Punching Nazis Is the First Refuge of the Incompetent

…and then a Nazi gets punched in the face, and everyone pops a boner.

Let’s choose one voice from the chorus of hosannahs. Let’s see what soi-disant free-speech crusader Warren Ellis has to say:

yyellis These are terrible things to say. This is all terrible.

I understand that Warren Ellis is not an American and may have no allegiance to a foreign constitution, but let’s never lose sight of the fact that the Nazi who got punched in the face was protected by the First Amendment (just like me!) and that a guarantee of free speech that only protects popular speech is meaningless. As every genuine free-speech crusader has pointed out, popular opinions do not need to be protected.

Another frequent talking point for people who support free speech is the slippery slope argument. You know how it runs: First they came for the Nazis, and I didn’t say anything etc. But slippery slope is often counted as a fallacy. What reason do we have for believing that just because we support punching Nazis for their beliefs that we will soon start supporting punching other people?

Well, Warren Ellis breaks all records by traveling down the slippery slope himself in the course of a single paragraph. First he wants to punch Nazis in the face. Next he wants to punch people-who-don’t-think-Nazis-should-be-punched-in-the-face in the face. “Surplus to human requirements.”

I understand the desire to punch people who disagree with you, but I also understand why this is bad. Perhaps you can make an argument that Nazis are a special case of people-who-disagree-with-you; but you probably shouldn’t follow it with “Also I want to punch in the face literally anyone who disagrees with me on this issue.”

And then there’s the slippery term Nazi. Richard Spencer (the face punchee) does not consider himself a Nazi. You may argue that he’s prevaricating, and he’s a Nazi in all but name, but now you’re making two controversial statements: 1. “I should be allowed to punch Nazis.” 2. “I get to determine who’s a Nazi.”

You may notice that we have spent the last half century being extremely careless about whom we call a Nazi. Odds are that you have called Trump a Nazi at least once; xxnazitralthough I find Trump personally and politically repugnant, I have to concede that there are important differences between him and a Nazi, which only start with his support for Israeli hardliners and pledge to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. The Nazis manipulated Russia, not the other way around. Trump, don’t forget, thinks that his opponents are Nazis. I am aware of all this, but I have probably called Trump a Nazi myself.

Eight years of subway graffiti persuaded me that an awful lot of New Yorkers thought George W. Bush was a Nazi. The Comics Journal dressed Dave Sim as a Nazi (why can’t I find a picture of this?). This Jewish blogger mentions the time he got called a Nazi (the reason “will make your jaw drop”). None of these people are actual Nazis.

In fact, I would challenge the average American to name one defining tenet of Nazism aside from racism. I would wager that the answer would be something about boots. For most of us, Nazi is just a vague term for a person on the we don’t like, probably but not necessarily one who is to the right of us.

So we have two facts in play here. One is that no one’s really sure who a Nazi is (but is nevertheless happy to sling the label around willy nilly). The other is that we believe we should be allowed to punch people who are labeled “Nazis.” Do you see how this might be dangerous?

I wrote just last month about a guy who thought America and Britain were in some sense the moral equivalent of Nazi Germany. Do you want to put this fellow in charge of who gets punched in the face?


A punchable offense.

Even Ellis’s specific criteria for punchability—that you “los[e] the right not to be punched in the face” by “spouting genocidal ideologies that in living memory killed millions upon millions of people”—is hopelessly vague. Let’s see if we can name another genocidal ideology that in living memory killed millions upon millions of people. How about communism (still the leader in murder of the last hundred years)? Are you going to punch John Steinbeck, John Garfield, and Paul Robeson in the face? If you’re allowed to punch all Nazis and all communists in the face, especially in the loose way both terms have been bandied about, then you get to punch almost the entire middle of the twentieth century.

OR: A lot of my friends consider capitalism to be a genocidal ideology that in living memory killed millions upon millions of people. Heck, a lot of my friends consider “the American way” to be a genocidal ideology that in living memory killed millions upon millions of people. This is a lot of punching!

Basically, anyone who disagrees with me to a sufficient degree I should be allowed to punch in the face. I will deign to allow minor disagreements slide, but watch your step because if you stray too far from my party line WHAM! Among the unforgivable crimes (remember, Ellis explicitly lists this one) is disagreeing with me about whom I am allowed to punch.

Yes, yes, I know Indiana Jones and Captain America punched Nazis. I’m well aware of the work of Indiana Jones and Captain America. But they punched Nazis for killing people. They punched Nazis who were actually murdering people, not some crackpot internet troll who says things we don’t like. When we agreed that we would protect yycap1unpopular opinions from violence, we did not also agree to allow Hitler to use the Ark of the Covenant to conquer Europe. That’s not part of the Bill of Rights. Notice that Captain America did not break into a German prison to beat up Hitler for writing Mein Kampf. Yes, Cap punches Hitler, but look at the picture: The Nazis are shooting at him!

