When white nationalist Richard Spencer was caught on video taking a sucker punch to the face, it sparked an ethics debate across the world. Spencer is clearly a bad guy. He supports “peaceful ethnic cleansing” (as if there could ever be such a thing) and advocates for a “white homeland.” But was it right to punch him in the face?
Absolutely. I usually consider myself a pacifist, but I could watch Spencer get socked in the noggin on repeat for the rest of my living days. But wait! Everyone knows violence is not the answer. It is wrong to hurt people. I will not be the first or last to say that those rules do not apply to neo-Nazis.
I am in full support of the first amendment right to free speech. Everyone deserves the opportunity to have their voice heard. It would be great if anyone with views so hateful in nature that they oppose the safety or sovereignty of another human being were not allowed to talk, but that is not the country we live in. Anyone can preach their two cents. It so happens that Richard Spencer’s two cents are outrageously dangerous. The danger in his alt-right monologue is it implies that not all humans are created equal. The innate equality of all people is an idea so important to the wellbeing of American society that it is directly stated in the Declaration of Independence. When the majority or privileged group begins to believe they are more deserving or important than minority groups, it places those minority groups in extreme danger. Americans belonging to minority groups are already in danger of the harmful effects of prejudice and systematic oppression; for a group of white people to believe that they deserve even more privilege because of their skin color while others deserve still less is horrifying.
When Richard Spencer, champion of the alt-right and white nationalist movements, started spewing his hateful rhetoric, he placed millions of people in danger. A masked crusader approached Spencer during an interview and bopped his Macklemore-looking ass straight in the noodle. The punch represented the rebellion of millions of people against the undrained swamp of Spencer and his Trump-supporting cronies. It was a movement of power, and the only thing that was seriously hurt was Spencer’s pride.
Here is where things get tricky—if Spencer had punched someone he had disagreed with, would it still be a permissible act of violence? No, it would not have been. Nobody is actively threatening Spencer’s existence. The only kind of permissible violence, both in the court system and in my personal belief, is self-defense. Spencer’s rhetoric is so dangerous that it is threatening the lives and safety of millions of Americans. A punch against the alt-right movement? Seems reasonable to me. The protestor was acting in self-defense. Had Spencer punched the protestor back, that would have been fine. He too, would have been acting in self-defense. But he did not fight back; instead, Richard Spencer ran off like the wimp he is. So much for a superior race.
Here’s the punch line: punch your local Nazi (but stay safe!).