Reader Request Week 2017 #1: Punching Nazis

It’s time to begin this year’s Reader Request Week, and let’s start with something punchy, shall we? Janne Peltonen asks:

What do you think of the whole ‘punching Nazis in the face’ phenomenon? I found it very confusing. It seemed to me to be mostly about performance (‘let’s show the power-hungry extremists that we resist’) but is that reason enough to cross the line to actual physical political violence?

Well, I have two answers for that.

One: the starchy old Believer in the Actual First Amendment me believes that even Nazis have the right to peaceful assembly, physically unmolested, and that indeed this is the very essence of the First Amendment: that even the morally repulsive have a right to trot out their fetid wares in the public marketplace and see who wants to buy them, and that everyone else’s job is to make sure other people see those shitty ideas they’re peddling for what they are. Constitutionally speaking, provided the Nazis are peacefully assembling, people should not be punching Nazis just for being Nazis, and having Nazi views.

Two: I find it positively delightful people out there are punching Nazis, and could watch (for example) pathetic wannaNazi shitball Richard Spencer get punched for hours. And have! My understanding is this weekend Spencer got himself punched up again, and once more I find this utterly delightful. Nazis being punched will never not bring a smile to my face. Go get punched some more, Spencer! You certainly deserve it, you mountainous pile of crap.

“But Scalzi,” I hear you say, “how can you think both that Nazis should have the right to peaceably assemble, and that it’s delightful when Nazis get punched? Isn’t that a contradiction? Doesn’t that make you a complete hypocrite?”

Short answer: Yes!

Longer answer: I recognize that there’s a difference between what I believe is correct intellectually and philosophically, and what makes me feel good emotionally. Intellectually and philosophically, I stand foursquare with the First Amendment, and the right of even Nazis to have their spot in the political conversation of the nation. Emotionally, I find Nazis, whatever you want to call them — today we’re calling them “alt-right,” although that appellation is already past its “sell-by” date and no doubt some of the more marketing-savvy in that crowd are already casting about for a new label to brand their strain of racist fascism — repulsive, and the whiny, privileged, smugly awful, college dorm devil’s advocate alt-right variation of it particularly annoying. They’re assholes. So when one of their number gets punched, I feel pretty good about it, like I would when any asshole who deserves a punching gets what they deserve.

Are these two positions reconcilable? Well, I don’t know that they have to be reconcilable. There are lots of gaps between that things I believe intellectually and the things I feel emotionally. I know intellectually speaking that broccoli is nutritionally better for me than gummi worms, but emotionally gummi worms make me happier. I know intellectually speaking my preference for Levis over Lee jeans is pointless as they are essentially the same product with the same intent, but emotionally I don’t want to be seen in Lee jeans because they’re not me. Intellectually there is no superiority of the music of Journey over, say, that of Big and Rich, but I know which band’s greatest hits album emotionally affects me more.

Do these positions need to be reconciled? I don’t necessarily think so. I acknowledge them and accept the dichotomy. Now, there is an argument here is that there’s a difference between preferring gummy bears to broccoli, and believing Nazis have a First Amendment right to assembly and yet still being happy with them being punched. I wouldn’t disagree, although I note in this formulation, it’s a difference in degree, not kind. Fundamentally, I think we all have various places where we recognize and should acknowledge we have a gap between what we believe is correct intellectually (or philosophically, or morally), and what feels good to us emotionally.

This is one of mine. Nazis’ right to peaceable assembly is guaranteed under the First Amendment and they should not be punched merely for existing and being Nazis, and when they do get punched in public for being fucking Nazis, I feel just fine about it.

Now: Should there be consequences for the person who is battering the Nazi? Sure; they should be prosecuted for battery, assuming they are caught, and if convicted, they should do their time. On the flip side: Is it possible my intellectual and philosophical position re: the First Amendment right of Nazis to be in the public discourse is grounded in the fact that as a well-off straight white dude, I’m near last on the list of people that (specific obsessed and envious loser stalkers aside) the Nazis or other bigots are likely going to have a problem with? Again, sure. It’s easy for me to be sanguine about bigots and racists when I’m not directly in their line of fire. I don’t feel the same level of threat — and I don’t factually have the same level of threat — from them that other people do. It’s easy to say “even the hateful have a place in the discourse” when the hate isn’t focused on you, or is likely ever to be in a very serious way, and that is a thing I don’t think people like me appreciate on a gut level. We are free riders, in a very real sense, regarding the intellectual question of how the principle of free speech interacts with a philosophy founded on the idea that you are less than human, and deserve less than full human rights.

And yes, we here in the US are in a moment right now, thank you Trump voters, where everyone who isn’t a well-off straight white male can be seriously asking themselves whether this administration and its enablers actually believe they should get all the rights someone like I have as a matter of course. I’m not the one who is going to be asked to give over his phone and passwords coming back into the US. I’m not the one whose ability to control what happens to his body is being questioned, again. I’m not the one whose ability to pee in safety is being hauled up for discussion. I’m not the one who will have any difficulty being able to jump through state-erected hoops in order to vote. And so on. The Trump administration has racists, sexists and bigots whispering into the president’s ear (and the president himself is a real piece of work on these scores as well). So many people who kept their active racism, sexism and bigotry under a rock are now gleefully exulting in it. Is it a threat? Is it a threat that needs to be met with a punch or two? Not for me. I think other people might have a different thought on it, and an argument that the threat to them isn’t just one that exists in their feelings.

I think the next obvious question here is (and one I think that’s implied): Would I punch a Nazi? Unprompted, probably not. If one was coming at me or people with the intent to start a fight, I would feel fine defending myself or those near me. But again, that’s not peaceable assembly, now, is it? We move off the First Amendment square there, into another area entirely. Short of that, I’m not likely to be the one to throw the first punch. I might think about it, and how fun it would be. But I’ll stick to enjoying the YouTube videos. They are indeed lovely.

(There is still time to ask a question for Reader Request Week. Go here for all the details, and to ask your question.)

114 thoughts on “Reader Request Week 2017 #1: Punching Nazis

  1. Notes!

    1. Obviously, this is a piece where people will have strong opinions, both about the general question and how I answered it. That’s fine, but remember to be polite to each other when expressing opinions. Remember also (and for new people, be aware) that the site has a commenting policy, and that I will Mallet comments that get out of line. Read it and love it.

    2. I understand that there will be a temptation to do a false equivalency here and say something along the lines of “If you replace the word ‘Nazi’ with Jew/Black/Democrat/Gay/etc would you make the same argument,” so — hey, don’t be the dude who makes that false equivalence here, yes? I’m going to go ahead and Mallet it if it shows up, on the grounds that just because you can’t argue with any alacrity doesn’t mean any of us are obliged to indulge you.

    3. Likewise, the general temptation to derail the conversation into your particular bugaboo (I’m looking at you, people who are itching to trot out Black Lives Matter as somehow being a Nazi equivalent) will be strong. Again: Hey, let’s not. We’re mostly talking Nazis here. Let’s stay on topic.

    4. For those of you who will argue that “Nazi” and “alt-right” aren’t really the same thing: you know, it all smells like bigoted fascism to me, so I’m comfortable lumping them in together. If you want to complain about that, cool, do it somewhere else.

    5. Trump voters objecting to the idea that you let bigotry into the White House via the front door: Please see this. Otherwise for the purposes of this thread your complaint is off topic.

    6. Finally (for now) a general admonition to would-be trolls: Son, no. You have the whole rest of the Internet. Go there.

    Update: Oh wait, one more:

    7. If you’re going to make a First Amendment argument, make sure you understand what the First Amendment is and how it works, please. Blathering about “censorship” when you’re talking about private entities who are not the government of the United States, as an example, will not get you particularly far here.

  2. Yup, yup, yup, yup.

    But I’ll tear a new one into anyone whose thinking neglects that there are people who don’t take this as an intellectual exercise—it’s more survival level thinking.

  3. My kid is Jewish, and goes to a high school here in our Red State where her classmates frequently make anti-Semitic jokes and then, when she calls them out on it, roll their eyes and say, jeez, we were just kidding, can’t you take a joke? Her AP US History teacher made a “joke” about Jews and ovens, in fact, last year.

    So that’s the context for her tweet when she heard about Richard Spencer getting punched and people’s reaction to it, which was this:

    Everyone: Why didn’t the Jews do anything when the Nazis came to power, I just don’t understand

    Someone: Punches a Nazi

    Everyone: No, not like that!

  4. Entirely agreed, and a good way to frame it.

    Even before Nazis got involved, I think there was a general social agreement that, sure, you have the *right* to say certain things, but those things will get you punched and most people aren’t going to be on your side when they do. If you go into a seedy bar, find the largest guy there, and tell him his mom swims out to meet troop ships*, you’re going to get your jaw broken, and I doubt you’ll get a lot of sympathy afterwards, or that many people will condemn the guy.

    The law is the law, and maybe it has to be that way for general principles, but I’m not going to wring my hands about actual Nazis getting no worse than someone would’ve gotten by mentioning Bill Buckner in about fifty places around here.

    * Which I personally find the mark of an industrious and enterprising lady, but dudes in seedy bars are maybe not so positive about sex work as it applies to their family members.

