A prominent Nazi was punched by a masked assailant during the gatherings in Washington D.C. during the Presidential Inauguration. After footage appeared on social media, a ‘Public Debate’ took place over whether punching a Nazi is justifiable or not. On Twitter I made a case for not punching Nazis. I have begun to wonder if my initial position is solid. Is it justifiable to punch a Nazi, ever? I have been giving this thought and have decided the answer is ‘sometimes’.
I have decided to engage myself in a discussion of this topic in a public way by presenting the process as a pros-and-cons-list style argument.
This post is in no way a call to attack anyone, nor does it intend to directly condone or call on people to go around punching other people (Nazis or not). I might make an argument with statements suggesting punching takes place, but it is meant as one side of the discussion, and is done just as I also suggest that there is a reason to not punch people.
To start we must understand what a Nazi is and how it operates.
Nazi has become shorthand for Fascist. We should use the term Fascist, but as the term Nazi has come to mean fascist in common parlance Nazi and fascism may be used with slight distinctive differences. A Nazi is a specific form of fascist, a fascist may tend to be a leader of Nazis. So what is a fascist?
In my arguments I assume that a fascist is a leader of a political movement that grows out of democratic freedom. Fascism is the most destructive thing to a democratic society for two reasons:
It is born from the basic notions of a democratic society and its freedoms of choice and self defense. As such the existence of Nazis within democracy threaten the value of a democratic society. Also, fascism seeks total and absolute destruction of democratic society and ALL of its norms.
Fascism, by its very existence creates an existential doubt about the validity of democracy and all of its established norms, which is perfect because democracy thrives when it is constantly challenged, however most challenges to a democracy (one hopes) at least pretend to maintain the norms and not destroy them. Fascism seeks to destroy democracy.
A fascist leader will usually come to power using democracy, all the while signaling the goal of destroying democracy by destroying the norms of society along the way. To find a recent example of a fascist destroying social norms we need look no further than our own newly elected President, Donald J. Trump. He destroyed social norms, and the next step for Trump was to attempt the destruction of political norms, which came soon after he was elected.
For example, during the election Trump broke all precedents by talking about the size of his penis, calls to destroy the legitimacy of the free press, and calls to his base to physically attack people who attended his rallies who did not agree with his message. All of these are the actions destroy norms and are the actions of a fascist seeking power through the democratic process.
To see an example of destruction of political norms we need only look at the first few days that Trump came into power. He immediately moved to silence those in the government who did not agree with him, and he invalidated the visas of tens of thousands (perhaps 100,000) of people who were living and working in the U.S.A. legally. As well, he has moved to invalidate the third branch of government, and the largest foe to fascism, the courts.
So by the definitions established above, our President is a fascist leader. But the leader only gains power through his base. And the question posited here is how do we deal with that base? Clearly we cannot punch the President, nor would we want to. So the next step is to look more closely at the common fascists and Nazis who support Trump, as I will have to call the common supporter of Trump a fascist and a Nazi, for matters of clarity. Some will certainly object to this, but if you support a fascist you are a fascist.
To be a Nazi, one must have been taught the belief that he has the freedom to advance himself in society and, that any failure to succeed rests upon the existence of groups of people other than himself. These groups in question need be so few in number that they pose no real political or physical threat to him (such as Muslims, or Blacks or Jews). This allows the fascist to blame other people for his own failures at advancing himself. Even though the common fascist might actually have his economic movement stagnated by outside forces, it is never a minority who is responsible. Instead it is more often the economic systems that naturally lean away from the working class and toward the upper class. Governmental support and economic systems are responsible, and that is the edification of the true existential doubt of an economic democracy, and perhaps a more serious examination is demanded, later.
A Nazi must also have some means of defending his interests. Congregating in public, ownership of weapons are two ways a fascist can defend his interests, and both are freedoms granted by the constitution and by the definition of a free society.
