I Hate Richard Spencer Too. But Here Are Three Reasons I Feel the ‘Nazi Punch’ Was Not Acceptable

I fully expect to lose followers, fans and/or friends over this.  It’s a divisive issue, and some have expressed their intent to cut ties with anyone who disagrees with them on it.  That’s not how a free society works though.  I won’t stay quiet for fear that people are so sensitive about disagreements that they need to find the nearest exit.  Do what you feel you need to do, but know that I don’t create echo chambers for myself, and I don’t think you should either.  Differences of opinion are the first ingredient in healthy discourse and productive conversations.

I’ve gone back and forth on this hot issue, and haven’t spoken about it up to this point. I haven’t commented either way… hell, I haven’t even talked to my wife about it.  I consider myself a critical thinker who takes in both sides of most issues before making a decision on where I stand. That’s what I’ve tried to do here, and I hope you feel my take on it is thoughtful and well-reasoned.  I’m sure some won’t though, and that’s ok too.

By now, [nearly] everyone knows about the “punch seen around the world.”  After the Trump inauguration, Richard Spencer, known white supremacist and alt-right blowhard, was punched in the face while giving an interview.  The video of that punch is everywhere.  Here it is, in case you live under a bridge.

What followed is a debate that’s been hashed out, argued over, fought about, ranted about, and gotten personal on many occasions… and that’s just on my own Facebook feed.  Multiply that by millions and it’s one of the, if not the, most debated subject on the internet this week.

I’ve arrived at my own opinion on this.  Ultimately I feel that using violence against someone who holds, promotes, or spreads hateful views is not acceptable. Let me explain.  But first, let’s clarify something.  This is not a free speech issue.  Freedom of speech applies to government control, prohibition, or punishment for speaking freely.  The government was uninvolved. Therefore, the First Amendment does not apply here.  Also, I enjoyed watching Spencer get punched. I’ve watched the video multiple times.  Part of me is glad it happened because everyone enjoys watching a villain get what’s coming.  But for the life of me, I can’t advocate it as a solution or a favorable tactic.  Here’s why:

  1. If we say it’s ok to punch a Nazi (or whatever Richard Spencer is), then where do we draw the line?  How much violence against him or someone like him is acceptable? One punch? Five punches? A few kicks? Stabbing? Would it have been acceptable for someone to walk up to him with a gun and pull the trigger? If we want to say that violence against an individual who holds abhorrent views is acceptable, then the next thing we need to decide upon is what level of violence we’ll tolerate before the attacker is in the wrong.  That’s a whole different argument that will fracture us even further.  Some will accuse me of a slippery slope fallacy here, but it actually isn’t. I’m not suggesting one action leads to another. I’m asking where we draw the line of acceptable behavior in society.  It’s a sincere question.
  2. Richard Spencer, the individual, has not, to our knowledge, committed violent acts against anyone.  So it should not be acceptable to commit one on him either.  I’ve seen the argument that violence against Spencer and those like him is acceptable because he is promoting violence, ethnic cleansing, or genocide against other races. So now we’re violent as a preventative measure?  Do we want to make that an acceptable act?  Sure, it happens in war. We take out the enemy before they can do harm. But whether you want to believe it or not, we are not at war.  At least in the literal sense.  On top of that, did this violence actually prevent anything, or did it make retaliatory violence more likely?
  3. If we deem this act acceptable, then we send the message that similar acts are acceptable.  Nazis are horrible people. White supremacists are horrible people. You know that hateful feeling in your gut that comes about when you think about these dirtbags?  That’s the same feeling that religious zealots get when they think about abortion doctors.  To them, abortion doctors are murderers.  They’re actually assaulting women and killing babies.  Yet, those who are of sound mind know that bombing abortion clinics or assaulting abortion doctors is wrong.  My fellow pro-choice advocates on the Left would agree with me that whoever assaults an abortion doctor is in the wrong.  If that’s the case, then we have to hold the same standard on our side.  Whoever assaults a Nazi or white supremacist, who is not doing so in defense of an imminent threat to another human being, is also in the wrong.

