Stop fetishizing non-violence in the face of white nationalist terrorism

Image: YouTube screen capture

Let me start here, Matthew O’Neil is a wonderful friend of mine and when I ran the Danthropology blog he was a frequent writer for the site, even when we disagreed like we do here.

Since the original punch of Richard Spencer on January, 20, Matthew has been vocally against such actions, and have, as you likely noticed, strongly in favor.

Today, Matthew posted a blog titled: It’s Time to Stop Advocating for Violence.

I want to go through Matthew’s piece and look at his major claims. (Matthew is in italics).

Let me clarify a bit, as I’m sure this already has caused some disagreement and upheaval. If there is a person who says things like “homosexuality is unnatural,” “whites are the superior race,” or “a woman’s place is in the home and not in the workplace,” you should not assault them. This includes punching.

I agree here. These people are saying abhorrent things but are not calling for violence or eradication of these groups.

Because punching is assault. And assault is illegal. And illegal things can land you in jail, which means a criminal record, and will end up damaging more than just your opportunity to be free. It means being put into a criminal justice system that will ruin your life.

I disagree with this reasoning, however. As I said above the reasoning for not assaulting these people is because they are not calling for violence. Legality should not play a role in stop violence. Antifa and others are not trying to make it legal to punch to anyone, there is a reason they wear masks and run away after. They are more interested in doing what is right, not what is legal. And yes, they know the legal ramifications of their actions and are willing to take the risk.

Matthew then turns his attention to Richard Spencer, to which he does acknowledge that Spencer does advocate for ethnic cleansing but turns his worries to the consequences of his being punched and later glitter bombed.

Among the consequences, and shortly after the first assault, Spencer tweeted that if the police won’t protect the alt-right then they will protect themselves. The implication being protection with force and carrying weapons.

He is right that the alt-right is preparing for war, they are holding training courses and teaching each other how to make weapons to bring to rallies.

They are doing so, not to protect themselves from Antifa as a result from Spencer, but to protect what they think are “free speech rights.” They think that being deplatformed and challenged is a violation of their rights and feel the need to fight for these illusionary rights.

Unfortunately, it appears that when these neo-Nazi fascists show up armed in towns like Berkeley, California, Matthew doesn’t think people should intervene.

Recently, in Portland, Oregon, a man was shouting anti-Muslim slurs at two women on a train. Upset by what they were witnessing, several men approached the man to stop him. This man was carrying a knife and slashed their throats. The SPLC discovered that this man empathized with Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City Bomber, was pro-Hitler and Nazi ideologies, and anti-semitic. A spokesman from SPLC has emphasized that, while standing up for others can do wonders and diffuse a situation, it is best to leave any type of confrontation to the police.

This man, a white nationalist terrorist, was harassing someone, armed, and obviously ready to kill. Waiting for the police, who more often than not protect alt-right white supremacists, especially in Portland with a long history of systematic racism. Two heroes stepped up because it was the right thing to do. Standing by and doing nothing is to condone such violence. They lost their lives saving a woman who very well could have lost hers at his very hands.

You can’t “leave any type of confrontation to the police.” It’s unrealistic to think, with their history of racism, they would do much to help the Muslim victim and would instead aid the oppressor.

Sure, the little old lady on the train should probably call 911, but any able-bodied person should step in and defend the victim. Liberals ran to the store to buy safety pins after the election to show their solidarity and defense of such victims, and yet we should stand aside and let this harassment continue? Sorry, I can’t get behind that.

The idea that assaulting racists/Nazis/what-have-you will make them fearful and put them into hiding is completely misguided and ill-informed. Spencer still has a platform and is still making it into news stories, even if only as a footnote. An Atlantic article was released recently talking about Spencer’s rise to power. A college professor confronted Spencer at her gym, and his name now has appeared in the Washington Post as the professor wrote an editorial about the experience. He was interviewed last month by CNN, and then a number of articles popped up saying the interviewer should have punched Spencer.

What I am ultimately trying to emphasize is, not only did assaulting Spencer (twice) not put him into hiding, it continued to make him a newsworthy individual. And someone that continued to get press, even if it was simply to assault him. Violence did not hurt Spencer’s movement (though I can’t speak for how it hurt him physically), it empowered it. And it armed it.

