I’ve been in little scuffles, but never squared off with another human being with the intent of fighting them over an opinion. I’ve never seen the upside of a physical confrontation to solve an ideological argument. Sure, I get that there’s likely a huge rush of catharsis in besting a foe, but does that rush outweigh potential bodily damage or jail time?

Recently, I hear lots of talk about “punching Nazis” as a form of justified violence. Here are some reasons why I don’t subscribe to this notion:

  • Neo-Nazis are not Nazis. Nazis murdered lots of people and carried out horrific raids with government resources. Today’s neo-Nazis are asshole trolls. They thrive on the attention and exist only to see how much trouble they can cause. They do not want to lose protections, so they incite and retaliate. They might aspire to be actual Nazis, but this is new.
  • Even though the current administration seems to be stoking the flames, this is not some new phenomenon that started when Trump took office. And, Trump has (albeit deliberately slowly) denounced Nazis and other hate-based groups. While it seems pretty clear where his ideologies lie, it’s still not illegal to be a Nazi troll.
  • Punching a Nazi gives them exactly what they want – a reason to defend themselves (by means they are prepared and excited for) and a story about the evil, violent left. Punching them doesn’t shut them up or convert them, it replenishes their ammo.

Geraldo Rivera notably clashed with the KKK in Janesville, Wisconsin in the 1990s. It took some time, but the community got together and decided they’d simply ignore the marches. No more protesting, no more fighting, no more paying attention. The marches eventually stopped.

In Germany, one community raised money for every mile the neo-Nazis marched to donate to anti-hate causes. (Link here.) Absolutely brilliant. Turn their hate into help with relieving hate. I also think that a pro-diversity counter-rally in a different part of a city would be effective. Instead of engaging on their terms, simply get more people to do something fun.

The NY Times published an opinion piece called “How to Make Fun of Nazis” recently. It lays out another strategy for subverting the Nazi message with humor. From that article:

 “I would want to punch a Nazi in the nose, too,” Maria Stephan, a program director at the United States Institute of Peace, told me. “But there’s a difference between a therapeutic and strategic response.”

After trolling (marketing), the second priority is outreach, just like with any counterculture organization. If they don’t reach a few people at an outing, their numbers eventually diminish. The ideology is fundamentally weak, so showing what juice they do have is the hook for the disenfranchised population that might be dabbling in hate.

Ultimately, the way to get these trolls back into their caves is to negate their power. Fighting only fuels it. Either ignoring them, or offering an alternative to their raison d être will help them to understand that they’ll never actually win.