This week, a professor from George Washington University saw alt-right loudmouth Richard Spencer at her gym, where he is a member, and confronted him. After she asked if he was who she suspected he was and he (apparently wanting a little piece and quiet while working out) said he wasn’t, she called him a coward. She ranted until Spencer asked an employee of the gym to intervene. It did–revoking his membership, despite, he said, his behavior as a “model” member of the gym. Unsurprisingly, the fight spilled over into Twitter, where anti-Semitic insults were directed toward the woman. Spencer may yet sue over the terminated membership.
Okay, so SOME people (my spouse) have been a little worried that I’ve so much enjoyed watching Richard Spencer get punched in the face. Over and over again. Set to music. Especially to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA.” Over and over again.
They’re worried because I’m not a person who supports violence. And that position is because I’m… well, a naturally violent person. I say that as a confession. My fight-or-flight instinct is mostly just an instinct to fight. I have a way bigger sense of my own strength than is reasonable, which, as you might imagine, has caused some problems in my life. And because I know that this is a life-ruining trait, I’ve been committed now for over 20 years to pacifism and nonviolent resistance. This doesn’t mean I’m good at it, but I’m deliberate about cultivating the inner peacethat makes peaceful nonresistance a reflex. I practice it daily so it’s ready when needed. As a family, we organize our choices around peaceful nonresistance so that we won’t find ourselves tempted into violence. We invest our identity in a religious denomination that holds up the ideals of peaceful intervention to prevent and end violence in all its forms. So all of that helps.
But, c’mon! This is RICHARD SPENCER, getting socked in the kisser. One might even say it wasn’t a punch but an “alt-high five.” He said that he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, but he got hit because he’s the leader of the “intellectual” arm of the white supremacy movement. I have more mixed feelings about letting my kids watch Captain America, who is not real, punch comic book Nazis.
Above, Captain American punches Hitler.
But, Rebecca, you worry. Isn’t it always wrong to hit? Isn’t violence never the answer? Did Rosa Parks punch Nazis? Did Ghandi? Didn’t the heroes of your faith themselves refuse to punch Nazis during ACTUAL WORLD WAR II?
Above, conscientious objectors to WWII served to help war victims by undergoing experiments in starvation. The participants were starved, then provided with controlled diets so that researchers could learn how the human body could best be repaired after concentration camp-like diets.
Okay, I get your point. We’re all devalued when the dignity of one is devalued, even if that one is Richard Spencer. God made Richard Spencer, too. If today I’m cheering for Richard Spencer’s attacker, tomorrow I’ll be cheering for someone who punches a Klansman. (It’s true. You can find some videos of an attack on the KKK here.)
Thankfully, the appeal to nonviolent resistance isn’t an appeal to my better nature, because that nature isn’t always very good. It’s an appeal to what works. And nonviolent resistance often works. In terms of hate groups, it works pretty well. When Derek White, whose father, Don, is the leader of Stormfront, the largest white supremacy website out there, left white supremacy, it wasn’t because he’d been violently attacked or because some screamed at him or even called him a racist. It was because a patient group of people chose to be friends with him despite his racismand to open doors through which he could exit. His story is beautiful and remarkable, but it is not entirely atypical (though Derek’s prominence in the white supremacy movement was). What brings people into–and out of–hate groups is their relationships to others. This is why the work of groups like Life After Hate, which supports those exiting organized hate groups, is so important.
But that doesn’t mean that I am arguing against smacking Richard Spencer; I’ve got better things to do than hang-wring over whether it’s okay to punch a Nazi. Every day, the very people Spencer would like to “peacefully ethnically cleanse” from the US–nonwhites–are subject to interpersonal violence and to aggression ranging from the micro to the environmental, from police harassment to actual war, and they need our collective support. Richard Spencer can fetch his own ice pack.