Richard Spencer is one of the leaders of the white supremacist movement and the monster who coined the term “alt-right.” While Spencer was about to discuss his Pepe the Frog pin in a street interview during the inauguration of he-who-shall-not-be-named, a good samaritan punched him in the face.
If you haven’t seen the video of it, stop reading now and go find it.
Did you watch it?
There’s been a debate about both the morality and the efficacy of this act. Is violence ever justified? If it is, does it help the anti-he-who-shall-not-be-named movement?
I’m going to argue “yes” for both.
First, there’s the idea that violence doesn’t solve anything. That sticks and stones may break our bones, etc. I’ve seen this opinion stated by many people online, including celebrities and fellow Jews.
Here’s the problem: free speech has limits. For instance, incitement of violence can violate free speech. Libel and slander can violate free speech. Provocative “fighting words” can violate free speech. I say this just to illustrate that free speech isn’t a blank check. There are exceptions. And the exceptions I just listed all apply to Richard Spencer.
Spencer self identifies as a white supremacist. He doesn’t identify as a Nazi. Most Nazis don’t. However, ideologically, he is no different than a Nazi with the exception that he lives in America now and not Germany in the 1930s.
The ideology of Nazis (white supremacists/white nationalists/the alt-right) is that white people are the superior race and all other races should be removed by either extermination or expulsion. Theoretically, any expulsion would be temporary until the “superior” white race can get around to extermination. Spencer has openly supported questioning how best to exterminate the black race. He has held court over men raising their arms in Nazi salutes.
He’s a fucking Nazi.
Spencer is clear in his belief that the world isn’t big enough for all the races. He believes that its either them or us, white people or non-white people. There’s no wiggle room. He wants people like me exterminated.
Saying this in public, whether it’s overt or implied, is a threat against my life. The only thing that’s stopping him and his followers from killing people is fear of retribution and/or failure. Free speech does not cover death threats, or incitements, or libel. I’m hardly a legal scholar, but it doesn’t matter: espousing these beliefs publicly is an act of violence. Being a white supremacist who wants to recruit and inspire others is an act of violence.
So, in terms of morality, the punch was simple self-defense. This man threatens us all and someone chose to protect themselves. If they did it in the form of a sucker-punch and afterwards ran away, that just serves to show how frightened they must have been and the bravery required to do it in the first place.
Actions have consequences, and the act of dehumanizing and calling for the eradication of billions of people demands a retort.
As someone on Twitter told me, “non-violence only works on people who are non-violent.” And violence takes many forms.
When Dylann Roof killed nine black people at a church in Charleston, he had already put in hundreds of hours reading websites and blogs of people like Richard Spencer. That is to say, Richard Spencer’s rhetoric is dangerous.
When the Nazis rose to power in the 30s, they took what they wanted with violence. To fight them, we didn’t negotiate. We didn’t debate. We didn’t try to understand their point of view.
We shot them. We stabbed them. We bombed them. We captured them and brought justice upon them via war crimes tribunals. Then we hanged them.
And because we killed Nazis, we stopped the holocaust and saved potentially millions of lives, though obviously we should have intervened sooner.
But clearly, it seems we didn’t kill enough Nazis, because white nationalism is on the rise in many countries including this one.
In the 1930s, the Nazis represented an existential threat to not only America but the entire world. That hasn’t changed. They have been weakened, sure, but with he-who-shall-not-be-named in power, Nazis are gaining power too. They still represent a threat to America. They are, effectively, traitors. We execute traitors.
I’m not calling for anyone to kill anyone else. What I am saying is that if Richard Spencer died, I’d be happy knowing the world was a slightly safer place. As it stands, he is still doing tremendous damage to society and still, with his colleagues, represents an existential threat to all of us who don’t share his worldview.
Thus, morally, punching Spencer is fine. In fact, it’s the right thing to do.
The other question is one of practicality. Does punching Spencer et al help fight back against he-who-shall-not-be-named?
The answer is yes.
First of all, the immediate catharsis of watching that video cannot be overstated. Watching it gave me joy and I’m a pacifist who has admonished many a he-who-shall-not-be-named supporter for claiming to enjoy the pain and anxiety of progressives.
Second, Spencer himself said that he is now afraid to be in public — another victory. The less comfortable white supremacists feel espousing their beliefs or participating in society, the harder it is for them to spread their hatred. Thus, if Nazi punching continues, Nazis will be even more afraid to leave the house, and may even consider changing their beliefs entirely to better fit in society.
Third, it invigorates and empowers those of us who seek to resist the fascist leadership of he-who-shall-not-be-named, a man who has the full support of the white supremacist community.
Is violence wrong? 99% of the time, yes. But this falls squarely in that 1%.
Fuck Nazis. We don’t negotiate with them. We don’t sympathize with them. We don’t make exceptions for them. And when someone punches one, we don’t cry foul; we celebrate.
For more of my thoughts about punching nazis, follow me on twitter @esjacobs.