The internet went nuts over video footage released by the Australian Broadcasting Company of Richard Spencer, a well-known white nationalist, getting clocked in the jaw by a protester on Inauguration Day.
It’s become fodder for internet memes, one of the most notable being footage of the punch being replayed over and over to the beat of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.”
This controversy raises the question of whether it’s acceptable to use physical violence against those who perpetuate hateful ideologies.
First, let’s talk a little bit about Richard Spencer.
He is the president of the National Policy Institute and the man who coined the term “alt-right.” Before Inauguration Day, Spencer was recently in the public eye for shouting, “Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!” at the end of his speech at a National Policy Institute conference a few weeks before the 2016 presidential election.
This was met with Nazi salutes from some members of the audience, although Spencer claims they were in the spirit of “irony and exuberance.”
Spencer has also called for “peaceful ethnic cleansing.” One should note that the definition of ethnic cleansing in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is: “the mass expulsion or killing of members of an unwanted ethnic or religious group in a society.”
I was extremely satisfied when I saw the yet unnamed assailant sucker punch this white supremacist in the head. Upon first seeing the footage, images of Captain America, one of my favorite superheroes, punching Adolf Hitler in the face on the cover of the first issue of his namesake comic book series in 1941 came to my mind.
I’m sure that this person thought they were channeling their inner Captain America when attacking Spencer in the middle of an interview; heroic, daring, and most importantly, sending a message to bullies that their hateful words won’t be tolerated.
The high of feeling like doing the right thing can be invigorating, but with every high comes a low, and with every action comes consequences. The alt-right has turned Spencer into a martyr for its cause, placed a $4,000 bounty on the head of the anonymous attacker and labeled him or her a “domestic terrorist.”
Spencer posted an ominous tweet that warned of the alt-right taking measures to “protect themselves” if law enforcement won’t, alluding to a creation of an alt-right vigilante force. White supremacists aren’t people I want patrolling the streets.
Is it okay to use physical violence on people who perpetuate hateful ideologies? Personally, I wouldn’t do it, but I believe he deserved what was coming to him for spearheading a movement that calls for ethnic cleansing and segregation.
However, this video has had a major effect on the alt-right community, and the controversy may have strengthened them. Remember when Milo Yiannopoulos, another white nationalist figurehead, was banned from Twitter after racist abuse towards “Ghostbusters” star Leslie Jones? That resulted in an alt-right outrage against Twitter, with the political movement claiming that Twitter was teaming up with feminists to censor conservatives.
Give it a few more days and this incident will lead to the alt-right being the strongest it’s ever been.
The assailant may have achieved his goal. Spencer is embarrassed and afraid, and it prevented him from attending the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. last Saturday to spread more of his bigoted views.
Unfortunately, these movements function like a mythical hydra; cut off one head and more take its place. Spencer may be too afraid to take to the streets without reinforcements now, but someone else will, and this whole cycle will start over. Violence may be a nice temporary solution to problems, but it won’t work in the long-term, as alt-right reactionaries will continue popping up from the floorboards and through the air vents seeking their revenge.