On January 20, 2017, President-elect Donald Trump became (shudders) President Donald Trump in front of a meager audience of his supporters, many of who refer to themselves as the “alternative right,” or “alt-right.”
Given the alt-right’s blatant anti-immigration, anti-black, anti-lgbt+ and pretty much anti-everything-that-has-do-with-human-decency policies, it should come as no surprise that critics have correctly unmasked the alt-right, like Velma at the end of every Scooby-Doo mystery, as just the same old neo-Nazis who have reinvented their image to appeal to a new audience.
For the most part, the normalization of the neo-Nazi has worked though, as seen by the number of articles praising their hipster-esque aesthetic; forebodingly, critics seem to be forgetting that under the thin lips and quaffed hair lies a human being that advocates the extermination and genocide of millions.
For those who would find themselves left out of a Hitlerian wet-dream, the election season has not only been frustrating, but also frightening. That’s why, when earlier on Inauguration Day footage was found of a neo-Nazi being punched in the face (he also gets punched again later that day), marginalized peoples rejoiced at the 2017’s newest (and arguably greatest) meme of the year.
The subject of said meme is Richard B. Spencer, the man who coined the term “alt-right” and does not want to be referred to as a Nazi, as it is a “historical term.” For the sake of calling a spade a spade, this neo-Nazi is exactly that—a neo-Nazi. No matter how much Spencer wants to dress up the term, he is, at the end of the day, an anti-Semitic white nationalist.
In his on-camera interview, while he explains the nature of the “Pepe meme” and how it has evolved into a hate symbol for his own use, Spencer also discusses his anti-Semitism. However, just as he’s getting into his discussion, a hero of the people, a man of justice, the messiah of all that is good and right in this world, emerges from the right of the screen to deliver Spencer a swift and sweet fist to the jaw. The vigilante who attacks Spencer is masked in all black, and no one has yet to discover his identity, though neo-Nazis are trying their darndest to unmask him (with all intentions to gently talk to him, of course).
The video has quickly become the hottest meme as of late, with remixed tracks of Phil Collins and Gwen Stefani played in time with the punch; there are even memes with Fall Out Boy, DMX and that “rave song that plays on ‘Spongebob Squarepants’ when the jellyfish are partying at his house.” With the political climate favoring the radical right as of late, the populist jawbreaker is certainly a meme the people deserve.
However, there were a number critics appalled by the violence in the video who took up for Spencer’s defense. These are the same people who say violence does not beget violence, an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, or whatever other cliché proverb they heard in elementary school that makes them feel like they’re contributing to the conversation.
These are the same people who will misquote Martin Luther King, Jr., when faced with snuff videos of police murdering black people. They’re also the same people who will ignore the rising body count of trans women killed annually and find more value in an unborn bundle of cells than the welfare of children born into lower-class neighborhoods. Yet, it is this video of a white supremacist that makes people stand up and say, “Hey! This violence isn’t right!”
And to a degree, it certainly is an agreeable statement that senseless violence should be avoided. No one is saying let’s start murdering people we suspect of being Nazis.
However, Spencer, the very person people are sticking up for, would not agree. He and other neo-Nazis do not believe in a nonviolent approach. In fact, they praise a man who committed one of the most atrocious violent crimes in human history. Spencer and friends do not see most people as human. They think the world would be a better place if everyone who was different than them was dead. There’s no arguing that neo-Nazis are the lowest of the low.
Yet, people will still defend them. Even when they were celebrating this woman for hitting a Nazi with her bag. Or this guy whose entire career is punching Nazis. But then again, Spencer doesn’t want you to see him as a Nazi. He’s “alt-right,” which means he dresses in clean suits and laughs at silly memes just like everyone does.
There is no room for sympathizing or reasoning with a white supremacist. To tell marginalized groups how they are allowed to express their emotions and their oppression, especially in the face of their oppressor, is gaslighting. When someone sticks up for the abuser, it’s like telling the victim that their pain doesn’t matter, and that what they’re going through isn’t that bad.
It’s time to stop putting the feelings of the abuser over those of the abused. These neo-Nazis must not feel like their cause has any elbowroom to be taken seriously, or that society will make a safe space for people to come out and spew hate. That is, after all, Spencer’s intention when he goes on screen to have mild-mannered interviews while denouncing neo-Nazis. He knows that what he’s saying isn’t acceptable, but he dresses it up in respectability politics to fool people into thinking his group is a legitimate, rational movement.
So, is it okay to punch people who don’t agree with you? Of course not. But this isn’t a simple conversation of whether you like Coke or Pepsi. This is an issue of human decency. People who willingly and knowingly subscribe to a doctrine that has gotten millions killed and actively dehumanizes marginalized groups are another matter. It isn’t solved with a punch or elbow to the face, of course. It takes a length of legislation to amend an unjust system. However, it sure as hell is funny.