Self-proclaimed Alt-right leader Richard Spencer experienced a more extreme side of inauguration protests when the sucker-punch heard around the world landed in his face last weekend. Videos of the punch spread like wildfire, and people who were delighted to find a distraction from the election turned Spencer into a meme by setting videos of the punch to music.
But the assault elicited a lot of hand-wringing from not only conservatives, but also liberals. Sarah Silverman, who campaigned for Bernie, then Hillary in the 2016 election, tweeted that it was regrettable that Spencer was a “young man” (he’s 38) who could have had his perspective changed through reasoned debate. Liberals who still cling to the idea that propriety is essential for politics rejected the punch as well, stating that it is wrong to hit someone that you disagree with.
This ethical dilemma — is it okay to assault your political opponents? — isn’t a dilemma at all. The views espoused by Spencer go far beyond traditional politics. Before his face was caved in, Spencer was best known for exclaiming “Hail Trump!” at a conference, to which attendees responded with the Nazi salute. He differentiates himself from Nazis by saying that he’s for peaceful ethnic cleansing through sterilization and says that “I don’t believe in equality… I want to fight for my people first.” Spencer also runs the National Policy Institute, a small lobbying firm that advocates white supremacy and has studies claiming the genetic superiority of whites listed prominently on its website. Spencer’s views and the ideas he promotes are much more damaging to a much larger number of people than a single punch.
Debating policy is one thing. When arguing with a political opponent over economics or health care it’s completely unreasonable to assault them for sharing a different opinion. But Spencer holds views that advocate for the removal of people that don’t look like him. Violent opposition when your existence is threatened has been carried out by anti-apartheid activists in South Africa, gay people in Stonewall, the French in Nazi-occupied Germany, and Americans in the Boston Harbor.
Of course, Trump’s America is still a far cry from apartheid South Africa, or WWII France. That doesn’t mean that the views of people like Spencer aren’t incredibly worrisome, or haven’t been gaining notoriety rapidly. Spencer’s fantasy of America is a future that would destroy the country, and it’s our duty to oppose him. While the rise of Nazis in America isn’t yet comparable to the past, do we really have to wait until it is until it’s okay to punch them?
Chastain-Howley is a writing and rhetoric junior from Dallas.