Pipe Dream published an opinions column on Sept. 7 by Aaron Bondar titled “Denouncing political violence.” Bondar’s argument can be summarized by this sentence: “Political violence is not only morally wrong, but will lead our country further into the abyss.”
We need to clarify that what Bondar is talking about are white supremacist, neo-Nazi, “alt-right” groups. The problem is that calling violence against these groups “political violence” is to insist that white supremacy or neo-Nazism is a political opinion. Make no mistake — the foundation of these groups is not conservatism, libertarianism or any other political label. The tenets of these groups are explicitly racist and genocidal.
White supremacists and neo-Nazis call for deportation or segregation at best and the extermination of other races at worst. “Alt-right” icon Richard Spencer has openly advocated for the mass sterilization of black people. So, to quantify violence against these groups as political is legitimizing these hateful, genocidal values as mere political beliefs.
These aren’t just political beliefs. It’s also not just a matter of freedom of speech. Many call it incitement. Since white supremacist groups are inherently violent, violence against them is not only justifiable, it is moral as well. There’s a group that would be happy to see the disappearance of races, and there’s an opposing group that says that’s unacceptable and is willing to fight for it. For those who are part of the groups these neo-Nazis wish to eliminate, violence against them is merely self-defense.
Then comes the question of tolerance. The right loves to jeer, “What about the tolerant left?” Let’s start by saying that a lot of liberals actually agree with Bondar that violence is never the answer. But that’s a conversation for another day.
For others on the left, having a tolerant society requires fighting against intolerance. This paradox of tolerance, coined by Karl Popper, asserts that “if we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. ”
Letting neo-Nazis advocate for the elimination of a group of people will lead to acceptance of that kind of extreme intolerance in society. That normalization would, in turn, slowly but surely help their movement gain traction, and so goes the cycle of extremist belief coming into power.
Additionally, Bondar points to history as an indicator that we should not use violence. While on the subject of history, many major accomplishments have occurred through violence and riots. The LGBTQ rights movement had the Stonewall riots, the Haymarket Riot gave us the eight-hour workday and the labor movement had the Battle of Blair Mountain for the right to organize trade unions. Violent protest often supplements other political actions.
So, what good can come from using violence against white supremacists? In the aftermath of Charlottesville, Dr. Cornel West stated that he and his fellow clergy members would have been “crushed like cockroaches” if it were not for the anarchists and the anti-fascists. Many have ignored that the people who were using violence on the left actually did protect people, which is exactly what this is all about.
A few days later, a demonstration of tens of thousands of people took place in Boston in opposition to these hate groups. Is it a coincidence that after these two events, at least nine “alt-right” rallies across the country were canceled?
No; the threat of physical violence from the left prevented these groups gathering and spreading their bigoted message, or worse.
It is irresponsible to talk about white supremacists and neo-Nazis as mere political opponents. It is irresponsible to just frame this as an attack on freedom of speech. Most importantly, it is irresponsible to ignore that the rise of these groups is legitimately dangerous for many people. Using violence against neo-Nazis is about defending those people.
Sarah Molano is a junior majoring in English.