I have said many unpopular things in my life; I have also been punched in the face on numerous occasions. I understand that you want to punch me in the face again, and am resigned to the fact that someday you will; but I am annoyed that as you do it you will be thinking you are somehow a good person.

Here’s an unpopular thing I’ve said: I believe that most people tremble under a continual urge to hurt others, and are desperately searching for a justification, however tenuous, to let them act out this fantasy, or at the very least live vicariously through the violent actions of others. And it all sounds like crazy talk…

…and then a Nazi gets punched in the face, and everyone pops a boner.


  1. This is all spot on, especially the final two paragraphs.

    What happened to all the people misquoting Voltaire? When did the popular way to virtue signal become cheering on the physical assault of white nationalists, literally the most marginalized and despised group in America, with the possible exception of child molesters? There are fewer self-identified white supremacists in America than transgendered people.* There’s your oppressed minority group.

    Here’s a good rule of thumb about hurting someone because they are oppressing you and have power over you that they are abusing: if you are able to hurt them, then they don’t have that power over you. If there are people who actually have the power to oppress you, you won’t be punching them without negative consequences and then receiving a ticker tape parade for your bravery. Women who think they are fighting creeps and the patriarchy are mostly just publicly shaming lonely, low status men who were socially awkward in their attempts to talk to women. People who think they are fighting against racists are mostly just bullying poor, blue collar whites who have the gall to engage in one tenth of the identity politics that any other ethnic group in this country regularly engages in. People who think they are standing up against homophobia are actually just picking on weird religious people and forcing them to bake cakes for gay weddings.

    “All those losers you’ve always wanted to make fun of … they’re actually terrible people! You’re a hero for bullying them!” Hurting people while being self-righteous, indeed.

    *This number is even harder to find than the caricature of Dave Sim in the Nazi outfit (how is that not online?). I went through the Southern Poverty Law Center website trying to add up all the members of the various groups/ideologies they have which is noisy and almost certainly double counts (also they don’t have numbers for many things) , but stopped when it became clear that it was never going to reach a million people, which is thinkprogress’s doubtlessly exaggerated number of transgendered people in America.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think there are plenty of exceptions to this rule, because power is always local and it’s possible to oppress someone in the short term who will oppress you in the long term—but it’s a very useful heuristic to start with.


  2. This is a very important issue that has been tested time and time again. In examining this also important to maintain a profound rhetorical cleavage between the terms “right” and “legal” as they should not be interchangeable in this argument. Whether it was “right” (socially, morally, emotionally) to strike this man is a subjective matter, how can it not be? As to it being “legal.” the answer is an explicit and unambiguous no. Since the days of The Unites States Supreme Court case of National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie (I can’t believe I have to keep mentioning this case), there has been case law explicitly stating that Nazis are entitled to Equal Protection Under the Law in The United States, and not only does this include First Amendment protections but it also means you can’t just go up and punch a person because they are engaging in Nazi speech, rallying, wearing one of those stupid little arm-bands, whatever.

    This type of excusism for decriminalizing physical violence poses a serious danger to modern pop-culture fandom as well. As sensitivities give way to base, zero-sum reactions fulled by cognitive dissonance, the “OK to punch” list is going to get disturbingly long disturbingly quickly. It’s already got cosplayers (yes COSPLAYERS) in its potential cross-hairs:

    Liked by 1 person

    1. To be fair, I may have said myself, “If I see one more Deadpool cosplayer at this con, someone’s getting punched.”

      I agree the legality is unambiguous. Many people I’ve talked to about this issue seem to think it should remain illegal to punch the nazi, but that people should punch the nazi irregardful, a weird way of looking at law to my lights.

      Your difference between legal and moral perhaps maps closely to the difference between “can” and “should” outlined here.


  3. Reblogged this on My 2017 Personal Renaissance and commented:
    Antifa is fucking stupid. Period. That is all.


    1. I do consider myself opposed to fascism; I would say that my desire to keep speech free, and to end politicized violence in discourse, are themselves anti-fascist desires.


      1. Opposing fascism on principle is one thing — that’s a political opinion. Everyone is entitled to hold and argue their opinions and views. Part of what makes this nation great.
        I also desire to keep speech free and to see an end to political violence. Not everyone right-of-center is a nazi or fascist by any stretch and antifa is vile and odious. But even with words people try to shut others down. Instead of hurling “nazi” or “fascist” as an epithet to stop all further thought and prohibit discussion, we should be having those conversations … WHY is “fascism” so verboten, so widely considered wrong. What is it really, and how can we get sane discourse back into the public square? #MARDGA! Make American Rational Discourse Great Again. ;-) Cheers.

        Liked by 1 person

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