Originally posted on matthewoneil.org
Before I start getting into this post, there are a few things I want to emphasize:
1) If someone is in a position of being threatened, in whatever way that may come, they should have every right to defend themselves.
2) People come from different backgrounds, which means they have experiences that I likely have never faced and will not fully understand.
3) I acknowledge that I am a privileged individual that has not know such circumstances, and am incredibly fortunate as a consequence.
With all this being said, I want to proceed with the main thesis of this article: People shouldn’t be assaulted because they hold beliefs that you disagree with.
Let me clarify a bit, as I’m sure this already has caused some disagreement and upheaval. If there is a person who says things like “homosexuality is unnatural,” “whites are the superior race,” or “a woman’s place is in the home and not in the workplace,” you should not assault them. This includes punching. Because punching is assault. And assault is illegal. And illegal things can land you in jail, which means a criminal record, and will end up damaging more than just your opportunity to be free. It means being put into a criminal justice system that will ruin your life.
Let’s start with the obvious case, Richard Spencer. Spencer is well known for his white nationalist views; coining the label “alt-right,” giving speeches around the idea of “peaceful ethnic cleansing” and denouncing Jews, homosexuality, and other minority groups. His message is clearly one full of hate and violence, even attempting to use the words “peaceful” in his labeling of events. The SPLC has identified him as a white nationalist, a racist, and he should be recognized as such.
On the date of President number 45’s inauguration, Spencer was giving an interview when a masked man punched him in the face and ran off. He was later glitter bombed by another individual several months later outside the White House.
Confession: It’s hard for me to not feel some sense of satisfaction in these cases. Spencer is a vile human being who spreads a hateful message towards many groups of people that people hear and feel it’s okay to continue prejudicial behavior towards. And while I feel a sense of satisfaction, it, unfortunately, comes with the worry of “what are the consequences?”
Among the consequences, and shortly after the first assault, Spencer tweeted that if the police won’t protect the alt-right then they will protect themselves. The implication being protection with force and carrying weapons.
Recently, in Portland, Oregon, a man was shouting anti-Muslim slurs at two women on a train. Upset by what they were witnessing, several men approached the man to stop him. This man was carrying a knife and slashed their throats. The SPLC discovered that this man empathized with Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City Bomber, was pro-Hitler and Nazi ideologies, and anti-semitic. A spokesman from SPLC has emphasized that, while standing up for others can do wonders and diffuse a situation, it is best to leave any type of confrontation to the police.
Violent hate crimes are on the rise, as are hate crimes in general, leaving people feeling targeted and fearful since Trump’s inauguration. And since the very public, and viral, assault on Spencer it appears that people who hold the same, or similar, ideologies are now arming themselves.
The idea that assaulting racists/Nazis/what-have-you will make them fearful and put them into hiding is completely misguided and ill-informed. Spencer still has a platform and is still making it into news stories, even if only as a footnote. An Atlantic article was released recently talking about Spencer’s rise to power. A college professor confronted Spencer at her gym, and his name now has appeared in the Washington Post as the professor wrote an editorial about the experience. He was interviewed last month by CNN, and then a number of articles popped up saying the interviewer should have punched Spencer.
What I am ultimately trying to emphasize is, not only did assaulting Spencer (twice) not put him into hiding, it continued to make him a newsworthy individual. And someone that continued to get press, even if it was simply to assault him. Violence did not hurt Spencer’s movement (though I can’t speak for how it hurt him physically), it empowered it. And it armed it.
As an example (as one of my friends attempted to argue), violence did not solve the problem the Women’s Suffrage movement during the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. In fact, it hurt a lot more than it helped. It actually pulled attention away from the non-violence that the majority of the movement practiced and made all Suffragettes look violent and irrational.
Even the Civil Rights movement, while not eradicating the issues of racial inequality in America, found more success through non-violent measures. Andrew Young, an aide to Dr. Martin Luther King, said: “If we had started guerrilla warfare in America’s cities, if we had given in to terrorism in America, we could not have won but American could not have survived.”
Richard Cohen, an attorney with the Souther Poverty Law Center, wrote: “The Violence was being perpetrated by the oppressors, not the oppressed and that was an incredibly powerful message and an incredibly important tool during the movement.” And guess what? If we continue with the violence against people who espouse racist ideologies, they will be saying the same thing about those who attack them unprovoked.
One last thing to consider is this: How would we feel or respond if we were attacked for holding views others saw as detrimental? I am of the opinion that abortion should be a healthy medical procedure that is offered to any person who needs, or requests, one. However, there are people who view this procedure as murder. Protests happen regularly with people saying exactly what I have here, that abortion is murder. Do I deserve to be punched in the face, assaulted, because I want women to have this option? And because I know they will turn to it, regardless of whether it’s legally obtainable or not.
The bottom line is this: History has shown that violence is less effective than non-violence in producing positive, progressive outcomes. Yes, there has been violence, but it has accomplished little if anything if history is to be believed. Punching someone is assault and is illegal. Want to spend time in jail and ruin your life because you disagreed with someone? Assaulting someone will do that. Also, the racists and Nazis are arming themselves now and apparently aren’t afraid to take lives.
Don’t go to jail. Don’t lose your life. Don’t. Fucking. Punch. Nazis.