Punch-Drunk Hate

A number of years ago there was a shooting in Tucson, Arizona; the shooter killed six people and wounded fifteen. The murderer was apolitical, insane, not at all connected to any coherent politics of the day; nonetheless, the responsibility for the carnage was immediately placed at the feet of Republicans, whose “extremist” rhetoric had, somehow, inspired the madman to shoot and kill a bunch of people.

That was a while ago. Now times are different, and violence—not just rhetoric, but actual violence—is like totally cool again you guys. A little over a week ago, a video surfaced showing racist alt-right leader Richard Spencer getting punched in the face by an assailant. Getting punched is not the same as getting shot, of course—but neither is divisive and inflammatory rhetoric, which the New York Times once claimed was the cause of the Tucson massacre. So what was the response to an innocent man being violently assaulted for no reason? Well:

Attack on Alt-Right Leader Has Internet Asking: Is It O.K. to Punch a Nazi?

Gee, thanks, Internet. See, when violence happens to the right people it’s totally okay, or at least a debatable proposition. “Extremist” stuff is only bad if it comes from those nasty Republicans, who are totally extreme-y and stuff. Punching a Nazi isn’t extreme, it’s the picture of moderate temperance!

I’m not sure what the liberal mirror of a neo-Nazi is—maybe a neo-Communist—but try to imagine the response if a progressive activist was punched in the face after Hillary Clinton won the election: we would be inundated with about ten or twelve news cycles explaining how conservatives were insane, how Straight White Males™ were rising up against the new world order of Strong Women® and an Increasingly Diverse Electorate (©2017). It would be exhausting and neverending.

The point is, violence (or even heated rhetoric) against the Left is always treasonous and a hanging offense. Violence against anyone else—Nazis, sure, but also conservatives and pro-lifers and anyone else who offends liberals—is openly tolerated if not celebrated.

What was the response to the violent assault on Spencer? A small sampling: Jon Favreau, former speechwriter for President Obama, explicitly admitted to laughing at the video. Jamelle Bouie tacitly gave his approval to political violence by cautioning us against “treating Nazis as legitimate participants in public discourse.” Unsure of whether or not punching an innocent man in the face was, you know, acceptable, Sarah Silverman said, “I gotta think on this” (as she put it, “I’m [super] conflicted on what’s long-term right”). Writer Gerry Dugan said that punching Spencer in the face for no reason is “as American as apple pie.” At the Times, Frank Bruni wrote: “[The] attack does more to help [Spencer] than to hurt him.” Gee, I get it: if the attack did more to hurt him then to help him, it’d be totally okay! Assaulting an innocent person is purely a practical matter, not an ethical one!

Understand what is happening here: this is an effort to normalize brutality against people who hold the wrong opinions. Spencer’s own opinions, of course, are reprehensible, and the entire alt-right modus operandi is designed to provoke and enrage people. But that doesn’t change the fact that it is wrong to do violence against someone who does not merit it.

Just the same, in the age of Trump, we seem to be witnessing a desire on the part of the Left to justify and glorify beating people up for disagreeing with you. Today it’s neo-Nazis; tomorrow it’s someone else who offends the increasingly irrational and unreasonable political impulses of American progressives. Maybe next it will be you!


  1. Kent McDonld

    Thank you for pointing out the continuing erosion of not only first amendment rights, but the increased coarsening of our culture brought about by the “normalization” of violence as an appropriate reaction to opinions that are unpopular.

  2. Henry

    I get your point but when Nazis and other overtly racist groups are allowed to spew hatred and use the first amendment as a defense, it gets to people who want to live in a society who want people to work together regardless of skin color, race, language or wealth. So when someone is finally able to stand up to someone who shows the worst qualities of the human race, it feels good. Not saying it’s right but without the ability to stop others from inciting hatred, violence and racism, responding with a little bit of violence becomes the only alternative.

    Kind of like the kid who gets bullied on the playground for months and then finally, the kid who has been picked on fights back and lays the bully out, everyone says “Finally – well done”.