Should we punch Nazis?
This question usually devolves into a confusing discussion that actually involves three separate questions, so I’ll go through them one by one.
[EDIT: Adding this pic so the thumbnail isn’t the somewhat graphic pic posted further down.]
Isn’t using violence to silence someone a violation of their free speech? Shouldn’t we protect everyone’s right to say anything, regardless of how repulsive we might find it?
It depends on who’s doing the punching. If it’s an on-duty cop punching you because you’re saying Nazi shit, then yeah, that’s violating your First Amendment rights, an amendment which is supposed to protect you from the government using its power to silence you. If it’s an off-duty cop, then no. You can press charges for assault, though, or sue ’em for emotional damages — more, if protestors burned your Nazi minivan. Heck, if you’re feeling particularly audacious, you can even try to charge ’em for commiting a hate crime (though I wouldn’t bet on you). But nah, man. A regular citizen punching you because you pissed them off has nothing to do with the First Amendment.
You know, a similar situation cropped up during the Civil Rights movement. Those cops beating protesters, hitting them with fire hoses, and sending dogs after them? Flagrantly violating the 1st. The angry civilians who got violent with the protestors? Nope. They’re just assholes commiting a slew of other crimes.
Is this actually effective, though? Don’t these tactics backfire, lending legitimacy to the Nazis and allowing them to purse similar tactics against us?
I think at this point, Nazis have gained such a truly astonishing level of legitimacy here in America that asking whether we are going to legitimize them even more is actually bordering on the absurd. How much more legitimate can you get than having Steve Bannon appointed to the National Security Council? And when you consider that they managed to gain all this power before anybody starting punching Richard Spencer or lighting little bonfires in UC Berkley, what y’all should be asking is how the hell we legitimized them so much already?
I would posit that maybe being polite and respectful — going along with calling them the “Alt-Right,” for example, or treating everything coming out of their mouths as if it’s something worthy of debate — just might have something to do with it. And if y’all think they wouldn’t have started punching us if we never punched them, then you have a really shitty understanding of history, and of what these people’s ultimate goal actually is.
As for whether violence is effective in defeating your enemies or furthering your cause, specifically violent resistance, I mean, no shit. Yes. Absolutely. The examples are endless. Sometimes it fails, but we wouldn’t be here if we hadn’t started punching dudes and illegally destroying property — over frickin’ taxation, guys. I think the stakes are just a little bit higher here, don’t you think?
So when you get down to it, the only real question is this:
Is it moral to punch Nazis? Aren’t we lowering ourselves to their level?
This is the tricky one. There is no “objective” answer. It depends on whether you are Obi-Wan Kenobi or Captain Picard.
Obi-Wan would say it is absolutely moral, go punch the shit out of those Nazis! These people are evil. They preach oppression and genocide, and the more traction they get, the more real the threat they make becomes. Punching them is the only rational act of self-defense. If people had punched Hitler sooner, millions of lives would have been saved.
Picard would say that to save society from the violence of evil men by preemptively punching them before they punch you is to become the very thing you stand against. If our society becomes one where punching the shit out of Nazis is tolerated or even encouraged, where does it stop? Who else can now get punched into oblivion? Have we truly saved society? If it leads to all-out conflict, how many lives are we really saving?
The only thing I’ll say about this is that I’m seeing an awful lot of white liberals — men, especially — putting on their Starfleet uniforms on this issue. But everyone else, everyone who is being targeted by the Nazis, Christofascists, and “Alt-Right” Milos of the world — people of color (hello!), LGBTQ folks, non-Christians (hello again!), etc. — they’re leaning heavily toward Jedi. Probably because this issue has left the realm of abstraction and has become a real, living fear for them. Keep that in mind when you start lecturing them about “this is not the way!” And for the rest of us, remember the price we pay for punching our enemies. Be sure you’re willing to pay it.