Is it okay to punch a Nazi? | The Tylt
When white supremacist leader Richard Spencer got punched on Inauguration Day, twice, the Internet had a field day with the footage (setting the video to anti-fascist punk songs, for example). As a publicly loathed figure, people enjoy ridiculing Spencer. But is it okay to laugh and cheer at violence, even when it's committed against a white supremacist? Some argue meeting free speech, even repugnant speech, with violence sets a disturbing precedent. Is it wrong to punch Nazis? 👊
Is it okay to punch a Nazi?
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."
As many of the pro-Nazi-punching set have observed, there are times when it is absolutely fine and consistent with being a good liberal to punch or commit violence against Nazis—just like it was during World War II. But writer David Schraub contends that unless safety or survival is on the line, "The most total victory I could ever possess over Nazis is to be able to ignore them entirely."
The majority of Internet denizens have scant empathy for Spencer or his fellow fascists.
Dear Nazi: Don't think of it as a punch. It's just an alt-hug.— Adam Zopf (@adamzopf) January 21, 2017
Could we stop talking about the morality of punching nazis? I'm trying to punch some nazis and I would like it to be a surprise.— Lars J. Olsen (@larsjolsen) June 18, 2017
Many who might otherwise support nonviolent solutions to conflict think Nazis are so morally out of bounds that norms do not apply to them.
"If we punch Nazis in the face we're no better than they are."— Mark Harris (@MarkHarrisNYC) January 21, 2017
Yeah, we're still better.
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?
Punching nazis is a great way to show everybody that you missed the point of opposing hate.— Joel Elliott (@AwkwardHandle) June 18, 2017