  5. I’m going to go with delagar here: hand-wringing about the First Amendment is nice and all, and may give Americans the warm fuzzies about being all principled and tolerant, but Nazism and it’s direct descendants are violent philosophies that outright call for violence and genocide.

    Aside from the fact that I think that a philosophy that’s nothing but incitement to violence shouldn’t deserve any protection at all, Nazis being punched merely reap what they sow.

    And they should count themselves lucky. They used to be bombed and shot without trial.

  6. … and while you’re punching them, don’t forget to laugh at them. It’s vitally important that you laugh at Nazis. Because they’re not just hateful, they’re absurd. If you can multi-task, whistle “Springtime for Hitler” while you’re laying into them, and if you can do the dance routine (one two kick turn) at the same time, it makes a complete aerobic workout for the body and soul.

  7. I have to say the most compelling argument for me here is along the following lines:
    The First Amendment protects the right to free speech and peacable assembly etc. But it does not provide for freedom from consequences. Nazis/alt-right folks/whomever certainly have the right to espouse whatever opinions they want. But the First Amendment doesn’t protect them from other people thinking they’re a jerk, or shouting at them, or even punching them in the face. We have other laws that take care of the punching bits (assault/battery/etc.).
    So I’m all for people punching Nazis. Heck, punch whoever you want, I guess. But know that if you’re caught, you will probably deservedly go to jail for the punching. Nazis certainly deserve a punch in the face more than lots of other people. But to me this just isn’t a First Amendment issue. Punching Richard Spencer in the face does not in any way abridge his right to free speech. This is a criminal issue.

  8. Perhaps one could make an argument that punching a Nazi is, in itself, an expression of free speech that should enjoy First Amendment protection? I’m reaching here. I really want it to be okay to punch Nazis.

  9. @delaga: re “joke”

    The “reasonable” side of me is like, “Hmm, is that really what happened?”

    The rest of me hopes that at *minimum* the result included a bunch of folks all up in the teacher’s face, going, “Are you f*cking kidding!!?? ‘Joking’ about Jews and ovens in a high school history class!!?? What next, rape ‘jokes’ in Sex Ed?”

  10. See, frankly, I think the whole First Amendment thing is bollocks. Part of the reason why things are as fucked up as they are right now is because people have been free to spout ideology without consequence (except some light mockery) – Nazis, climate science deniers, flat earthers, Benghazi truthers, anti-vaxxers and so on. And as it turns out, consequence free speech DOES have consequences – for everyone else.

    We’ve been content to let people shout their bullshit whilst claiming First Amendment protection because it’s easier. There’s no effort involved for us. Because as soon as we say, ‘No, you’re not allowed to say that because we’ve decided that certain things are verboten’, then you have to start fighting against authority which will try to outlaw more reasonable speech that it considers unacceptable (and this will happen from both ends of the political spectrum). We need to be able and willing to start stamping down on people uttering blatant horsecrap AND to hold the middle ground against those who would just use this as an excuse to silence their opposition.

    That said, I don’t see how fallible, corruptible humans manage this. I have my doubts that we’re equal to the task. Which is why I, for one, will welcome our (hopefully more reasonable) AI or alien overlords.

  11. My own view is that all violence of any kind is definitely wrong, and that therefore punching Nazis is morally and criminally wrong, and that we should get right onto sorting out that problem — right after we’ve dealt with all other, more pressing, acts of violence, such as wars, murders, domestic abuse, bar brawls, bullies giving other kids wedgies, big brothers tickling their younger siblings even after the sibling has said “quit it!”…
    As soon as all those acts of violence have been stopped forever, then I promise the act of Nazi-punching is definitely the very next thing on my list to condemn and be outraged by.

  12. I have rather mixed feelings about this situation, but one argument against it that I categorically reject is the notion that people will take these incidents as an excuse to escalate the situation and use violence against protestors/activists on the left. If watching protests and reactions to protests over the past few years has taught me anything, it’s that people who hate and fear you will come up with an excuse to use excessive force against you, regardless of whether or not that excuse is worth a plugged nickel. You need look no further than the reactions the Ferguson Police Department and people at Trump rallies had to peaceful protestors to see proof of that.

  13. @ Simon Jessey

    I’m pretty sure assault doesn’t count as a protected type of expression.

    (Give it a few years, though. The Supreme Court may expand on Citizens United to include assault, as long as it’s paid for by a corporation.)

  14. Kind of random, but with this coming up recently I learned something awesome about my hometown (NYC). See, back in the 30s there were actual Nazis, including some in the USA. Now, Fiorello Laguardia (mayor of the time) HATED Nazis, but 1st Amendment and all that. So he made sure that every single police officer protecting Nazi rallies was either Jewish or Black. Which is probably the most awesome possible response. The flip side is that the famous “Captain America punching a Nazi” comic got some threats to the illustrator. So according to the creators, one of them picked up the phone one day and it was Laguardia, saying “You keep at it, I’ll make sure you are protected”. And they got a round-the-clock NYPD presence. It’s kind of inspiring to think even our grandparents were fighting the good fight. (Along the same lines, I used to live by the Islamic center on 96th st, and after 9-11 there was a LARGE police presence there…and it was pretty clear that they were there to protect the mosque, not the other way around). So there is hope.

  15. I think the spirit of free speech – that your citizenry always have a recourse against a force willing to break democracy and deny others the right to self-determination based on their birth – invites Nazi-punching as a response. When the neo-Nazis decided to advocate that only people like them should get a say and they’re willing to use fear and intimidation to get it, well they can hardly be upset at the uncivilised wasteland they find themselves in.

    I don’t respect the argument that punching them will make them unpersuadable. This isn’t a reasoned position they’re holding, and out in public trying to advance it, they’re going to be unpersuadable anyway because they’re amongst the Enemy. Generally, people don’t change their core ideas until the evidence that they’re wrong is overwhelming. You’re not persuading anyone as a stranger on the street; you’re still the Enemy to them.

  16. For that discursive exposition into fantasy Nazi punching, you owe us . . . one genuine Nazi scalp. And by the looks of things, Spencer’s has already been claimed.

  17. I think, specifically, that the First Amendment is a problem because it’s a very useful tool for a government to be able to declare a discussion closed. There’s no need to re-litigate the same fight every generation because we can point at the last winner and say ‘this isn’t up for debate until you convince us the gag law is unjust’.

  18. I would prefer for us to go back to a time when we pied nazis. Preferably banana cream.

    It gets the same message across without the violence. And pies are funnier. Make Nazis Ridiculous Again.

  19. IANAL, and it’s possible and maybe likely that this has been tried in some context …

    Depending on what’s being said, by whom, to whom, & etc, I could see a Nazi-puncher being defended in court via a self-defense argument and/or a necessity defense.

  20. About First Amendment – in many European countries, it is generally accepted that one possible consequence of using speech to incite violence or hatred against a group can be a fine or jail time. That is, fundamental human rights can sometimes be at odds, and freedom of speech isn’t always seen as the strongest right. But I don’t know if this kind of thing could ever be accepted in the US.

  21. I’m very much in the category that Nazi-punching is something that should be illegal, and it should get you charged for assault, but the real problem with the effect it has on the discourse isn’t so much about making people unpersuadable as it is that everyone focused on the punching, and got distracted from questioning the news outlet– “Why are you interviewing this guy? Why are you giving him a platform? You’re not a governmental entity; the First Amendment doesn’t apply here.”

    Because I’m an adamant First Amendment purist, but that doesn’t mean the news outlets owe anyone an audience, and the mainstream news outlets seem to be bent on covering Nazis as an expression of human interest or Devil’s Advocate or whatever.

  22. The “punch a nazi” movement would be great if it weren’t just an excuse to call anyone who disagrees with you a nazi so you can physically harm them. We need to bring back dueling. Now that would be a movement haha

  23. @writerlady: That’s a bit of an unsupported assertion, especially since the only person who I’m aware of getting publicly harmed is Spencer, who self-identifies as a Nazi (or “white nationalist”, tomato tomahto). Have any way to back it up?

  24. @Kit M. Harding: I actually think that the focus on the punching was a feature, not a bug. At this point, I think we can say that the Fourth Estate has fucking failed to do its job. It gives voice to the most putrescent hatred under the guise of fairness, and it promulgates insane lies with the tissue thin cover of “someone said this, so it’s news.”

    The first time Spencer got punched, the news story was supposed to be all about the Pepe frog, and its meaning. The news cycle was supposed to be yet another deep dive into the precise boundaries of the evils of the alt-right, in a way that would make it seem, you know a choice. It would have asked the question, “Is it wrong to think that maybe Jews belong in ovens, provided one doesn’t actually have an oven to hand?” Instead, the conversation became, “Is it ok to punch Nazis?” A much, much better conversation. Even if you think that punching Nazis is a terrible thing, oh my, what a much better conversation to have.

  25. Apart from the First Amendment issues, which Scalzi explained well, my main problem with punching Nazis is that is might somehow make them look sympathetic. Much better to mock them and call them out on their misbegotten beliefs, I think. I won’t deny that seeing Spencer get socked wasn’t enjoyable for me, but it *is* problematic – how many people hadn’t ever heard of the guy before he got punched and now perhaps see him as “that guy who got assaulted and called a Nazi just for saying what he thinks”?

