Punching Nazis In The Face And Anti-Antifa Critiques

A week or so ago, shortly after the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, I asked on my Facebook page: “Is it OK to punch a Nazi in the face? Asking for a Virginian friend.” As might have been expected this semi-serious query sparked an interesting discussion in the course of which one of my friends asked me to clarify on when I thought the use of violence was justified–against the kinds of folks who marched in Charlottesville or against folks like Richard Spencer, who did indeed, get punched in the face. My reply went as follows:

I do think that Nazis create a greater threat than other instance of ideology on two legs, and will amplify and make that threat more manifest in a manner that will prompt violence directed at them – I’m OK with that violence. If I see a Nazi rally in my street, and a couple of goons screaming in my daughter’s face, I will fucking punch them. It it possible then that I will suffer Clanton’s fate, but I will plead in my defense, that I was protecting my daughter from ‘assault.’ And I will have a good legal case for doing so – Nazis, too often, behave in ways that constitute ‘assault’ – technically. They’re asking for punches.

My reply clarifies something about the nature of the so-called ‘violence’ directed at Nazis by Antifa, and responds to the various critiques directed at those who have ‘clashed’ with the various brands of white supremacists who have started to emerge, in increasing numbers, from the woodwork. The following points, I think, are salient, and build on it:

  1. Violence takes many forms; current critiques of Antifa fetishize physical violence, the actual meeting of flesh vs. flesh; they fail to address the violence present in a relentless pattern of intimidation and abuse and overt exertions of power. These critiques are blind in a crucial dimension; they take their eyes off the content and the history of Nazi/white supremacist speech and action; they do not examine their impact of those that bear the brunt of these. The legal definition of ‘assault’ is more catholic: it admits of more forms of violence, and allows for a greater range of actions in response.
  2. For many folks, the sight of Nazis marching in the streets, calling them sub-human, demanding they leave their homes and ‘go back’ to where ‘they came from,’ is already assault. Nazis don’t offer political critique: they reduce my humanity. (Read the Daily Stormer if you doubt this.) If they attempt to do that to my daughter, I will not wait for them to start swinging. I’ll start swinging first; there is, no, I repeat, no, talking with Nazis. I will not allow my daughter to be ‘assaulted’ by Nazis; more to the point, I will not rely on the goodwill of the police or the state to protect me. They have already made clear they will not defend my family or me. The daily news assures me of their non-cooperation in this matter. Indeed, I expect that they will stand by and let violence be done to me.
  3. Unsurprisingly most objections to the Antifa originate in ‘moderate whites’–the same folks that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. described as being the greatest barrier to the civil rights  movement–these folks do not feel physically threatened in the same way that people of color are when Nazis and white supremacists march through their neighborhoods; they have not been subjected to the daily rituals of aggression that people of color are. They do not have their accent remarked on, they are not asked to repeat themselves, they are not subjected to relentless, ignorant queries that betray a lack of cultural sensitivity and an overwhelming ignorance that is anything but benign. Sexism, racism, misogyny, transphobia, Islamophobia; these all exert a daily toll that most ‘moderate whites’ do not experience or understand. As James Baldwin pointed out a long time ago, thanks to segregation, which continues today, most whites know nothing about their fellow black citizens; they do not know what they feel, how they feel, what they think or how they think. Offering political advice on  how to conduct protests to this community is an act of political hubris. So is offering political advice to those who, by their actions, act to reduce the daily intimidation experienced by people of color.
  4. Every single call to denounce the Antifa and their tactics abdicates political agency: if the Antifa do X, then our political opponents will do Y, and we can do nothing about it. There the discussion stops; there is no talk of whether there are any substantive countermoves to Y. The propaganda countermeasures that say that violence on ‘both sides’ will be condemned cannot be combated; the state’s crackdown–now justified because of Antifa’s violence–cannot be resisted. Our only option is acquiescence in the face of precisely those some propaganda countermeasures and the same state crackdown that are already visible today. Here, the moderate white’s imagination breaks down. He cannot imagine a political move in response; all is lost. The ‘other’ will act, and ‘we’ will simply be subject to their actions. We, through our actions and speech, can do nothing in response. This is not political critique; this is surrender.
  5. This is a country in the grip of an ongoing large-scale human rights violation and moral atrocity called ‘mass incarceration’; in this country, police can arrest, assault, harass, imprison, and kill people of color at whim with no accountability; this is the world in which ‘moderate whites’ want the antifa to be treated as morally equivalent to the marching Nazis and for those who seek to combat their violence. In this country, white supremacists control the government and its other branches; here, the moderate white would like the Antifa to keep on marching, keep on checking to see if the ‘moderate white’ approves of their tactics–the moderate white will continue to wait for the non-existent perfect protest, made at the right time, in the right place, in the right way.
  6. Here is a thought experiment concerning 1930s Germany: What would have happened if German Antifa had indeed come out swinging against the Nazis? What if every time the Nazis had held a rally, they had been greeted, not just with overwhelming numbers, but with a swift punch to the face every time one of them opened their mouths to pronounce their murderous ideology? What if that ‘violence’ had indeed overwhelmed the Nazis in Germany? Perhaps the problem with the violence directed against the Nazis in 1930s Germany was that there simply was not enough of it. Twelve years later, German cities had to be reduced to ashes.

