Well, that was fast.
First, a black bloc protester punched alt-right figure and white-nationalist sympathizer Richard Spencer during inauguration weekend, and some people defended this blatant exercise of violent censorship on the grounds that Spencer is a fascist and as such should not enjoy free speech right. (The Nation‘s Natasha Lennard called it “pure kinetic beauty.”)
Some weeks later, protesters at the University of California, Berkeley, smashed windows and set a large fire in order to prevent Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking on campus. Yiannopoulos is not as extreme as Spencer—he does not identify as a white nationalist or a member of the alt-right—but nevertheless holds a number of deplorable views and is closely associated with Breitbart and Trump-ism. Again, the black bloc said that defending people from fascism requires Yiannopoulos to be silenced by the mob.
The day after, similarly-aligned people tried to prevent Gavin McInnes from speaking at New York University. Black bloc protesters maced him as he left the building. McInnes, a former Fox News personality aligned with Trump and Yiannopoulos, certainly does make ugly and offensive statements. But was violence the best answer to those statements? Some say yes.
Today, I couldn’t help but notice this, from Mike Monteiro, a design expert and occasional writer:
Is he kidding? I can’t tell. No clarification was offered. I emailed and tweeted at him. He did not respond. If it’s a joke, at the very least he thinks it’s funny to entertain the idea.
So how’s that for goal-post shifting? First, we decide it’s okay to attack Nazis. Then we decide it’s okay to punch people who aren’t Nazis but are awful and sort of remind us of Nazis. Then it becomes okay to punch the people who say Nazis and Milo are bad but we shouldn’t punch them. You know those slippery-slope arguments people are always rolling their eyes at? Well, there’s the slippery slope for you. And we’ll be normalizing a whole lot of violence as we slide.
Meanwhile, the shut down of Yiannopoulos at Berkeley was so wildly successful that conservative students have been cowed into silence. Just kidding: They’re actually bringing Milo back to campus, and Alex Jones.
As I wrote previously, research shows us that violent resistance is not the most effective tactic for stopping Trump, and runs the risk of making the broader public more sympathetic to the kinds of bad policies the Trump administration would like to enact. Violence is the language that fascists understand best.