Condoning, applauding, or giggling over the idea of punching people in the head whose political positions, however abhorrent, we don’t agree with is so wrong I am not even sure why it is necessary to talk about it. However, given the events of this weekend, it seems we have to talk about it.

“Is it OK to punch a Nazi for what he said?” is a question bouncing around the media and the Internet after an attack on Richard Spencer following the Trump inauguration. Spencer created the term “alt-right.” On video, he was explaining the meaning of Pepe the Frog, a silly cartoon figure somehow adopted as a mascot by the racist, far-right fringe movement Spencer promotes as anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, and anti-feminist.

The punch was captured on video.

There are over 4,500 comments on YouTube alone, and most condone the punch. The most popular format is to say, “I don’t condone violence but…,” and then go on to condone violence. Another popular comment is to mention Hitler, WWII, and the defeat of the Nazis, and somehow see the video as a part of that 70-year-old global struggle fought between nation states.

The main thrust of commentary is that violence is now justified as a response to speech by the right some do not care for. More than a few people have suggested punching someone in the head is, in fact, a form of protected free speech itself, and others seem to think whatever they label as “hate speech” is a crime. Others mouth stuff along the lines of “the end justifies the means.”

A popular meme is to put different songs, many calling for violence themselves, behind the punching video. Jon Favreau, a former speechwriter for Barack Obama, tweeted, “I don’t care how many different songs you set Richard Spencer being punched to, I’ll laugh at every one.”

Where to begin?

  • If violence against those exercising their First Amendment rights (speech, religion, etc.) can ever be condoned, why wouldn’t that also condone tearing off a woman’s hijab, or lynching someone? See how the “violence is justified” argument can work?
  • There are no laws against hate speech. Details here.
  • Punching people is not a form of protected speech. Expressed legally in a number of ways, Supreme Court Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes stated, “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.”
  • Free-speech protection covers all the things people want to say, from the furthest left to the furthest right. You can burn a flag, display a nude body, fill a fish tank with urine and call it art, put on a KKK uniform and march past a black church, and say whatever Richard Spencer was saying. It means I can write this article.
  • The First Amendment and the broader traditions of free speech are there to protect the most challenging awful mean terrible hateful racist sexist anti-American garbage people can spew out. The protections are not there to cover the easy stuff most people agree with (though they do). That is the whole point.
  • The ACLU has defended the right of both Nazis and the KKK to speak.
  • It saddens me greatly to see even one person suggest violence as a proper response to the exercise of our precious right to free speech.

It saddens me even more when every one of us cannot see thinking you are opposing fascism by beating up those who ideas you disagree with.

John Lewis, Barack Obama, hell, any Democratic politician, waiting on you to denounce this.