In 1937, a judge quietly asked Meyer Lansky to form a squad of Nazi-punching gangsters to raid Bund meetings

Meyer Lansky was an infamous and ruthless gangster -- albeit one so personally charming that his life is chronicled in a book called But He Was Good to His Mother -- and no friend of New York State Judge Nathan Perlman; nevertheless, as the Nazi-supporting German-American Bund staged more and more toxic rallies in New York City, Perlman quietly asked Meyer to form a squad of Jewish gangsters to disrupt their meetings.

Lansky turned down Perlman's offer of cash to carry out the beatings, and likewise the offer from his good pal "Lucky" Luciano to bring Italians along, insisting that this was a duty that the Jewish criminal underground would shoulder voluntarily and alone.

Lanksy and his paleo-antifas were apparently devastatingly effective, delivering savage beatings at Bund meetings -- even infiltrating them with club-wielding fifth columnists who'd rush the stage at the same moment as the outsiders were beating down the doors.

Judge Perlman had charged Lansky not to kill anyone in his activities, and apparently Lansky never did. Lansky and Bugsy Siegel also formed a Nazi-punching training organization that taught other people how to beat up Nazis.

I must confess here that I am ambivalent about Nazi-punching; I freely acknowledge the atavistic, visceral pleasure in doing so, and I also understand the arguments about free speech and its consequences. But because of the former, I'm suspicious of my sympathy to the latter -- it always seems too much of a happy coincidence when the thing your lizard brain insists will make you happy seems to coincide neatly with the rationale your higher intellect is able to construct to justify it.

And as a practical matter quite separate from moral questions, I worry that Nazi-punching is often tactically wrong, giving the enemy both legal and rhetorical ammunition.

But that doesn't mean that I don't enjoy reading Lansky describing his adventures, in an Inglorious Basterds sort of way.

Here’s Meyer’s description of one of these events:

“We got there that evening and found several hundred people dressed in brown shirts. The stage was decorated with a swastika and pictures of Hitler. The speaker started ranting. There were only about fifteen of us, but we went into action.

We attacked them in the hall and threw some of them out the windows. There were fistfights all over the place. Most of the Nazis panicked and ran out. We chased them and beat them up, and some of them were out of action for months. Yes, it was violence. We wanted to teach them a lesson. We wanted to show them that Jews would not always sit back and accept insults.”

... “The Nazi scumbags were meeting one night on the second floor. Nat Arno and I went upstairs and threw stink bombs into the room where the creeps were. As they came out of the room, running from the horrible odor of the stink bombs and running down the steps to go into the street to escape, our boys were waiting with bats and iron bars. It was like running a gauntlet. Our boys were lined up on both sides and we started hitting, aiming for their heads or any other part of their bodies, with our bats and irons. The Nazis were screaming blue murder. This was one of the most happy moments of my life.”


(via JWZ)

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  1. (maybe off-topic, please move it if it is)

    My sympathy has nothing to do with pleasure. I hate that I think that violence may be a solution, but sometimes I close my eyes and see myself getting beaten by a fascist with a metal bar (it might have been a pipe), on a bright sunny day just metres away from a busy road. Those flashbacks have been far more common in the last three months, even though Trump is in a different country.

    All I wanted was to be left alone, but I can't see that happening now. Whenever I see someone punching a fascist, I see someone who will stand up for me when the fascists come back.

    I know I am gazing into the abyss, which is why I don't like it. I want a better solution. Until then, it looks like nazi punchers are the best I have.

  2. Agreed. Though it is highly satisfying to see Richard Spencer getting cold-cocked on camera, this isn't the primary reason a whole lot of otherwise completely pacifistic folks are fine with it. Neo-Nazis and Fascists are already so far down the spectrum of violent rhetoric that it's no longer a conversation, but the inception of a battle. We've already heard all of their justifications and seen the consequences of their acendance. Swing first.