I fully expect the comments section to light up on this post and many places this gets shared.  This is my view of what I feel is acceptable in society and the reasons I arrived at that view.  I’m open to hearing the other side, but remember, I’ve been reading your arguments for days already, and chances are I’ve seen your justification already.  But I will not fight with you, hold your view against you, or make this personal.  I’m not interested in arguing over this.  I will, however, have a respectful conversation.

It’s a difficult issue that many feel is cut and dry, on both sides.  The truth is, it’s not.


Kevin Davis

Kevin Davis is the head writer and editor for SecularVoices, co-founder of Young Skeptics, and author of Understanding an Atheist. He is known for local and national secular activism and has spoken at conferences and events such as Reason Rally 2016 and the Ark Encounter Protest and Rally.

View all posts by Kevin Davis →

74 thoughts on “I Hate Richard Spencer Too. But Here Are Three Reasons I Feel the ‘Nazi Punch’ Was Not Acceptable

    1. Except in this case, violence was not used to solve anything, The nazi was punched because he was a nazi. Nothing more, nothing less, just a punch because it felt good to hit a nazi in the face. I doubt the guy who punched the nazi in the face will end up like the nazi hating everyone different from him, just because he punched the nazi in the face.

      1. Yes, the punch solved nothing. Accomplished nothing. Only spread the message that violence is an acceptable way to stop someone from talking temporarily.

        1. Nope, he can continue talking, the punch is not meant to stop him from doing anything. It is a punch because he is a nazi, plain and simple. Nazi’s must be punched. They can continue to be Nazi’s afterwards if they want.

  1. Thirded. I am of the opinion that you can say whatever you want to me, call me any name in the book, but just don’t put your hands on me. The concept of “Fightin’ Words” is for insecure people with fragile egos. I also think that if someone initiates violence, they deserve what ever they get in response.

    That said, I did find it rather funny how Mr. Superior Race ran away to fix his hair rather than stand his ground.

    “It’s a divisive issue, and some have expressed their intent to cut ties with anyone who disagrees with them on it.”

    Jebus, some people need to grow the fuck up.

    “By now, [nearly] everyone knows about the “punch seen around the world.””

    Well, there is at least one guy who did nazi that punch coming.

  2. I got an uneasy feeling when I heard about the punch seen around the world. Saying is not the same as doing. We need to realize that.

  3. You draw the line where it needs to be drawn to achieve the result required. In this case, one punch did the trick. A sternly worded lecture wouldn’t stop them from invading Poland, for example.

    Yes, violence is acceptable as a preventative measure, if lesser action is insufficient. This act made this paper Nazi look ridiculous, and demonstrates to others that Nazi beliefs are beyond the pale and will not be tolerated, at a time when the US election results led some of them to believe it was acceptable. It has already reduced support for these people.

    If you have an example of another group that is advocating the total and indiscriminate elimination of a large group of people, then we can talk about standards. We’re not talking about horrible people, or people with whom we have a disagreement. This is not some difference of opinion, this is a group beyond civilization that openly advocates for the death of millions.

    It shouldn’t be difficult… if the world was divided into two groups, people who think it’s wrong to punch Nazis and people who think it’s right to punch Nazis, which side would you choose? I’ll stand here beside Captain America while you decide where you belong.

      1. The trick of making him look ridiculous. It stopped him from having his repugnant views broadcast on ABC News as if they were reasonable and worthy of debate. There is no debate here – you don’t debate with people advocating genocide. It’s not comparable to abortion, where a mother has to make an incredibly painful and individual decision about one life. It’s not comparable to some left/right divide, where one side believes the other is wrong in what they think. They’re advocating, openly and clearly, the indiscriminate death of people for a characteristic they share that is absolutely outside their control.

        Put another way, what do you think would stop Spencer and his ilk from their advocacy? What would NOT fuel them? Do you think you could rationally convince him out of his views? Could you present a cogent argument that would win him over and make him realize the death of millions is wrong?

        We have seen where this path leads already, and we are not going to revisit it. You think everyone should be responsible for their own health insurance? Let’s talk. You think tax cuts for the rich will spur the economy? We can discuss it. You want to enact legislation that rounds up millions of people for the colour of their skin or the religion they were born into or the ancestry of one of their grandparents and have them killed? Words aren’t enough.

