Should we be allowed to punch Nazis?
Here’s the long and short answer: Yes.
Just to elaborate, yes, yes, yes, please feel free to punch those who promote a culture that is responsible for murdering millions in the coldest, most calculated, methodical genocide in human history.
Now, if you’re of sound mind like me, you may be asking, “why is this even a question?”
It seems there’s been a rise in extreme anti-censorship not only from the alt-right but from certain members of the left. We agree as a culture in freedom of speech, but many would argue (including the law), that hate speech is inexcusable. Using the guise of free speech to spew neo-Nazi rhetoric is hardly an exercise in free thought, primarily because this rhetoric limits the freedoms of other groups.
So, yeah, we know Nazi speech should not be tolerated, but what about violence? Aren’t we just stooping to their level if we choose to punch them in the face? Shouldn’t we show them how open we are to discourse and debate?
Here’s the long and short answer again: No.
Whenever I wonder if I should try to engage in peaceful discourse with a neo-Nazi, I ask myself, would a neo-Nazi want to engage in peaceful discourse with me? As a queer woman, would human garbage like Richard Spencer give a damn about one of my opinions? And I think, no, he would not respect a single word that came out of my mouth.
Thankfully, it works both ways. Because I think it’s only fair to assume that not many of us would (or even could) engage peacefully with someone promoting misogyny, anti-semitism, racism and homophobia to the extent of Nazi-level hatred.
In case you needed a history lesson, the Nazi party rose to power in Germany in 1933 under leader Adolf Hitler. In a time of cultural desolation and despair, the party pandered to the failing German state in order to gain office, then proceeded to literally try to take over the world while engaging in extreme genocide along the way.
Richard Spencer, leader of the National Policy Institute, is a white nationalist credited for creating the term “alt-right”. He has called for “peaceful ethnic cleansing” and has consistently denounced Jews, women, people of colour, LGBT people, and his many supporters have been seen using the familiar Nazi salute once used to hail Hitler.
If your blood isn’t boiling, then I think you might want to take a moment to do some more research and then come back to this article.
Because here’s the thing, if you can sympathize with Richard Spencer, a man who is clearly so far beyond educated discourse, then you are sympathizing with Nazis. If this is an over-simplification then I’ll be damned, but let’s stop playing nice for a second here and look at what revolution looks like.
When thinking about revolution, I often think of Frantz Fanon. Fanon writes primarily about colonization and cultural uprising against colonizers. He suggests that violence, to some extent, is always necessary in the cause for revolution. We like to preach non-violence in our leftist circles, but let’s not disregard history. Nearly every successful revolution has involved a disenfranchised people, who have been the recipients of violence, using violence in retaliation against their oppressors. When people’s lives, freedoms, and cultures are at stake, the oppressed respond accordingly.
Now, I’ve heard the argument that Spencer should not be the victim of physical violence because his beliefs are only expressed through words and not actions. But the fact is that words are violent too.
Words are violent because they incite physical violence. Words are violent because they incite oppression. Words are violent because they re-awaken buried fears, hatred, and prejudice. And discrimination is violent. Power over another group, whether lawfully or imagined, is violent. If one group lives in constant fear of violence, then violence has already been committed.
Think of domestic violence for example. If one party is being emotionally abusive towards their partner, even just through words or threats of violence, I think we would all agree that violence has already been done. I’ve even seen many cases where (specifically men) feel that an abusive male partner deserves to be punished for the maltreatment of his partner.
So if we agree that this logic works on the personal level, should we not also agree that it works on a larger scale? If someone like Richard Spencer can threaten violence (see: “peaceful ethnic cleansing”), and incite fear in vast groups of others, is he not an inherently violent man?
I want to be clear that violence rarely brings me pleasure. In fact it never does. I have never punched someone and I hope I don’t ever have to, but let me be even clearer: if Richard Spencer or any neo-Nazi white nationalist was ever promoting a dialogue near me that threatened my safety, my well-being, and my happiness…I’d probably punch him twice.