I see all sorts of well-meaning and otherwise intelligent and thoughtful people applauding neo-Nazi Richard Spencer being punched in the face. Here’s why this is not something to celebrate:
Punching this fool validates all of his victimhood narrative. It helps him recruit, and it strengthens the resolve of existing members. It is a gift to them. The ideology of the “alt-right”, like all violent extremist ideologies, is rooted in delusions of grandeur and delusions of persecution. Said delusions cannot exist in a vacuum. They absolutely depend on outside events to seem valid for the person experiencing them. Typically, events which aren’t actually threatening are spun to seem so, i.e. the Black Lives Matter movement. But when mouthpieces for white supremacist ideology are physically assaulted on camera, it becomes a powerful validation of their victimhood complex: in their minds, plain evidence that white people are indeed under attack, and motivation to spread a call to violent response with renewed zeal. This “punch felt round the world” was a great boost to the “alt-right” cause. If you aid and comfort neo-Nazis, which is exactly what punching them in the face does, you are no better than they are. Real life isn’t a fucking Quentin Tarantino movie.
When I was a neo-Nazi skinhead over 2 decades ago, I got beat up as often as I beat anyone else up. It never made me any less violent. In fact, we used to pile into vans and drive from Milwaukee to Chicago for the thrill of brawling fellow devotees of romantic violence like the guy throwing the punch in this video. We lived for violent opposition. We thrived on it. Violence of any sort, no matter how it may be rationalized, is the bread of hatred. We put mustard on that shit and gleefully gobbled it up and clamored for more.
Back in the 1930s, there were gangs of communists who routinely brawled the Nazi brownshirts in the streets of Germany. Their contemporaries would have us believe that if there were more communists who brawled harder than they did back then, that the Holocaust wouldn’t have happened. As a former neo-Nazi, I can attest to how important it is to have violent opposition in order to maintain the hatred necessary to hurt people. The communist gangs helped Hitler’s National Socialist party come to power not only by galvanizing their own members, but more importantly by serving as a crucial ingredient in the overall atmosphere of fear and loathing that led the German general public to look to the Nazi party for order. After World War II, the cycle of violence continued as the communist regimes of China and the USSR murdered exponentially more people than the Nazis did. Looking back at the 20th Century, we have decades of history to teach us that the poisonous idea of violence bringing about a better day is not only false, but deadly on a genocidal scale. We need a new approach today.
My life changed because people demonstrated the courage and inner peace necessary to defy my hostility rather than reflect it. They were not subject to my actions, as the person who hit Spencer was subject to his. People who I had claimed to hate — a Jewish boss, a Lesbian supervisor, black and Latino co-workers — refused to lower themselves to my level, instead choosing to model the way that we human beings should treat each other. Examples of kindness, compassion and forgiveness changed the course of my life, not a punch in the face.
Discussing the sadly controversial idea of refusing to fuel the cycle of violence, we hear things like, “What are we supposed to do, HUG the Nazis?!”. Fair question, and totally understandable. Millions upon millions of people were murdered by adherents of the Nazi ideology during the 20th century. The neo-Nazis of today do indeed espouse the same despicable rhetoric that inspired the Holocaust. But what if we did hug them? What would prove Richard Spencer wrong? What would prove his point? This miserable man’s entire ideology is based on the premise that white people are victims, and as he’s going on about it, someone comes and blasts him in the grill. Can anyone honestly say that that hurt him? It’s exactly what he’s trying to provoke. Now his point is proven to all the other disgruntled white people, and they’ll be falling all over themselves to join up with him, who they see on every possible media outlet now, thanks to the punch-thrower who served Spenser’s purpose. The “alt-right” poster boy would be wise to pay masked someones to punch him on camera if he couldn’t get it for free. That’s how much it helps him.
Now, imagine instead if Ken E. Nwadike Jr, aka the Free Hugs Project guy came up in place of the puncher and gave poor oppressed Richard a great big hug as he was elaborating how savage black people are. What kind of effect would that have had? Think Spencer would have shared that video? A hug would have utterly destroyed every aspect of the violent extremist narrative. Spencer and anyone on Earth who remotely sympathized with him would desperately try to pretend that the hug never happened. Human warmth and compassion has the capability to crush everything the “alt-right” is about… with a hug.
…and while that is a nice warm fuzzy kumbayah thought, it’s also a tactical one. It is a course of action that devastates the opponent, which is the disease of hatred itself, not the human beings stricken with it. If our great human race is to have any chance of reversing the ongoing cultivation of fear and ignorance that both the Right and Left poles of the political spectrum are busily engaged in, we need to think tactically as well as spiritually.
If you don’t approve of neo-Nazis, find the spiritual strength to demonstrate how human beings should treat each other, instead of pouring gas on the fire that their hatred depends on to exist.
Indeed, the hug is mightier than the fist.
From the age of 17 Arno Michaelis was deeply involved in the white power movement. He was a founding member of what became the largest racist skinhead organization in the world, a reverend of self-declared Racial Holy War, and lead singer of the race-metal band Centurion, selling over 20,000 CDs to racists around the world. Today he is a speaker, author of My Life After Hate (http://mylifeafterhate.com), and works with Serve2Unite, an organization that engages young people of all backgrounds as peacemakers (www.serve2unite.org).