  26. I think of Nazi-punching as a form of uncivil disobedience.

    Sometimes, breaking the law as a form of protest can be justified. That doesn’t mean the law is bad; it means the protester is willing to suffer legal penalties in order to make a point.

    That said, I prefer making Nazis look ridiculous to simply punching them. The latter might backfire and generate sympathy for the Nazi, which is the last thing I want. A lemon meringue pie in the face is technically still assault, but I’d find it more appropriate and satisfying than a punch.

    Alternatively, you could simply stand your ground with a look of amused disdain, as this awesome young woman did in the UK a few days ago: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-39545256

  27. Isabellcooper’s post describes what I was taught to call “fighting words”: a kind-of defense in cases of being the thrower of the first punch. Does it have legal standing in any jurisdiction? Probably not. But I also recall that it could be the basis for, say, a cop not arresting the first-puncher for assault/battery or a judge letting a guy (always a guy) off with a lesser charge. (These are attitudes from more than a half-century ago. The world has certainly changed since then, and it’s been a long time since I entered a saloon where the principle might be tested.)

    It’s all about line-drawing, isn’t it? What conditions can be seen to more-or-less excuse the initiating of violence? And what level of violence might be excusable? Then there’s the matter of how conventional language might disguise the level of damage or pain behind a phrase like “a punch in the nose.” A medium-grade blow can be painful enough to dissuade a rowdy, in-your-face drunk, but a harder one can produce a lot of blood and probably send him to the ER for some repair work. Where does one draw the line between punch-as-discourse/warning and punch-as-doing-real-harm?

    And when punches do become discourse, who’s going to set the rules and limits? Seems to me that in matters of public discourse (which is what the First Amendment addresses), “speech” stops short of actions designed to cause physical harm or hazard. So: no punches, kicks, pokes-in-the-eye, or setting of bear traps on the lawn and calling it rhetoric. Burn a flag? Well, OK, within the limits of local burning ordinances. Toss a burning flag into someone’s living room? I think that’s arson rather than argument.

  28. Additional note: as a general rule, I think that laws are there to make us think before we do something, not to say that we should never do it. So, yes, the speed limit is 65, but if it’s a nice day and the highway’s clear, everyone does 80. Laws about drugs, the age of consent, and the drinking age work the same way–and while there are arguments that those laws should be changed (and I agree with some of them) they practically work out to the same thing. There’s a point where you’re clearly not breaking the law, a point where you really are and it’s bad, and then a grey area where you should be aware that this thing *could* be trouble, and maybe make sure everyone knows what they’re doing and you have a backup plan?

    I think punching someone for what they say falls into the same category. Clearly we can’t let people, like, hit Nazis with cars, because we have to have a society, but punching someone…enh. It’s a case where, yes, technically, it’s assault and thus technically illegal, but when the provocation is sufficiently high *and* the chance of permanent physical injury is sufficiently low, it’s pretty normal that we overlook and/or celebrate it. (q.v. also all those movie scenes where the heroine slaps her jerk ex.)

  29. See, I’m all in favor of the First Amendment as it is meant to work. But consider how it is meant to work: We have the First Amendment so that we can examine ideas carefully and rationally, debate them civilly, and decide which ideas are good and which are worthless.

    This is the marketplace of ideas model, yes?

    But consider what happens when we insist that Nazis continue to be allowed to spew their ideas in our marketplace (over and over), even though, by now, we have all agreed that their ideas are worthless. That is, do we really need to continue having this debate? Does anyone really need to examine the idea of whether some people (Jews, gay people, black people, socialists, those with “defective” genetics) should be sent to the ovens, so that the “superior” Nazis can inherit the world?

    Is that something we still need to debate, here in 2017?

    I’ll contend it’s not. And I’ll contend that by giving Nazis airtime, and acting as though their ideas are worth debating, we’re corrupting the marketplace. Bad ideas drive out good. We spend all of our time debating and refuting their terrible ideas, which allows those ideas to be spread further and further, and less and less time talking about the better ideas we could be talking about.

    This is the opposite of what the First Amendment is for.

    In summation, punch more Nazis.

  30. I’ve been reading “Whatever” for a few months now and this is my first time commenting: so “yeah me!”

    The initial question asked about your particular thoughts, John, and while I know you’ve answered that (and I agree with what you wrote) I would love you to expand on it a bit further. Your reasoning is sound but I felt a bit cheated by the whole “they are alowed to exist but it’s funny to see them punched”. For me there is more to it (and indeed I’m struggling with it since being a teenager and attending rallies against Right-Wing-Demonstrations in Eastern Germany):

    “What the Bleep does actually help against Nazis?”

    or to stay with the original question: Is punching Nazis going to achieve anything? Or even simpler: Should Nazis be punched? The issue arises among some of the comments above and I think it’s an important one.

    So yeah: criticizing the master in my first comment – boy, am I going to be ridiculed…

  31. @russell: Ha! Just saw your post after I posted mine.

    I tend to agree, though (as per my latest) I’m comfortable in situations where there is no clear line, or there’s the line and then a certain area around the line where everyone ends up going on a case-by-case basis. But then, on my best days, nobody would say I fall into the “Lawful” side of the alignment chart.

  32. Natzis (it should always be pronounced like Brad Pitt does in Inglorious Bastards) had their time in the sun and a whole lot of people, including the US of A decided their philosophy was lacking. That’s good enough reason for me to make Natzi punching a new national pass time. It may be petty and immature but one thing it isn’t is worse than the Natzis.

  33. A perhaps-merely-practical thought: The last time I threw a punch that landed (around 1960), I injured my hand. It didn’t do much damage to the target, but my right-hand middle knuckle has never been quite the same. As a rhetorical gesture, a medium-hard slap in the face is easier on the slapper and has the added virtue of belittling the slapee. (Even better would be a spanking, but that’s difficult to manage with non-cooperating adults. Too bad we can’t make ’em stand in the corner.)

  34. The real problem with the “punching Nazis is appropriate” position is that it forgets what happens next. It’s the same forgetfulness that enveloped the arguments about “Deep Throat” during my misspent youth, and slightly before that the “Letters From a Birmingham Jail” (and somewhat more recently, Nelson Mandela and the truth-and-reconciliation movement):

    There are immediate consequences to opposing injustice, precisely because of the injustice itself. Those who oppose injustice need to be prepared, on occasion, to suffer those consequences, having considered them and determined for themselves that they are worth suffering.

    Mr Felt was willing to lose his job (and probably go to prison, if not worth); he took reasonable precautions, but the fact that someone else did, in fact, know that he was “Deep Throat” (and that he knew that) meant that he had considered and was prepared for the consequences in at least some sense, even though he took extensive efforts to hide his identity. Dr. King limited his response to being thrown in the Birmingham jail for the crime of opposing unjust discrimination with more verbal opposition to unjust discrimination… and not a massive jailbreak or inciting riots and violent revolution.

    So, in the spirit of the very first comment in this thread, I suggest that the problem with the argument is that we actually have both kinds here: Not just “country” and “western,” but “reprehensible twisting of the First Amendment in the service of injustice” (wrong) and “assault and battery rationalized as an assault on injustice” (also wrong). Both kinds have to be prepared to accept the consequences of standing up for their non-mainstream beliefs: For the first, the consequences of being punched or, more appropriately, having to dive off a bridge into the river at a march (because ridicule is far more effective than assault in actually changing people’s views); for the second, perhaps a term in jail where they can actually read Dr. King’s letters.

  35. I think what’s being gotten at here (and correct me if I misperceive your actual intent, John…I’m not looking to put words on your page except in a very limited and specific sense that the comments section is “your page”) is that there is a gap between “legal” (the right of people to peaceably assemble for any purpose), “moral” (and shouldn’t be punched for it), and “just” (but, man, if there was ever anyone asking for it…).

    I think the pleasure derived from seeing someone like Spencer get his clock thoroughly cleaned comes from a sense that law and morals be damned, this guy getting punched is the delivery of “justice”. Mentally insert a crowbar instead of a fist and the scene changes (in my mind at least) because now the response (attempted or actual murder as opposed to assault) seems out of proportion to his offense.

    Now imagine a future where Trump and the Congressional Republicans make it OK to shoot any Black person for any reason, anywhere, and put a gun in Spencer’s hand (again mentally) and have him speaking about shooting blacks. At that point his actions are still “legal”, probably not “moral” by any measure, and certainly not “just”. At that point, law be damned, fatal assault becomes more palatable…more “just”, if not “moral” or “legal”.

  36. I’m kind of surprised you didn’t somehow work in Captain America punching Nazis in several iterations over many decades, though I suppose that’s a bit less about reality than what you were going for.

  37. I’m also in accord with the reasoning of Scalzi on this point. On the legality of punching, while I think there’s some money to be made for lawyers on the proposition “I use punching as a means of expression,” I do find myself wondering if the various jurisdictions in the US have similar outs the the Canadian Criminal Code’s specific defense of provocation to a charge of assault. The point of it is to keep assault from being used against a person (you’re not allowed to do everything in your power to make them swing first, then whine to the police that you got hit), but when you consider how the policies of various Nazis work upon the people they view as not-people, it seems to open the door to stating under oath “I was provoked beyond endurance.”