A Nazi is lastly, willing to discuss total irradiation (subtext: by any means) of other classes of people who can be scape-goated into being held responsible for a Nazi’s economic stagnation. Oftentimes, open racists are involved in drumming up dissent, but even people who consider themselves to be non-racists will get caught up in the fascist movement out of economic frustration. They have inadvertently allowed themselves to become Nazis and fascists.
The willingness of common people to discuss total irradiation of a minority group DOES result in violence against that group. There is no escaping that truth. It is hate speech (coded or not) that does and will encourage some members within the group to act violently. The result is that violence of the fringe acts to pave a path for others to follow later with more violence, until eventually violence against minorities is normalized, historically leading to the deaths of millions of civilians, as well as further destruction of democratic norms.
Fascism is Anti-American by its very nature of destruction of democratic and social norms, whether intentional or not. Nazis and fascists membership, known as Trump’s base, do threaten America!
This is not at all the same as supporters of Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush, or Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. The vitriol and denial of facts that exists among Trump supporters, the twisted talk of ‘alternative-facts’ along with the attacks on the press are startling and dire. And I am willing to make the blanket statement that at this point, any of Trump’s supporters are indeed fascists and seek to destroy America, regardless of whether they are aware of it or not.
They, Nazis and fascists, must be dealt with as they do pose a real and dangerous threat to America and the world. But how should we deal with them? The focus of this post is whether it is OK to use violence, specifically, is it OK to punch a Nazi, as a method to eradicate the power of the current rise of fascism in America?
So let’s get on with the pros and cons about whether it is OK to punch a Nazi.
Pro: Fascists are guided by violence and not reason. Violence is the message of their movement; their threats, the outward shows of anger, the intimidation, and the acts of violence by the few, attempt to assert physical power as substitute for political power. The entire group shows an acceptance of the violence by excusing it, even if pretending to distance themselves from it, and by continuing to support the same people and the same goals. The violence and threats are proof that the fascists are not reasonable people, they do act irrationally, and are non-persuadable. Because they only understand violence, they must be dealt with violently.
Con: Wouldn’t it be better for a democratic society as a whole to instruct such people on the power of political discourse and resolution, and to point out the danger of engaging in fascist discourse?
Pro: Fascists seek to destroy all the tenants of a open democracy, chief among them is truth and education, and a free press. (Look at Trumps Education pick for an example.) There is no political discourse when truth does not exist, when facts are invented, and when rage derived from invented lies interrupt dialog. Also, insisting on Proper Education plays into the hands of the fascist’s fears (yes, they fear an authoritarian government telling them how to think when that is exactly what they seek to create). Fascists don’t communicate with reason or with dialog, but only with irrational demands based upon lies and backed up with violence. Rational conversation is not possible with fascists. As a result, reasonable solutions are not possible as fascists actually seek to harm people and society as a whole. They should be punched.
Con: You can’t punch all of the fascists. Even if you could, you would only drive them underground into subversiveness, or they would instead grow more firm in their position and respond with more violence.
Pro: Fascism will always exist in a democracy, underground or not, often as a soft fascist (read republican congressman). The goal isn’t to remove all the fascists. The goal is to ensure the tactics they use to meet their goals adhere to social norms or risk being met with violence.
Con: Insisting upon social norms under the threat of violence is fascism. When you act to punch a Nazi you yourself have become a fascist. You have decided to ridicule and subjugate a minority to violence in an attempt to irradiate their political power.
Pro: This isn’t not at all the same thing. An ethnic or racial minority cannot choose to be anything else. Where as a Nazi has made a choice to place their needs above others in a way that destroys society. They must be resisted at every opportunity.
Con: There are other forms of resistance. Passive Resistance has been effective against authoritarian violence. A violent response only offers justification for greater violence. It becomes cyclical.
Pro: The history of addressing fascists has already attempted to deal with them using standard democratic, social, and moral norms such as passivity and dialog, and it has failed. Passive Resistance has shown to only be effectual when a free press is granted the respect to be present and to disseminate acts of brutality against a subset of the population by a governmental authority.
