OPINION: Take names and … punch Nazis?

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Photo courtesy of duncan c / Flickr

The phrase “Punch Nazis” has been elevated from counterprotest message to Internet meme, but how much do people actually mean what they say?

By Samara Schiffman

Back in the seemingly simpler times of 2017, white nationalist and right-wing extremist Richard Spencer was punched in the face during a live TV interview, following backlash against his speaking on a college campus. The internet, as always, saw this opportunity and took it in stride, editing the video of him being punched to songs such as “Hollaback Girl” or “Born in the USA.” Humor aside, a moral question of this incident stuck out to me: Is it OK to punch Nazis?

Both Captain America and Indiana Jones, two heroes I adored throughout my childhood, took on the footmen of the Third Reich without question or remorse. Along with these mythicized figures, many artists (especially within a variety of punk scenes) have advocated in their lyrics for physically assaulting Nazis , and, according to canipunchnazis.com (connected to news organization Talking Points Memo), it’s always OK to practice your right hook on one. Despite media and many op-ed columns supporting the stances of Steve Rogers and Cheap Perfume, I couldn’t morally grapple with punching a Nazi. As a Jew of polish descent, my disdain for Nazis runs deep, but clocking Richard Spencer in the jaw still seems wrong. In middle school, I couldn’t support such a rallying cry because I didn’t think that neo-Nazism justified aggravated assault, a criminal offense. 

As I’ve grown older, the idea still makes me uncomfortable. While, legal consequences aside, I’d love to use a fascist antisemite for boxing practice, the glorification of actually attacking Nazis across young leftists, especially Gen Z, has displayed a new issue with such ideology. Sites such as indie art and design site Redbubble have no shortage of Hello Kitty “Punch Nazis” stickers, and leftists across Twitter and Tik Tok quickly rush to agree with this phrase. Through its more mainstream usage, not only has the phrase lost its impact, it has also lost its meaning. Leftist are incredibly quick to ‘punch nazis,’ yet can’t be seen sticking up for Jews in the face of antisemitism. 

This only becomes more prevalent through last week’s storming of the Capitol, in which a mob of right-wing extremists attempted a coup. It has since been revealed that white nationalists partook in this siege, causing outrage amongst the left. While they rightly connect white nationalism to racism, they completely forget or negate the fact that such bigotry includes Jews. A “Nazi” isn’t anyone who disagrees with a progressive opinion or has a bigoted ideas. No, Nazism is a very specific type of prejudice, one which mainly targets Jewish and Romani people.

So if they constantly exclude Jews, who is it these people want to punch? Why Nazis? They do not defend or stand with the victims of nazism, reducing the meaning of the phrase as a whole. I don’t punch Nazis — not for lack of wanting to, but because it is merely a performative action. Committing aggravated assault against someone who wants me dead will not change their ideology or end anti-Semitism. The dismantling of what’s known as “the world’s oldest hate” will not sprout from actual punching or a short, punchy phrase. It requires effort, education, and difficult conversations, not a blow to the jaw — even if they deserve it.


Photo credit: “Punch Nazis stencil” by Duncan C (CC BY-NC 2.0)