Matt Furie, the creator of Pepe the Frog, weighs in on Richard Spencer getting clocked while talking about Pepe the Frog pic.twitter.com/Ga7nFLIUdR
— regular gem (@Choplogik) January 23, 2017
On January 20th, white supremacist/Nazi Richard Spencer was punched by a still unknown assailant on live TV while Spencer was tapping his Pepe the Frog pin. That and Captain America writer Nick Spencer’s negative response to the approval of the punching – and the negative response to his negative response – have somehow made this a comic book story. I myself have yet to make up my mind on this. German Nazis killed about 6 million people by gassing them in concentration camps, so punching seems like a fairly minor response by that count. Yet two wrongs don’t make a right. Either way, the normalization of neo-Nazis/white supremacists by their appearance on live TV is extremely troubling.
Anyway, here’s a classic point counterpoint, on the matter. (And I will close the comments down at a moments notice.)
Speaking for punching, we have Warren Ellis in his weekly newsletter:
I understand there’s been some confusion online as to whether it’s ever right to punch a Nazi in the face. There is a compelling argument that all speech is equal and we should trust to the discourse to reveal these ideas for what they are and confidently expect them to be denounced and crushed out by the mechanisms of democracy and freedom.
All I can tell you is, from my perspective as an old English socialist and cultural liberal who is probably way to the woolly left from most of you and actually has a medal for services to free speech — yes, it is always correct to punch Nazis. They lost the right to not be punched in the face when they started spouting genocidal ideologies that in living memory killed millions upon millions of people. And anyone who stands up and respectfully applauds their perfect right to say these things should probably also be punched, because they are clearly surplus to human requirements. Nazis do not need a hug. Nazis do not need to be indulged. Their world doesn’t get better until you’ve been removed from it. Your false equivalences mean nothing. Their agenda is always, always, extermination. Nazis need a punch in the face.
(And the argument that such assaults allow Nazis to get more attention doesn’t work so well when they were already going live on a national television network, because this is where we are now. This is how normalised their presence in our culture is.)
Glad we got that cleared up.
And now for the other side, A David Lewis, author of American Comics, Literary Theory, and Religion: The Superhero Afterlife:
On January 21 of this year, Liam Stack of The New York Times asked, “Is It O.K. to Punch a Nazi?”Captain America writer Nick Spenser, no relation to the white supremacist in question Richard B. Spenser, says no. People like immensely talented Warren Ellis say yes. In fact, quite a lot of comics professionals and friends have also said yes. Jack Kirby, reportedly, would have said yes – and did so repeatedly.
Had Stack asked this question on January 21st of 1934, I might have said yes: Punching one of Hitler’s Brownshirts or Mussolini’s Blackshirts seems fine. Certainly, if Stack had asked it after Kristallnacht and into the throes of World War II, I would have proudly said yes, it’s even one’s duty.
But, right now, in the first month of 2017 as we reel from the inauguration of Donald Trump, the answer for me has to be no. We can’t already be at that stage, past the tipping point, in resistance against the influence of the alt-right, the neo-Nazis, the white supremacists or white nationalists, call them what you will. Three days into the Era of Trump, we cannot already be at our last resort, namely violence.
But our heroes punch Nazis, don’t they? Fictional ones like Indiana Jones, Batman, or, most notably, Captain America definitely do, their wartime incarnations, at least. As Bleeding Cool points out, the 1980s version of Cap, written by J.M. DeMatteis, doesn’t. In Captain America #275, he says, that “these neo-Nazis are a vile breed – but if we deny them their rights, where do we draw the line?” Unlike the cover of Hitler getting a faceful from the Star-Spangled Avenger, I have yet to see this panel become a popular meme.
However, I even disagree with 1980s Cap. The problem isn’t “stooping to your enemy’s level” or “becoming the very thing you loathe.” In fact, in many ways, as confusing as this sounds, I agree more with Warren than I do ‘80s Cap. The self-described “old English socialist and cultural liberal” says:
Yes, it is always correct to punch Nazis. They lost the right to not be punched in the face when they started spouting genocidal ideologies that in living memory killed millions upon millions of people. And anyone who stands up and respectfully applauds their perfect right to say these things should probably also be punched, because they are clearly surplus to human requirements.
Agreed, Nazis are not to be applauded. And, without question, genocidal ideologies are abhorrent. No arguments there.
Nazis do not need a hug.
True. No fucking hugs.
Nazis do not need to be indulged.
Quite right, we can be totally deaf to them and disregard them, should we have that luxury.
Their world doesn’t get better until you’ve been removed from it. Your false equivalences mean nothing. Their agenda is always, always, extermination. Nazis need a punch in the face.
They do, they do, need a punch in the face. However, we shouldn’t give it to them. Not because we’ll be as bad as them or because they will have won, Emperor Palpatine-like, by our giving in to anger.
We don’t engage in violence against these hate-groups because it will give them the perceived license they seek.
(Also, let’s be clear: As much as Richard B. Spenser might deny the label, modern neo-Nazis would love to be equated with their wartime predecessors. Mistake Spenser for Hitler (or Goebbles or Göring or whomever), and they become elevated to new heights. They become inheritors of the Reich’s heyday rather than just, frankly, modern-day lunatics.)
David Schraub from the University of California-Berkley Law School writes for Haaretz that
for the time being, I don’t think I have to punch any Nazis. And that’s lucky for me, because I actually do like the norms that say we don’t respond even to detestable speech with violence, that we defeat noxious ideologies with better arguments and better politics rather than with brute force. If I’m forced to abandon those norms – and I agree there are times where they do not fit – that would itself show the gravity of the circumstances we’ve found ourselves in.
Punching a Nazi and, to a lesser degree, promoting online the punching of Nazis accedes power to them. It says that we are already at the point of no return: The United States has no course of action left but violence, since the homophobic, Islamophobic, ableist, antisemestic, sexist white supremacist must be in full control.
In the same breath as I mention sexism and heteronormativity, I nevertheless have to credit Maxim of all places to have summed it up well: “No one actually wins here.” They also note, “Violence is bad, white supremacists are evil” and there’s a vicarious, cathartic glee in watching Cap or Indy or whomever stomp Nazis. Because Nazis do deserve it. And we want to give it to them.
But we can’t. Not yet. Not just days after the inspiring Women’s March nationwide. Not moments after litigation has been filed against President Trump of emolument. Not while we still have other tools in our repertoire to thwart fascism before we have to allow that it is, indeed, here and in charge.
I’m not waiting until the eleventh hour, but the Doomsday Clock still has a goodly number of ticks left in it. Punch now, and the “alt-Right,” under perceived attack, will push harder for the Muslim registry. Punch now, and the repeal of Obamacare will fall quietly to page two as the headlines become about violent civilian fisticuffs. Punch now, and you lose the energy needed to bring clean water to Flint or humanitarian aid to Syria.
If things get bleaker, by January 21, 2018, I may end up saying yes, sure, it’s Nazi-punchin’ time. It’s time to meet force with force. Right now, though? It’s time to do the hard, virtuous work of resisting instead of fighting.
A. David Lewis is an Eisner Award-nominated comics studies scholar and Ph.D. in Religious Studies. His co-edited publications include Graven Images: Religion in Comic Books and Graphic Novels, Digital Death: Mortality and Beyond in the Online Age, and Muslim Superheroes: Islam, Comics, and Representation.
And some tweets, collated by Lewis: