GUEST COLUMN: Punching Nazis threatens free speech for everyone

GUEST COLUMN by Page Landrum

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Source of nazi-punching meme, white-nationalist Richard Spencer was punched while being filmed, spawning hundreds of punch remixes.


When it comes to online discourse, I believe in a “Free Market of Ideas.” 

We have the freedom to offer and hear new ideas, both good and bad. When we meet people promoting bad ideas we have choices. We don’t have to buy into them. We can offer a competing good idea, or walk away in search of better ideas, or even barter with the seller. We can argue passionately, loudly, using all the wit and volume we can possibly muster. The vigorous, reasoned, and logical exchange of ideas thrives on the sound of free voices. It’s a free market, after all.

Shopping in The Market of Free Ideas should be a peaceful pursuit. There’s never a good reason to punch a vendor—no matter how noxious, vile, unpopular, or just plain bad their ideas. When shoppers attack or cheer the one who throws the punch, they invite retaliation in kind. 

Just as drone strikes fail to extinguish the jihad’s beliefs, nazi punching will forever fail to quash the bad idea, or the offensive speech. A fist does not erase words, it only breaks teeth and earns sympathy for the one bleeding.

In this way, the Antifa-inspired phenomenon punching nazis succeeds only in locking down discourse. Their opponent’s mind is closed like a vice against any competing idea, and worse, they’ve sacrificed the right to offer their competing idea with any legitimacy.

Since it’s seldom that anyone convinces a seller their idea is bad, it’s the fellow shoppers we should really concern ourselves with. The speech and acts surrounding an idea are like marketing which drives the value of the ideas being offered.

We can see that there are some who believe this historical moment calls for a battle of fists and bombs, but in a free society, words are the ammunition needed. Trump will continue enraging the nation with midnight tweets. Bannon, Spicer, and Conway are going to spew alternative facts. Cable news, HuffPo, BuzzFeed, The Guardian, et al. are going to confirm their readers’ bias, while FoxNews, Breitbart, The Daily Caller, Infowars will continue to peddle the fear that The End Times are upon us. You may feel the urge to throw things, break shit, and even mimic Madonna’s violent fantasies. Just don’t.

This is a battle of wits—an Armageddon of arguments. Trump is bombastic and bombastic sounds like bombs, right? Nope. He employs rhetoric, deploys distraction, and we fall for the verbal sleight of hand. If we let him, he’ll have us all twisted into Antifa knots and marching in Black Blocs. That’s just where he wants us.

When we reply with violence, we empower our opponent, and before you know it, we’ll have more pressing concerns in addition to Muslim Bans and Border Walls. Violence in the form of nazi punching gives legitimacy to any steps Trump or his proxies wish to take. Curfews? Martial Law? Let’s not find out. Don’t fall for it.

3 comments

  1. “Two wrongs don’t make a right
    But it sure does make it even.” ~ Public Enemy

  2. Dave Trotter · · Reply

    While I agree with the discourse argument, the argument regarding free speech in invalid. The reason why “nazis are punched” is because they have the ultimate free speech, and their views are not censored. Thus punching a nazi does not limit free speech.

    Let me put it in another way…let’s look at the Charlie Hebdo attack. Many argued that their “free speech was taken away”. But that is not true. They had absolute freedom of expression and speech, hence the reason why they were able to write an extremely offensive weekly magazine. They were never censored, thus their free speech was absolute. However, consequences to practicing that free speech are not protected by laws regarding freedom of speech and expressions. Other laws, such as you cannot be murdered, are to protect people.

    Unfortunately, Americans now misinterpret ‘freedom of speech’ that fits a narrative to their liking, kind of like the 2nd Amendment’s right to bear arms.

  3. Left Hook · · Reply

    There is no worse analogy for a progressive than a “free market,” especially of ideas. There is no magical place where people go to equally consider all points of view and choose the worldview that’s best for them, for the vast majority of people anyway. Plus of course, imagery of markets means we’re playing conservative capitalist terrain anyway.

    The proper stance towards Spencer is either the “no platform” strategy of suppressing and boycotting his message or, if you see him in the street and can get away with it, punching him in the face. There is no value in his point of view so stop with the false equivalency.

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