By now everyone will have heard seen the clip of white nationalist leader Richard Spencer being sucker-punched by a masked left-wing “anti-fascist” activist on the streets of Washington. I am on the record in this space as rejecting and loathing everything Richard Spencer stands for. He has publicly denounced me, and said that I represent the decline of this magazine. Spencer is a Nietzschean who despises Christians.
But his being attacked on the street when he was doing nothing violent, and threatening nobody, is indefensible. Many on the Left are celebrating it. I’m not going to link to any of that violence porn. You can find it all over the Internet if you want to see it. It’s not shocking that there are people in the world who take pleasure in watching people they hate be physically assaulted, even when those people are doing nothing more than peaceably exercising their right to free speech. What is shocking, though, is a mainstream magazine publishing a piece praising the act.
The transcendental experience of watching Roger Federer play tennis, David Foster Wallace wrote, was one of “kinetic beauty.” Federer’s balletic precision and mastering of time, on the very edge of what seems possible for a body to achieve, was a form of bodily genius. What Foster Wallace saw in a Federer Moment, I see in a video of neo-Nazi Richard Spencer getting punched in the face.
If bodies run out of formation to take a rock to a Starbucks window, they melt back to the bloc in as many seconds. Bodies reconciled, kinetic beauty. If that sounds to you like a precondition for mob violence, you’re right. But this is only a problem if you think there are no righteous mobs, or that windows feel pain, or that counter-violence (like punching Richard Spencer) is never valid.
In the end, says Lennard, the only way any anti-Trump sentiment will get anywhere is “with unrelenting force, in a multitude of directions.”
“You don’t have to fight neo-Nazis in the street,” she writes, “but you should support those who do.”
That last line hyperlinks to a place where you can donate money to pay the legal costs of arrested antifas.
By publishing this essay, The Nation has implicitly endorsed violence to achieve political goals. It is shocking and contemptible. And it is also the No. 1 most read piece on the magazine’s website.
Natasha Lennard’s reasoning is the same kind used by anti-abortion radicals who believe that extremism in defense of unborn life is no vice — this, to justify destroying abortion clinics and even shooting abortion doctors. The mainstream pro-life movement has loudly denounced it. What sort of response do you think we would see if National Review, the Weekly Standard, or The American Conservative published an essay praising the “kinetic beauty” of watching a shot take out an abortion doctor, or of seeing an abortion clinic burn? What if one of these conservative magazines told its readers that they don’t have to fight abortion by assaulting pro-abortion activists and clinic staff, but they should give money to pay the legal bills of those who do?
I don’t think people like The Nation‘s editors truly understand what they are calling up. What will they say if skinheads starting assaulting people like Black Lives Matter’s Deray McKesson in the street? Where will it stop? How will it stop? Do the editors of that magazine really think they will be physically safe if political violence spreads? Do the liberals who wouldn’t dirty their hands by throwing a rock or swinging a fist honestly believe that they won’t be held responsible for supporting those who do? Could it possibly be the case that they genuinely believe anarchist street violence is going to win them popular support, instead of give ordinary people incentive to back whatever illiberal thing Donald Trump wants to do to suppress them?
Do they really want to live in a society where political questions are decided by street violence and the fear of it? Because that’s what the editors of The Nation are helping to bring about.