        Yes, it’s disappointing to have to resort to violence, and it should be the option of last resort. We let the Nazis remilitarize the Rhineland. We let the Nazis get away with Anschluss. We let the Nazis take the Sudetenland, and then negotiated the rest of Czechoslovakia at Munich. All it got us was the invasion of Poland and the death of millions. You don’t disagree with cancer, you fight it in whatever form it pops up, as soon as it pops up.

        1. It made him look ridiculous to those of us who already dislike him. It made him look like a victim of a random or hateful assault to those who don’t. Since you’re talking about not letting him advocate his views, you obviously realize there are people still left who can be swayed to one side or the other. Punching him hasn’t done anything to convince them they need to look deeply at what’s going on because that’s not how violence works. In terms of not giving him publicity to talk,his ideas are out there already…we fight that by not sharing it and arguing against it when we see and making sure we’re clear why these things he says are dangerous, make their buzzwords known generally so people can recognize it, insist the media report fairly and accurately and not support them when they treat “fair” as “equal time”.

          1. Yes, that’s how we turned back Hitler and freed Europe… by insisting the media report fairly and accurately why his opinions were dangerous. We took Normandy with the force of our arguments alone.

            Look, I know I’m being hyperbolic here, and I do agree that a reasoned discussion is the best way to handle political disagreements. Resorting to violence is a last resort. But these guys have already punched civilization, and civilization gets to punch back because we’ve already learned that’s the only thing that works with Nazis. This isn’t about somebody who makes your skin crawl or simply thinks odious thoughts. They want people killed, and treating them as you would a rival normalizes their behaviour, makes it worthy of consideration.

          2. This isn’t like WWII because the government is not on our side now, so we don’t have that same force of power behind us. But the African American community and the fights for civil rights are familiar with fighting against an oppressive government, and did so including non-violent resistance. That is not the same as simply having a political disagreement or normalizing what you’re fighting.

          3. But most of what they achieved sooner or later got revoked. Schools are resgregating, although not officially; black people are still the second worst off ethnic group in the United States after Native Americans with a vast and increasing wealth gap. Bush Jr won election on the back of anti-black voter suppression and nobody did shit to come to their defense; white Democrats decided that it was easier to just deal with Bush than confront the failings in a slaveowner written constitution that let Bush’s brother and a biased supreme court decide an election. The voting rights act got gutted and again, nobody’s done squat about it. Furthermore, even at the heights of the civil rights movement it still had a lot of limitations that were never addressed-because the most reactionary and bigoted structures in America-particularly domestic policing-were never substantially dismantled.

          4. Well, looking around, war didn’t get rid of the Nazis and xenophobia and racism either, and if dealing with this is going to require perpetual fighting, I’ll take a perpetual civil right movement over perpetual war.

          5. No, it didn’t, but it certainly ended the immediate threat from them and a permanent civil rights movement wouldn’t have gotten even close to that. In fact the world in which the civil rights movement worked to the extent that it did was created by World War II-precisely because the norm, in terms of universal racism/imperialism and the frequent slaughters involved in this, hostility to labor and its interests, glorification of militarism, was already a pre-fascist norm. Being forced to actually fight fascists not only caused them to back away from it somewhat but it also weakened them to the point where the civil rights movement could’ve taken hold. I think Ward Churchill wrote something to similar effect in “A Small Matter of Genocide” in which he pointed out that what the Nazis did in World War II was essentially the policies that European applied to their nonwhite colonies applied against white people.

            The civil rights movement as it existed never could’ve worked in colonial (or apartheid) South Africa, or for that matter in Vietnam or Algeria once the French had decided that they were going to hold on to their former colonies no matter how much force it would’ve taken, or for that matter, in the United States during most of its history. Unpunished and victorious right-wing violence would’ve crushed them in all of those cases.

    1. “This act made this paper Nazi look ridiculous”

      No, it didn’t. Does being physically attacked make someone look ridiculous? If you think so, then you are the one whose values should be questioned.

      “It has already reduced support for these people.”

      Do you have evidence for this? Would any reasonable person stop supporting someone because they had been punched in the face? If these people are so unreasonable that they do stop supporting people who are attacked, then are they really any threat?

