Guide to Punching Nazis
Nathan J Robinson jumps into the Andy Ngo affair.
I have a great deal of respect for writers like Robinson because he seems to at least attempt to remain consistent on his principled arguments. He raises what I think is an unanswered question regarding the appropriate scope of violence.
there are not very satisfactory answers to what, to me, are the most obvious questions, like “even if violence against ‘fascists’ is justified, under what particular circumstances?” “How much is too much?” “If the theory is that ‘any means necessary’ are justified to ‘stop’ fascism, then how do we keep our theory from justifying attacking any unarmed people who hold right-wing beliefs?” I pointed out in my review that Bray’s book rather disturbingly evades the question of whether it would be permissible to, say, assassinate Bill O’Reilly or Tucker Carlson, and if not, why not.
The most common argument I've seen in favor of the classic "Should we punch a nazi" is that directed violence would dissuade individuals from organizing and spreading their oppressive ideology. So far so good. I may not agree with it, but that's a coherent argument. However, it's also a position that you can test for. If the goal is to use violence to dissuade oppressive ideology and tactics, then why not punch bad police officers, malicious prosecutors, or even assassinate Tucker Carlson? I haven't heard a good answer to this logical extension, but I fathom it has something to do with either the high personal and legal risk involved or how the tactic obviously breaks down against certain targets (I can't imagine a bad police officer dissuaded from going to work based on a few punches). Jesse Singal made a similar argument in response to the utterly ludicrous fantasy that all you needed to discourage Hitler (a military veteran who was wounded during an attempted coup) was a few well-placed vigilante punches.
So naturally the driving philosophy changes from "We should violently confront fascism to dissuade it from spreading" turns into "We should violently confront fascism to dissuade it from spreading, but only if it is expeditious or the target is defenseless." And that's why Andy Ngo is ganged up and assaulted, while Tucker Carlson gets 15 people with tambourines outside his house.
And here's where I'll say that I have a great deal of respect for Micah Xavier Johnson (new tagline) on the narrow grounds that he was consistent in his beliefs. He seemed to genuinely believe that police officers are a existential threat to the lives of people he cared about, and he responded appropriately within his own philosophy. I deeply disagree with the tactical effectiveness and his injudicious targeting but there's no fucking way I'll ever question the strength of his conviction with regards to his beliefs. If Johnson was alive and he told me we should confront fascism wherever it is to dissuade it from spreading, I would fucking believe he means it.
The way left wing violence plays out in these scenes (Antifa vs [insert tiny right wing group of the day]) is not consistent with someone genuinely wanting to confront fascism, but rather someone expeditiously engaging in violence because it is "safe" from both a legal (unlikely to get caught in a crowd) and accountability standard (you'll get praise from your ingroup). This is consistent with instances like Eric Clanton (masked college professor takes a bike lock to someone's skull), the Bernie supporter that got hit with a metal pipe for holding an American flag, the 2016 California State Capitol riots where multiple people were seriously injured but specifically one got hit by a 2x4 as he was getting up, or the classic incident of torching a limousine that just happened to be owned by a Muslim immigrant.
Given the observable facts, the latter theory is far more consistent than the stated justification of fighting fascism. My hunch is that a lot of the boosterism following "punch a nazi!" is hypothetically set within a fantasy scenario where the target does not or can not fight back. I don't think it's a surprise that when it does happen, the person is either surrounded by antagonists or the attack happens quickly and surprisingly enough that the perpetrator can run away.
There's the "civil society argument" extension which asks if you really want to start resolving disagreements based on who can punch the hardest but I've noticed most people don't really have the patience to engage it. There's an unstated assumption that the left somehow has the numbers and will to win, but generally that's within the very homogenous circles of west coast cities.
Tactically speaking, It's definitely much easier to "win" an assault when you outnumber your foe and can make an easy escape, there's no denying that. However, the utility of such a win is extremely limited strategically. So while I am criticizing leftists for picking "easy" fights, that is taking into account the strategic value of each engagement in the grand scheme of the war.
My guess is that few if anyone is actually willing to admit that "pick fights with nobodies and conspicuously avoid challenging the elites" is actually their modus operandi and instead must frame it into the much more defensible and coherent MO of "resist fascism wherever it manifests".
It's not impossible to modify your approach and remain committed to your cause. My own example is that I used to be part of a leftwing gun rights group. While my primary motivation was to proselyte gun rights to a leftwing audience, we also provided armed security at leftwing demonstrations. Overall the risk was extremely low, but I was and am still in favor of the idea of responding to physical threats proportionally. If some Actual Nazi wanted to target the leftwing group for an attack, they would have to overcome dozens of heavily armed comrades that would be ready to throw down. That would either change the calculus for the perpetrator or severely mitigate the damage they could do.
I wouldn't have anything to criticize leftwing antifa tactics if it was at least proportional. If someone punches you, punch back. If someone stabs you, feel free to kill the person. If someone comes armed and aims a gun at you, feel free to do the same in return and maybe even kill them if appropriate. If someone has the wrong ideology, debate or ignore them. Don't fucking send them to the emergency room over that.