Is Punching Nazis Justified?

Is Punching Nazis Justified?

An op-ed on the reaction to someone punching neo-Nazi Richard Spencer.

By now, you’ve probably seen the now-famous video of alt-right (or, more correctly, neo-Nazi) leader Richard Spencer getting decked in the face by an anonymous anti-fascist. If you haven’t, CNN has a video of it here.

Spencer made headlines back in 2016 for concluding a speech with the words “Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!” - a clear allusion to the infamous Nazi cry. He is a white supremacist and the founder of the so-called “alt-right” movement, which is basically a cover for white nationalism and neo-Nazism. So it’s understandable why people across the internet are celebrating this situation.

What’s also interesting is a certain kind of liberal response that says “violence is never the answer, punching Nazis makes you just as bad as them.”

(Okay, sorry. We literally went to war against Nazis, and now you’re saying that violence against them is unjustified? Cool.)

On a more serious note, there’s literally nothing someone can do, short of advocating literal actual genocide (which the neo-Nazi alt-right people have done) that can make them “just as bad” as a Nazi. The neo-Nazi alt-right movement is one founded on the idea that the white race is superior to all and that ethnic cleansing is the correct route. This is an inherently violent rhetoric.

Here’s the thing. I, personally, do not advocate for punching random people in the face. But the thing is, when you take a situation like this, where someone stands up against a neo-Nazi - even if their methods are less than ideal - and then you make it about how the anti-fascist is in the wrong rather than looking at the actual rhetoric of the so-called alt-right movement and how incredibly horrifying it is - you’re literally playing into the neo-Nazis’ hands.

The scariest part of this situation isn’t that someone got punched, it’s the whole “alt-right” movement. Because it’s this insidious, evil thing that can be so easy to pass off as “normal”. Even the name, once you’ve heard it enough, starts to sound harmless. It’s easy to forget that the values and rhetoric and yes, even their “hail Trump” slogans, are taken right from Nazi Germany. I try to avoid using the term they’ve given themselves because it legitimizes them and their rhetoric in a way that makes me supremely uncomfortable and represents a threat to people of color and especially Jewish people across the country, because if we normalize them and their rhetoric by saying they have the right to say whatever they want, we normalize the idea of violence against other races and religions. (Which is why, in this article, I avoid saying “alt-right” without attaching the clarifying “neo-Nazi” in front of it.)

But back to the punching.

It is a unique privilege to be able to look at actual Nazi rhetoric and say “oh, no, their opinions are valid because free speech” and then move on with your life. If you’re able to do that, I’m willing to bet you aren’t Jewish, or black, or otherwise a group that the Nazis want to eradicate from the face of the earth. There are certain rhetorics that cannot be treated as valid (morally speaking, not legally speaking, I understand how free speech works) and Nazism is one of those. You can’t listen to what a Nazi says passively and then pat yourself on the back for being so tolerant, for respecting their right to spew forth their vile discourse.

There isn’t some binary of “violence is always the answer” and “violence is never the answer” - even legally speaking, violence is allowed in self-defense. Most people would agree that fighting back against someone who is beating you up is justifiable. Many would also agree that fighting back against violent rhetoric that represents a threat of bodily harm to you and people like you is also justified.

This is a morally grey area, so condemning the anti-fascist who did the punching is not so simple. When you are up against an inherently violent rhetoric, then it becomes easy to see why someone might want to react with violence. (Here’s a good explanation of why verbally reasoning with Nazis may be a lost cause, just to show that side of the debate.) I don’t fault the person who punched Spencer, because at the very least it’s a clear message to the neo-Nazis that their rhetoric will not be tolerated passively by people. I don’t know if I would have done the same thing in their place, but the good thing that’s come out of all of this is that whoever punched Spencer in the face has brought more negative attention to the neo-Nazi alt-right movement than anyone has in awhile.

So regardless of your opinion on whether Spencer getting punched was justified or not, one thing is clear: the growing neo-Nazi movement in this country (and across the world) needs to be seen as a threat to all of us. We need to stop normalizing neo-Nazi rhetoric in the media and on the internet. This is not simply another political stance that can be seen as valid, because a platform based on advocating the systematic elimination of entire races/religions cannot be validated. We cannot let that happen.

In other news, the neo-Nazi alt-right movement has now put a literal bounty on the head of the person who punched Spencer, so. Clearly they aren’t above killing someone extrajudicially. Remind me again why we should treat their opinions as a valid political viewpoint?

Cover Image Credit: thelineofbestfit.com

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The Aziz Ansari Situation Is Called Sexual Coercion, And It's Way Too Common

It doesn’t have to be rape to ruin your life, and it doesn’t have to ruin your life to be worth speaking out about.

Since the publication of Babe.net’s account of an anonymous woman’s bad date with Aziz Ansari, media, and social sites have been throwing out opinions on what this means for the Me Too movement, and for Ansari’s career.

Many of these opinions range from accusing the woman – referred to as “Grace” in the account – of taking away from actual rape survivors to outright calling her out for being bitter about not being treated like a future girlfriend by Ansari. While this story is very different from the New York Times story on Harvey Weinstein and its discussion on workplace assaults and rape, the story by Babe brings up a more common issue that many women and men who have been in a sexual encounter with another man can relate to.

In the account, the writer talks about how “Grace” felt increasingly uncomfortable as the night went on at Ansari’s apartment. He made sexual advances that were aggressively pushed upon her without her active consent. The article goes into detail about how every advance he made seemed to be rushed and gave her no time or opportunity to feel comfortable and safe enough to decline. She states that she had tried multiple times to non-verbally express her discomfort, but Ansari either didn’t notice or chose to ignore those signs.

“Most of my discomfort was expressed in me pulling away and mumbling. I know that my hand stopped moving at some points, I stopped moving my lips and turned cold.”

Now, this is where things get tricky and many people have put her situation up for debate on whether or not it was an assault. While it may not follow the so-called guidelines that society has set up that define a rape or assault, the way she describes her situation certainly is not consensual in any way.

Sexual coercion is a form of sexual assault and it is harder to identify and prevent it from happening. The reason for that is because we as a society are exposed to sexual coercion almost everywhere, especially in the media and in films.

As shown in many romantic films, the man portrays the go-getter character who’s one goal is to win the girl’s affections, even after being told to back off many times. This kind of harassment is romanticized in a way that shows men that even if a woman says no, they can still eventually get what they want if they try long and hard enough.

The movie "Grease" is a classic and more outright example of enforcing rape culture in this way when one of Danny’s buddies ask, “Did she put up a fight?” in the number “Summer Nights”. The notion that it is more sexually appealing to pursue a woman who might not be interested in having sex, instills patriarchal ideologies into our culture and has men feeling like they are entitled to sex.

When we talk about how something so common and seemingly ordinary is actually problematic, people can’t understand why things need to change. With the Ansari situation, critics of Grace’s story ask why she didn’t just say no and walk out of the situation, or that its normal for girls to feel this way during a hookup, and she should’ve had thicker skin and moved on instead of going to the media. Critics like HLN Anchor, Ashleigh Banfield, brought up victim blaming points like these in an open letter, while also saying that her workplace harassment actually deserves the media attention.

This isn’t some competition on who has been more assaulted than the other. This is a discussion about how we should have a higher standard when it comes to sex, and that standard should be consensual and communicative. There are extreme power dynamics at play that allow men to use that privilege and power over women (and other men) as a way to have sex, even if it’s not explicitly consensual. As a very powerful, influential and supposedly feminist man, Ansari should have understood the responsibly he had and simply asked Grace if she was ok. The absence of a no does not equate an active yes.

As a response to many of Grace’s critics, TBS comedy show host Samantha Bee stated on her show that Ansari’s actions may not be defined explicitly as rape, but that still does not make it acceptable.

“It doesn’t have to be rape to ruin your life, and it doesn’t have to ruin your life to be worth speaking out about. Any kind of sexual harassment or coercion is unacceptable!”

It really shouldn’t be too much to ask to be treated like a person and have your emotions be validated during something as intimate as sex. If men can't be mature and communicative enough to handle that, maybe they should take some of Samantha Bee’s wise advice and go fuck something else: “May I suggest a coin purse? Or a Ziploc bag full of grape jelly?”

Cover Image Credit: Facebook

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Donald Trump Is Not A Populist

Trump's style of politics is not even close to populism.

On 8 Jan, President Donald Trump announced that he would be attending this week’s World Economic Forum. The three-day meeting takes place in Switzerland, the banking capital of the world. The W.E.F. “strives in all its efforts to demonstrate entrepreneurship in the global public interest,” according to its mission page. Over its 48 years of existence, the forum has become synonymous with the global financial elite.

Attending the meeting in Davos should bite at the fabric of Trumpism. Many have said that Trump ran as a populist, assailing everyone from immigrants to the executives of Goldman Sachs. He won the 2016 election primarily by beating the polls in Rust Belt states like Michigan and Pennsylvania that normally vote for Democrats but that sided with Trump’s harder line on free trade that Hillary Clinton’s.

