Yesterday, a dapper Nazi was punched while giving an interview about how the white race has an inborn right to domination. (I am not naming him in an effort to shield myself from the attention of his ilk; I imagine his identity is easily ascertainable via Google, if you don’t already know what I’m talking about.) I, and many in my social media circles, exulted in this event — someone advocating outright Nazism was humiliated and silenced. It was a cathartic moment in the midst of terrifying events.
And of course, the nice liberals won’t let us have this. They’re concerned that punching this individual legitimates him. They worry about the precedent that it sets when we punch people solely because we disagree. Aren’t we at risk of becoming just as bad as the violence we opposed? The mind boggles at the amount of lotion that will be necessary to heal the chafing after so much hand-wringing.
I am not an advocate of interpersonal violence as a general principle. I don’t think it should be normalized or used casually. The fact that interpersonal violence is occurring is a sure sign that something has gone wrong. (I am also personally cowardly and would be unlikely to engage in it in any case.)
What has gone wrong in this particular case? Is it that someone’s abstract right to speak and share their views has been violated? Doubtless that is happening, and I can see why that seems like a problem, at least from a slippery-slope perspective. But the bigger problem is that someone feels comfortable publicly advocating Nazism. That is not just one opinion or view among others — it is an ideology whose only goal is violence and genocide. And indeed, people have turned up published articles by the dapper young punching victim where, for example, he openly muses about how best to carry out the genocide of blacks, whom he regards as a drain on the world’s resources. (Again, you can find this on Google if you want — I am not going to link to such vile obscenities.)
When confronted with someone who literally thinks blacks are subhuman and should be killed off en masse, what is the appropriate response? What counterargument could you mount that would have any chance of persuading someone so far gone? I assume that they have heard many times that blacks are human and been unpersuaded. As for the argument that public debate is mainly for the sake of bystanders rather than the participants themselves, what message would I be sending if I argued with someone advocating for mass murder in the same way that I would argue with someone over the deficit? Simply treating someone as an equal participant in the public sphere legitimates them. And given that they are speaking boldly in public, they are not susceptible to public shaming — indeed, they take great pride in violating the taboos of acceptable opinion, believing it to be a brave and noble act.
When persuasion and shame are no longer options, only one mode of communication remains — that person must be forcibly excluded from the public sphere of debate. Would I advocate the murder of this person? Of course not. I would also be much more ambivalent about any attack that actually required medical attention, however minor. But this particular attack was more or less symbolic. The greatest damage was to his hair and composure. In short, I don’t think we’re very far down the slippery slope to left-wing death squads. The punch gets a lot of attention, but the Nazi was basically tackled as a way of disrupting the interview — i.e., preventing the spread of Nazi ideas in the public sphere — and sending the clear message that he should not feel safe expressing such views publicly.
Nothing about this situation is ideal. The best solution of all would be for all media outlets to refuse to interview him in the first place. That is itself a form of forceful exclusion, just like Twitter’s suspension of his account (now sadly lifted) was. If anything other than persuasion and shaming is violence, then both of those things are violent as well. And neither puts us down a harmful slippery slope — the proverbial saying doesn’t start “first they came for the Nazis” for a reason. They should come for the Nazis. “Opinions” like that aren’t even properly opinions, they are sheerly preludes to violence.
By expressing such hatred in public, they are giving us notice of their intentions, and we have the right to defend ourselves and our public sphere by excluding them or, failing that, forcibly shutting them up.