Is it okay to punch a Nazi?
via AP

Is it okay to punch a Nazi?

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A Nazi was punched in the face outside white supremacist Richard Spencer's speech at the University of Florida, and Twitter had a field day. But is it wrong to cheer violence, even when it's committed against a Nazi? Some say after Charlottesville, it's clear American fascists are here for violence, not dialogue—these are evil people who must be met with force. Others argue meeting free speech, even repugnant speech, with violence sets a disturbing precedent and doesn't solve the problem. What do you think? 👊

The Votes Are In!

Nazis can't be reasoned with because they seek the destruction of democracy so they can create their own system. Their ideas are fundamentally incompatible with American democratic society. We settled this as a country with far more violence than just a few punches in World War II. 

Here's how John Marshall at Talking Points Memo puts it:

Put another way, Nazis deserve to get punched. A few sucker punches here and there probably send a salutary message. But it’s not always wise to give people what they deserve.
I also think that in cases where the police either refuse to protect or are unable to protect the victims of fascist intimidation and violence that there should be defense groups that do so. That is defensive violence in specific situations. And more generally that only presupposes the breakdown of the state and its basic responsibilities which it should be our main goal to avoid.

Others say that's bullshit, especially after the tragic death of an innocent protestor in Charlottesville. There's no talking to genocidal maniacs who advocate the mass murder of American minorities. Plus, punching Nazis is arguably an American folk hero tradition. Indiana Jones did it, Captain America did it—even the Blues Brothers made the Illinois Nazis jump off a bridge.

Yes, we are a society of laws—but Warren Ellis argues our laws don't apply to people who seek to destroy the ideals of peaceful democracy:

"Yes, it is always correct to punch Nazis. They lost the right to not be punched in the face when they started spouting genocidal ideologies that in living memory killed millions upon millions of people….Nazis do not need a hug. Nazis do not need to be indulged. Their agenda is always, always, extermination."

Writer Andrew Sharp argues anti-fascists demonstrators need to adhere to higher standards and should not be dragged down to the level of fascists.

We must confront neo-Nazis and other racists and their wrong ideas – but you don’t defeat Nazis by becoming like them.
Fascists want to upend our laws and order. You don’t counter that by taking the law into your own hands by punching a Nazi. It might feel good, but it’s called assault and battery, and we used to condemn that.  

But the issue of free speech complicates the matter. Sure, it might feel great to punch a Nazi. They definitely deserve it. But does hitting people who express repugnant, genocidal views serve to justify future violence against any kind of free speech? Will it drive them underground, which is arguably much more dangerous? How much protection do people who advocate for genocide deserve?

Where do we draw the line?

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