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EDITORIAL: Punching Nazis

York Dispatch

One of the greatest things about America is anyone can say anything they want.

No matter how vile, wrong, evil or ignorant the speech is, it's protected.

So we're glad to say that white supremacists have every right to spout their stupidity on the street if they want to without worrying about the police or the military coming along and stopping them.

Civilians, however, are another matter.

On Friday, Richard Spencer was in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the inauguration of President Donald Trump. He didn't know he was about to star in a video that wouldn't just go viral, it would becomes memes, hashtags and enough posts to fill the internet for a day.

Spencer is the president and director of the National Policy Institute. He has publicly spoken in favor of creating a white state where anyone with a non-European heritage would be barred. His website has published essays calling for black genocide. The first weekend after the election, he and his followers held a conference in the Reagan Building in Washington where videos showed them doing the Nazi salute and calling, "Hail Trump."

Alt-right leader Richard Spencer is punched in a video on Jan. 20, 2017.

Spencer insists he's not a Nazi, calling his movement the alt-right. He can call it whatever he likes, but if someone walks like a Nazi, talks like a Nazi and even salutes like a Nazi ... you decide.

In Friday's video, a group of people with cameras are talking to Spencer about his views on a street corner, with a few questions coming from a crowd about what he thinks about black people. He starts to answer a question about his Pepe the frog pin, an internet meme for the white supremacist movement.

And then, suddenly, this guy comes out of nowhere, gives Spencer two quick punches to the face and runs off.

Interview over. Spencer is several steps away from the cameras, looking stunned and rubbing his jaw, then quickly turning his attention to the state of his hair, which was mussed in the encounter.

And the internet went wild. Punching Nazis was instantly a trending topic. The video has been put to music from "Let It Go," to "We Are the Champions," to "Boom." It carried many people over from the existential despair brought on by Trump's inauguration until the joy of Saturday's global protests.

Since Friday, there have been endless debates on Facebook, Twitter and in new outlets over whether it's ethical to hit someone who is espousing a violent ideology. There's the thought that violence only lowers other people to their level. There's also the thought that sometimes the only way to get a violent person to stop spreading their violence is to make them stop talking.

We're not condoning violence. It's illegal to walk up to someone on the street and punch them in the face — even if they are spewing hate. It's much better if you can fluster them into saying what they actually think, preferably on camera, so the world can know what their true agenda is. Or drown them out with positive chants and song, as many people at Saturday's Women's Marches did when they encountered those who wanted to intimidate them.

But Nazis, alt-right, white nationalists, whatever you want to call yourselves, be put on notice.

If you're going to spew your putrid views on a public street, there is a chance someone will walk up and punch you in the face.

Hate begets hate. Violence breeds violence.

Perhaps it's a good thing that someone like Spencer puts it all out there so we know what he is. Insidious hate kept under wraps does significant damage, as well.

But if you're someone who is loud and proud about your hate and simultaneously worried that someone might mess up your hair and put your tie askew, you should just keep your racist, anti-Semitic views to yourself.

While it's true you might have an army of like-minded hate-filled friends out there to back you up on the internet, those Americans who believe in justice, tolerance and equal opportunity for all don't want to hear from you.