Due to the recent rebranding of white supremacists, fascists, and nazis as “the alt-right” and their subsequent resurgence, there has been much hand wringing about ‘punching nazis’ as an appropriate response against those who are moving to enact genocide.
This hand wringing holds echoes of the “just ignore them and they’ll go away” nonsense that was often blathered in my direction when I was accosted with bullies throughout my life, and (as such) I have an opinion on this topic informed by long involvement with violent confrontation.
Punch them as hard as you can. Just the once. I don’t feel like burying this at the end of the essay, so I thought I’d just set it up at the start. Why? The answer to that is long.
[Caveat: to be clear, I’m not at all suggesting that violence is a preferred action, nor that it is viable in every single case. The purpose of this article is to argue against those who would deny it as a viable option in any cases.]
I have been physically attacked more times than I can count. Sometimes it was by people in my elementary school, in the same class. Sometimes it was in high school, by young adults in other classes. Many times, it was by kids and young adults on my street where I grew up, back in Ireland. Once it was with golf clubs. Another with hurleys, and also with darts. A group of 4 throwing rocks/kicking a soccer ball at me from behind while I was facing whomever threw one last. Then there was a gang of 3, and then a gang of 7. And the time someone pulled a knife on me in an attempted mugging. Finally, there was the physical abuse I experienced at the hands of my father until I was 16 when it promptly stopped.
Unlike the vast majority of people who babble “just ignore them”, I’m coming from a place of experience when I speak on this topic. “Just ignore them” led to the group of three walking and hurling insults at me for several hundred meters until one of them took a swing at me. My walking away from that led to the provocateur coming at me with a group of 7 a few days later.
My putting half of them down led to me never dealing with them again.
I was constantly bullied throughout my life, from an early age. Things were taken from me, while the thief (clearly holding the object) would deny that they had taken it. Walking away from them would mean that I found my schoolbag/lunch/pencil-case/whatever in the garbage, or the street, or (ideally, apparently) in a puddle. Attempting to non-violently retrieve my item would result in the object being passed around while each claimed, in turn, to not know what I was frustrated about.
Dropping one of them to the floor led to this never happening again.
The kids with the rocks? As long as I stayed within the confines of ‘the rules’ (i.e. responded nonviolently), the torture continued. Hospitalizing one of them meant that it never happened again.
My father physically hit me for things I did that he disliked from I don’t know how early until I was 16,I clearly remember the final time. In my grandmother’s home, I had been verbally bullying my younger brother outside (as I was being punished with him for something that he alone had done), when I father dragged me by my shirt collar into the house, and when I refused to cease venting my complaint at the injustice of my punishment, he backhanded me across the face. At 16, I was his height (5’11″/185cm) and weight (16st/220lbs/100kg), so it had less of an effect than it had had in the past, and I had gotten used to standing up for myself against bullies.
It was clear to him then, I believe, that should he raise his fist once more, I would not passively accept it. And it never happened again.
The observant amongst ye will notice a pattern of interaction in the above anecdotes. ‘But Brian’, I hear the cry, ‘these are all just confirmation bias. Did it ever NOT work out?’
I’m glad ye asked.
There was a family on our street that had a reputation as ‘bad people’. I have no idea to this day what warranted it. They were middle class, like mine, and I recall feeling that they were more affluent than ours, but not ostentatiously so, so it doesn’t seem like a class thing. And being in Ireland, there were no racial differences to spark this. Regardless.
Their eldest, over time, gathered those with a propensity for knuckle dragging around him, and bullied pretty much everyone else. Once or twice I found myself in a situation where I would be targeted, and I would do my best to let things go. Sometimes I found myself reacting violently, but it didn’t seem to stop him from bothering me.
Even if the story ended there, that’s not an argument against punching Nazis, that merely illustrates that punching Nazis doesn’t *always* solve the problem. As no-one is claiming that it does always solve the problem, that’s irrelevant.
The story, however, didn’t end there. It ended when he put a thick stick in my hands and attempted to provoke me into hitting him with it, him sure that I wouldn’t. And he was right. Until he threatened to start going after my brothers. At which point I bet. the. shit. out. of. him. And he never bothered me again.
If you read all of this and see toxic masculinity at play, you’re probably not wrong (yes, even on my end). That’s not, however, a point with which all of this can be dismissed. “Just ignore them” hinges on not understanding how the assholes operate. It merely assumes that their goal is for you to interact and attack them. This assumption doesn’t seem to bear any relation to reality.
The bully (and all these Nazis, fascists and white supremacists are bullies) are looking to exert power. They are attempting to control you and others, and to increase their own power politically. Forming a gang is a political act, and it’s a mistake to assume otherwise.
Bullies operate by knowing CLEARLY what the appropriate rules of interaction are. That is to say that they know what actions will receive social condemnation, whether than social condemnation matters to them (it largely doesn’t), and then what actions will receive legal condemnation (i.e. arrest). They will toe the line, quite happily, up to where their actions fall just shy of legal condemnation. I.e. carry swastikas in a march surrounding a Synagogue. Scream anti-black epithets which are (for reasons that escape me) legally protected as “free speech”. And so on.
Meanwhile, they consolidate their political power by joining together with other likeminded scumbags and form networks. They get their people elected, and push for legal reform. For the “reform” of voting laws in order to disenfranchise people of colour. Of course, not to explicitly deny people of colour the vote, but to enact a set of checks that are more difficult to fulfill if you are not white.
These actions snowball, and have a cumulative effect, starting in the 1960s and culminating in the repeal of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. Yes, this has been going on for 50 years, no this isn’t new, this is a rebranding of white supremacy, not a new ‘thing’.
Because the fascist, the Nazi, the white Supremacist face zero repercussions from their actions. They simply do not care about your wants and needs, they seek only to feel that they can affect the world, and they care not a whit whether that effect is beneficial or harmful. As such, you cannot debate the mob of scumbags out of their march.
Adding a repercussion, clear and concise, a single punch, lets them know: yes, there ARE repercussions for your actions. No, you will NOT do this unopposed.
Perhaps you feel that the occasional punch is a greater harm than the disenfranchisement of millions of people? Then, to be frank, your ignorance is largely unbounded, and it facilitates the disenfranchisement of millions of people. Perhaps curtail your ignorance before babbling nonsense?
Perhaps you would appropriate Martin Luthor King Jr, and his non-violent approach to change? Perhaps you should go back further, to the civil war that created the grounds from which King could emerge from.
I do not espouse violence as a single solution to all (or even many) problems.
To those who will listen: speak.
With those who will reason: argue.
With those who will discuss: debate.
For those who will do none of the above, but insist on actions that effect large-scale harm? Punch. Just once. And then see if they’re willing to revisit the other options. Just be sure that you are prepared to accept the consequences of this action.
(Anyone who thinks that physically resisting fascism will lead to those who resisted forming fascism is someone who doesn’t understand even the concept of “resistance”)