In Spencer’s own words he was terrified after being assaulted, he planned to attend the Women’s March the weekend after the inauguration and didn’t show up out of fear for his safety. Secondly, Spencer was already a public figure who was punched while being interviewed by an international television station, but the message was sent to his followers. That message is that they are not safe to stand in the streets and spread their message of genocide.

Professor George Ciccariello-Maher, in an interview with Abolition Journal, had this to say about the punching of Spencer:

“I think what is being missed is the fact that this is a praxis, that this is not simply a performance—it’s not an expression of frustration. It’s an actual political practice that is constructive and creative. The effects that punching Nazis creates include, first, as Richard Spencer through his own absurd inability to think strategically has admitted, it has made his life a living hell already. He admitted that it’s making it very difficult for them to organize. He’s admitted, in other words, everything that many of us have said about how Nazis need to be treated and about this famous apocryphal quote from Hitler that says, ‘If someone had recognized early on and crushed our movement with the utmost brutality of violence, then we would never have been able to grow.’”

If we stand by and do nothing, we are making the streets a safe place for them to spread these ideas. We didn’t end slavery by standing aside, we fought slavers.

Now, this is where Matthew really loses me. He brings up the Civil Rights movement and it’s use of non-violence around Martin Luther King, Jr. Yes, King was non-violent, yet he refused to condemn violence and riots.

“It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard,” King said weeks before his assassination.

King did famously disagree with Malcolm X on the use of violence, but to say that violence didn’t play a huge role in the Civil Rights movement is simply naive. That ignores the amazingly important role Malcolm played in the movement, or the black panthers, or the thousands if not more, that gave their lives fighting against an abusive and oppressive police state.

Non-violence sounds wonderful, but it’s not always possible. Liberalism fetishizes non-violence.

Again, Ciccariello-Maher:

“We don’t have civil rights because of non-violent struggle convincing white people that they were wrong. We have civil rights – a very limited accomplishment, we should be clear – because non-violent movements that were militant, that were also engaged in self-defense, existed alongside openly combative and violent movements, and because people were rioting in the streets and rebelling and demanding justice and appealing to the ethical foundations of the country as well as pushing beyond those foundations to demand equality. Just as we’re having these conversations today in part, not because people suddenly realized that mass incarceration and police murder were wrong, but because people took to the streets of Ferguson and Baltimore aggressively, violently, burning things down, in an attempt to press forward this conversation.”

Sadly, Matthew’s version of King’s legacy is too revisionist and based in the accounts that actually took place. At the time King was accused of provoking violence through his tactics. King wasn’t an idiot, he knew he would provoke state violence and the community would respond. To call him totally non-violent is just incorrect.

Matthew closes with this:

The bottom line is this: History has shown that violence is less effective than non-violence in producing positive, progressive outcomes. Yes, there has been violence, but it has accomplished little if anything if history is to be believed. Punching someone is assault and is illegal. Want to spend time in jail and ruin your life because you disagreed with someone? Assaulting someone will do that. Also, the racists and Nazis are arming themselves now and apparently aren’t afraid to take lives.

I don’t think Matthew could be further from the truth here. Rights in this country have been historically taken, not given. MLK would have never accomplished what he did without the violence in the streets. He alone did not change minds of citizens and lawmakers on a podium alone. It was those in the streets. History shows that in fact, and as Ciccariello-Maher, while only a single source is an academic on such matters agrees, non-violence played a much smaller role in the success of the Civil Rights Movement than American history books want to acknowledge.

I understand that Matthew’s heart is in the right place, but it’s simply misplaced. In the last 2 weeks, 3 people have been murdered at the hands of white nationalist, neo-Nazis, and we cannot stand by idly at this happens or hope that law enforcement solve this problem for us. We have an obligation to defend entire communities or individuals from such violence.

Antifa and others like them are calculated self-defense against a rising threat of greater violence and mass extermination. We know the end goals of these fascist, neo-Nazi groups and we must stop them before it’s too late and before more lives are lost.

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