  3. More antifascists in jail doesn't sound like a good thing to me.

    I've often used war as a metaphor for this kind of things, and I always tell people: War is boring, and wars fought skillfully are even more boring. Most warfare is about maneuvers, maintaining force strength and trying to divide the enemy's forces. Bloodlust isn't a virtue in literal war, so why would it be a virtue here? We don't need antifascists paying fines and ending up in prison when they could be in the streets imposing costs on their adversaries and protecting vulnerable populations. Punching Nazis and flag snatches in broad daylight are stunts that are rarely worth the tactical cost.

    Bluntly: I would rather see one antifascist keeping a watch on a mosque like the ones that have been burned down recently, than see a thousand punched Richard Spencers.

    Edit: I also think it's telling that work like patrolling vulnerable sites and keeping a watchful eye is much more boring than punching Nazis. It explains the relative popularity of one over the other. Again: War is boring, sentry duty is particularly boring. Look up the typical penalty for a sentry who falls asleep on watch. It's boring, but it's important.

  4. In the cosmic calendar of resistance, 2017 may well be the Year of the Punched Nazi.

    This fact has caused some consternation and hand-wringing among those who see Nazis as perfect foils for their ideological posturing rather than very real genocidal extremists with a long and bloody track record. For the mainline liberals and conservatives who lament the punching of Richard Spencer, the young white supremacist activist who coined the term “alt-right,” Nazism remains a theoretical construct, an “idea” that can be debated and defeated without a shot being fired in anger. For the rest of us — for many Jews, for ethnic and religious minorities, for queer people — Nazism is an empirical fact with the solidity of iron roads leading to walled death camps.

    The camps are Nazism’s endpoint; it is what Nazism is for. Nazism serves as a refuge for whites dislocated by mass society and modernity, who seek someone to blame for their anomic dread. With that in mind, we must be very explicit about what Nazism’s relationship to democracy must be, and refuse dangerous, whitewashing euphemisms when discussing it (e.g. “you support punching someone who disagrees with you”).

    Such generalizing language is intellectually lazy at the best of times; here it is outright deadly. Yes, it could be said that I “disagree” with Spencer that a genocide of Black Americans is desirable, but I believe he should be punched because of the very real risk that he could galvanize such an event into actually happening. This is a fear supported by the tremendous weight of our history, and by the fact that we had to fight the bloodiest war of our species’ existence the last time Nazism came into conflict with modern democracy. To call this a “disagreement” is an unspeakable slight against millions of dead.

    To be blunt: Nazism is democracy’s anti-matter. There is nothing about the ideology or its practice that is anything but corrosive to democratic institutions.

    Fascism is a cancer that turns democracy against itself unto death. There is no reasoning with it. It was specifically engineered to attack the weaknesses of democracy and use them to bring down the entire system, arrogating a right to free speech for itself just long enough to take power and wrench it away from everyone else. Simply allowing Nazis onto a stage, as the BBC did when it let British National Party leader Nick Griffin sit and debate with political luminaries on its Question Time program, is to give them an invaluable moral victory. Like creationists who debate evolutionary biologists, the former benefit mightily from the prestige of the latter.

    In using this tactic, Nazis abuse the democratic forum to illegitimately lend credence to something that is otherwise indefensible, the equality of the stage giving the unforgivable appearance of “two sides” to a position that is anathema to public decency. This is not because Nazis love democracy or free speech, but because they know how to use this strategy to unravel them.

    But is it enough to say that we must meet Nazism with force because it is so terrible? It should be, morally. I would, however, add that there’s room to consider why force, specifically, is a necessary tool in these extreme times. There is a reason that it works against Nazis, adding weight to the argument that they are a special case where a normal ethic of nonviolence should be suspended.

    The goals of Nazism have not changed, but some of its window dressing has. As he was being punched, Richard Spencer was showing off a lapel pin of Pepe, a cartoon character appropriated by extreme right and Nazi 4channers in their reactionary campaigns, which ultimately featured in many pro-Trump memes, some of which were retweeted by the man himself. The new exponents of modern Nazism are eager to exploit what they see as a constituency of young, tech-savvy white people whose online culture is a neat fit for them.

    4chan’s “trolling” culture is built on a perverse ideal that prizes the use of offensive speech and borderline criminal behavior as a means of becoming a stronger, superior person. If you are ever offended by something, hurt by it, or made to fear for yourself, you’re weak, a “special snowflake” who’s been “triggered” and a “lolcow” (someone you should keep hurting because their reactions will be funny). In this ethic, all emotion (except rage, lust, or mirth) is weakness, something the troll can exploit to get big laughs for him and his fellows.

