Some interesting things happened this past weekend. In Washington DC, cops kettled and then arrested 230 or so black bloc protesters (including embedded journalists), all of whom have been slapped with (rarely before used) felony rioting charges despite no significant damage done. In Washington state, a fascist supporter of Milo Yiannopolis brought a gun to the rally, started picking fights with the counter-prostesting antifas (a term describing antifascist activists), and when he felt like he had an excuse that fascist shot a medic, then was allowed to walk free by Seattle Police Department while his victim lay near death in the hospital. Finally, across this country and the world there were a ton of different-but-related Women’s Marches, each one providing a reminder that Trump is historically unpopular, even as he has aggressively rolled back countless government services that took decades to set up.

Of course, a lot of people ignored all of this to clutch their pearls because some antifa punched an actual honest-to-goddess nazi.

“How are we any better than them if we respond to their speech with violence?” was asked by countless middle-of-the-road types in the immediate wake of the incident, as if advocating genocide were just another meaningless political position to be humored. None of these nay-sayers bothered to wait to find out that the nazis responded by putting a bounty on the puncher’s head, an escalation which, at the very least, seems relevant to the question of the moral utility of violence when fighting against people whose entire ideology involves seizing political power (check) and then using it to drive people like me to the margins (check) before having us murdered by agents of the state. Are we really supposed to wait until they’re rounding us up in the streets under color of law to fight back against the normalization of these sorts of opinions? Would it not be better to head off those internment camp futures before they come to pass?

Why is anyone wasting breath defending nazis?

Now, I am a religious pacifist. There is that of the goddess in everyone, what we do to others we are doing to ourselves, and I find it valuable to look for solutions outside the boundaries of what violence has to offer. I am not going to be the one out there punching nazis, because it goes against my personal belief system. BUT. The people who are crying about the hurt face and feelings of a man who has inspired a band of vigilantes to terrify the Jewish residents of his hometown are doing so on the basis of the legitimacy of nazi thought being injected into the marketplace of ideas, and that is straight unacceptable.

I won’t punch a nazi, but that doesn’t mean I will stand idly by when they spread their poison. Instead, I will follow the example of people like Shia LaBeouf and shout them down.

Side note: I never thought I would be saying “I will follow the example of Shia LaBeouf,” but perhaps I should have. Child stars are put through the wringer, and his attempts to find himself in the wake of a level of fame many adults never achieve are things to be lauded, not derided. Some of his choices have been total screw ups, but that is true for all of us, he just did not have the benefit of privacy whilst doing so.

As I was saying, my unwillingness to engage in physical violence does not mean I do not recognize the damage that comes when we let the diseased mindset of fascism infect the body politic. Nazis are bad news. They are advocating for the death of a tremendous number of people, and their orange avatar has already made several decisions which will socially engineer that outcome. After all, what effect do you think repealing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) will have on those whose disabilities keep them out of the workforce, thus preventing them from affording market rates? Or the effect that the mental health coverage eliminations will have on those who have psychological ailments? Or what it means to the trans community to no longer have reliable access to trans healthcare? These are all populations of undesirables the nazis advocate eliminating from the country, and they have backed policies and candidates that will result in significant deaths from all those groups of people.

Punching someone who is actualizing such an evil agenda seems almost too good for him.

See, while I am not in favor of personally doing violence to nazis, I can’t fault an ally who takes that step. What this comes down to is a debate over the boundaries and utility of self-defense. They are trying to kill us, and they have taken concrete physical steps to bring us closer to that outcome. If an ally feels like we have come to a point where they can improve their degree of safety by making a nazi afraid to spout their poison in public, who am I to interfere with their self-defense claims? This is not the fascist coming to the counter-protest and trying to pick a fight to claim self-defense, this is people who have had a real decrease in their life expectancy over the last several months punching a man who has only just begun to enact his violent ideology on the rest of us.