So why would Trump want to be seen with the likes of the CEO of the largest hedge fund in the world and the former president of the European Parliament? He would be the first president to R.S.V.P. to the W.E.F. since Bill Clinton; Presidents George Bush and Barack Obama were concerned that attending would hurt their images. Last year’s speakers railed against protectionism; Chinese President Xi Jinping said that “no one will emerge as a winner in a trade war.” The globalists in Davos might moderate their talk with Trump, the epitome of protectionism, in the room, but they might also take the opportunity to speak to him directly.

The root of the confusion at Trump's plan to attend is the assumption that Trump is a populist. The phrase “populism” is broad and hard to define. Google defines “populism” as “support for the concerns of ordinary people.” Populists tend to be called extremists, whether they are as far right as French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen or leftists like Senator Bernie Sanders. Generally, populists favor a stronger government and distrust all other institutions, including foreign governments. While anti-immigrant sentiment is common among populists, it is more central to populism to rail against the economic elites and globalization. Most of all, populists are stubborn to a fault; they hold true to their positions to the bitter end.

Trump famously began his campaign complaining that Mexican immigrants were overwhelming the country with crime. He also denounced the North American Free Trade Agreement (N.A.F.T.A.) and Trans-Pacific Partnership (T.P.P.) and accused Clinton of being too tied to Wall Street banks. But these are words, not actions.

In a meeting last Tuesday with members of Congress from both parties, Trump said that “we’re gonna do D.A.C.A.,” referring to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an executive order that Obama signed but Trump rescinded, “and then we’re gonna move on to phase two, which is comprehensive immigration reform.” This seems to cut against Trump’s anti-immigrant sentiment; he more or less assured Democrats that he would sign a bill that translated D.A.C.A. into a law instead of an executive order. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) stepped in and informed Trump that the Senate had tried to pass a D.A.C.A.-esque bill before, which then-Sen. Clinton had voted for.

Two days later, Trump had invited Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), both favorable to a humane approach to immigration reform, to further discuss immigration. When the Senators arrived at the White House, they learned that they would be joined by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and White House adviser Steven Miller, two immigration hard-liners. At the meeting, Durbin suggested a way to scale back the diversity visa lottery that Trump has assailed. In return, Durbin suggested favoring third-world nations in Africa and Latin America. Trump, in response, wondered why the United States was so focused on bringing in people from "shithole countries," according to both Graham and Durbin. He said the U.S. should accept more Norwegians and the like.

Many have reflected on whether those comments reflect racist sentiment on Trump's part, but consider this: Cotton, the far-right Senator, was at the Tuesday meeting, but was outnumbered by lawmakers closer to the center on immigration (Miller was not at that meeting). The second meeting saw Graham and Durbin become the smallest voices in the room. It is possible that Trump was simply appealing to his audience, acting tough on immigration, especially from developing countries, simply because he wanted right-wing legislators and advisers to think he was on their side. (On Sunday we saw the benefit of making borderline racist comments only with borderline racists: Cotton and Sen. David Purdue (R-Ga.) denied that Trump had suggested that the U.S. should limit immigration from the developing world.)

On his first full day in office, Trump withdrew the United States from T.P.P., a trade deal crafted by Obama binding together twelve nations representing 40% of the world economy. But that didn’t kill the deal; in fact, the other countries might have an easier time negotiating without concerns that Republicans in the American Congress will obstruct it, always a fear in international relations. The Trump administration is also renegotiating N.A.F.T.A. instead of throwing it out like he promised.

In regards to Wall Street, the President has not exactly kept bankers at arm’s length. Five members of his cabinet are alumni of Goldman Sachs. On Wednesday the administration began scaling back regulations authorized by the Community Reinvestment Act, which mandated that banks had to do more to alleviate poverty. And then there's the W.E.F., expected to be attended by leaders of some of the world's biggest banks.

When Trump announced his run for President, the media had become accustomed to labeling candidates: Obama was a reformer, Clinton was establishment, Sanders, by his own admission, was a democratic socialist. Trump was labeled as a populist for lack of a better term because he talked the talk. Now that he has been in office for a year and accomplished remarkably little of the right-wing agenda he espoused during the campaign, many are starting to realize that Trump may not be the populist they thought he was.

In fact, there doesn’t seem to be any -ism that accurately describes Trump’s ideological engagements because he says different things to different people. In public, he tells his supporters he wants to round up all the immigrants and throw them out of the country; to legislators, he says he wants D.A.C.A. to be enacted as a law. He assures the working class he is on their side; he assures the world economic elite he wants to attend their rich people party.

So what do we call this new style of politics? Perhaps we should call it approval-ism, after Trump’s desire for approval from whomever he is speaking to.

Cover Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

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