  38. I’d argue the grim practicality part:

    It appears (from Chenowith and Stephan’s Why Nonviolence Works) that organized non-violent actions are about twice as likely to attain their goals as organized violent actions (this from a large database of 20th century revolts). Granted, neither is all that successful (non-violence succeeds around 46% of the time, violence succeeds around 23% of the time), but still, if you want to trash a movement, organized non-violence would be my first option every time, if I could organize.

    With that in mind, I’d argue that punching out scumbags, emotionally appealing as it might be for some, is generally counterproductive strategically. See, non-violence works because everyone can march, from small children to centenarians. Indeed, using violence against a disciplined group of peaceful protestors generally looks bad and can backfire spectacularly (cf: Jesus ultimately taking down the Roman pantheon, just because it’s that season). The problem is, grannies and small children generally don’t mix with black bloc violent activities (which have an ancient history: cf Judas Iscariot). Worse, violence against the scumbags can backfire every bit as thoroughly as violence against peaceful protestors, because it drives kids and grannies away from the protestors they otherwise might agree with.

    So yes, while I get a visceral thrill out of watching Nazis get punched, as a strategic move, it sucks. I’d rather see 20 kids drown out the interview by standing around and singing (loudly, tunefulness is optional): “We Shall Overcome” or “Happy” or whatever song drowns out the Nazi and gets their message across.

  39. Okay, so punching someone, other than in immediate self-defense or immediate defense of another (where ‘immediate’ refers to physical violence against you/said ‘other’ either in progress or absolutely imminent by any reasonable assessment’) is, essentially a dick move.

    Is it ever okay to be doing a dick move?

    Against people who are by any and every reasonable definition dicks, for instance?

    In the presence of, and for the catharsis of, those who’ve suffered prolonged victimization by said dicks, perhaps?

    When people are obnoxious, active, obvious, unapologetic dicks, it’s usually for a combination of two reasons- both are almost always involved but the proportion varies depending on the person. Reason one is that they are in denial about the dickish quality of their actions, having convinced themselves on some level that it’s normal and/or acceptable behavior, and reason two is that they believe they are TOTALLY JUSTIFIED in acting like a dick, because reasons, victimization, people like me, people like them, blahblahblah.

    I am pretty sure that people who voted for and/or enabled the rise of, genocidal autocrats in the past, did not start out thinking “Great, I’m gonna line up with this guy because not only does he EXACTLY express my totally-justified beliefs about how people like me have gotten the fuzzy side of the lollipop because of people like THEM, but he’s gonna go ahead and yank them all out to the killing fields and machine gun their asses to hell by the thousands!”

    No. Most of them didn’t. Maybe a few did, but by and large, it was all about a form of dick thinking that goes: “This guy UNDERSTANDS the raw deal people like me have gotten because of people like THEM, and he’s gonna fix it somehow. Make them go away, or take back the stuff people like us should have gotten that they unfairly stole, or just make them shut up and stop oppressing people like me, or fix it so that I can totally ignore them while getting my own back somehow or… whatever…”

    And, as Trevor Noah pointed out brilliantly in one of his TDS riffs, none of those genocidal autocrats enabled by such dick thinking started out with the killing fields on Day One, like, “Okay, thanks for turning over power, now all YOU people march along, the vans are coming to collect you even as we speak, tomorrow morning the kiiling starts.” No, it didn’t happen like that.

    Even with a large pool of dickish supporters, the genocidal autocrats had to work up to apocalyptic dickitude. Not just by dehumanizing “THEM” but by slowly ignoring dick moves against them, tacitly encouraging them, letting them escalate, inciting them, at the same time as the dehumanizing process went on. Ultimately resulting in “YAY, DICK MOVES! IT’S OKAY TO BE A SUPREME DICK AGAINST THOSE SUBHUMAN WHATEVERS!”

    So when I find myself gleefully reveling in dick moves against those whose own dickitude seems to indicate they want to be considered superhuman- indicating an essential psychological awareness of their own inadequacy and possible subhumanity, the glee is always followed by a cold bath of discomfort.

    I have no idea what that means in terms of what other people should do, what the law should be, how our culture as a whole should react.

    I’d just prefer to live in a world where dick moves don’t have the kind of consequences that have all-too-often in the past escalated to thousands being slaughtered.

  40. I think the contradiction is not between peaceful assembly and nazi punching, it is in the fact that nazis cannot, by definition peacefully assemble. The very essence of naziness is deplorable hatred and violence. There is no such thing as a peaceful nazi, and therefore no right to peaceful assembly is violated by nazi punching, as the assembly of nazis is inherently a threat of violence against a LOT of people.

  41. Minorities have a whole lot more to fear from their own government than they do from this gobsmack. But somehow “Punch a Cop in The Face Day” would probably not be seen with the same delight as this crap.

    Opposing Nazis is moral cowardice. Of course you do. Opposing Nazis is easy and requires no difficult choices. Nazis are obnoxious, but they’re powerless. Until you’re willing to strap it on and oppose the actual forces of power, you’re accomplishing nothing.

    So if we’re advocating violence, lets advocate it against those who actively practice oppression.

  42. I think punching nazis should be combined with making them look ridiculous by attacking nazis with some form of the fish slapping dance. Preferably with one of those big fish they toss around the Seattle fish market that you could maybe use like a baseball bat.

  43. I kind of get it; I feel the same way about those who actually harm others. But I like to think I’m above my base animal instincts and can resist physical violence against someone just because they have different opinions.

  44. I can’t help but think that pointing and laughing at them would be more effective. Or asking gently if there’s someone caring for them who might be looking for them? Addressing in diminutives might be good, too – “Do you need assistance, young man? Is there anyone looking for you, little guy? Does your mother know you’re out here by yourself?”

  45. I love all the practical ideas here about how to make Nazis look ridiculous. Making notes… :)

  46. Yes, those Nazis have the right to stand in the public square and espouse their ideas. *I*, or anyone else, has the right to hire a one-man band to stand directly in front of him, and play endlessly, as loudly and off-tune as possible. Because while said Nazi has the right to espouse his opinion, that does not guarantee him the right to be heard. Or the flag twirlers from the local band can suddenly feel compelled to practice their flag twirling directly in front of him, with their patriotic music blaring from speakers, and their coach having to constantly use his whistle.

  47. For those who are arguing that the right way to defeat Nazis who are speaking is to drowned out their speech (with music or shouting or singing or whatever), note that Free Speech purists object to this as well. We are not allowed to interfere with the Nazi’s right to speak by shouting him down, they say. Let the Nazi speak.

    Robert: Punching the Nazi may well give him, as you say, justification, a claim that he was threatened. But I’ll point that he doesn’t *need* this justification. As with the woman who shot Josh Duke, the Nazis are quite willing to claim they feel threatened no matter what the provocation.

    So whether we punch Nazis or not, the simple existence of Jews, gay people, brown people, disabled people, Socialists, and so on, is enough. Our *existence* is what threatens them. Nothing else is necessary.

  48. Another thought floated to the surface of my Magic 8-Ball mind: My college ethics prof, a wise Jesuit, held that not only did the end justify the means, but *only* the end could justify the means. And you’d better have a very far-seeing and nuanced vision of that end in the sense of “extended outcomes.” What is the extended, social-environment end of the practice of nose-punching based on a subjective sense of outrage/insult/injustice/incitement? After all, everybody has subjectivity and a collection of owies and outrages and that’s-not-fairs. How would the Person from Mars, reviewing his recordings of the actions of the Earth Monkeys but lacking access to their subjectivities, see all this nose-punching?

  49. My compromise is to write lots of RPG scenarios set in the 1930s and 1940s, and allow all the imaginary punching of imaginary Nazis the players feel like.

    (Which reminds me, there’s a game convention end of the month, and that Lend-Lease base isn’t gonna attack itself.)

  50. My problem with the “drowning out the speech of people with the wrong opinions” is that it’s a method which, if generally accepted, easily boils down to “who has the most resources?”. Can I employ a musical band to follow certain people around, or to attend union meetings, or whatever?
    I realize that John’s answer to this is basically “I am hypocritical, I admit it and it is OK because some speeches are better than others”. For me, personally, that is not a philosophy I am prepared to live by.

  51. I draw a line for Nazis. Your average racist I grew up with was obnoxious but never advocating for violence. They’d spout their prejudice, assume from my light skin that I wasn’t part of the group they were disparaging, and then feel great embarrassment that I was (usually; I’m Hispanic) and further embarrassment that my family was pretty solid proof that their racism was garbage as evidenced by my father’s wealth and my academic success, both of which usually contrasted strongly with their own situation.

    Nazis are another matter. You start advocating for me and mine to be put into gas chambers, expelled from the country, etc., then punching you becomes an act of self defense. I’m gay, Hispanic, and Jewish and my son is black. Keeping Nazis fringe and afraid is in everyone’s interest, but mine especially. Fortunately, they’re mostly cowards who won’t show their faces. The more we punch them, the more likely they are to stay that way.

  52. Who in the [expletive deleted] is Richard Spenser? Is this “punching Nazis” some viral internet meme that I missed or more likely ignored? (I learned that bracketed technique from transcripts of the Nixon tapes, not the 18 missing minutes, naturally.)