      As for your final question, I would choose the side of those who think it is wrong to punch Nazis. It is wrong to punch anyone simply for what they say.

      1. Yes, it did make him look ridiculous, because he is trying to project an image of superiority of strength. Nazis derive support from looking like tough guys, like winners, like they are untouchable.

        No reasonable person would stop supporting someone because they were punched, but we’re not talking about reasonable people. We’re talking about bullies and blowhards and puffed up dictators-in-waiting who want to feel important. When you pop that balloon, you deflate them and they lose the power of attraction.

        And if you’re choosing the side that thinks punching Nazis is wrong, you’re the one standing with a bunch of Nazis, not me.

          1. I don’t agree with you on just about anything BUT you kind of proved a point of mine. I don’t know how anyone can think this isn’t the obvious interpretation people on the other side of things are going to make. It’s wishful thinking to think people are going to think less of someone they at least sort of agree with for being punched.

          2. Just like we did in Germany in WW2. We punched the Nazis until they had no power anymore, and then we brought the bulk of our troops home. We left just enough observers behind to make sure they didn’t come back, and to be prepared in case they did.

            Understand the message: We support free speech, we support free assembly, we support non-violence. But once you cross the line and advocate genocide, we’ll punch you in the head until you stop. Nazis will not have power anymore; we’re on guard, and we know your tricks. We’ve seen through you. You will not be treated as normal, because you’ve decided you’re not. I can disagree with people on the right wing of political discourse. I can disagree with people on the left wing, too. I’ll defend the rights of those who disagree with me and work to ensure they can be heard. Nazis are beneath contempt, however, and will be treated as they deserve.

          3. The US military that beat the Nazis was segregated.

            “We support free speech, we support free assembly, we support non-violence”

            No, you don’t support any of those things.

            “we’ll punch you in the head until you stop”

            Good luck with that.

          4. Who said anything about Americans? Some of us were fighting Nazis for years before the Yanks joined up. And we’ll keep fighting them for as long as it takes.

          5. “Not a Nazi” =/= “Leftist”

            There are thousands upon thousands of individuals who gave their lives in the 20th century who happen to have been monarchists, centrists, libertarians, moderates, and all stripes of varying things. You ought to know that. Of course, you don’t care.

        1. I will be standing on the side with popcorn, enjoying the spectacle of the wannabe fascist thugs getting a lesson from the actual fascist thugs.

      2. A few choice quotes from the Guardian, Jan 25:

        Suddenly the far right is a target, and this is constraining the freedom of action that its leaders, like Spencer, once enjoyed.

        But is violence a legitimate tactic? “The far right have, again and again, shown that they are quite ready to use violence, and more likely to use it against those who they see as vulnerable. If they see that people are prepared to defend themselves, in many cases they back off.”

        But Lyons said the fact that they were on the back foot was largely a testament to the effectiveness of antifascist tactics.

  4. Many kids have been forced to deal with bullying through the judicious application of assault and battery. “Standing up to bullies” has been the time-honored conventional wisdom for dealing with sustained harassment and assault. It’s certainly not ideal and has a lot of downsides, but it works.

    There are more effective means to deal with bullying, harassment and assault, but they rely on a system that recognizes these behaviors and works to protect victims effectively, rather than “both sides” equivocation.

    Liberal democracies ideally exist to minimize the need for violence to effect change. We don’t need a revolution to depose the king when we have elections and rule of law. We prevent government from making speech illegal so people can debate and redirect government as required. But as governments move away from those norms, the law becomes a means of inflicting violence on targeted communities, and means of restricting participation and change.

    Violent authoritarians (And to be fair, I’ll include revolutionary communists in with the fascists) absolutely will, if given the reins of power, use that power to commit genocide. It has happened before, multiple times, and will happen again. Fascists will use the norms of liberalism against it: demanding participation in speech and elections, demanding tolerance for their views and inclusion in culture, then immediately use what power they have to drive their enemies out of the process, and eliminate the norms they use to gain power. They will create a political environment where violence becomes inevitable, either in self-defense or national defense.