But spare me your false piety around violence. I’ve been an anti-violence activist since I was in grade school. My pacifism is religious. Were I drafted I would request and receive conscientious objector status, and years of growing up in an emotionally and physically abusive household taught me the power of taking the hit without responding in kind. I am against our foreign adventurism, against police brutality, and against the coercive violence that forces trans kids to pretend they are cis until they break free of their conservative communities and households. If you do not have this commitment to nonviolence, if this is the first time you find yourself advocating “violence is not the answer,” you’re not being a fellow pacifist. You’re casually using one of my cardinal beliefs in defense of a nazi.

It’s grotesque. Is that really the side of the issue you want to be on?

Some ideologies are too abhorrent to consider. “I think the state should murder a bunch of my neighbors because I think my identity is better and more worthy of validation than theirs, and the only way I’m going to feel respected is if you kill everyone who is different from me,” is one of them. If you think this is an idea that needs consideration, what you are saying is that you view the lives of your fellow citizens as being negotiable. The humanity of your neighbors as being negotiable. The harm done to people other than yourself as being just another thing to haggle over.

That is flatly unacceptable conduct in a democracy. That strain of thinking is how democracy dies.

“But aren’t you being as intolerant as they are?” This strawman is a common one, and it’s because people fundamentally misunderstand the point and purpose of tolerance. Tolerance is a peace treaty. It is an agreement, an article in the broader social contract, the promise that if you leave me to do my thing I’ll leave you to do yours, provided neither of us harm another in a breach of good faith. In this sense it requires two key things: people retain their personal sovereignty up until their actions encroach meaningfully on the lives of another, and that these points of conflict are resolved in good faith by both parties.

For example, a death-cultist abortion protestor, who is pushing for policies that would result in many more women dying from unsafe conditions, has violated the social contract. He has no cause to control the lives of other women, he has no standing to intrude, and what they do to their bodies has literally no impact on him. This goes double for the death-cultist assassins who have targeted and killed abortion providers time and time again in this country. In the last decade.

That’s what it looks like when you cause a harm to another, the type of harm society exists to arbitrate.

We’ve been more or less willing to overlook harm violations of the social contract given good faith engagement by our enemies. When we push for an apology, that is us seeking to verify their good faith. “Okay, you didn’t know what you said or did was messed up, but now that you do know can you affirm your goal was not to break the truce of tolerance and apologize for the harm you caused?” This has become a burden for the Republican Party precisely because they are no longer operating in good faith. Any vestiges of true principle in their doublespeak shattered when Mitch McConnell set out to “make Obama a one-term president,” through engaging in a sustained pattern of legislative obstructionism that culminated in refusing to even vote on Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court—something that he then had the audacity to upbraid the Democrats for suggesting after the utterly-lawless Trump won.

Like I said, they’re not operating in good faith. The point of highlighting their hypocrisies is that it shows that they have abandoned the peace treaty. Of course they want us to keep following it.

This is a particular risk when it comes to genocidal fascism. In the wake of the liberation of Paris in 1944, philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre wrote “Anti-Semite and Jew,” a treatise on the antisemitism he had just endured. In that essay, he says this:

Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert.

Not only are fascists gleefully violating the good faith parts of the social contract, they do so because it gives them power. And to pretend otherwise, to pretend that fascism is just another idea to be contemplated on its merits and not the universal solvent for democracies, plays right into their hands. Because when we fight back, abandoning the peace treaty just as our enemies have, they pretend they were never in violation, and that our response is some fresh casus belli. As if we should lay down arms while they lead us to the slaughter.

Do not follow those Judas Goats who would counsel giving Trump, his nazi supporters, or the rise of fascism a chance to dig its hooks in any further. Drive those ideas out of the public square. And if that means punching a nazi to keep him from spreading his violent rhetoric, rhetoric whose only end goal is to result in the elimination of entire categories of people, who are any of us to say you’re wrong?

They’re not going to play fair. Going forward, you shouldn’t either.

Jess Stirba will do what she can to provide succor to those who fight against fascism.

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