The Brandeis campus is not alone in its treatment of the controversial inauguration of Donald Trump. Many students have rightfully expressed their moral and political disagreements over his election, and in the inauguration’s aftermath, many actions have been taken to show the populace’s disagreement with Trump’s platform. Among these actions were the multiple Women’s Marches around the nation. These were not particularly contentious, but many other activists have taken actions that have proven to be extremely controversial. Specifically, many people disagree with the actions of a vigilante citizen who punched notable white nationalist and Trump supporter Richard Spencer in the face.
The opinion that Spencer should not have been punched is disturbing. Not only does it mean that the overwhelming majority of the white population that put Trump in power tolerates fascists, but it shows the problematic nature of our society’s priorities. More people seem to be offended by the punching of Spencer than by the three-year long water crisis in Flint, MI, or the often terrible fates faced by Americans of color every day.
The arguments against the attack on Spencer are relatively straightforward: that leftists, whether centrist or far left, have an obligation to take the moral high ground in situations such as these, and therefore cannot resort to actions such as physical violence. However, in the sometimes violent aftermath of the election, I would say that we have a moral obligation to take actions that mirror our circumstances.
Spencer should not receive any sympathy from any human being who believes themselves to be moral. This is a man who not only has repeatedly advocated for white supremacy and genocide targeting people of color, but also genuinely believes that people of color, especially black people, are not worthy of being called human. Quite frankly, Spencer is a Nazi, a figurehead of the same alt-right movement that made a xenophobic, sexual predator president of the United States. It is easy to see why people would be hesitant to condone violence, even when it’s against people such as Spencer, because people do not want to see themselves as aggressors. However, cases like Spencer’s are justifiable because of Spencer’s violent views.
Additionally, it is important to understand some of the less obvious reasons why this is seen by many as a wholly violent and unsupportable action. In most political systems, the government in power has a monopoly on violence. This monopoly often creates the belief that it is perfectly acceptable for the government to execute violent actions ranging from the mass incarceration of people of color to the denial of health care to its disabled and trans citizens, while any miniscule form of violent protest is seen as an encroachment on that monopoly synonymous with treason. This is why many don’t bat an eye when the federal government uses water cannons in subfreezing conditions on protesters on indigenous land who oppose the placement of profit over people but are up in arms when a protest over the killing of a black man by a police officer becomes violent on a small scale due to the actions of a few.
Frankly, it is ridiculous to immediately dismiss the actions of those such as the individual who attacked Spencer as wholly unacceptable because they are not perfectly nonviolent. It is becoming increasingly obvious that this “Love trumps hate” mentality is not working. Yes, it is important to hang on to the same love that makes the human experience unique, but in the face of white supremacy and the rise of nationalistic fascism in what was once seen as the shining bastion of democracy, it is critical to accept less peaceful forms of protest when faced with particularly violent circumstances. The punching of a Nazi is a perfect example of fitting action for an especially violent circumstance.
We are entering a terrifying and uncertain new chapter of history, and the fact is that we can no longer accept peaceful demonstration as our only option. I am not advocating senseless violence in an effort to prove a point. Peaceful protests are often effective, and random violence and crime can be extremely counterproductive. However, we need to face the reality that we need to change our perspective on how to deal with fascism and intolerance, because the old methods simply are not working anymore.
Do not get upset because Spencer got punched in the face. Spencer is not deserving of sympathy or respect. He is, quite literally, a Nazi, and any sympathy for him is sympathy for the ideology he represents, and any acceptance of his ideology is a loss because it shows that the populace as a whole is content with the actions of the alt-right. Take to the streets and protest. Write to your representatives. Punch Spencer. Everyone should take action against the rise of nationalism, whether you are a moderate or you believe that a socialist political revolution is imminent, because the day that we accept Spencer and his ideology as the new normal is the day that we lose who we are and what we stand for.