    There are more effective means of stopping violent authoritarians, but as long as we confuse liberal principals for government (Free speech, equal access, non-discrimination) with principals for individuals, we toss away tools for marginalizing violent authoritarians before they metastasize. In this way, unmoderated communities have become dominated by fascists, positions of power become structures for abuse, extremist policies are acceptable, and advocacy for genocide, racism and institutional violence have been given equal press.

    We’re already at the point where Richard Spencer, crypto-nazi, has coined the phrase for modern fascism which is used by the President’s key advisor. While we haven’t reached that point yet (i.e. the Women’s March can still happen without violence or suppression, #NoDAPL and #BLM are already at risk), we’re rapidly approaching a point of no return. We need to use those non-violent means to marginalize, shout down, shame and ban Nazis from the public sphere, or else violence will become necessary.

  5. As much as I secretly cheered, the better part of me says that this punch was not the appropriate response (for all the reasons that you outlined — . An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth will soon leave the world sightless and toothless.

  6. Being raised by parents whom actually fought Nazis, we were taught violence is never the answer. Point and laugh, sure. Having said that, the only response that got a bully off my back was a punch square in the nose. Never bothered me again…

  7. And as satisfying as it may feel to watch him get punched (or to actually punch him) what does it accomplish?

    It’s not going to make him change his opinions. The most it could do would be to shut him up, and that’s unlikely.

    It’s not going to change anyone else’s opinions. It might even gain him more support.

  8. There is only one punch on the internet (that i have seen) that i agree with 100%. When a truly heroic person who traveled all the way to moon and back is harassed by a fucktard like this, yeah at some point enough is enough and a punch is the face is justified. You don’t someone like Aldrin a ‘coward and fraud’ without expecting a punch. If you watch the entire encounter and read the full story, this asshole had been pestering Aldrin for quite some time. Also interesting to note is that the courts refused to charge Aldrin. There is a law there that says you have the right to defend yourself physically from even extended verbal abuse. So not only was was Buzz Aldrin right in my opinion, the law was on his side too. OTOH, punching a Nazi bigot in the face just because he was spreading bigotry is NOT justified imo. Unless there are details i don’t know. If this fucktard for example burned a cross on somebody’s lawn, or in some other way vandalized property or something, then yah, i could see somebody decided to let a fist fly. Thats a very human reaction. But the thing about this country is even (or especially) people we think are hateful ignorant asshole have a right to be interviewed.

  9. Thank you. My friends have been all pro-punching. I posted why I’m not OK with this. My friends replied by posting pictures of Captain America punching Nazis.

    Life is not a comic book.

  10. I’m torn. I don’t approve of punching Nazis, unless they punch you first – or at least threaten to.I think the best weapon against Nazis is satire. At least until they gain power and start killing you. But something in that punch called out to me. Don’t know what to call it. Schadenfreude maybe? Karma? The man himself may not have actually committed violent acts, but he belongs to a group of people that approve of violent acts as long as they are committed on people who disagree with them. I like to think that this random act of violence might have made him reconsider. And perhaps provoke just a touch of introspection. Not holding my breath mind.

  11. It’s a difficult issue that many feel is cut and dry, on both sides.

    No, it’s not a difficult issue. Except for a narrow exception for defense against imminent physical harm, the state has a monopoly on violence. Not because the state is perfect, but because the alternative is anarchy. If it’s “acceptable” for one person to physically assault another simply because he considers their beliefs or speech to be odious or harmful then no one is safe. The man who punched Spencer isn’t a champion of social justice or a defender of minorities. He’s just a thug. It looks like he got away with it, but I hope he is identified and prosecuted.

      1. What if he’s identified, and spencer’s cohorts try to get at him while he’s in police custody and die in a hail of police gunfire?

  12. It is our patriotic duty to apply as much force to genocidal nazis as humanly possible. These acts are already acceptable to nazis as is genocide. I really fail to comprehend why you don’t get this Kevin. It is our duty as Americans to punch nazis and klansman whenever and wherever possible.

    1. Then you don’t understand what the country is about. There are people, in power right now who would believe the same thing about atheists. That it is their patriotic duty to hurt us whenever possible. Lower yourslef to their level and it becomes merely an issue of who has more power….which for the moment, they do.