When a free press is been delegitimized as it current has been, the press cannot be counted on with respect to act as a fair venue to demonstrate the brutality and point out failures of morality.
More importantly the Nazis are not authorized figures representing the government, not withstanding that the Nazis currently support our current fascist President. Non-Violence only works against a non-fascist government. It is not going to work against non-governmental fascists. This is historically proven. And, the fascist President can always say “that is an outside group who doesn’t represent me”, and then he can turn around and give the Nazi fascists a nice pat on the back.
Again. peaceful resistance fails when it is against non-governmental groups. The only response to Nazis is violence.
Con: There are other responses besides non-violence, such as appealing to their morality and empathy. Try using one-on-one dialog.
Pro: We’ve already looked at dialog and how it fails due to the willingness of fascists to believe lies, but let’s allow it again. The only morality of a Nazi is the morality of the self interest. And Nazis possess no empathy for the victims of their ridicule. If we look at this lack of empathy, there is actually an empathetic imperative by the non-fascist to protect the victims of Nazi scorn, and attempt to head off violence against a weakened minority by assuming the responsibility to protect a democracy at any costs, including forestalling violence against minorities by instigating violence at the first sign of societal breakdown. The constitution actually discusses an armed citizen militia, and we must defend against enemies foreign and domestic. The obligation of the common citizenry is to defend democracy by any and all means, even with violence when needed. The goal of fascists is to destroy democracy by all means, and must be met with equal determination.
Con: But if the goal of the fascists is to destroy the systems of democratic and social norms, then by resorting to that same violence those norms have already been destroyed, and the Nazis have already won. When you resort to violence you have played into their hands and their political power increases because they can claim that violence is now justified.
Pro: Not true. Yes, when a minority group who is the target of Nazi threats and hatred responds with violence, it does given political credence to their messaging that the minority group is not only a threat economically, but also physically, and thus they must respond by attacking that minority group. However, when a member of the greater majority (which really can include all minorities and non-minorities alike) acts with violence against calls for violent fascism, it does not further their cause for the reason that the greater majority disagrees with them. When everybody is against Nazis and fascists then the pseudo-moral-superiority of the Nazis is invalidated and they lose power.
Con: Then use words and not violence. Everyone should denounce Nazis. You don’t need to punch them.
Pro: Yes. Everyone should denounce Nazis, but they don’t, because fascism hides and appeals behind the scenes. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who says they want Nazis to take over. However, those who remain silent in the face of the rise of fascism excuse the radical, and make room for their existence. Those who do stand up to fascism with words alone grant the fascists and Nazis legitimacy and create a platform and a focal point for fascism to exaggerate their lies, and instead it builds their momentum. The best response is violence, and if you get the chance to punch one in the face, you have an obligation to take it.
By using words alone you give Nazis a way to direct their anger and gives them a sense of defiance for Nazis to use, by which they can further fool themselves into a sense of false superiority. They are essentially cowards (like schoolyard bullies who thrive when people won’t stand up to them physically) who will rape and murder given the permission to by governmental authority. Violence against fascists must be included in the ‘final solution’ in how to address Nazis (sorry about the irony). This is especially true when the government is occupied by fascists (as it is today), as fascists in government grants the common Nazi a sense of permission to behave unlawfully, because their leader will bail them out, as he has said during rallies, “Hit them. I will pay your court fees”.
Con: When we start punching Nazis, there is the risk that this violence can be usurped and redirected by other fascist for other outcomes. Violence leads to more violence.
Pro: There is already the threat of fascism rising. And, That saying, Violence leads to more violence, is intended to be directed at those who would seek violence first. The Nazis started the violence, and it must be met with violence. That saying is not meant to be used as a means to keep a response to Nazis from getting violent. It is meant to warn the fascists that they will be met with violence.
Con: I still don’t like it.
Pro: It isn’t something to enjoy, or relish, or to celebrate. Cheering the punching of a Nazi is disgusting tribalism that harbors many dangers to both society and the individual. Taking joy in any kind of violence is stomach churning. You know what else churns the stomach? The common fascist who claims he isn’t a fascist. Read that to mean supporters of a fascist leader, like Donald Trump.
