Opinion //

Face off: Should we punch Nazis?

With the far right on the march around the globe, we asked two writers: should we punch Nazis?

Kishor Napier-Raman — For

In the 1940s, millions died defeating fascism. It seems bizarre then, that when faced with its modern incarnation, many would rather devote their attention to shaming other progressives than truly fighting back against this ideology.

It should go without saying that white nationalism is repugnant, evil, and above all, inherently violent. When the far-right talk about the creation of a white ethno-state, they are advocating genocide against people of colour, queer people, and religious minorities.

It is therefore deeply unfair to expect members of those groups to respond to people who want us dead with cold, rational and respectful discourse.

If Charlottesville showed us anything, it’s that these people are increasingly willing to brutalise those who stand in their way. At that point, weak liberal platitudes about how we’re all “Stronger Together™” are woefully inadequate. We must be prepared to fight fire with fire. Violence not only provides self-defence for protesters on the front lines, but also the kind of visceral repudiation of a hate-filled ideology that no twitter hot-take or New York Times think-piece can ever hope to achieve. Indeed, it is the viral, provocative quality  of the punch that makes it such an effective, cathartic symbol of our frustration and anger at resurgent white nationalism.

Punching also serves to cast these views as inherently illegitimate. Many argue that violence turns people away from progressive causes, and martyrises the far right. It is, we are told, only through polite and respectful debate that the Left can ever win the battle for hearts and minds.

Some ideologies, however, do not deserve our respect. They deserve to be treated with scathing contempt. They deserve to be shunned from the political mainstream and violently disregarded. To engage with them ‘respectfully’ is to give hate the veneer of respectability. The solution to resurgent neo-Fascism isn’t to respectfully integrate it into the political mainstream and hope that we can discourse the Nazi away. Instead, we must condemn these people in the clearest terms possible. By punching fascists, we tell society that these ideas are so repugnant that they ought be crushed rather than ‘debated’. We make it abundantly clear that they deserve no respect and ought be ostracised from our politics.

More importantly, punching back strikes at the heart of the white nationalist’s pathological psyche. There is no better way to ‘cuck’ an ideology built around deifying muscular white hyper-masculinity than by making it appear weak. Images of a shell-shocked, post-punch Richard Spencer, or of White Nationalist Chris Cantwell bawling his eyes out are important because they show these people as pathetic and pitiable, directly undermining their self-image of powerful Aryan steel.

There is, of course, a time and place for discourse and reasoned debate. Facing off against hundreds of bloodthirsty, torch-wielding, cross-burning white-supremacists is not one of them.

Noa Zulman — Against

Nazism’s espousal of white supremacy and anti-Semitism has resulted in the genocide of millions of Jews and Romani, amongst others. Neo-Nazis and the alt-right continue to inflict terror across the world; last week’s rally in Charlottesville, VA is just the most the recent in violent attacks against ethnic and racial minorities.

Given this context, it seems intuitively true that punching Nazis is- at least consequentially- a virtuous act. As the great-granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, I am inclined to agree. But even if enacting physical violence against Nazis is morally justifiable, is it the most politically efficacious way of destroying their ideology? I’d argue not. In fact, I’d go as far as to suggest that punching Nazis might seem like the right thing to do in the short term, but hurts progress in the long term..

In order to illustrate my argument, I’d like to examine the infamous “punch a Nazi” scenario which unfolded earlier this year in which notorious neo-Nazi, Richard Spencer, was punched in the face by a hooded assailant during a live ABC interview on January 20th. The incident was recorded and uploaded to YouTube later that day, quickly going viral and obtaining a memetic status for several weeks. Sure, the meme became a source of humiliation and discomfort for Spencer, as thousands praised the provocative stunt. But it also served to antagonise the alt-right on online forums such as 4chan and Reddit, who perceived the punch as evidence of the left’s “dirty tactics” and used it to create a narrative of victimhood for their leader. Rather than diminish the credibility of Neo-Nazis, the punch served to mobilise the alt-right and further entrench their beliefs.

This moral quagmire is further complicated when we consider that the very minorities whom these Nazis preach hate against- people of colour, Jews, and Muslims- are often on the frontlines of fighting fascism. Why do we place the burden of attacking Nazis upon the victims of their crimes? Why are we willing to place these minorities in very real danger of retaliatory violence, simply to gain some form of moral satisfaction?

In my opinion, there are better and more effective ways to discredit Nazis and the alt-right. We should demand that our leaders use their power to act against white supremacy, rather than hide behind the guise of freedom of speech. Perhaps, we should take a leaf out of Germany’s book and legislate more harshly against fascist speech and symbology. Arguably, bringing the perpetrators of these crimes to justice under the law lends more legitimacy to the project of dismantling Nazism than extrajudicial violence ever could. The Nuremberg Trials are an excellent example of such a response- the public execution of Nazi war criminals in 1945 sent an unequivocal message of solidarity with survivors and shook what remained of fascism to its core.

Punching a Nazi is good; hanging one by the gallows is better.