“Punch a Nazi” is not always the best solution
by Annie Muscat
Coverage of Nazi propaganda, race riots, and unjust violence floods the media. Millions are persecuted and their oppression is supported by baseless accusations. No, this isn’t Germany in 1939 amid the mass genocide of the Holocaust. Nor is this the 1960’s resurgence of the Klu Klux Klan during the U.S. civil rights movement. The year is 2017 and fascism is very much alive in the United States of America.
The election of Donald Trump is a direct backlash to Barack Obama’s presidency. America went from a black man known for his progressive ideals to a figure vocally endorsed by the KKK. This change has caused the U.S. to question its identity.
The sudden rise of the group now commonly referred to as the “alternative-right” has undoubtedly contributed to the empowerment of those who align themselves with the hate-mongering movement and to a sense of national disillusionment among many. According to the Southern Law Poverty Center, a legal advocacy group with an emphasis on civil rights, the alt-right focuses on the “preservation” of white identity and Western culture.
Understanding how the group emerged within the country’s present context and how members grew to accept its radical notions will help decipher how to counteract white nationalism and to ensure that these bigoted ideologies are properly condemned. Although interacting with white supremacists can be frustrating because their prejudiced standpoint involves little, if any, sound logic, it’s vital to confront them in a way that invalidates their power. The greater the perceived dominance of the alt-right, the more likely others are to join.
This past month, Charlottesville has served as a center for white supremacy rallies and Black Lives Matter protests, resulting in fatal confrontations. August 12th saw the assembly of alt-right members for a torch-lit “Unite the Right” demonstration on University of Virginia’s campus. The following day, these alt-right marchers were met with counter-protesters. Violence ensued, resulting in an announced state of emergency and the death of an anti-racism advocate.
When asked to weigh in on the matter, Trump insisted that “there is blame on both sides,” referring to both the alt-right and what he called the “alt-left.” This equivocal stance shows Trump’s reluctance to directly censure white nationalism, which has in turn emboldened the movement.
So why is this blatant and deep-seated hatred surfacing now?
Trump’s presidency provides a breeding ground for the outspoken alt-right with little fear of repercussion. After all, his campaign was rooted in xenophobic rhetoric and tasteless scare tactics. It goes without saying that Trump’s most fervent supporters, many of whom form the alt-right body, wholeheartedly agree with his radical attitudes towards immigrants, Muslims, people of color, and other marginalized communities.
How is the alt-right justifying their fascist propaganda? The group has defended their views on many faulty premises, especially behind the guise of patriotism and free speech.
The proposed removal of confederate monuments throughout the South sparked controversy and deepened tensions. To some, the statue removal represents recognition and denunciation of the United States’ racist legacy. White supremacists view it as unpatriotic and encroaching on “white history.” By deeming the removal of confederate monuments as “anti-American,” this suggests that the only relevant and respected experiences within the country are those of white people.
Hate speech does not constitute free speech. While free speech does entail the right to voice one’s disapproval of preconceived notions and systems, it does not allow for derogatory slanders and attacks on the basis of another’s race, religion, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, etc. Since much of the white supremacists’ rhetoric relies on ridiculing groups of people for such reasons, their message falls under the category of hate speech and shouldn’t be excused as an exercise of one’s fundamental rights.
Now, the tricky part, how do we subvert a movement in which irrational thought prevails? Careful argumentation will hardly penetrate the minds of individuals who use their privileged platform to further subjugate marginalized groups. So, what can be done?
Although physical and verbal aggression can seem instantly gratifying, continuously spewing “fuck Nazis” will only go so far. While complete pacifism may not be the answer either, exposing violence by meeting it with peace has the potential to be effective. A person who already attempts to justify fascism will wrongfully equate their hateful violence to self-defense. The alt-right is simple and will seize any means to amplify their radical position.
Arguably, the most crucial and long-term beneficial approach to the alt-right is to pinpoint the flaw in society which has conditioned white nationalists to think as they do. No one is born a fascist. Unjust hatred is fostered in an ignorant culture. If nothing is done to reform the environment which harbors such hatred, other generations of Nazis will inevitably follow.
Ultimately, there may not be a universally right way to deal with the illogical positions of white supremacists. This is not so much a political issue as it is a humanitarian crisis. If our nation becomes desensitized to the alt-right’s despicable acts and beliefs, there’s no telling what chaos will ensue.