  53. Thoughts, I have them:

    1. The difference between you believing that that Nazis should have the right to peaceably assemble and also being amused by them getting punched in the face isn’t as contradictory as it seems; the difference is that you are not a state actor. I, too, am personally amused by Nazis getting punched in the face, except when the cops are doing it. Then I think it’s a First Amendment violation and shouldn’t happen. I realize that this position is still not as consistent as an all-out endorsement of nonviolence for everyone, but I’m not perfect.

    2. Would you punch a Nazi? Meh. Would Krissy punch a Nazi? Now that’s a question I’m interested in. (Sorry, John, I just think she would land a better punch than you.)

  54. I think the line is drawn when the speech is actively calling for violence. Nazi ideology is inherently violent; at best they just want people who don’t look like them to “go away”. How those people “go away” is often elided, but cannot be done without extreme violence or murder.

    If you call to exterminate (make “go away”) people based on their skin colour, religion, sexuality or gender expression, getting off with a punch is mild. Being a Nazi means advocating for that, and there’s no rose tinted glasses to make any exchange of ideas worthwhile.

  55. Also, categorizing bigotry, denial of civil rights, support for genocide, etc as “different opinions” or “wrong opinions,” like people’s disagreement with Nazi Dickface is the same thing as thinking Taylor Swift is better than Ke$ha, really does not paint anyone using those terms in the best light.

    We can disagree on the place of violence/disruption in a civil society, the limits of free speech,and the need to have one rule apply to all situations all the time. But the tenets of Nazi philosophy/”white nationalism”/”alt right”/whatever are not just “different opinions.”

  56. We should remember that this is the same Richard Spencer who tried to organize an anti-Jewish march through Whitefish Montana earlier this year:

    https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/feb/05/richard-spencer-whitefish-neo-nazi-march

    Of course it didn’t come off, but I defy anyone to read what he planned and suggest that he doesn’t deserve to get punched. At the very least.

    This was not a hypothetical discussion – this was real. An un-American abomination, by despicable scum who are the ones who should be deported.

  57. Sten: But this is not everyone. This is Nazis. Are you okay with drowning out the speech of Nazis?

  58. As another white male, I generally agree with John’s perspective. (Though as an autistic white male, I also remember what the Nazis did to people like me.) I would, however, add a point I wouldn’t be surprised that Nazi punchers had considered. We don’t live under a blind application of the law. Rather, we must be convicted by a jury of our peers and prosecutors tend to bear that in mind. I’ve served on juries a few times in the past and the other members have always seemed to seriously weighed their vote, even on relatively minor crimes.

    Even with some 60 million Trump voters out there, how easy would it be to assemble a jury that would unanimously vote to convict a Nazi puncher, assuming no serious injury or other factor? I know the law and certainly a Nazi puncher could be guilty of battery, though provocation would need to be weighed. Does that mean I would vote to convict a Nazi puncher if brought to trial? I don’t know. I’m not sure I could say for certain until I heard the case and circumstances. Would a prosecutor feel confident they could get a unanimous jury? Or want the optics of prosecuting a Nazi puncher?

    So there’s that.

    In the meantime, I smile when I see a video clip of a Nazi getting punched.

  59. Punching is too good for Illinois Nazis. Give them a pie to the face, then everyone can point and laugh.

  60. Delagar: no, I am not. For the same reason I am not OK with punching nazis. I *am* OK with self defence, I just do not think it applies in this case.
    Me, personally, I prefer having a consistent moral philosophy over avoiding horrible things being said.

  61. So there we are. Sten and others like Sten — there are many — object even to peaceful means of keeping Nazis from spreading their vile message.

    For the Free Speech Uber Alles crowd, there is no acceptable way for us to deal with Nazis. We can’t drown them out, we can’t punch them, we can’t forbid them to speak.

    What’s that you say? The cure for bad speech is good speech? LOL. We’ve already debated and discussed and refuted and fought a WAR over whether the Nazi ideas were good ideas or not. I think we can say that ship has not just sailed, but come to port, been unloaded, and torn up for parts.

    No, the only result of solemnly allowing Nazis to speak freely in our marketplace of ideas is the further dissemination of their refuted, vile, and dangerous ideas — which then keep better ideas from being discussed, or taken seriously.

    In summation: Punch more Nazis.

  62. delagar skrev:

    I think we can say that ship has not just sailed, but come to port, been unloaded, and torn up for parts.

    My preferred metaphor is “That ship has sailed, sunk, and inspired a heartwarming global blockbuster with Winslet and DiCaprio”, but yours may be objectively better.

    Also, I second Bearpaw’s question: how did the rest of the class react to the teacher’s “joke”? (Or is that the sort of question one should be careful about asking, because of the very real risk that one will get an answer?)

  63. I recall the New Zealand version of the National Front trying to hold a parade (starting from a ww2 cenotaph to add insult to injury), the parade was sent packing by a number of large persons in fairy costumes (fairies against facism).

    My flatmate got really annoyed by how much this amused me.

    No motto, it was just funny.

  64. When I see a Nazi get punched. I could care less about the Nazi, but I do feel a sense of shame and embarrassment towards the person who punched them. A sense of “yeah, I get it. But that is so not ok.”

    Scary mad wishes (yay Mr Rodgers) are fine. Acting on them is unacceptable and I will be the first to call over the police to arrest the offender with a feeling of “I don’t really want to do this, but we all gotta be that little bit better.”

    Decent people don’t punch people except in self defense. They might want to, we all do, but we don’t do it.

  65. You can punch people and still be decent. Sorry, Edward. We choose not to use violence because of the practical consequences and because people with shitty ideologies like Nazis might claim their own version of “justified”. Not because punching an asshole is morally wrong.

  66. @Bearpaw:

    Depending on what’s being said, by whom, to whom, & etc, I could see a Nazi-puncher being defended in court via a self-defense argument and/or a necessity defense.

    If you plan on trying this in the UK, note that necessity is generally not a valid defense under British law. (R v. Dudley and Stephens, (1884) QBD 273 DC)

    (Mentioned mostly because I like bringing up R v. Dudley and Stephens and its strange relationship to The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket)

  67. A person who initiates violence, punching a Nazi, has violated that persons rights. They should be tried for their crime. That said, I hope they have enough sense to demand a jury trial.

  68. Well, as a couple of posters have noted, a smile can also be pretty devastating; our nazis, the EDL, are weeping and wailing and sobbing about the terribly tragic burden they carry as a result of a woman smiling at them. Attempts to claim that they were holding a one minutes silence for terrorist victims, interrupted by a woman smiling whilst talking, have foundered upon the rocks of fact viz. she was replying to a nazi who wasn’t going to let the opportunity of swearing at a brown skinned woman pass him by.

    And now the EDL are reduced to trying to find people to sympathise with their terrible suffering, and people are laughing at them. This is profoundly satisfying…

  69. Depends on how you define violence, Dana. It sure is easier to say words don’t count, because then you don’t have to look critically at the situation or accept that some situations require to to admit that not all opinions or beliefs are created equal.

    If the Nazi claims to have killed the person’s great-grandmother to their face, and in fact did, even though they can’t be convicted of it, then should the person be charged with assault for punching them? Is that justice? This example may be extreme, but if it changes your view of the particular situation described, then it follows that the line you’re drawing is arbitrary and more about what makes your life easier in regards to evaluating interactions than about right and wrong.

    You might be arguing purely from a “letter of the law” perspective, but that’s a cop-out.

  70. I think I will go to your appearance in Santa Fe wearing a hajib. It might make things a bit interesting

  71. Janne Peltonen: “in many European countries, it is generally accepted that one possible consequence of using speech to incite violence or hatred against a group can be a fine or jail time. …I don’t know if this kind of thing could ever be accepted in the US.”

    The US does have some limits on Free Speech, but not to the extent of, say, Germany making the Nazi flag and Nazi salute illegal. Inciting a riot is illegal. But, as far as I can tell, the law here allows one to say some minority deserves to die in theory, but not to say some minority deserves to die and lets start killing em right now.

  72. There are other forms of violence I am far more concerned with than the occasional punch to people who would be happy to see me dead. No, it’s not right, but it’s understandable on a purely human level.

  73. That’s in fact not an uncommon attitude; “Not something I’d do myself, you understand, but if it happens, it happens, eh … nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more”

    Will

  74. Which is why I am profoundly uncomfortable with any kind of defense that goes in the lines of “well, it is technically illegal, but you know, they are the kind of people who deserve it”. I am afraid any elaboration here would probably be malleted for violating point 2 in the rules.

  75. I was a commenter on a blog asking if it was OK to punch Nazis ‘way back when (simply months ago). I was one of a few (vs hundreds) opposed to the idea, and at least two of the other opposers were trolls, which was demoralizing.

    I’m still opposed to punching Nazis, partly because it goes against my religious beliefs, and partly because I don’t think punching Nazis is a very effective solution.

