Oh, I am heartily tired of hearing about what Lee is going to do. Some of you always seem to think he is suddenly going to turn a double somersault, and land in our rear and on both of our flanks at the same time. Go back to your command, and try to think what we are going to do ourselves, instead of what Lee is going to do.
— Ulysses S. Grant
A Nazi just got kayoed in Seattle. According to The Stranger:
Sean Patrick Duff was on his way to see Baby Driver on Sunday when he saw a white man wearing a red armband walking near 3rd Avenue and Pike Street. The man, whose name is still unknown, was being “belligerent” and “Alex Jones-style yelling” at passersby, which began drawing a small crowd, Duff told The Stranger. One bystander, a white man, approached the neo-Nazi and yelled at him to “get the fuck out of our city.” The neo-Nazi then called the man an “ape and threw a banana at him,” Duff recalled. Within moments, another man ran from across the street and punched the neo-Nazi in the jaw, knocking him out. Although he didn’t anticipate a physical altercation, Duff said he was “hopeful” that the man donning the Nazi armband would get punched. Duff noted that he was “really high on like 800 mg of THC” and stood back with about a dozen people during the incident. ” ... When the man in the armband began to recover, he rolled over onto his hands and knees and reached up to someone for help, but “nobody wanted to help him,” Duff said. Soon, police officers patrolling the area arrived to the scene and the crowd dispersed. “Everyone was so joyous,” Duff said. “It was like a bonding for the community.”
The video of the punch is instructive. (You can watch it here, but be warned—as you might guess, it’s violent.) The Nazi was saying something like “They deserve the welfare.” Then a tall man guy moved forward. The Nazi, perhaps thinking that he had at last overstepped his bounds, held up his hand, saying “No, it’s fine.” It was not fine. The fascist got clocked, a haymaker past his nonexistent guard, a nice pugilistic follow-through, and down the Nazi went, collapsing like the Reichstag. Some watchers claimed to see a tooth fall from his mouth. According to New York Magazine, it took Twitter “Only 90 Minutes to Track and Knock Out a Nazi.”
Let’s cut away the cant: most Americans enjoy seeing Nazis get punched. Even if you dislike watching real human beings wearing swastika armbands getting throttled, most Americans are fans of Raiders of the Lost Ark, which is essentially a moving diorama of shirtless Harrison Ford uppercutting Nazis.
According to witnesses and the Seattle Police Department, the Nazi was “instigating fights” at 3rd Avenue and Pine Street. As noted above, he allegedly tossed a banana. In this case, it’s safe to say the Nazi caused a fight, and so self-defense by the puncher in question was called for, just as self-defense would have been excusable in Charlottesville.
We all enjoy watching people punch Nazis. I think it’s safe to say Americans of all ages do; our grandparents did it professionally, the Boomers watched the Blues Brothers do it, and now millennials are jumping on the bandwagon.
But there’s been a constant stretch of debate about just when punching Nazis becomes permissible. What are we to do about Richard Spencer, who was punched back in January? At the moment, he was not engaged in a tussle. But just the night before, according to Trump stan Bill Mitchell, Spencer and his racist buddies were picking fights at a D.C. bar. We cannot afford to be naive about these people, or treat them as if they were any other collection of political actors.
Is it wrong to punch Nazis?
Except in cases of self-defense, physically attacking Nazis is never permissible.
But the problem is still with us: in the age of Trump, Nazis feel emboldened enough to come crawling out from below the Earth. The fascists are dangerous. Therefore, short of violence, we cannot live and let live. The people saying “dialogue with Nazis” are deluded. The centrists would tell you we should ignore Nazis. Their rationale is usually limited to the phrase “This is what they want.”
But that isn’t an argument. If you follow this rationale, literally responding to any oppressor is bad. Fascists are an existential threat. We cannot govern our lives and practice by being terrified of what the other team might do. That’s as inane as those people who say, “If we don’t draw Muhammad, radical Islam wins,” or “If we don’t wear a flag lapel, the Terrorists win.” This real world is not the Internet, and these dipshits are not trolling. They invade public spaces and terrorize the marginalized. The fascists exist to hurt and to hound the most oppressed of our society. People like the Seattle Nazi—who apparently spent a large portion of his day on the subway hassling people of color—are active toxins in our community.
There is a solution.
Opponents of fascists must systematically confront them within the bounds of the law. What do I mean by confronting them? I mean that for once, the paparazzi have the right idea. The paparazzi are the nemesis of celebrities; they track them everywhere, they are aware of their every movement. For the most part, paparazzi manage to avoid getting hit with charges of harassment. But celebrities are never allowed to forget, not even for a second, that they are famous, that they are watched.
Infamy ought to be the same way. You are free to be a Nazi in America, but there must be an incredibly prohibitive cost. The consequences of putting on that hateful symbol ought to always be before them, as clear as a thundercloud in a blue sky. The fascists should find that living a normal life is as difficult as possible, so troubling that it should be a daily hassle. The Scarlet Letter was a great idea, they just picked the wrong target. American Nazis should never forget that the rest of society despises them for what they preach.
The Nazis don’t get to Clark Kent as normal people. Let them be known as fascists day in, and day out. There should be a heavy social price for rhetorically demanding the execution and degradation of your fellow human beings. Being a fascist in America should be an existence of anxiety, shame, and reprobation. Within the letter of the law, their lives should be spent in ostracism and repudiation. They should know what it is to be scrutinized all the time. They should be reminded at every opportunity.
This means practicing very well-organized, well-informed methods of assertive, non-violent confrontation, whenever and wherever they stick up their head. The public cost of being a Nazi must be so expensive that no sane person would choose it. If, as they claim, they are the master race, then the loathing of your fellow citizens should be a trifle for them. If John Smith is a Nazi in Charlottesville, he gets to be a Nazi back at home in La Jolla on Thursday. He gets to be a Nazi wherever he goes. Unlike a Klansman, he never gets to take off the mask.
I’m not proposing doxxing, or phone calls in the middle of the night. I want a private, legal, non-governmental voluntary extension of what the Southern Poverty Law Center already does: a permanent neighborhood watch set around every fascist in America. Wherever skinhead John goes, I want him to hear the little children hiss him, to hear adults say “There goes John Smith, the idiot who thought wearing the emblem of serial murderers was wise.” I want him to be known as lying John, foolish John. I want him to hear songs about Nazi John, the dupe and clod, who was so clumsy in life that he fell in to being the puppet-ape of war criminals seventy years dead. It takes a special kind of dolt to admire the shadow of hanged men. Everybody should know John Smith is that kind of dolt.
I’m scornful of writers who reach too easily for the Game of Thrones reference—it shows a shallowness of imagination—but occasionally the moment suits. The daily lives of Nazis in America should be like that scene where Cersei Lannister walks through the stews of King’s Landing, berated by the crowd. That ought to be their daily round. Shame at the grocery store, shame at the park. Shame in the library, shame in the street. Shame, shame, shame. Do they wish to be Nazis? Let them be so forever.