are on a mission to win and we can with a more carefully thought out way of presenting ourselves to the brainwashed White general public that still has a long way to go in discovering the truth.” Another respondent appeared to advocate violence, writing “Do something to earn that tattoo. Establish a goal that takes you to a new level, the tattoo is then a watermark. Let the accomplishment determine what you go with…otherwise, it is just fashion.”
Other white supremacists have been inspired to ink SPQR on their bodies
We may never know whether “ProudWhiteUK” got his tattoo, earned or otherwise, but other white supremacists have been inspired to ink SPQR on their bodies. An antifa group in Portland, OR has documented an SPQR tattoo on a local organizer for the white supremacist organization Identity Evropa. This group, incidentally, is the same one that distributes flyers featuring classical and classicizing sculpture on university campuses.
An SPQR Tattoo is also mentioned in a letter to the editor posted on VDare.com, a site that the SPLC describes as “an immigrant-bashing hate site that regularly publishes works by white supremacists, anti-Semites, and others on the radical right.” In this letter, someone described on the site as “a Marine Iraq Veteran” writes that one of his tattoos is “the mark of the Roman Legion, SPQR.” He complains that that “the American worker is increasingly replaced by … illegal immigration,” that “the culture [is] shift[ing] to resemble the jumbled mass of the refugees that overwhelm our lands,” and that “whole sections of our country are seemingly [being] annexed by invaders.” This state of affairs, he says, has prompted him “to look at that SPQR in another light:” Toward the end of the Roman empire, he claims (with a link to a xenophobic article on VDare by Pat Buchanan), “there were more foreigners in the legions than Romans.” “How long,” he asks, “until the sacrifices made by these men raising the flag in Iraq and Afghanistan are as useless as those made by the Romans legions,” who, he claims, “were often poor, having been replaced by slaves from the very lands they had conquered.” He concludes his xenophobic letter with a comparison of America to Rome: “It may not be long until we go the way of the Romans, and for the same reasons.”
A prolific contributor to the Stormfront.org message boards uses the username “SPQR Legions” and has the SPQR flag as his avatar. Something of a contrarian on the rabidly pro-Hitler site, his posts include one entitled “Let’s be honest about Hitler’s legacy,” arguing that Hitler “is the SINGLE biggest reason that Jews were able to create Israel in the first place, and then use sympathy and race-baiting politics to consolidate so much power over Western countries.”
Hitler, SPQR Legions argues, insisted on "concealing the full revolutionary nature of his Nazi movement until he acquired the necessary power legally."
In another, entitled “Something That Must Be Said For the Greater Good of the White Nationalist Cause (lesson learned from Adolf Hitler),” Like many of the contributors to the tattoo forums, SPQR Legions recommends that neo-Nazis should reject violent tactics lest they “lose…political credibility with either the government or the voters” because “Liberal, pro-multicultural propaganda has conveniently found the masses more ignorant and complacent than ever. The impressionable White youth is being duped into accepting, or even themselves preaching diversity, race-mixing, and the principles of White Guilt.” Hitler, SPQR Legions argues, “realized that if he was to successfully come to power, and maintain that power, he had to do it by legal means and not by force” and so insisted on “playing by the rules this time, concealing the full revolutionary nature of his Nazi movement until he acquired the necessary power legally.” He ends on a misogynistic note (and this is why we call SPQR Legions “he”), “this reality goes especially for women. It is common knowledge that, on average, women are more prone to thinking with their hearts over their heads than men are…Knowing this it is no wonder that more women are turned off by the public perception of the Nazi regime.”
A thread entitled “Tribute to you Roman empire — SPQR” begins with a map showing the extent (at some unspecified date) of the Roman empire with an SPQR flag superimposed. The post calls Rome “the greatest empire of all times” because the Romans were “masters of military tactics” who created “a very conservative, family oriented society.”
Pharos has previously documented similar admiration for Roman (and other ancient) imperialism among white nationalists, but Rome is just as often held up as a negative model by those who wish to promote xenophobia by claiming that Rome’s inclusive citizenship politics led to its decline (including the person with the SPQR who wrote to VDare, documented above). This thread is no exception, with one respondent writing that Romans “destroyed themselves by miscegenation, internecine wars, and that fatuous tolerance with which they permitted themselves to be displaced by their subjects and slaves…to Rome from northern Africa came Berbers and Semites; from Egypt, degenerate Greeks and Hamitic mongrels, many of them bearing some taint of Black blood; from Asia, partly Greek hybrids, Semites, and all the fermenting mixture of the racial compost heap that Asia Minor had become; and, of course, to the capital of the ancient world flocked the ubiquitous Jews.” This contributor goes on to refer to Juvenal (whose invocation Pharos has documented previously) and to enlist the Latin poet Horace as an anti-semitic ally, quoting his remark credat Iudaeus Apella, non ego (“Let the Jew Apella believe it, but I won’t”) as proof that “sexually mutilated Jews” “brought with them their own racial superstitions” to Rome.
Most Latin teachers enjoy telling students that SPQR still appears on the manhole covers of Rome since it offers a tangible example of the continuity between ancient and modern evident throughout that city, with a humorous incongruity between the assumed grandeur of the Classical past and the humble manhole cover. Less often commented upon is the existence of a gang of white nationalists in Rome who call themselves the “SPQR Skinheads,” whose choice of name does more than identify them as “Roman;” it appropriates that same Classical grandeur to their cause.