Con: But his supporters are hoping for a better America. They aren’t trying to exclude anyone, you can’t call them all fascists. That isn’t fair.
Pro: I’ve laid out why Trump is a fascist. His supporters support him as a fascist. Hence, they are fascists. The support for his lies, for his intolerance, and for his stated objectives of kicking people out of the country, these are all fascist tactics that they believe in and support. They are fascists.
Con: Now you are getting into dangerous territory. You can’t call 50% of America fascists, and expect to deal with them violently. All of society will break down.
Pro: He doesn’t have 50% support, he has 25% support. 50% of possible voters voted, he got about half that number as did Clinton. That means both candidates got about 25% support. And we don’t need to deal with them all violently. We just need to demonstrate that their veiled calls for violence will not be allowed to exist without consequences to their personal safety. They can do what ever they want, but there will be consequences.
Con: You are beginning to sound like an extremist yourself, and a terrorist. Your stark position is a poor representation for reason, which you seem to want.
Pro: Nazis have already shown themselves to be beyond reason and wish only exist in a false response to terror. Thus, you meet their terrorism with more terrorism. That’s all they understand. When you show them that you are not afraid and are willing meet their violence, only then will they begin to seek reasonable dialog and resolution. The fabric of society and reason is at stake. The hand of reason should always be presented in front of a fist defending democracy.
Con: Are you calling for terrorism?
Pro: Not at all. Although I can see how it sounds that way.
Con: Yes, it does sound that way. And once you start using terror to force people toward reason, where does it stop?
Pro: Instead, let’s ask where does it start? It starts and stops with the prominent members of the movement who vocalize calls of violence and acts of disenfranchisements against minorities. And that is where it stops. With Nazi leadership. When the common follower realizes that leadership is attacked for their calls for violence, they will temper their words, which will temper their thoughts.
The level of response needs to meet the level of calls made by the individual fascist. It becomes a case by case basis. If a congressman calls for the disenfranchisement of voters, this he is exercising a form of soft fascism that needs to be met with an equal response to his call, and the result should be him being voted out of office. His call is not to violence but it is a race-fearing form of fascism that requires an immediate response. Whereas the Nazi who says we should kill all of a minority group, he should be dealt with violently. Meet reason with reason, violence with violence.
Con: When the general population acts to stop violence it creates chaos. Why not leave it to the government to take on that role?
Pro: The democratic government has an obligation to stay away from determining what is free and acceptable speech. The government cannot be asked to take action against objectionable speech because that is asking the government to act in ways that are authoritarian, and with the power of law enforcement and the military at its disposal the government risks falling under fascist control. Instead it is up to the citizens to punch Nazis, not the government.
Con: There are other avenues to address this problem such as economic means. By boycotting Trump and his economic supporters we can wield the power of the wallet. We don’t have to resort to violence.
Pro: This is a great way to diversify the approach to a current fascist leader and donors. We should and are taking several approaches in tamping down fascism. As well, we shouldn’t forget to address the actual economic disparities that allowed a disgruntled working class to lean toward fascism in the first place. But this isn’t a discussion about how to prevent fascism. This is a discussion about when we have Nazis, should be punch them.
I don’t have a real answer for the premise. These are complicated issues that every individual will need to question for themselves. There is no right answer when it comes to Nazis. The entire concept is very complicated. It isn’t enough to ignore them, that is the worst you can do. Seeking violence is very dangerous as well and getting caught risks jail time and lawsuits. Maybe I have been able to offer guidance for individuals hoping to form their own opinions on the matter.
I do caution this. Use reason whenever possible. Reason is the strongest weapon against fascism, but as post-World-War-One showed us, reason is not enough and violence had to become the solution. What if citizens had acted violently against the rise of Nazis, right at the beginning? Perhaps the entire Second World War could have been avoided.