A Rich Tradition.
Let’s get things clear, from the start here. Nazis are the worst people ever. I’m a Jewish American who loves comic books…that’s pretty much a viewpoint that I HAVE to have. History is pretty clear about how the Nazis dealt with my people, and comics immediately had superheroes make a sideline out of being involved in World War II, and fighting Nazis.
So, when Richard Spencer, a Neo Nazi was straight up punched in the face during an interview on television, near the Trump inauguration, I wasn’t crying any rivers. If you spew hate speech, you very well might offend a private citizen, and as a result, Things Can Happen.
Video posted online by the outlet shows the white supremacist speaking to Washington bureau chief Zoe Daniel when he was interrupted by individuals off camera. Spencer was answering questions on whether he was a neo-Nazi. He said he was not, and was then asked what the “Pepe the Frog” pin he was wearing signified. “Pepe the Frog” is an internet meme so often used by racists and anti-Semites it was designated a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League. As Spencer was speaking, a masked individual ran up, socked him in the face and fled. Spencer left, later tweeting there was “no serious damage.”
Police said there is no open investigation into the assault as Spencer has not filed a police report. Spencer says he called 911 at the scene and plans to file a police report. “I kind of like getting into vigorous back and forth with people who disagree with me,” said Spencer. “But punching like that just crosses a line — totally unacceptable.”
He went onto say he feared future targeting, “Certainly, some people think I’m not a human being and I can just be attacked at will.”
One person who disapproved of the attack? A longtime writer for the comic book hero Captain America, Nick Spencer. Nick Spencer is a pretty controversial figure in comics, and his thoughts on Twitter were pretty interesting. He said about the event, “Today is difficult, but cheering violence against speech, even of the most detestable, disgusting variety, is not a look that will age well.”
Nick Spencer too a lot of heat for that, with many in the comics industry lighting into him for being wrong, ill suited to writing Captain America, and accusing him of being a Nazi himself. Nick’s point is pretty important though…as unlikable as Richard Spencer’s racist and divisive views are, he was exercising his right to free speech. If we decide it’s okay, or acceptable to punch him in the face in the streets, when he is breaking no law, for his creed of conduct or views…that’s a very dangerous precedent.
In fact, that’s exactly the kind of thing that the Nazis did from 1937 onward. Political dissidents, ethnic minorities, religious minorities….they all lost their rights, rapidly and systematically. Violence against them became permissible.
Many comics fans put forth that Captain America was created to fight Nazis, and Superman frequently did so. That comics have a rich tradition of punching Nazis in the face, or otherwise doling out physical punishment to them. This is true, but also we need to bear two things in mind. First…it was DURING World War II. The Nazis were pretty identifiably at war with the United States and the Allies, giving superheroes legit missions that they needed to do, which usually involved punching.
Secondly…there’s a whole lot of material from that time period in comics that’s…just not acceptable today. The depiction of minorities, for one thing. The handling of women, for another. I’m not sure that we should be using Golden Age Comics as our direct ethical guideline here. Just peruse some covers from the time period, and you get that hint pretty fast.
That said…it IS important to oppose the forces of Nazism, Fascism, and Racism. That’s something that we do get free speech for, just as they get the right to their hate speech. It’s important to stay on these guys, to do investigative journalism, and to not let them corrode the progress that we’ve made to being a better, more inclusive society. Nick Spencer took a whole lot of heat this weekend for defending free speech for everyone, including those with views that are scary, even detestable. He stood up for the kinds of things that we should be about, and more importantly, stood up for the rights that even people who would take our rights away from us are entitled to have.
I’m not saying that we don’t get to punch Nazis in the face. There’s a rich tradition of that, hence the title of the post.
I’m saying that you can’t do it for them just being Nazis. They need to do something, besides spewing hate speech. There’s rules for hate speech, and for dealing with it. If you need to defend someone from being attacked by a Neo Nazi? By all means, face punching is now in play…they are going to hurt someone, and breaking the law. They are violating the rights of others. Both Captain America and Superman would be on board with such justified Nazi Punching.
In fact, Captain America No. 275 presents the American icon’s views on the very subject. He refuses to battle with a Neo Nazi who is baiting him at a rally, and further refuses to let people who oppose that guy fight him while he is simply exerting his First Amendment rights. The panels are pretty easy to find on the internet, but it’s pretty clear that at least in that, Nick Spencer is right on the money—Captain America is about EVERYONE’S right to free speech being protected…and will prevent violence in such instances.
In the same breath, Richard Spencer is still a terrifying individual that we should keep an eye on in the media. Free press lets us do that. Punching…less so. That guy could go underground, and become more radical…which is a bit scarier.
See the art for today? That’s an old school Nazi U-boat, that just sank a ship of some kind, and is threatening a lifeboat. Our hero is more than justified in punching…but I felt like she should be punching the boat out of the @#$%ing water. Why? For a few reasons. First…I’ve never drawn her straight up punching a boat to @#$%. it was an interesting problem. Secondly…she has Silver Age Super Strength. Few Nazis could survive a Richard Spencer Interview Punch from her….it’s just too much mega strength. Finally though, it’s the U-boat with its guns and torpedoes that make those guys into dangerous bullies. She’s punching the boat, because without it, those guys are just blowhards.
It’s more important to save the people in the lifeboat. Something that we sometimes lose sight of, when opposing Bad Guys.