    I think a lot of the people have internalized it as binary – punch a Nazi or do absolutely nothing. I think it would be better to get a talented interviewer or few to interview Mr. Spencer and expose his nasty little party for what it is. Both an exercise in whiny “I don’t think I can compete on a level playing field” that (IMO) all these anti-SJW-ers are basically admitting; AND the fairly straight line that leads from their rhetoric to the murder of 12 million people, 6 million of them Jewish (and there is no “only” that can be associated with the murder of 6 million people). If every time those yobbos get on their hind legs and start spouting their poison, someone talks about what they (or their grandparent) saw after WWII when the camps were liberated/endured in those camps. With pictures. Maybe a “One Book US” of Anne Frank’s diary.

    If others still want to punch Nazis, it’s their choice, but said Nazi can also go after them for assault, and I’d just as soon limit the occasions when a Nazi is, however marginally and briefly, on the right side of an argument.

  76. VCarlson: The problem I have with that tactic — with refuting the Nazis, with using good speech to counter their bad speech — is that we have refuted the Nazis. We have used good speech. Everyone knows those facts you speak of. We have all seen the pictures.

    If that was going to work, it would have worked. We would have no Holocaust deniers, we would have no Nazis or White Nationalists. Using reason and logic and data is not going to work, because Nazis are not appealing to reason, not anymore than (say) Trump is.

    A couple of people have asked about the AP US History teacher’s little joke and the reaction to it — here’s the “joke” she made. It was during the unit on WWII. The class had a German exchange student in it, as well as my kid.

    The teacher says, LOL, isn’t this funny! [German exchange student’s] grandparents might have sent [my kid’s] grandparents to the camps!

    To the credit of the class, my kid says only a few of them laughed. Most of them were horrified.

  77. I don’t condone violence as a first resort, or even a second, but I think there are times when it is necessary. Last time the Nazis rose up, it took six years of global war and millions of lives to stop them, so if a few punches can help stop it happening again, it’s worth it.And as far as the legality of it, technically the people the Nazis dragged off to the concentration camps were acting illegally if they resisted.

  78. Delagar:” we have refuted the Nazis. We have used good speech. … If that was going to work, it would have worked”

    You have a definition of “worked” that is never satisfied. I.e. the existence of even a single nazis is the measure of whether a solution worked or not. And then you only apply it to “good speech”, and conclude that “good speech” doesnt work, leaving punching as the only viable alternative.

    But punching doesnt “work” either, because we’ve punched nazis, and we even went to war against them, and at a minimum, a single nazi still exists, therefore punching doesnt “work” either, by your own definition of “work”.

    If perfection is the definition of what works, then you will find that nothing actually works to create perfection. I am pretty sure no one is able to punch their way to a perfect world.

    If you can come up with a definition of “work” that doesnt mean “perfect”, then I think you will find that “good speech” does in fact work.

  79. Part of the problem is that most Dyed in the wool Nazi’s aren’t really redeemable, at least without a significant amount of work.

    More work, frankly than they are worth. You’re never going to ‘convince’ a Nazi, but you MIGHT be able to intimidate his less committed friends.

    Of course, you might also radicalize them, but if they’re circling a Nazi, they’re already radicalized ANYWAY, so you might as well get your shots in first while you still can.

  80. While emotionally I did not weep when Spencer got punched, I don’t agree with violent counter-protest that is not defense against physical attack. First of all, because it doesn’t work. Studies have shown that non-violent protest has over the long term been the most effective thing in creating social change and ending tyranny. That doesn’t mean that violence is off the table in conflict, but it does mean we need to think carefully about how violence is being used and for what end.

    We like to pretend that a punch is no big deal because we see so many fake ones in the cinematic arts. We see people get knocked out all the time from a punch or a blow to the head in movies and then they’re always fine. But a punch or blow can kill a person, quite easily, or cripple them. (Harry Houdini died from a punch to the stomach.) Spencer could quite easily have died, from the punch itself or smashing into the concrete from the punch. The anarchist protester who went after him would have had a bigger police search for him and he’d have gone to jail for manslaughter. People die frequently from being beaten, even just one blow, even if it’s a joke among friends. Women die on a regular basis from it. So when we say we’re okay with punching Nazis, we’re saying we’re okay with attempting to kill/killing Nazis.

    Now have we as humans gone and killed Nazis? Yes, we have. When they were in power in a country, waging war on other countries and killing millions of people. When the circumstances meant we needed to defend from them and violence was the only option. And yes, there are Neo-Nazis running the White House. Our president is one of them. And no, I won’t weep if any of them drop dead. But am I going to go try to kill them? And not worry about which innocent people get killed in the process?

    We can conceive of a situation developing when we might have to rise up and kill the Nazis running the White House. But are we in that situation yet? No, we’re not. Not unless we want to throw democracy out the window just as they propose. So we’re talking about individuals who aren’t in power, spouting Nazi rhetoric, possibly to run a grifter con like Spencer. And we’re talking about actually murdering them, being their judge, jury and executioner because of their words. Are you ready to do that? Kill someone for their words rather than just protesting those words? Are you ready to die for that, or go to jail, just to shut them up? Are you ready to orphan their children and hope those children don’t become deep devotees of destroying you and democracy for what you did? Or are you ready to take the more cowardly position of encouraging someone else to kill them for you and let those killers take the penalty and consequences for your emotional desire to hurt someone who preaches harm?

    I’m not. A punch, a knife stab, a bullet shot from a gun — they’re the same thing and can produce the same results. It’s me deciding I’ve got the right to take away someone else’s right to live, that I have superior rights, not simply a defense. Which is pretty much in the Nazi code of ethics, so what would that make me? And what does it give the Neo-Nazis license to do in retaliation when I used what they’re advocating? So much as I want people like Spencer dead — and I do, as it’s unlikely the con artist will ever have a redemptive moment though it has occasionally happened to some of them — actually killing him costs too much of myself and the society I’m in. There’s impulse, which is part of us dealing with our emotions, and then there’s action, and in the end, violent deadly action isn’t as effective as say the people in Spenser’s home town who rallied around the Jewish community, held screenings and education sessions, denounced his views despite what it cost them in troll harassment and handed out matzo ball soup while waiting for a violent Nazi protest to show up, which it did not.

    They didn’t stop Spenser and his money-making schemes. They didn’t probably change the minds of young and angry Nazis who are desperate to just get a reaction, enough to try to harm people. But they did show the alternative to the wider world, they did build their community, they did change the society by their actions. It does work. It’s just slower and less flashy than trying to kill someone with a punch. Violence is never off the table, but it shouldn’t be the first thing on the table, just because it’s easy and it makes us feel powerful. Not if we want to build something better than just rule of force and might makes right.

  81. Pretty much what Kat said.

    Every experience I have had with violence was always stupid, be it alcohol induced machismo, fear, anger, whatever, it always boiled down to stupidity. Sometimes its so blatantly stupid, like some drunk guy 8coming at me at a bar, even when it is clear self defense, it was stupid. He kept coming at me and I did my best to redirect him, but he kept escalating until I cracked his head against a table, and the whole time I was just pissed about getting sucked into this idiocy. Even in the most obvious case of self defense, I felt terrible, because I was wrapped up in something that can only be described as a failure in humanity. I”ve had people get in my face and scream and my response was calm because the alternative might be a lifetime of regret.

    I know there are folks who deal with violence and are braggarts about it, it is a proud moment for them. But for the most part, most of the people I know who have been in violent situations, they are not proud of it. Maybe it had to be done, but they arent proud of it. On some level, they get the regret that comes with being involved in that failure of humanity. Even the acknowledgment that their survival wasnt entirely a matter of skill, but was a function of luck, it makes a person humble.

    I remember talking with someone many, many years ago who was a bombadier in ww2, shot down over germany, the locals chased his crew down and one of them was stabbed and killed with a pitchfork, and he and the rest of his crew were only saved because a german officer showed up, and got the civilians to back down. And I remember how he wasnt ashamed of whst he did, but he spoke of it with such humility, like he was stuck in the least shitty of several shitty choices, and how he was so clear that he was alive by pure chance. I was clear, if had had a choice he would gladly there never had been ww2 so he would never have to drop bombs on other human beings.

    Part of me wonders of the people who say they would gleefully punch a nazi, how many of them have any serious experience with violence on a personal level, versus seeing some fantasy version of it in a movie theater. Because most of the people I know who have dealt with violence in their lives do not talk about with chest thumping and bravado. The man I knew who literally dropped bombs on literal nazis in a literal war, spoke of it with such humility, and a lot of people talking about punching some wanna be nazi coward are talking about it with such glee, that it makes me wonder where the disconnect is.

  82. I think my honest answer is that I don’t think there’s really such a thing as a “peaceable assembly” of Nazis. There may be Nazis who are not committing violence right that second, but you just don’t get together in a large group wearing the paraphernalia of an organization dedicated to WORLD CONQUEST if your philosophy is a peaceful one. The tacit message of every Nazi rally is “we are only peaceable until we have the numbers to murder our enemies en masse,” and everybody fucking knows it.

    The entire MO of Spencer and his odious fellow travelers is to intimidate their ideological opponents with the veiled threat of violence to reduce the amount of vigorous dissent they encounter. The veil is important–overt violence draws opposition from legal authorities who probably don’t like their ideology and who definitely don’t want competition–but the threat is essential. The threat is central to their identity. They need, especially at this critical early stage in their rise to power, for everyone to oppose them to ask themselves, “Is it really worth the risk of a beating just to tell these guys they’re wrong?” Because silence is the only environment in which they can flourish.

