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Violence against Richard Spencer threatens American values

The identity of the author of this piece is known to the edi- tors-in-chief, but is being with- held due to the author’s concern about retaliation.

Recently, there appeared in these pages a column titled “Resistance and punching Richard Spencer.” It argues that it is the civic duty of leftists to commit violence against white supremacists, citing the punching of Richard Spencer as an example. The ideas there presented are dangerously wrongheaded. I’d like to give the writer of the article the benefit of the doubt. I’ll assume his intentions are noble. He, I hope, isn’t aware that his pernicious rhetoric has the potential to tear this nation’s social fabric apart. What is more, his command of the facts is flaccid at best, dishonest at worst. In his writing, unsubstantiated claims and hyperbolic language abound.

In “Resistance and punching Richard Spencer,” he defends the actions of the criminal who attacked Richard Spencer at the inauguration. Spencer is a white nationalist. His ideology is despicable. Still, battery is battery. If violence is accepted as a legitimate means to settle our ideological differences, none of us are safe.

The article reads that “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 … and therefore cannot resort to … 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.” This is astounding. The reason physical violence in political disputes is wrong is not that citizens of this country have an “obligation to take the moral high ground.” It is that citizens of this country have a basic duty to follow the law and not infringe upon the bodily integrity of another human being. The only circumstances under which violence is acceptable are those that necessitate self-defense from imminent physical harm or robbery, or the defense of another from the same. The article not only defends the criminal action of the assailant, he advocates more violence. It concludes that “we have a moral obligation” to attack those people who hold opinions he finds unacceptable.

No individual, including the writer of the article, is judge, jury and executioner. He has no right to decide which opinions render one able to be punched. Furthermore, the article’s characterization of Spencer isn’t accurate. It writes that Spencer “repeatedly advocated white supremacy and genocide targeting people of color, but also genuinely believes people of color, especially black people are not worthy of being called human.”

After making such claims, one should provide evidence. This article fails to do so. It makes three claims. The first is accurate. Richard Spencer believes that white people are superior. All decent people should condemn such hideous beliefs. However, I have been unable to find any evidence that buttresses the genocide claim. The Southern Poverty Law Center says that Spencer calls for, “peaceful ethnic cleansing.” Here is Spencer’s longer quote, “Today, in the public imagination, ‘ethnic cleansing’ has been associated with civil war and mass murder (understandably so). But this need not be the case. 1919 is a real example of successful ethnic redistribution—done by fiat, we should remember, but done peacefully.”

Here is another Spencer quote from his SPLC page, “I think race is real, and I think race is important. And those two principles do not mean I want to harm someone or hate someone. But the notion that these people can be equal is not a scientific way of looking at it.”

As I said before, this is a vile ideology. It is antithetical to scientific fact, American ideals and common decency. However, being a racist is not the same as advocating mass murder. The writer of the article should not have made an accusation as serious as genocide unless he can back it up.

Does Spencer “believe [that] people of color … are not worthy of being called human”? It’s possible. However, I have been unable to find specific evidence proving that this is the case. After Spencer appeared on the network, the now infamous CNN caption read, “Alt-Right Founder Questions If Jews Are People.” However, even this is not accurate.

Jake Tapper denounced his own network for writing that. Here is the Snopes.com blurb on the subject: “Spencer did refer to ‘soulless golems’ in his speech, a reference to Jewish folklore about beings magically created from clay or mud. But as Reason editor Elizabeth Nolan Brown (among others) pointed out, Spencer’s mention of ‘soulless golems’ was used in the context of questioning the humanity and intelligence of members of the ‘mainstream media,’ not specifically that of Jews.”

So out of three claims made in the article, one is accurate, one is false and one is possible but not proven. Maybe the article’s writer has seen quotes that I have not seen. If this is the case, I urge him to respond with evidence.

I do agree with the article in one regard. Spencer is deserving of neither sympathy nor respect. If I were ruled by pure emotion, I too would punch Richard Spencer. However, I know the difference between what feels right and what is right. I understand the value of free speech, democratic norms and the rule of law. These are things deserving of respect.

When society allows people to arbitrarily decide that some people’s opinions disqualify them from basic human rights we go down a dangerous path. A big component of fascism is a group’s use of violence to silence its political enemies. Rhetoric such as that in “Resistance and punching Richard Spencer” excuses such behavior. Who is the one actually tolerating fascists?

It is imperative that we acknowledge how fallible each one of us is. Fact finding is a time-consuming process, and even after much effort we may reach incorrect conclusions. Because of this, the mob, or “a vigilante citizen” must never be allowed to use violence against someone he only believes is wrong. Individuals are not entrusted with the creation and enforcement of laws. They have limited information and a limited desire to acquire it. The state has a monopoly on violence because the state is (ideally) confined by due process and accountable to the people, the law and other political offices that monitor the civil rights of citizens. Before Spencer is deprived of a right (such as that to bodily integrity), a trial should be held to decide if he violated the law, and the facts should be discussed.

Someone may misread my column, conclude that I am no better than Spencer for defending him, and then advocate violence against me. This frightens me. It is a disgrace that I should be made to feel this way at one of America’s top universities.

I’ve demonstrated that most of the accusations “Resistance” levies at Spencer are spurious. However, I don’t believe I should punch the article’s writer for being wrong. I believe his rhetoric has the potential to lead to innocent people being harmed. He believes that Spencer’s rhetoric has the same dark potential. I, though, am aware of the fact that I live in a civil society where citizens resist with words not fists.

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