Opinion: Is punching a Nazi acceptable?

Stephen D’Abreau

Stephen D'Abreau

The answer is no. On several levels and in multiple ways, the answer must always be no; it is not acceptable to assault a person over their political views.

For those who are unaware, a white nationalist named Richard Spencer — who attended the inauguration of President Donald Trump — was assaulted on camera by an anti-Trump protester, many of whom were causing riots in Washington D.C. that resulted in over 200 arrests that day.

Spencer has, of course, many odious and distasteful views. Put simply, he believes that whites need to create their own “ethno-state” free of other races, and put an end to multiculturalism. He expounds ideas of “peaceful ethnic cleansing.” One very prominent position on how to accomplish this is calling for whites to all refrain from race-mixing.

Considering I am black and my biological mother and fiancée are white, saying I don’t agree with Spencer is a deep and unfathomable understatement.

Nevertheless, he has the right to free speech under the First Amendment. Furthermore, he isn’t advocating for violence, and therefore it is totally unacceptable that he should be subjected to political violence. I say this for three reasons: it’s wrong legally, morally and pragmatically.

Legally, he has the right to free speech and, no matter how hateful or stupid his ideas, he is free to articulate them. If it is okay to ignore or disrespect the rights afforded to one particular American by the U.S. Constitution, it opens the door for your own rights to be disrespected and ignored.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that even the hate speech of the Westboro Baptist Church is protected under the First Amendment. It is legally wrong to assault a citizen for their speech if that speech doesn’t directly call for violence.

Morally, violence is only acceptable if it is in response to an unprovoked attack. Spencer did not assault his attacker, or threaten him.

Rather, he was explaining what he thinks of Pepe the Frog—a surprisingly controversial meme. Emotionally hurtful language doesn’t justify an escalation to physical violence. When they go low, you can’t respond by going to the very bottom.

Lastly, if you think I am trying to be magnanimous or noble in my defense of Spencer’s rights, that is not the full truth. It’s also selfish.

If Spencer is allowed to take a moral high ground on the basis of his assault, his views can be expounded from that high ground. His ideas must be either ignored, or — through debate — destroyed and shown to be the garbage they are.

Spencer may be made martyr for his cause, inspiring other disgruntled Americans to join his presently miniscule movement. Political violence could even drive his ideas underground, letting them grow in the shadows of obscurity.

Personally, I’d rather humiliate Spencer in debate, letting his awful views die in the light of day. I am forced by my integrity to defend an awful person, so I ask that everyone justifying his assault or tacitly supporting it to stop. You are actively contributing to his success.

Stephen D’Abreau is a columnist, contact him at [email protected].