Conflict Opinion

Is violence ever justifiable? One infamous punch

Richard Spencer

A Verwoerdian, an anti-fascist and one infamous punch.

Much has been said about the recent assault on Richard Spencer, the Verwoerdian founder of the alt-right, ranging from condemnation to admiration with a fair bit of mixed feelings splattered in between.

During an interview with NBC, Richard was struck in the side of the head by an Antifa activist with his face covered. The punch was swift, it was over in a flash. Blink and you’d have missed it. Yet as swift as it was, the debate around it has been protracted.

So, let’s look at the arguments. Firstly let us look at the condemner’s view. Much of those condemning this on social media have said things like “It makes us as bad as him!” and “Violence is never the answer!”. Quite idealistic and moralistic, but is it true?

On Spencer’s website, he published an essay entitled ‘Is black genocide right?’ which asked, among other questions, ‘What would be the best and easiest way to dispose of them [black people]?’. So, by virtue of the fact he published such an essay, it would be fair to assume he agrees (at least in part) with it. That being considered, is the man who punched him “as bad as he is”? I’d say no, not even close!

I’m not saying we should all go around smacking people we don’t agree with, that would be ridiculous and a serious attack on our democratic values. Freedom and democracy extends to those we do not agree with, like it or not that is what it means to be free and democratic. However, does ‘freedom of speech’ extend to Verwoerdian neo-fascists? Maybe. Does it extend to incitement of genocide? No.

Let’s look at the argument that violence is never the answer. Let me start by saying that I think such a notion to be naive and part of the liberal thinking that gave Nazism a free pass in the 20s and 30s. However, let us pretend for a moment that I don’t feel that way. Let’s look at the merits of the argument. Can we defeat neo-fascism through dialogue? There’s a time and a place for that and I feel that should be our primary focus.

I believe in a three-pronged approach to defeating the rise of neo-fascism: Educate, Agitate and Resist. The first two, particularly the first, are part of the dialogue approach. Fight fascist thinking with intellectualism. There’s a reason the Nazis burnt books – education is the enemy of fascism. The second is a slightly more forceful approach, still using dialogue but being more ‘aggressive’ about it. The third approach ‘resist’ is violent direct action like the kind demonstrated by the assault on Spencer. This approach should very much be a last resort, but it is an approach that is entirely appropriate in certain circumstances.

In terms of the last approach, I wish to look at the Stonewall riots. A series of spontaneous, violent protests against police raids on LGBT venues. It was the culmination of a period of increasingly oppressive police actions in which LGBT patrons were beaten, humiliated and arrested by police simply for being at an LGBT venue. It was an integral part of the American Civil Rights Movement and paved the way for significant gains in the fight for LGBT equality in the United States. It was also a fight won predominantly through the bravery of LGBT people of colour. This is just one example were violence as a last resort can be a legitimate means to ending oppression and winning equal rights for all; a goal I would hope all of us strive for

I want to look for a moment at the argument people make regarding racism and education. There exists a train of thought which believes that a lack of education is at the root of most racism. As well as poverty. The idea being that those who are poorly educated and/or poor are more likely to exhibited prejudices. While this argument certainly has some credibility, I can use Spencer as an example of how such a notion is not universal. Spencer isn’t poor, nor has he ever been so. He’s also reasonably well educated.

Let’s also look at his hero, the father of apartheid, Dr. H.F. Verwoerd. Verwoerd was a highly educated man, a once respected social science professor. Dr. H.F. Verwoerd was also one of the most abhorrently racist men of the 20th Century. During his time as Prime Minister of South Africa, apartheid atrocities like the Sharpville Massacre took place. Education is no guarantee of the obliteration of identity politics.

Richard Spencer is a Verwoerdian apartheid advocate, very much believing in white supremacy and pseudo-science around the biological inferiorities of the ‘black race’. In my humble opinion the third approach is entirely justifiable when such a man is talking freely to the mainstream press.

If people spent as much time condemning men like Spencer as they do condemning the man who punched him, perhaps neo-fascism wouldn’t feel as brave as it does today.