by Rob Harding
Content warning: violence, neo-Nazism, the Holocaust, and anti-semitism. Article contains strong language.
I’d like to begin by showing you a video. It’s quite possibly a video you’ve already seen.
That man is Richard Spencer, professional neo-Nazi dickhead. The identity of the puncher is not yet known (and will hopefully remain unknown), but they’re believed to be one of the Antifa protesters from the day of the Trump Inauguration.
I like this video. I’m not alone in liking this video. This video went, (to lapse into marketing-speech bullshit) viral. I like the remix where Richard Spencer gets punched in the face on every single beat in Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The USA, or the one where it’s the Dead Kennedys’ Nazi Punks Fuck Off. It’s the perfect counterpoint to Spencer’s speech to a bunch of white supremacists in a conference room shortly after the US election, where he managed to say the words ‘Heil our people, heil Trump, heil victory!’ without taking a good long look at himself and wondering what the hell he’s doing with his ridiculous life.
‘Punching’ becomes a symbolic thing, one component in a million others, from above and below, that demonstrates that these beliefs are not compatible with society
For those of you lucky enough to be living under a nuclear, biological, chemical and social media-proof rock, the far right have been riding high lately. Norwich’s own neo-Nazi Trump supporters turned out to shout at the massive anti-Trump gathering in front of the town hall. A friend of mine mentioned hearing ‘DIVERSITY IS WHITE GENOCIDE’ being shouted, followed by ‘what sounded like the thump of someone getting smacked in the face.’
Whether or not Trump – and his odious toady Steve Bannon – are actually pulling a Hitleresque takeover of a liberal democratic nation is irrelevant to the small, but vocal, minorities of little fascist shits who’ve come streaming out of the woodwork, believing that the government is finally on their side.
So the Nazis are back, although they’d prefer to be called the ‘Alt-Right’ for the moment. While I wouldn’t say there’s a vast organised community of the bastards out there, there’s certainly a ‘movement’. It’s been growing on the edges of society and the depths of the internet for a long time. It’s radicalising lonely young men (they have other demographics, but lonely young men is the big one) online while drawing mainstream attention by sucking on the ‘Political correctness gone mad’ and ‘Liberals suppressing free speech’ memes. These Nazis received a huge signal boost from Trump, no doubt about it. And with that, the harassment, attacks and general bastardry have been turned up to eleven, all while fascism edges ever closer to the mainstream. This time last year neo-Nazis were practically invisible, still lurking in dark corners of the internet. Indeed, they’ve been underground for so long that a lot of people seem to have forgotten what they are, and what they stand for.
After Spencer was publicly punched, the chattering classes caught up and there was a debate. Not a debate about the merits of white nationalism (The only one I can think of is that my own stupid haircut will be lost in a sea of them that stretches to the horizon). A debate about whether violence is ever justified, even against fascists. The Free Speech argument, favoured cover for shitheads across the internet, was invoked. Sure, he’s saying that ultimately everyone not exactly like him should be exiled or killed, and that our liberal democratic system should be replaced by one where odious people like him are in charge (I’m paraphrasing, of course. Even in Trump’s America, openly calling for eugenics and genocide is still a step too far.) Apparently he should be allowed to say that. The false equivalence of ‘What if he was black and calling for whites to be exterminated’ also turned up.
And yes, violence isn’t always the answer to disagreeable politics. It’s not even the only answer to fascism, although sadly it has been in the past. Especially today, when anyone who can type coherent English and has a Twitter account can condemn every last micro or macro aggression and sound reasonably authoritative (case in point: the half a billion accusations that the ‘left is starting the violence’), lashing out is politically unwise. Particularly if your target is the kind of person who will complain to the high heavens about the ‘injustice’ of facing the consequences of their speech and actions. The argument can be made that any violence against either side gives the media machines an excuse to depict you as beyond reason.
I don’t accept that. That’s the argument that says you should try and avoid provoking an abusive partner, or try and be like the bullies so they’ll leave you alone. It’s not a solution. Leaving aside the way that alt facts are now so developed that the Trump administration is making up its own terrorism for shits and giggles, the loud and hateful will find an excuse anyway. Trying to hide won’t work. We need to hit back.
Freedom of speech as a concept is meaningless when it’s used to abolish itself, to excuse attacks meant to grease the runners of alternative systems that don’t include it.
All this means that the Left, and liberal society as a whole, is going to have to make some unpleasant changes to itself. Freedom of speech as a concept is meaningless when it’s used to abolish itself, to excuse attacks meant to grease the runners of alternative systems that don’t include it. Non-violence and the ability to condemn violence is not necessarily a luxury we have any more, nor is tolerance of the intolerant. Warren Ellis says it best, in an article on this very subject. ‘It is always correct to punch Nazis. They lost the right to not be punched in the face when they started spouting genocidal ideologies that in living memory killed millions upon millions of people.’
And you know what? Spencer getting punched was funny. It was funny as hell. I’d barely heard of him until I saw the video of him getting punched. He looks ridiculous. Mockery of Trump is a cottage industry. Of course it is, he’s ridiculous. But there are plenty of others who need to be dragged out into the light and mocked for what they are. Because they’re the fucking Nazis.
In conclusion, you know what to do. Don’t just hit white supremacists in the face. Do it on national television. Humiliate them. Block, shut down, ban or (yes) censor their hateful views online and wherever possible. ‘Punching’ becomes a symbolic thing, one component in a million others, from above and below, that demonstrates that these beliefs are not compatible with society (and I really, really wish I didn’t have to say that).
Because if we don’t work together as a society to force these bastards back into the past where they belong, there’s only one way it can end – and last time, it took a war that killed nearly 60 million people to end it.
Featured image credit: Nikki Casey