    So yes, they absolutely need to be punched in the face. I would in fact call it a moral imperative. They need to be reminded, as often as necessary, that if they choose to legitimize violence as a tool of political discourse then the inevitable outcome is that they are just as vulnerable to it as everyone else, and they are badly outnumbered. Much like a batter crowding the plate, they need someone to brush them back a little just to remind them of the rules. The rules in the book and the ones we actually live by.

  83. Juke :”they absolutely need to be punched in the face. … if they choose to legitimize violence as a tool of political discourse”

    Quis punchiet ipsos punches?

  84. I agree. I love punching Nazis in the face in video games, I love shooting Nazis in video games, I love foiling their plots and reading comics where Captain America stands against them. I won’t do that in real life because I believe that political violence is wrong.

    But if someone happens to punch a Nazi in the face, I won’t shed a tear.

  85. In one of the bios of Hitler (Ian Kershaw’s, I think) there’s a photo of Hitler in the 1920’s, standing on a street corner in Munich (?) and speechifying. People are walking past, ignoring him; if anyone is listening, they’re well out of camera range and the pic is not a close-up.

    What I wonder is: how many of those people in the shot died in the war over the next 20 years and how many of them remembered that moment in the 1920’s and wished they’d punched Hitler in the face good and hard?

  86. Kat and Greg,

    I feel you are speaking from a privileged American position. When you live here in Europe, in the shadow of what the Third Reich did, and remember the ordinary folk who stood up to them and resisted, even violently, people blithely asserting that non-violent responses to Nazis are better frankly sound a bit naïve at best.

    The Third Reich got bombed as a state actor, and the Nazis who were shot after the war usually got a trial, but there was quite a bit of resistance, and they were most definitely not all Sophie Scholls. To say these people were wrong to resist with violence (one of them being an uncle of mine) feels like a slap in the face.

  87. Magda ” how many of those people in the shot died in the war over the next 20 years … wished they’d punched Hitler in the face ”

    the first thing about violence that folks who have been forced to deal with violence understand is that you never get the luxury of hindsight.

  88. Mart: “people blithely asserting that non-violent responses to Nazis are better frankly sound a bit naïve at best. ”

    I didnt say nonviolence was better.

    The main thing I said was those here advocating for violence dont seem to be acknowledging what my experiece of violence and people I know experience of violence taught us, namely that even when its life and death, self defense, or even part of a just war, it is *at best* the least shitty outcome of a bunch of shitty choices. Most of the folks I know who have had to use force do not talk about it with the level of glee that some people here are discussing it.

    If you have some experience with violence, then you know control is an illusion. Say you punch Spencer in righteous anger. Good for you. He swings and grabs your arm, and the two of you grapple. You fight to break free. He lands a punch in your face, you fight back harder because now you’re in danger, he fears for his life, and maybe he pulls a gun. Now what the fuck do you do? He could totally shoot your ass dead and likely not be convicted of any crime because you started the attack.

    In america, the possibility of a gun being part of a violent confrontation is very real.

    I’m not saying dont punch him out of cowardice. I’m saying once you open the situation to violence, it can quickly escalate to something very bad happening, and unless you are willing to risk those bad things then it isnt worth it.

    Hell, say he pulls a gun, you fight him for control of it, you twist it in his hands and it goes off, shooting him and killing him. Are you willing to live with being convicted of manslaughter because Spencer is a world class douchebag? Maybe someone tries to break you up, and THEY get hurt? Are you willing to live with that cost?

    The idea that you or anyone else can resort to violence and somehow magically limit the outcome to just that one perfect punch, and prevent any escalation or unintended consequences, is, in my opinion, what is naive in this discussion. It is the comic book version of violence. It is the typical hollywood movie version of violence.

    If you plan violence, plan on it spiraling out of your control, then take a guess at the worst possible outcome. If you are willing to risk the worst possible outcome, maybe even some bystander getting hurt because you felt the need to start a fight, then fine, go for it.

    But if the entirety of your moral calculus is “thay are bad and deserve violence. I will deliver that violence, that will be the end of it, and all will be right with the world”, then you are out of your league and have no business taking a swing at anyone.

    And, yeah, if i was with your uncle in nazi germany, i’d see that the shitty outcomes of me fighting the nazis would be worth the risk compared to doing nothing. But that shitty outcome includes such costs as possible accidental civilian casualties at my hands, possible friendly fire incidents at my hands, and so on. You go to war when the cost of doing nothing is worse than the cost of the collateral damage your war will inflict. You send an army to invade knowing there is potential that someone in your army may commit an attrocity, may rape a civilian. Maybe you convict them all, but the damage to the population can never be fixed, and its on your nation because its your army.

    What I am saying is not that nonviolence is better, but that violence is messy and unpredictable and potentially very costly, and unless you weigh the potential ugly costs (instead of just the comic book version of costs), then you have no business even considering using force.

  89. Greg and Kat Goodwin are making excellent points.

    I am not ready to take violence off the table entirely — I note how punching Spenser has been about the only thing so far to cow him, to make him less ready to spew his poisonous speech into our marketplace — but I am hearing both of you.

  90. Delagar, “drowned out their speech (with music or shouting or singing or whatever), note that Free Speech purists object to this as well. ”

    This isnt just to be pendatic here. I think it is important to note that those people are not Free Speech Purists because they are NOT talking about Free Speech. I admit I am using the American definition of Free Speech, but I think Free Speech is about the State allowing speech, not whether civilians allow it.

    It actually comes up fairly often when some asshole is banned from, say, Twitter for saying horible things and someone says twitter should let him talk because he has a right to free speech.

    No. That isnt free speech. Thats something very perverted from the idea or free speech. I dont know what it would be accurately called because it doesnt seem to have a real world analog.

    Like, do I get to come into your private home and talk to you even if you dont want to hear it? How does that even work? Whatever it is, it is NOT free speech. So people pushing that idea should not be called free speech purists.

    I think counter protests are perfectly fine. Following nazis around with tubas blaring? Totally awesome. Having a crowd mock the nazi marchers? Cool beans.

    Nazis get to march in the streets and spew shitty things, and everyone else gets to dress up in clown suits and play trombone over them and mock them. You wanna say nazi stuff unmolested, get a private room somewhere. You wanna say it in the streets, then expect some loud company.

  91. Agreeing with Greg.

    Also noting that many countries don’t have the US’s standards of free speech and do just fine. I don’t necessarily think we should go the route of banning swastikas in video games or kicking out Scientology–though I don’t know that we *shouldn’t*–but let’s keep in mind that “anything less than American-style free speech” does not immediately translate into “repressive Orwellian hellhole.”

  92. Delagar:

    I am not ready to take violence off the table entirely — I note how punching Spenser has been about the only thing so far to cow him, to make him less ready to spew his poisonous speech into our marketplace

    It’s never off the table, again, because the stakes can be serious, but it has consequences and every act of physical violence can kill. So if you commit an act of physical violence, you are committing to killing the person you attack. (And this why parents should not discipline their kids with physical violence — not only does it do trauma to the kid but you can kill them.) So if you hit someone, you kill them — you face the consequences of that happening. It’s not going to be a “lesson” for them if you use physical violence on them. It’s an attack. It will harm them. It can very likely kill them, send them into a coma, etc., and you can’t promise it won’t. And if not, it will tell them that it’s okay to use physical violence on you because you have invoked rule of force and might makes right rather than rule of law. We have a right to defend ourselves from physical violence as human beings, so if you physically attack someone, they have the right to use physical force back to defend themselves.

    And punching Spencer didn’t cow him at all — it made him money and increased his media profile, enough that many people thought the punch was a set-up he arranged. He’s going to speak at Auburn University — not on invitation, he paid for a hall because he can afford to do so and he’ll get lots of media coverage for it. His white supremacist think tank is happily funded by who knows who. He’s on Twitter. He’s still doing cable news shows. His family owns a massive amount of valuable farmland in the South which gets $2 mil in U.S. government farm subsidies and funds Spencer’s lifestyle. He just helped lead a protest of the alt-right against Trump’s decision to bomb Syria (they like Assad,) and is still quite involved with all those very active alt-right and white supremacist hate groups. The punch did not make him look ridiculous. It validated him as a threat and a leader. So now all the militia white power types who might have looked at Spencer as a wimpy rich ex-frat boy see him as a persecuted soldier. It may have actually healed some of the rifts he had going with other alt-right factions.

    Societal systemic violence and the threat of violence, such as our white supremacist American society and its three times more violent to black and brown people cops and justice system — that will cow people. It makes them live in a police state, a box at work, silenced even among a group of their white friends. But one act of violence by an individual against another may contribute to that societal violence and be traumatizing for the victim but won’t change a damn thing. The people who become Nazis believe they’ve been cheated and that taking back what they see as their’s requires a fight. A punch at them just confirms they’re being effective. So random punching of Nazis is just not an effective tool and its consequences are a lot more serious than people tend to want to think about.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got an Arya list that I joke about with my husband of horrible people who I would like assassinated. But that’s again impulse — visceral emotion — catharsis, which is one of the ways we use fiction. It’s different from action, and the reality is if a lot of those people on my list were assassinated, there would be massive consequences to a lot of other people’s lives, many of which might be deadly. Violence ripples. So if you are going to actually use it, you have to be ready to deal with and live with those ripples, including that you’ll kill and maybe not just the person you attack, and you may be killed as well, and that you are setting yourself up as a ruler over others. You aren’t practicing democracy or freedom. You have to be sure that it’s going to be worth the ripples, that it is necessary. And only rarely does that happen.

