How to Embarrass a Nazi

Feature photo via @shane_bauer.

“We can start by humiliating their arguments,” argues James Flanagan in the ambitiously-titled “Peace and Love, Punch a Fascist, and Everything Inbetween,” wherein he critiques the use of violence against neo-Nazis in the United States. Threading together several notable political controversies from early 2017 ‒ including the infamous Nazi-punching in January, antifascist protests at UC Berkeley and, uh, a Twitter spat concerning the student government of McGill University ‒ the author condemns violent tactics for being ineffective and perhaps even destructive to the progressive cause. According to the Flanagan, as these actions reify neo-Nazi rhetoric which claims that white men’s right to freedom of speech is being encroached upon.

Or, he tries to argue this anyway. The author’s lackadaisical wandering is less a thoughtful meditation on the efficacy of differing protest tactics than it is another dying echo of the ideology of liberalism, neutered and desperate after its displacement by far-right reactionary power. Ultimately, this article delivers another scoop of shame onto the towering pile of elitist patronizing aimed at burying those folks who dare exercise a little autonomous resistance in the face of their oppression.

Let’s get into it.

After generously excavating the article’s arguments on the author’s behalf, we, the hopeful readers who wish to challenge the extreme right, are left with a few points to consider: firstly, “punching those we despise legitimizes the foundational arguments of the alt-right.” Yes: sadly, when we punch Nazis, we give a priori legitimacy to the idea that people who are not Anglo-Saxon are essentially less human. Yikes! Talk about a tactical blunder. I’m sure if that man of colour who punched Richard Spencer had known that with a mere swing of his fist that he could empirically justify political ideology, he would’ve considered going for a left hook instead of a right jab.

Secondly, we are counselled that, “it is worth looking at the arguments of the right, specifically freedom of speech, if we are to diminish the alt-right’s popularity.” Okay, right on. Let’s look at them. The author helps us understand that many neo-Nazis are recruited into the fold via the ideology’s emphasis on the diminishing power of white men in America. While it may seem like nonsense, the author assures us that by refusing public platforms to racist speakers, we have only increased their power ‒ that now they will rise, Obi Wan-style, more powerful than ever. He charts the trajectory as the neo-Nazi moves from operating in public spaces toward “the dark corners of the internet,” where presumably the Nazi doubles in size and quadruples in intellect and charisma, owing to having found, finally, a place for white men to manifest their political will “without public accountability.”

From here, we are treated to the lovely sentence, “No one looks in the mirror and sees an asshole,” an idea I pretty much take for granted as desirable ‒ unless one is concerned that some intimate waxing has gone awry. “No one likes being told they are wrong, let alone a racist,” the paragraph continues. The author then dashes off a quick sentence about the oppression of women, LGBTQ folks, and people of colour which is presented as a “backlash” against the white men having their freedom of speech curtailed. Don’t you get it, people? If you just let these bald dudes say and do what they want without being so uppity, maybe they wouldn’t retaliate! Come on, we all learned this in school. Treat others how you want to be treated. If you get angry when someone is mean to you, they might in turn retaliate and eradicate you and everyone who looks like you from their politically and socially homogenous ethno-state. And it’ll be your fault.

The author concludes with a piece of advice for progressive white men, by which we are to “work towards humiliating alt-right supporters through argument,” and explicitly leave other forms of political protest to somebody else. Hey, that’s actually pretty convenient. If I want to create social change, I need not demonstrate, donate, resist physically, or ‒ God forbid! ‒ punch somebody. Rather, I can contribute to the construction of a socially equitable and inclusive society simply by posting snarky Reddit comments and shitting out think pieces, criticizing the risks taken by on-the-ground activists and specifically those made by a person of colour. Cherry on top: I get to do it all without having to look myself in the eye and see an asshole. Because mirrors don’t work that way.

So there you have it, folks. Quit your affinity groups; lay down your placards! Invite neo-Nazis to speak at all your public events, be they at university, a wedding, or a community center. (Fingers crossed for no bomb threats that day!) Now, let us go forth with the armaments of rational debate and logical clarity ‒ nothing can forestall our victory. First, we topple the global rise of the far-right and especially the neo-Nazis in Trump’s America, and, if the winds of fortune are at our backs ‒ and, heaven above, pray that they are! ‒ we may be able to take on… McGill student government!

Further reading on being a less-shitty white person: