On Friday, during protests against Donald Trump’s inauguration, “alt-right” founder and actual-literal-Nazi-Richard-Spencer was punched in the face. At the time, a reporter had stopped him on the sidewalk for an impromptu interview about the ins and outs of turning a frog racist and exactly what stripe of monstrousness he most identifies with, so we now have the moment on camera. It’s pretty glorious: a balletic and visceral symphony comprised of the timeless duo of fist and face.
But, as the New York Times pointed out, not everyone is thrilled by the idea of an actual-literal-Nazi being fed an all-American knuckle sandwich. Apparently, Nazi-punching has become controversial now (damn all that PC-ness, am I right, you guys?), and so we must wade into the moral thicket of whether or not you can ― in good conscience ― beat up someone, who identifies with one of the most thoroughly despised political ideologies in human history.
It’s going to be a weird year.
Now for those few of you who are morally opposed to bad stuff happening to bad people, I can assure you that actual-literal-Nazi-Richard-Spencer is alright. He posted a video via Periscope saying as much. He also made sure to note that he was broadcasting from a “safe space,” which is—frankly—delicious.
If we are to seriously address the ethics of Nazi-punching, we must address and understand the reasons why one might say that Nazi-punching is wrong or bad. For many this might be confusing, especially since so much of the outrage has come from the movement that begged for the opportunity to make America great again, and Hollywood, historians, and video game developers all seem to agree that America reached peak greatness about 70 years ago, when this nation threw itself full-throttle into the business of absolutely wrecking Nazis. It’s perhaps even more confusing to hear someone describe Nazi-punching as un-American when the literal personification of America was introduced to the world socking it to Hitler, who scholars agree is probably the Naziest Nazi that ever Nazi’d.
Still, there are numerous reasons why one might decide that actual-literal-Nazi-Richard-Spencer getting punched is the hill they want to die on this weekend. Perhaps this person has never read a book or seen a movie or played a video game, and is, thus, completely unaware of what a Nazi is; and they decided to enter this debate without educating themselves on the matter at all. Perhaps they are a Nazi themselves, or are worried that once it becomes a-OK to punch white people who hold historically problematic views responsible for inflicting tangible harm on vulnerable Americans over the course of centuries they might find themselves on the punching-block (or whatever it would be called). There’s also a chance that this person is a self-righteous asshole who likes to talk about violence having no place in political discourse despite never having spoken this aggressively against the state-sanctioned and perpetrated violence against people of color, enabled and encouraged by white supremacy, since this before this nation’s founding.
These are all of the reasons I can think of.
Regardless of which of these things motivates you to speak in defense of the physical safety of people who identify with a political ideology that was most famously led by a man who nearly everyone agrees is the personification of pure evil, I would like to convince you that sometimes it’s actually okay to throw hands with actual-literal-Nazis.
“How could this be?” you ask, dropping your binder full of quotes about non-violence from Martin Luther King Jr and Mahatma Gandhi (all completely free of historical or biographical context, of course). Well, I will tell you how this can be!
First off, there are unfortunately some political ideologies that do not respond to discourse, especially when the people who are discoursing are people that this ideology wants to murder en masse. One of the handy things about being part of a political movement that is responsible for the most famous genocide in history is that, you develop a sort of thick skin when it comes to people saying your views are bad. You know what they say: once you systematically murder nearly eight million people, you tend to ignore people saying that your ideas are problematic. In the case of actual-literal-Nazi-Richard-Spencer, I am well aware he did not help out with the Holocaust. Nor am I saying that he is actually-literally Hitler. I am simply saying that actual-literal-Nazi-Richard-Spencer and actual-literal-führer-Adolf-Hitler would probably have been kinda tight. And I’m saying that’s a really really bad thing. That ideologies like Spencer’s are often insulated from “rational” debate is only emphasized by the fact that he was punched by a member of Black Bloc, an antifa operation that specializes in aggressively confronting the sort of political ideologies that don’t respond to more conventional modes of protest.
Secondly, I would submit that if you see a video of an actual-literal-Nazi calmly trying to spread his Nazi ideology and your first thought is “wow I really hope no one punches that Nazi in the face because ooh-boy would I have some choice tweets for them” as opposed to “holy shit why is there a literal fucking Nazi normalizing his Nazi-ness to a reporter; it is motherfucking 2017” then your thoughts are stupid and you should not share them. The fact that the conversation about Nazi-punching is currently about when it’s okay and not why there are still any famous Nazis left to punch is kind of troubling, if not downright disturbing. So, as much as you might think this is the time to be holier-than-thou about your thoughts on the intersection of politics and violence, it’s unlikely that the people who actual-literal-Nazi-Richard-Spencer’s views most affect really care what you think.
Thirdly, both Indiana Jones and Captain America seem pretty alright with Nazi-punching. Both are actually quite good at it. The fact that movies and video games seem to unilaterally agree that Nazis are pretty swell villains probably gives you a hint as to what kind of people Nazis are. Plus, all the best Nazi-punchers tend to be quite attractive! Would you like to be movie-star-attractive too? I thought so.
So, in summary, if you are faced with the opportunity to punch a Nazi (or even someone Nazi-adjacent), I would suggest the following. First, observe the Nazi (or Nazi-adjacent person) and figure out whether they are a Nazi (or are Nazi-adjacent). In the past this was slightly more difficult because following that whole Holocaust thing the world came to something of a consensus on Nazis and decided they were bad. So, for a while, a lot of Nazis had to Nazi in secret. Now, however, Nazis are really having a coming out of sorts. In the wake of Trump’s election you can now spot them on the sidewalk, being politely asked what their favorite type of ethnic cleansing is and who exactly it is that they’re wearing to the rally tonight. Once you have ascertained that this Nazi is indeed a Nazi (or Nazi-adjacent), ask yourself how you feel about Nazis. Hopefully you will realize that you’re not okay with Nazis, in which case feed that motherfucker his teeth. If you realize that you’re actually kind of okay with Nazis, then your approach is going to have to be slightly different.
In this case, approach the strongest-looking person you can find, and say, “hello! My name is [blank] and I am disturbingly okay with Nazism. Do you have a moment to punch me in the goddamn face?”
Most likely, they’ll be happy to help you out.