[Content note: Violence against Nazis]
So the country is abuzz in the wake of an incident of violence following Friday’s inauguration. Floppy-haired white supremacist Richard Spencer was doing a sidewalk interview with Australia’s ABC when a dude in a hoodie came up from out of nowhere and just fucking clocked him, and then ran off.
Sure, I’ll weigh in, and thanks for asking. Generally, I’m anti-punching, at least where it’s avoidable. Punching tends to beget other punching, and that’s where discussion breaks down and things get dangerous for all parties. If there are non-punching options available, I feel that they should be explored first, with punching left as a last resort.
That said, I do have one very specific exception to that policy, and it’s punching Nazis. Here’s why.
America has a long and grand tradition of punching Nazis.
Many a hero in nearly a century of pop culture has punched a Nazi or two. Captain America punched Nazis. Superman did it. Wonder Woman did it. Indiana Jones is basically the king of punching Nazis. Somehow, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles did it. James Bond did it. If you consider Hydra to be an offshoot of or analogue to the Nazis, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has cultivated a lengthy story arc wherein the Nazis take over the organization from within and then get the shit punched out of them.
And this woman?
Way to punch a Nazi, sister. So the anonymous hooded man who punched Richard Spencer is in storied company.
Our current punching culture is focused in a far less virtuous direction
Two years ago, in Texas, a white police officer slammed a 14-year-old black girl into the ground, wrenched her arms behind her back, and knelt on her back and neck while responding to a call about a pool party gone rowdy. A grand jury declined to indict him on criminal charges, which would lead one to believe that large cop vs. small girl in bikini is now acceptable.
When Baltimore cops took Freddie Gray on a “rough ride” in a police van, during which his neck somehow mysteriously and magically managed to break itself, three involved officers were found not guilty of assorted charges, and charges were dropped on the other officers soon after. It wasn’t punching, technically — just chasing him down and tackling him for the crime of making eye contact with them and then running away, after which they found a small switchblade in his pocket and dragged him, screaming in pain, to the van, without the use of force or incident. Making eye contact with the cops and then running away and carrying a switchblade are both arguably less serious than being a Nazi, but they’re enough to get your neck broken without consequence.
I’m not saying that violence by some makes violence by everyone OK. We are humans, we are capable of self-control, and we have a responsibility to protect our own humanity — at the very least, I like to think we can hold ourselves to higher standards than a man who body-slammed a 14-year-old girl. That said, given limited time and resources, when forced to list punchings in order of priority, I’ll have to rank the Nazi below the teenager and the guy with the mysteriously broken neck. If I find myself with the time and energy to give a shit about Richard Spencer, I’m sure I’ll do so.
Earnest conversation with Nazis isn’t going to accomplish anything
Sometimes, you can reason with people, get to know them, have a beer, find common ground, and make connections that lead to understanding and changed hearts. Nazis are not those people. Historically, they’re not generally inclined to listen to reason. Someone who, for instance, called Martin Luther King, Jr., “the god of white dispossession” and calls white people “the children of the sun” isn’t going to be fundamentally changed by a lunchtime chat with a diverse group of open-minded people of color. A man who’s a believer in “peaceful ethnic cleansing” is probably more interested in the ethnic cleansing than the peace.
“Why do you think everyone who isn’t a ‘child of the sun’ should be eliminated so the country will be nothing but white people?”
“… Gosh, I’ve never actually thought it out.”
This is untrue. Such as person has thought it out. There will be no lightbulb moment when he suddenly recognizes the humanity of his fellow humans.
So what’s to do? Attempts at lunchtime conversation with a Nazi will result in nothing more than having to have lunch with a Nazi. (And for the record, while Spencer said during his on-the-street interview that he’s not a neo-Nazi, that neo-Nazis kind of hate him, one must acknowledge that shouting “Hail victory!” — in German, “Sieg Heil” — to a conference full of Nazi-saluting white supremacists calls that into question at least a little bit.) Ignoring Nazis, historically, has been a bad idea, considering that the news media were well aware of Hitler back in the ’30s and dismissed him as a “lightweight.” On the other hand, when Resistance fighters, Allied troops, brave citizens, and even people actually imprisoned in death camps started punching Nazis during World War II, those Nazis were ultimately defeated.
What do you do with Nazis, then? We should probably leave punching on the table.
It doesn’t matter if we “play into their hands”
Resorting to violence means we don’t have anything to say, blah blah blah, it discredits us as thinking people, blah blah, it makes us look emotional and irrational, blah blah blah blah, it turns us into the bad guys, blah.
Y’all. They hate us anyway. They oppose us anyway. They’ve never cared what we have to say or considered us thinking people. And anyone who watches that video and sees the puncher as the real monster isn’t someone who was ever going to be on our side anyway, nor would we want them there.
This doesn’t “give them an excuse” to attack us, because they’ve already been doing that. This may have been the first time Spencer has taken a punch — seriously, he went down like a guy who’s not used to being punched — but Nazis have a pretty good history of dishing out that which they’re unwilling to take. Any claims on their part that we’ve lost their respect by introducing violence into the discourse are disingenuous bullshit.
Punching a Nazi is not initiating the violence
At the risk of repetition: Punching tends to beget other punching. Violence begets violence, and punching is violent.
You know what else is violent? Genocide. Ethnic cleansing is violent, and peaceful ethnic cleansing ain’t a thing. This isn’t an issue of punching someone because their political views differ from yours, unless you consider “believing in ethnic cleansing” to be a simple, benign question of personal values. You can argue about whether promoting ethnic cleansing, advocating for ethnic cleansing, giving a speech to a bunch of Nazis about ethnic cleansing qualifies as an act of violence if the Nazi in question isn’t actively involved in doing the cleansing. But if World War II taught us anything, it’s that a bunch of Nazis getting together and talking enthusiastically about ethnic cleansing have a strong tendency to actually go out and do it.
Thus punching Nazis doesn’t fall into the realm of not starting nothing so there won’t be nothing. A Nazi has taken the rhetorical first swing by promoting white supremacy and all of the violence that always — always always always — comes with it. Punching someone who hasn’t punched you should be discouraged. Punching someone who wants you to die so he can have the whole country to his white self and his white friends? Someone who has workshopped ideas for disposing of you? Arguments could be made for self defense.
Verdict: It is OK to punch Nazis
Am I telling you to punch a Nazi? No. If you punch a Nazi and come back and say, “Well, Caperton told me to punch this Nazi,” you’re a liar because I did not say that. Your actions are your own responsibility. Neither I nor Feministe shall be held responsible for the actions of someone who goes out and punches a Nazi, which is assault and illegal.
If you did punch a Nazi, though, I’d be, like, “Oh, no, you shouldn’t have done that, it’s wrong, we should sit down with some drinks so we can discuss how wrong you were, tell me all about it.”
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