    This notion has been exploited to great effect by people like Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos, who believes “America needs more trolls.” Yiannopoulos, who himself has a history of sympathy for Nazi ideas, and who has tried to lend respectability to Richard Spencer—calling him a “bright” “intellectual” figure on the “alt-right”—has since taken 4chan on the road, so to speak, using his university speaking engagements to gin up mob harassment of transgender students. Unable to resist a photogenic Nazi, the press has treated Yiannopoulos to numerous interviews. In one with the New York Times he literally said: “I don’t have feelings.” While this is an obvious lie, it fits with the troll culture ethos he seeks to promote.

    The ideal man — the Trollermensch, if you like — is one who does not feel, who sociopathically wounds without empathy, who finds humor in even the most grotesque of suffering. In exchange, you feel no pain, no vulnerability; you cannot be hurt the way you are ruthlessly hurting others.

    This is the alluring promise that 4chan’s culture has made to a generation of disaffected young men who feel powerless, adrift, and vulnerable in a rapidly changing world where being a white man is no longer a guarantee of success and prestige. Be mighty, hurt others, never get hurt again. But humanity, in all its little frailties, always catches up with us in the end.

    After he was punched, Richard Spencer told the Times, “I am more worried about going to dinner on an average Tuesday because these kinds of people are roaming around,” adding on a Periscope video that “I’m afraid this is going to become the meme to end all memes, that I’m going to hate watching this.” Spencer, who was proudly touting and retweeting 4chan Pepe memes and cheering right along with Yiannopoulos about the world needing more trolling, was expressing fear and vulnerability. The facade had cracked; he was no Trollermensch, just human, equal to everyone he thought himself superior to, equal to everyone he’d see dead.

    Nazis have long depended on something like trolling culture to work their dark magic. The concept of the “Big Lie” is right at home in an age of ideologically-driven 4chan hoaxes targeting women and minorities, and Nazism always relied on a certain chicanery to keep people guessing about their true intentions until it was too late — an eerie lesson for the present. Nazism’s fakery, and its ability to distort reality until ordinary people could not trust their own senses, bears more than a passing resemblance to 4chan’s culture of harassment and thuggish hoaxes. But the weak point was always the mythology of superiority and strength.

    Deploying force against Nazis always revealed the lie that they belonged to a “Master Race.” And this was not just military force, mind you, but the rolled-up sleeves and bared fists of ordinary citizens who were determined to prevent the spread of fascism’s cancer. To look at British fascist leader Oswald Mosley disheveled after his rally was shut down by angry East End workers in July 1962 is to look not on the leader of a Master Race, but something considerably more ordinary and pathetic.

    As I noted earlier, Nazism is democracy’s anti-matter; coming into contact with it is often destructive for our institutions because it is the personification of bad faith with malice aforethought. The only nonviolent solution is to marginalize Nazism from public life in our society — one may be free to hold these views, but not to try and spread them at the highest echelons of our public fora. When, however, someone like Spencer does come along and is being feted in the mainstream, there are no other options available to us.

    The vulnerability of Nazis cannot be revealed through debate — many thinkers who lived through the Second World War, from Karl Popper, to Hannah Arendt, to Jean Paul Sartre, have been quite clear about why dispassionate discourse with men like Richard Spencer is not only pointless, but actively dangerous.

    The use of force, by contrast, does reveal the shared humanity that Nazis deny. Our vulnerability is one of the things that links us all, seven billion strong, in a humane fragility. These are essential aspects of our humanity that both Nazi mythology and channer troll culture deny. Punching a Nazi, by contrast, reveals it. It reveals they are no masters, but quite eminently capable of fear, of pain, of vulnerability. And that takes the shine off; it eliminates their mystique, and it puts the lie to the idea that their ideology is an armor against the pains of modernity.

    That alone justifies Richard Spencer being punched in the face on camera.

  5. They were already saying to kill Jews and feminists, so them saying to just punch those groups is practically deescalation.

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