Being black I don't exactly make a habit of defending white nationalists.
But I feel this needs to be said.
For those who don’t know, Richard Spencer is the president of the National Policy Institute, a white nationalist organization. He attained some notoriety after Trump’s election victory when members of his organization were caught on camera doing Nazi salutes. Spencer gave an incredibly lame excuse for the salutes, and does not identify as a Nazi, but for the purpose of this writing it is not really relevant one way or the other. What’s important is that he disavows violence and has consistently advocated his group’s position peacefully.
At the inauguration of Trump, while Spencer was doing a street interview, someone ran up to him and punched him in the face. The incident was caught on camera and quickly spread across the internet. It turned into a meme and a number of left-leaning sites applauded his assailant. At the recent SAG awards David Harbour explicitly endorsed the assault to thunderous applause.
There are three reasons why we need to condemn the punching of Richard Spencer
1. It is Stupid
Punching Spencer makes him sympathetic. Disaffected whites see an incident like this and wonder why people are so scared of him. They then check out his site and read his arguments about preserving white culture and they do not understand why it is so scary. Leftists have yet to realize that for most white people, the idea that whites ought to collectively look out for their own interests is not an extraordinarily controversial position. Trump won the election in part because whites are voting more and more as a bloc. Putting Spencer in the news as a victim of violence for the sin of caring about white people helps his cause far more than it hurts it.
2. It is Ugly
Punching Nazis is not an ‘American Tradition’ contrary to what you may hear. Violence against politically unpopular opinions is. People forget how quickly social fashions change. Today you say it is OK to physically assault someone because you are offended by white nationalism. In the past it was OK to beat up a man for being a homosexual, supporting communism, or dating someone of a different race. They had the same excuses too. People were genuinely offended by 'commies', 'fags', and 'race-mixers'. So when you defend someone for sucker punching Richard Spencer, you are supporting every ugly act of violence committed against minorities throughout history. Congrats.
3. It is Dangerous
Normalizing political violence can not lead anywhere good. Using violence toward Spencer and his supporters sends a very clear message: You people have no free speech rights. You have no right to assemble, petition, and seek redress for your grievances. Therefore your only recourse is to use force.
Violence begets violence. Initiating it against white nationalists makes them morally justified in returning it. How would leftists react to some masked thug running up to John Stewart and cracking one of his ribs with an elbow to the chest? They would have no moral authority to complain; their opponents met the call for violence by responding in kind. Progressives assumed that the white supremacists would just roll over and accept a new normal where they need to be scared and intimidated physically when they go out in public.
What if the white supremacists don’t accept this? What if they start planning to use violence in response? It might start relatively tame. Stink bombing feminist rallies, sabotaging left wing speaking events, etc. But what if it goes back and forth and escalates? What if people start getting targeted and jumped by gangs? Buildings start getting burned. Someone decides to throw a cup of acid at someone’s face. A group of the most extreme decide to load up with some AR-15’s, head down to an opposition rally, and give us a day we’ll never forget.
This is the road we go down when we laugh about a guy getting beaten because his opinions are unpopular. We need to be better than this. We need to focus on fighting our enemies intellectually, not physically. The minimum standard of political discourse is something we teach 1st graders: “No hitting.” If we can’t meet a standard we apply to seven year olds then we are truly lost.