The “punch a Nazi” movement has grown in momentum over the last few months, with the so-called anti-fascists (Antifa) leading the charge. This momentum culminated in the punching and subsequent knock-out of a self-prescribed Nazi in Seattle last week. On Youtube, a video of the incident has earned 300k views. With an overwhelmingly positive reception, commenters say things such as, “HIT HIM AGAIN HE’S STILL BREATHING.” The video and the reaction to it conveys a burgeoning problem in American political discourse: the growing acceptance of violent action against political opponents.
People attempt to justify this behavior by naming the Nazi as an oppressor. They conflate his words with actions and fail to see the difference between the two. While harsh words certainly have real-world effects, they carry less significance than physical actions. Physically encroaching upon another person portrays direct intent to cause harm where words can only suggest such malevolence. By punching the Nazi, the Antifa members met the Nazi’s words with actions, attempting to silence him. Ironically, the “antifascists” used the same tactic that Hitler’s Brownshirts and Mussolini’s Blackshirts used to silence dissent.
When a society allows its residents to physically harm political opponents, the society loses standards of law. If a society declares punching Nazis as acceptable, how does it identify its Nazis? Who becomes judge, jury, and executioner? Today, the Nazi is the man wearing a swastika, but less definite examples lead to questions of Nazi qualifiers. People (who have obviously never read an actual history book) have called Donald Trump a Nazi, likened Ben Shapiro to a fascist, and even compared Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler.
Political violence has a place in our society—America was founded out of the use of political violence when our founding fathers rose up against their British overlords. In this instance, the American people had exhausted all other options. They organized protests, boycotted taxes, and petitioned the government. They only turned to violence against their oppressors when they had drained all other alternatives. The Seattle Nazi, on the contrary, held no position of power and had no ability to oppress those who assaulted him. No one attempted to curtail the violent situation or engage with him in peaceful debate. A nobody with radical ideals, the viral video elevated him into fame and gave him the spotlight to spew more vitriol.
Punching the Nazi empowered him. His attack pushed him into the limelight, exposing him to more people than would have seen him before. He now has an upcoming court case, in which he most likely will win and will gain media attention in the process. Punching this Nazi made him famous and gave him a platform. Violence cannot beat Nazism, but logical, merited arguments can. With an ideology that failed spectacularly and killed many tens of millions in the process, legitimate arguments against fascism are plentiful.
As Antifa resort to violence, they condemn their own side and legitimize and empower the opposition. It only serves to further remove civility from political discourse.
Political Science and History major at IUPUI