Before You Cheer the Attack on Richard Spencer, Consider the Strategy

A nation where political assault is the norm is democracy at its crisis stage

Richard Spencer shortly before getting punched on national television.

Richard Spencer shortly before getting punched on national television. Sarah Burris/Youtube

On June 7, 2012, people in Greece and around the world watched a woman get hit in the face three times on national television. Liana Kanelli was a member of the Greek Communist party, despite the fact that Communists killed over 100 million people in the 20th Century and frequently engaged in genocide and ethnic relocations. The Soviet concentration camps preceded and inspired Hitler’s version.

Her assailant was Ilias Kasidiaris, a member of Greece’s Golden Dawn party. If there is any European party to which “neo-Nazi” can be applied without stretching the term, the Golden Dawn is it; their logo evokes the swastika itself. For anti-communists, the televised assault was a cheap thrill at best, but the reaction worldwide was of horror and disgust.

Last weekend, Richard Spencer—who coined the term “alt-right”—was similarly punched in the face on national television. Here the term “neo-Nazi” might be less apt but only marginally so. Spencer prefers to call himself an “identitarian,” but his Radix journal publishes such titles as Race Differences in Intelligence, Understanding Jewish Influence and The Revolt Against Civilization: The Menace of the Underman. I’ve seen no references to him advocating genocide, but a slippery-slope argument would be easy to make.

Many cheered the assault. But what, precisely, is the strategy here? Mussolini’s fascism was famously incoherent as an ideology, as he insisted on willpower being enough to force reality to work as the people would desire. It was a grittier, more intense version of President Obama’s “Yes, We Can!” But if slippery slopes can take us from racist arguments to full-blown genocide, they work in other ways as well.

We live in an age where “fascist,” “Nazi,” “racist,” “isolationist,” and “KKK” are regarded as synonymous. Yet far more southern racists than urban feminists fought Hitler and his legions during World War II. The current claim is that everyone who voted for Donald Trump effectively endorses a white supremacist agenda. Are 63 million Americans deserving of a punch to the face? Perhaps. But how would this play out? Red states are far more heavily armed than the gunless urban centers that form the basis of the anti-Trump coalition.

Kellyanne Conway was and remains accused of knowingly working with white supremacists. Steve Bannon was explicitly called a Nazi by former DNC chairman and Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. And Politico just reported that writer Julia Hahn would be joining the White House; she’s already been decreed a white supremacist by the Twitterati. Unlike Richard Spencer, these people have real power to implement their views. If we’re at a point where White House staff, including women, should be freely assaulted, then arguments against fascism become laughable.

Many of us can remember the disgust we felt when the largely apolitical Michelle Obama was booed at a NASCAR event. One can’t fight a coarsening culture by ratcheting up the antagonism and aggression. Once violence becomes normalized as a means of political discourse, that on its face is a fascist society.

It’s no coincidence that the August 2014 Ferguson riots preceded the Republican landslide election that November. When the average person sees violence, they turn to law-and-order types to restore civility by any means necessary. It happened in the 1968 presidential election as well. Trump has spoken out against civil unrest more strongly than any president since Ronald Reagan. He has the will and the power to crack down on the populace if it came to that—and he would be rewarded for it by the voters, not punished. Does anyone really want that?

Hitler was almost certainly behind the 1933 Reichstag fire that allowed him to declare emergency powers and effectively become a total dictator. As Rahm Emanuel once said, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste.” If there is anyone who can exploit crises to his advantage, it is certainly President Trump. A nation where political assault is the norm is democracy at its crisis stage. There are far better ways to effect change, no matter how good they might feel.

Michael Malice is the author of Dear Reader: The Unauthorized Autobiography of Kim Jong Il. He is also the subject of Harvey Pekar’s graphic novel Ego & Hubris and the co-author of five other books. Follow him on Twitter @michaelmalice.