CLASH OF COMMENTS: Is violence against fascists a serious issue?

White nationalist Richard Spencer. Image: Wikipedia

YES – Chloe Kent

Meet Richard Spencer: figurehead of the alt-right movement, with a haircut snatched straight from the Peaky Blinders set, clad in what could reasonably be your grandfather’s
clothes. On 20 January, he was punched in the face when giving an interview in Washington, just before we got to hear him finalise his viewpoint on Pepe memes.

Spencer was not trampling a person of colour underfoot as he gave the interview. He was merely stating his viewpoint – one which most will consider abhorrent, but one which he is, regrettably, allowed to express. This is a man who has publically advocated for
a “peaceful ethnic cleansing”, and forced sterilisation of racial minorities. He is, in short, a grotesque human being. But is it really okay to launch an unprovoked attack on him for simply talking?

To act with violence towards Richard Spencer is to make a statement that his opinions and
the opinions of those like him will not be tolerated. The alt-right has moved out of the arena of debate – with Trump’s far right policies. This is not theoretical anymore. This is actually happening.

However inelegant the execution, the assertion that genocidal views are unwelcome cannot be equated with its opposite. Causing physical harm towards an individual is wrong, but the schadenfreude of seeing a Nazi in distress is inescapable. What concerns me more than Spencer’s wellbeing is that this event has sired a discussion over whether violence against hateful, prejudiced people is okay, when this discussion should be over why such prejudices are becoming so prevalent in the first place.

The spike in white supremacist viewpoints is curating a climate where radical right wing
views are not exactly supported, but at least begrudgingly accepted as a thing. Why are individuals like Richard Spencer even being asked for an interview? It seems that people
have troubled themselves with the ethics of his being punched in the face, when they should be more concerned with the fact that they even know he exists.

Many are condemning the actions of Spencer’s assailant, but it feels a fitting punishment over the venom he’s been repeatedly permitted to spew. ‘Talk shit, get hit’, and all that. The real villain of the piece feels more like society, who repeatedly fails to punish the bully,
and then condemns the abused for lashing out.

Thus, my issue is more with those who invite individuals spewing hatred to speak than those who respond with aggression towards them. The best way to combat the rise of those claiming that white people have higher IQs than other races is to steadfastly ignore them,
rather than approach them for comment.

I’m not advocating no platforming here, nor that those with more right wing opinions should be silenced, while lefty liberal softies like me should take to the streets with a megaphone every time we have an opinion. But Richard Spencer expresses a school of
thought that I just happen to find disagreeable. He thinks Hispanic and African American people are genetically disposed towards criminal behaviour. Why are we listening to a thing he has to say?

NO – Rory Kelly

On the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration, Richard Spencer, a white nationalist who claims to have coined the term alt-right, went into the streets of Washington DC to celebrate the victory of his chosen candidate. Spencer thinks that he is having a good year. He insists that Trump’s victory represents the assurgency of his movement and on his Twitter feed describes the policy of trying to build a wall along the Mexican border as the white race’s “will to survive.”

While being interviewed in DC, describing the jump in the notoriety of his organisation, Spencer was punched hard in the side of the head. The New York Times noted that this video has sparked a debate about whether violence against fascists is acceptable. Although
various publications have claimed that this is a fair response to the rise of the far right, others are often keen to focus not on the act of violence but on the ideology of Spencer. In other words, the violence against Spencer pales in importance when compared to the rise of his movement. But to miss the importance of the rise of violence in our political culture is hugely dangerous.

As Orwell said, writing in his column as early as the 1940s, ‘fascist’ is not a word that we can be trusted with. Even Churchill claimed that his electoral opponent Clement Atlee would require a “Gestapo” to implement his policies. It’s too easy to take somebody’s views and cut the aspects of their ideology that are somewhat authoritarian, and attach the label
‘fascist’ to it. A few months ago, when there were murmurings of Tommy Robinson appearing at York, those who objected did not reach for the usual arguments about offensive speech, or the risk of creating an unsafe environment on campus. Instead, they insisted that one can be in favour of freedom of speech, but have a policy of no-platforming fascists. But the problem is that Robinson, while holding a clear prejudice against Muslims, is not a fascist. He is not in favour of an authoritarian dictatorship, the repression of freedom of speech, or the integration of the military with the government.

A conviction that fascism is wrong seems to have led to a widespread insistence that violent antifascism not a huge problem. The Guardian and website Vox have released articles and videos saying that we should consider this a viable option. And this is why we
should take this argument seriously. The moment civilised individuals grant a concession to the argument that violence has a place in political debate, they have flung open their doors and admitted the case for censorship.

Someone has to define what is and is not fascism and even during the Second World War this is a responsibility that has been abused. Now the so-called Anti-Fascists want to raise the stakes of our ability to define this term. If our historiography, our politics, our philosophy are slightly off, we could be condemning any shade of right-winger to being silenced by force. Even worse, should this policy move from the streets of DC into the proverbial corridors of power, and become written into policy (as if that’s never happened
before), this would of course be abused.

Leave a comment