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Is It OK To Punch A Nazi? Why We're Asking All The Wrong Questions

By TK Burton | Think Pieces | January 23, 2017 |

By TK Burton | Think Pieces | January 23, 2017 |

Been a hell of a weekend, hasn’t it folks? For the first time in months, I felt a sense of hope. I felt like there is a chance that we can make a difference. For the first time in months, it felt like people were galvanized, mobilized, energized. It felt like progressives were really in this shit together, and it felt like the future has a chance. The millions of people who turned out for the Women’s Marches — you all are my goddamn heroes. I don’t mean that euphemistically either. You are literal heroes. So many amazing images and videos and quotes came out of it — I spent the weekend glued to my phone, watching with awe and wonder. For the first time in what feels like forever, Twitter didn’t feel like a barren wasteland of hopelessness.

But something else interesting happened this weekend. By now, I’m sure you’ve all seen this:

For those who don’t know, that’s Richard Spencer, also famously known for his “Hail Trump” speech. Some highlights:

Spencer is the director of a group of hatemongering shitbeaks known as The National Policy Institute, whose mission statement begins with “NPI is an independent organization dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent in the United States, and around the world.” The media has taken to calling Spencer and his sniveling, shriveled-ball acolytes “the alt-right”, because the media has lost any sense of perception or identity and is afraid to make anyone angry anymore.

They are not “alt-right.” That is not a thing.

They are Nazis. They are white supremacists. This is not a statement that is in dispute. Spencer and his ilk will argue it, using a host of tired discussion points. This is because while they are assholes, they’re not stupid assholes. They know that white supremacism and nazism are surefire ways to get ignored by the media and to lose all but the most hardcore followers. So they pepper their mission statements with softer language, they talk about how they’re agents for change.

They’re not. They’re fucking Nazis.

OK, so onto the video. As you can see, Spencer likes to talk to whoever will spare him a second, and this was filmed when giving an interview to an Australian TV crew during the DC Women’s March. Just as he’s about to explain the symbolism behind his Pepe the Frog lapel pin, a symbol that’s been curiously co-opted by Neo-Nazis, a masked stranger bursts into the frame and throws a half-decent right cross and pops him right in the mouth.

Here it is again, with soundtrack and effects:

And now the internet has its shit in knots about it, with the big question being “Is it OK to punch a Nazi?” because as we’ve all been taught as good little progressives, violence is never the answer. So we’re questioning whether or not it’s OK for Spencer to have been punched. Whether we should be condemning the perpetrators.

So let’s unpack this one a little bit. Because the truth is, things like this are hardly new. People get beaten and abused at protests on the regular. In fact, one of the things that made this weekends marches so remarkable was the lack of violence — Spencer getting rung like a fuckin’ church bell aside. But the truth is, the question on the minds of the media and of the nation’s handwringers has never been “Is it OK to punch a nazi?” because throughout history, I feel like we’ve answered that question. Hell, in fiction we often celebrate it:





People. Let’s get some perspective about what we get our undies bunched up about. We’ve got real battles out there. Real fights. Real resistance. Real struggles. There are real, hard truths we need to face and difficult questions we need to answer. This? This is not something we need to concern ourselves about. If I’m being honest with you, the question shouldn’t be, “Is it OK to punch a Nazi?” The question is “Who gives a fuck?” It’s a Nazi. I’m not saying it’s right and I’m not saying it’s wrong. I’m saying who fucking cares? A Nazi got his teeth loosened for being a Nazi. Hell, when is it not OK? I’m not saying it’s legal. I’m not even saying it should be legal (though it’d be nice). I’m saying that this is one of those times when we need to acknowledge the importance and value of standing up — physically standing up — to hatred. This kind of response isn’t uncommon in Europe, where more and more the rallies of Neo-Nazis are scared off by large, angry, physically imposing counter-rallies. And when this happens, it is just. It is righteous.

Look, if this had been a Black Lives Matter activist who got punched at a Trump rally (oh wait, that happens ALL THE TIME), most major outlets wouldn’t have given it five seconds of their time. Progressive Twitter would have been in an uproar, but otherwise media coverage would’ve been minimal. So the question that the media, and all the think pieces you’ve been wasting your time on, and your racist uncle has been asking isn’t “Is it OK to punch a Nazi?”

The question is, “Is it OK to punch a white man?”

Because why else is this an issue? Is there any enemy that we as a nation should be more united against than Nazis? Then like I said above, who gives a fuck? But this is where we are now. We’re afraid to call them out for who they are. And when we start doing things like calling white supremacists the “alt-right”, when major media outlets are all too willing to give airtime to interviewing people like Spencer and David Duke, airtime without calling them out on their hateful, despicable racism and sexism and xenophobia and every other form of intolerance that they practice, it normalizes them. And if we’re normalizing Nazism, then we’re supporting it. And if we’re supporting it, than goddamnit who dared to strike a white man on national television?!

That should be your takeaway from this. It’s not about whether or not Nazi-punching is OK (for the record, I’m fine with it). It’s one more way that the white male dominates the American consciousness. In truth, the far more interesting story is about the black bloc, a pseudo-Anarchist group that uses disruptive and at times violent action to draw attention to their causes. They’re vigilante justice, wearing masks and operating under strict confidentiality to protect their identities, so that they can do the things that the rest of us can’t or won’t do. They’re underground crusaders, a staunch anti-fascist movement using chaos and violence to further their cause. They’ve been around, in some form or another, for more than 40 years. Check out this excellent piece in The Nation for a fascinating and more detailed exploration of their story.

Am I advocating for violence? Not really. Do I think that what happened to Richard Spencer is OK? Ehhh, I’m going to punt on that one. What I’m saying is that we should worry less about someone using a fascist white supremacist to crack their knuckles, and more about how it came to be that anyone would care in the first place. That’s the question.