      1. What this country has mostly been about is bigots getting their own way against unarmed and defenseless people who weren’t white.

  13. I agree with the OP. I would also like to say though that there is a thing called consequences. I consider this a version of Stochastic Terrorism. http://stochasticterrorism.blogspot.com/

    Stochastic terrorism is the use of mass communications to incite random actors to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable. In short, remote-control murder by lone wolf.

    So Spencer got some blowback in a way he didn’t expect. To bad. I don’t have one bit of sympathy for him. He brought this on himself. I do have sympathy for the people who are living in fear from the likes of Spencer and Trump who are riling people up against minorities and have no concerns over the lives they are harming.

    I have watched for too long as the right has used this method as well as many others to eat away at our democracy. We are heading in a dark direction and we can expect more of the same.

    1. Stochastic terrorism is the use of mass communications to incite random actors to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable

      Then using social media (“mass communication”) to promote the idea that it’s acceptable to physically assault Spencer and others who share his beliefs (“incite random actors to carry out violent acts”) is a good example of “stochastic terrorism.”

  14. I have yet to see an extremist change their views just by talking to them. Did not work for the Axis, is not working with ISIS, and most certainly does not work with the religious right of America.

    1. Certainly talking doesn’t work, but once you get them out of their milieu and mixing with normal people it can happen. I don’t think punching them is going to do it, much though I (guiltily) enjoyed watching it.

  15. I’m in a place where I can’t technically condone the act, but at the same time I have zero sympathy for this POS and I wouldn’t have shed a single tear for him had he been killed or permanently disabled. He enjoys the protections of a society of laws and he should appreciate it. Had he been anywhere else in the world and his incitement had been deemed a threat to our society, we would have though nothing of blowing him to hell with a drone.

    The offenses have to be prosecuted to maintain the integrity of civil society, but those in the hate advocacy business should expect blowback and they should expect the violence they incite to rebound on them. In ordinary times, Spencer’s rants could be dismissed as empty rhetoric. These days, white supremacy is very likely to be perceived as a much more immanent threat. Guys like Spencer are no longer at the fringe of the fringe. They have some of their own in the highest office in the land and a president who tacitly accepts them when it suits his purpose.

    1. I don’t have sympathy for him either. Assaulting him is still wrong. These are exactly the situations where the protection of laws matter the most. For people society dislikes.There’s a reason why christians are so willing to break the law….because they wager that any inequality in the law will benefit them. They are the most popular so obviously unfairness will lean to their facour more often then not.

      Which is a fancy way of saying we don’t condemn punching him for his benefit, but for ours. A society that views violence as an acceptable way of silencing speech is far more likely to benefit him than us.

      But that doens’t mean in your private moments you can’t enjoy it. It’s called schadenfreude for a reason.

  16. Related?

    Kellyanne Conway, the senior adviser to Donald Trump, repeatedly punched a man at an inaugural ball, a witness has said.

    “Suddenly out of nowhere came Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway who
    began throwing some means punches at one of the guys,” he wrote in a
    Facebook post.

    I guess that pussy grabbing is out of the question?

  17. Best said on Twitter:

    “The people who call literally everyone who doesn’t fall in lock-step w/them a Nazi are now dictating that it’s okay to start punching Nazis.”

  18. “I’ve seen the argument that violence against Spencer and those like him is acceptable because he is promoting violence, ethnic cleansing, or genocide against other races.”

    Spencer doesn’t promote violence or advocate genocide.

  19. Part of the problem is that if you don’t use force, people in Spencer’s movement consider you weak. They almost demand that you sink to their level or below.

    1. If they demanded you kill a baby to not be weak would you do it? What kind of an argument is that!? You sinking to their level does nothing but normalize violence against people you deem as the supreme evil, in our societies case Nazis.

  20. I fully expect to lose followers, fans and/or friends over this. It’s a
    divisive issue, and some have expressed their intent to cut ties with
    anyone who disagrees with them on it.

    Like fellow blogger Dan Arel?

    He went completely off the rails a few days ago, and slurred good people as “Nazis” because they thought the same as you.

  21. Has nobody addressed the most pragmatic reason not to punch this guy…?

    Punching him gives him an excuse under the law to pull a gun.

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