Ever since white supremacist Richard Spencer got punched at Trump’s inauguration, “punching Nazis” has become an oddly satisfying catchphrase for opponents of racism.
Now, after Charlottesville, the urge to “punch a Nazi” is at the forefront of our collective conscience. There’s never been more opportunities to clock that smug Nazi-armband-wearing Nazi/white supremacist/skinhead dude in your city. Stories of Nazi punching vigilantes have quickly proliferated online. In Seattle, an argument quickly turned physical as people hunted down a Nazi using Twitter and knocked him out on a street corner.
When I saw that video from Seattle, I was down with Nazi-punching. It just felt so right. People are out here carrying around torches, wearing symbols that glorify the death of 6 million people, running over an innocent woman with a car, and yelling racial and religiously offensive slurs and I’m going to argue that we shouldn’t punch them?
There’s nothing I want more than to punch a Nazi square in the face. I even liked it when I saw it. I know a lot of people (hopefully most people) feel the same way. But, there’s nothing I want less than Nazis to get what they want. And slowly I realized there’s a reason Nazis are all of a sudden out en force on our streets. They want us to punch them.
There are three reasons why punching Nazis helps Nazis.
White supremacy is a delicate delusion. It relies on the simple premise that white, straight, Christian people are better than all other kinds of people, which in this day in age is a difficult view of the world to uphold.
If we have amazing people of all shapes, genders, colors and backgrounds punching Nazis on the street, Nazis will just end up using that violence as justification to uphold their belief that any non-white people are barbarians.
We simply can’t have that. Nazis must have no fragile excuses for their violence.
And perhaps current Nazis are already beyond reproach and can’t be persuaded that non-white people are great, amazing, unique human beings. But you better believe the ones on the verge of white supremacy (white supremacists friends and family) will be pushed over the edge by “Nazi punching.”
Punch a Nazi and you’ll spawn 10 Nazis in its place.
So after the Seattle punch, I watched media outlet after media outlet give equal time to, or even more egregiously compare, the fine people punching Nazis and the Nazis themselves.
Let me be very clear. The violence executed by “punching a Nazi” pales in comparison to the violence perpetrated by Nazis. Aligning them in a news story is almost laughable.
Punching a Nazis allows the media to push the narrative of lawlessness and the story of the moment; people on the news never take the time to recount all the mental, physical and societal harm of white supremacists throughout history before they announce the punching event.
Something about “punching Nazis” feels right, but is it enough?
I have a hard time believing that one, two, or even 10 punching incidents will create the kind of fundamental erosion of extremism that people want to see in this country.
No matter how satisfying the catchphrase or the action, there’s better way to spend our time. Instead of hunting individuals down on Twitter and knocking them out in the street, let’s start a larger dialogue about how we can systematically tear down white supremacist narratives, organizations and belief systems.
Then, we won’t need to worry about damaging our precious fists.