10 thoughts on “Punching Nazis In The Face And Anti-Antifa Critiques

  1. Can’t give you a citation, but there are articles about how certain towns/parts of towns kept the Klan out, and it wasn’t with bumper stickers. Also, did you ever read about Vidal Sassoon after WW2 in England? He was part of a militarized “kick their teeth out” response to Brit Nazis harassing Jews.

  2. some people are always gonna believe that violence is the only solution, and give no credit to those who chose nonviolent tactics. But, I guess that gets no press, does it? Not so superhero glorious.

  3. anarchists and communists did, in fact, wage bloody street fights with brown shirts in Germany in the 20’s and 30’s. only once the Nazis had seized state power was the popular opposition crushed.

    1. Really, because I thought it was the centrist Social Democrats that capitulated to German imperialism, thus ushering in WW1, and after, when they did not purge the hard right once they were in power. As a student of History, no argument I ever read suggested that the hard-left gave rise to fascism. That is the dumbest shit I have ever heard

  4. The question that is left out is why there is such an increase of neo-nazis or conservatives who are siding with an extremist front of people? In Germany the factors were more so concentrated on the fact that the Weimar Republic couldn’t handle the debt. Socialists were blamed for losing the great war, and the hate toward the other ethnic backgrounds included a sentiment of those who desired a socialist government or a “weak Germany.” There was the Antifaschistiche Aktion, but there was a depression where people couldn’t depend on the ideals or politics of the socialists. The Prussian Junkers also played a role in aiding this transition of power, but what about the United States?
    Why is there such a reaction onto something that isn’t socialist or communist?

    Did postmodernism and the Frankfurt school effect a movement where many whites feel a retaliation in the need to preserve their dissipating culture against a misdirection of socialism and communism? As ambiguous as it sounds…our system protects the rights of all minor groups including the rich. And maybe I am paranoid and am seeing patterns, but on the grounds of recognition and distribution where Nancy Fraser critiques the groups within the system in which the abnormal or what isn’t fitting the norm is economically distributed unfairly, and to tackle it, one has to tackle a minority vs. a majority.

    To tackle the 1% class, the whites have all been slumped into one group, in many ways that is based on race and not ethnically backed. The distribution is then unequal, in all fields in which statistical analyses back up the data of economic well being, investment of future to uphold wealth, and more based on propagating the wealth of a norm that which is white.
    Now there are those who agree that this distribution is unfair in terms of privilege. So to distribute wealth via economic means such as increase percentage of a certain variance of workers in this sense. The problem with this is that there is a consequence in which the wealth distribution is disproportional when including whites and not class. Such problem creates an unintended consequence and feeds the flame of some propaganda that feeds those whose suspicions are irrational and incoherent…who have conservative values and align with those who deem this as an attack on equity.

    And with recognition and distribution, my analogy that plays in my head is a bunch of different cages with different captured groups that are small and large, all who will face the grand Roman arena. They will have a chance to attain glory and riches and become freed and gain wealth as new Romans. They sit in different cages with different numbers attempting to justify desert of the bread being passed around by their slavers.

    Human beings do not cling to politics and ideals of structures that do not feed them, which is a basic necessity of human beings. The recession and depression of Germany was a precursor to overturn the Weimar… How many anti-fascists would it take for every fascist with a starving country of Germany? Germany was in a very desperate position, and the Antifascists would seem like the oppressors, like a domineering force…and this could even be why more sided with fascism as a solution. Maybe the Weimar democracy couldn’t establish a solution and the Antifascists were attempting to defend a system that couldn’t adequately restore itself economically.
    The situation here is very different. And no I am not defending fascism. To challenge what is happening here in the United States, we have to think differently and get down to the various problems and challenges on the other side…the side of what is our ‘enemy.’ Before this battle becomes an existential battle, we must consider this from another angle.

  5. What a pathetic article. Did you just try to string together as many buzz words as possible to show how much you care and how terrible and unfeeling white people are?

    White people get it worse than anybody these days if you’re being honest. “People of color” segregate themselves most of the time and are almost always naturally against white people or anyone else who’s not like them. Just like every other race to ever exist. There is nothing wrong with that. It’s all this forced acceptance and the narrative that we’re “all the same” that causes all the friction these days.

    No one group is inherently superior to another but we are all in fact different and should revel in that. The infamous and ever shadowy “they” want zero cultural difference, zero pride in heritage because it makes people easier to control and market to. It leaves everyone feeling like they have no true identity and no loyalty to anyone except the companies who have brain washed you into thinking you need their newest iwhatever to fit in. It’s all garbage.

    Band together with people who think and act and feel the way you do, the best place to start is those who look like you do. Sorry if that offends you but not really. And do what you can for those people. Try to spread your “caring” too far and it will dilute to useless mutterings about this and that.

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