You’ve probably seen it, if you haven’t, it’s a video from the marches on the weekend where Richard Spencer, White Nationalist, is punched in the face. (Insert widespread laughter here)
Let me open with this, my family was chased out of Nazi Germany, they escaped after receiving the star of David identifying us as Jews. So you can imagine how I feel about Nazis. To say that I have limited sympathy for anyone that identifies with that movement is an understatement.
Despite that history, or more accurately perhaps because of that history, I have to condemn the act, and I want to be clear on why. To do that, I don’t want to focus on the man being punched, but instead on the man doing the punching. What do we notice?
He’s waiting in ambush.
He’s not in uniform.
The issue is not who was punched, most will agree rightly that the views being espoused were deserving in some primal sense of what he received. The issue is that we’ve taken the law into our own hands and the consequences are dire. Supporting this sort of thing means de facto supporting vigilantism and foolishly, against all history lessons, believing it can win the day, and if we’re going to do that I want to illustrate where it leads with a story:
A change in power has just occurred, elections have been called and the political elite bicker over the issues they feel are most pressing to the common working man. In response change of authority violence erupts on the streets of a nation on scale never before seen. Roaming groups of activists from one side, brought in as muscle for their political group, walk brazenly looking for fights with any who oppose their ideology. The chants, bloody in their rhetoric, draw out opposition that is equal in fervor and zeal if not in power. Gun battles between the two groups erupt.
These pitched street fights come to a head, a rally of one party, escorted by police, move through the streets through a city known to be heavily supported by their opposition. Peaceful at first if not filled with blood pressure raising chants designed to enrage those that oppose them. The tension rises and before long the gun fights begin again, 19 are killed, 300 are wounded. As a result martial law is declared and so begins the death spiral of democracy.
The above story, relatable though it may be, is a summary of how the Nazi’s rose to power, we often discuss the high level political rhetoric used but we must remember the street politics. Instigating fights with rhetoric and coming prepared for the inevitable fight was classic Nazi street politics strategy. Logan, the founder of RD, commented this about the riots, and I think it applies:
What scares me is that sometimes the only way to stop violence is by being the bigger violence. The people punching people on the street, attacking stores, and burning limos are not practitioners of the craft of violence. They're new to the art and while they feel safe attacking there are those who are much more skilled. If they continue to do these things it's only a matter of time till they meet someone more experienced and the situation degrades further. What if the Limo driver had been able to fight them? What if he fired a gun in self defense or clubbed them with a tire iron? Would he not be justified in defending himself and his property? His means of providing for his family is being destroyed and set ablaze while he is present. The cycle continues until it's broken.
And that’s the problem isn’t it?
It’s an easy cycle to buy into, it feels good at a base primal level to say “That fucking Nazi got what he deserved!!”, and maybe he did, but you’re dealing with zealots, and we’ve seen this stuff before. They may well hold deplorable opinions but do not for one moment believe they are stupid. Do not be so vain as to think that they stepped out into the masses of a city obviously opposed to them without knowing that violence against them was likely. It’s a classic ploy, it paints your political enemies as savages, incapable of controlling themselves, as villains with complete disdain for order and good government. This accusation then further enrages the party accused and the violence escalates but while one side reacts emotionally out of rage the other continues with a deliberate plan, knowing full well what they are doing.
There’s a reason that Martin Luther King Jr. famously said:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that”
But a fuller context of the quote deals more directly with the topic at hand:
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
We don’t get to support violence as a means of social change while simultaneously offering that what we represent is hope and love. We don’t get to claim that we struggle for equality and higher moral ground while succumbing to our baser instincts. It’s not about any academic ideas of protected speech, or not, it’s not about primal ideas like what is owed for such vile comments. It is simply about putting into the world what we want out of it.
There’s a time to fight. There’s a time for violence. Do not be so weak however as to allow your enemies to dictate when that time is.