  93. Delagar, i think the shortest metaphor for what I’m trying to say is this: People with no experience with violence tend to think they’re Hawkeye. No one thinks they’re Hulk.

    Hawkeye never misses, always has just the right weapon for the job. No colateral damage. No friendly fire.

    And then there is Hulk, and “Age of Ultron” showed what happens when you REALLY go to war. And even then, it was hollywood, so there just happened to be an empty building in the middle of the city.

    If you’ve ever been in a fight, you wouod know that the odds of it being “one punch and done” is pretty rare. Thats the Hawkeye version. I had some asshole come at me one time, and by the time it was over some bystander got hurt. Thats more the Hulk version of fighting. Its shit.

    In real life its often worse than the Hulk, but a lot of people are cheering the idea that it will be a Hawkeye event, a perfect shot, clean, no unintended consequences.

  94. Greg,

    What I am saying is that here we have entire gutted city centres, and memorials to resistance fighters everywhere. We are fully aware of the costs of violence, but sometimes it really is the only answer.

    Here in the Netherlands we’ve seen what the general policy of ‘don’t commit violence’ was. Per capita we delivered one of the largest amounts of victims to the Holocaust.

    That resistance brings reprisals to the innocent? That is not the fault of the resistance. That blood is on the Nazis’ hands too.

    And Kat? Spenser himself admits that he has been cowed by the violence. He may have had some success, but by his own words, less than had he not met resistance.

    Again, it it easy to talk non-violence from a country that has not suffered the depradations of fascism. Your American privilege is showing.

    Nazis understand but one message: extermination. That is the core of their philosophy. If the choice is merely punching Nazis, or letting Nazis exterminate innocents and turn the world into an abbatoir again, I think most of us here in Europe would say: “Why are we still talking about this?”.

  95. Mart: “Here in the Netherlands we’ve seen what the general policy of ‘don’t commit violence’ was. ”

    Look, sonny, you arent listening to what I’m saying because you are so wrapped up in your own baggage that anything not in alignment with your position is traitorous behavior. So you are responding to me as if you are the hero and I am a traitor.

    I never said “dont commit violence’ and I never said “nonviolence is better”. That’s two strawmen from you, so I’m done.

    If you can manage to form a reply that acknowledges you strawmanned my position, can be responsible for it, and can find something that I actually said that you diagree with, then maybe we can start having a discussion again.

    As it is right now, we arent having a discussion, because I say something, and you reply to some warped version of me you’ve built up in your head. Which is fine. Its just a bit too crowded in there for me to fit too. So, I’ll be over here if you want to talk about something I actually said. And you’re free to mental arguments with a made up version of me if you’d rather do that. Its up to you.

  96. So here is an example of what it looks like engaging in something a person actually said:

    Mart: “If the choice is merely punching Nazis, or letting Nazis exterminate innocents and turn the world into an abbatoir again,”

    Thats two logical fallacies in one short and sweet sentance. You converted a conditional and you bifurcated the issue.

    The “if” is a conditional and doesnt actually prove it is true.
    And you reduced an entire spectrum of choices down to (1) punch nazis and stop them or (2) dont punch nazis and let them exterminate innocents.

    Well, SURE, *if* those are the only two options, then yes absolutely lets punch some nazis. But those arent the only two options are they? The conditional is actually false and acts as padding to hide the bifurcation which grossly oversimplifies the real world.

    the real world is a lot more complicated, messy, richer, and luckier than that.

  97. Mart:

    And Kat? Spenser himself admits that he has been cowed by the violence. He may have had some success, but by his own words, less than had he not met resistance.

    Spenser is a con artist and serial liar. And it works for him to say that he’s felt endangered and cowed by physical attacks from the “left.” Victimization by a supposedly violent and threatening civil rights crew as justification for them ruling and conducting violence is part of the schitck of the neo-Nazis and the far right in general.

    I’m going by what Spenser is actually doing, not what falsehoods he’s spouting for his own purposes — what media he’s getting to do and how far he’s advancing in leadership positions in our vibrant neo-Nazi and racist hate groups — his ability to “spew hate.” And on those fronts, the punch incident helped him out and gave him a bigger platform. He is more publicly visible now than he was before.

    Again, it it easy to talk non-violence from a country that has not suffered the depradations of fascism. Your American privilege is showing.

    Oh we’ve suffered plenty from fascism, we just didn’t have the fancy name for it till later. We committed genocide on and tortured Native Americans, we enslaved, tortured and killed black people for hundreds of years. We locked up various groups of immigrants, stole their stuff and killed them in horrible ways — and we’re still doing it. We tested nuclear bombs on our own citizens, killing thousands of them. Most of the history of the U.S. has been pretty fascist and certainly white supremacist — British colonial planters invented the concept of race. And right now, we have a white supremacist for President and his chief adviser is a neo-Nazi.

    We also lost hundreds of thousands of lives to World War 2 and the actual Nazis and their allies. That was a depredation. We lost millions of European relatives of Americans in WW2. We have thousands of American Jews who were refugee survivors from WW2 and they and their descendants have faced antisemitism in the U.S. for decades, both overt from their government and laws, and covert from individuals and companies. I’m married into a Jewish family and my daughter is a target of fascists on several fronts. So no, it isn’t easy for me to talk about letting folks with that ideology walk around and spew their hatred and maybe get into political positions of power as part of a democracy, threatening us with another replay. But it’s not easy for me to support an equally fascist society that slaughters them simply for their words either. I don’t need to be a different kind of Nazi.

    Nazis understand but one message: extermination. That is the core of their philosophy.

    The core of their philosophy is that they would like to be seen as special and be in power, and they decided killing and torture was a fine way of doing that. And in that, they are people, like you and me, throughout human history. They aren’t alien beings who have no connection to us. Look, democracy is hard — that’s why it’s still quite imperfect and not that common compared to feudalism and might makes right and if I think you are a threat to me, I just kill you and hope your people don’t come after me and kill me for it. Are you running around and killing Neo-Nazis now? Probably you are not. Are you physically attacking them, bombing their homes? Probably not. So you do in fact believe that the Nazis are wrong in their philosophy, and that following their game plan by punching and exterminating Neo-Nazis for existing is not a good idea.

    If the choice is merely punching Nazis, or letting Nazis exterminate innocents and turn the world into an abbatoir again, I think most of us here in Europe would say: “Why are we still talking about this?”.

    Well, you tell me since that’s exactly what you Europeans are doing — talking about it. (As have been Americans, Australians, etc.) You have Neo-Nazi political parties that have pretty much taken over Hungary, come partly into power in Britain, are trying to build a bigger stronger political power block in France, Germany, Greece, etc. And as far as I know the government of France has not started slaughtering the members of the Le Pen political party and no one has yet exterminated Boris Johnson or Janos Ader.

    Defending oneself or others from concrete violent attack is not the same thing as simply physically attacking someone because you do not like their words and they scare you. Spencer is not a government official who was sending people to their deaths. He did not attack the person who punched him, that person wasn’t defending himself from Spencer slaughtering anyone. He instead punched Spencer to deny Spencer his civil right to speak and protest in a democracy. And it didn’t do a thing except get Spencer on the news to spout more hatred.

    The rule of law is not without violence (especially in the U.S.,) but it is a set of rules about when and how and for what reasons violence can be used. We don’t quite often live up to that set of rules for how we use violence, personally or governmentally, but we do have the idea of it, which forms the backbone of the idea of democracy. We can throw the rule of law away and embrace the Nazis’ rule of might makes right, but if you do, you better hope your might is stronger than the might of who you are attacking and you will have to accept that you aren’t any different from the one you’re attacking, that your violence isn’t defense — it’s just murderous rage and a demand for power.

    The guy who punched Spencer did not defend me or make me safer. Now I have to worry not only about violent people who might act on Spencer’s words, which have been given more cultural influence not less in the wake of the attack, but I have to worry about the violent guy and his friends who punched Spencer and believe they can attack anybody they feel like attacking, and whoever happens to accidentally get in their way as well. The same group that attacked Spencer earlier physically attacked students of UC Berkeley when the students asked them to leave their protest over Milo Y’s appearance there — the punch guys attacked anti-Nazi protesters, teenagers. It’s the same worry I have to have about Nazi militia guys patrolling the border hoping to beat up and kill brown people or that a corporate airline is going to have airport cops beat me senseless for my seat — same threat of violence and rule of might authoritarianism.

    The reality is that the Southern Poverty Law Center has done far more to stop, reveal and counteract Spencer and people like him than the guy who briefly punched him. It’s harder to do, but it’s more effective in most circumstances. There are times when violence is necessary to defend against an active attack. The guy punching Spencer was not one of those times. It was one guy deciding he had the right to hurt someone — just like Spencer himself proposes.

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