It became a thing. A laugh and a joke - "I don't care how many different songs you set Richard Spencer being punched to, I'll laugh at every one." chortled one chap on Twitter. Others - respected journalists (is that an oxymoron these days?) included - justified punching Nazis with images of Second World War troops landing on Omaha beach, cleaning weapons and generally sticking it to those Nazis in that great war. Fortunately no-one's mentioned caster oil yet.
Problem with all this is that it valorises violence as a tool of political engagement. And to put it pretty bluntly, that's pretty much (at least in orthodox left wing definitions) the whole thing about Fascism. Despite Fascism and National Socialism being bastard children of social democracy, the "left" define them in terms of their fetish for violence - in language and out there on the streets. The "Far Right" is all about boots, flags, marches, banners and direct action something it shares with Trots, Black Bloc anarchists and other "Far Left" grouplets.
If you decide that it's fine to thump someone what you do is grant them the permission, in a manner of speaking, to thump you back. And don't come over all noble here - any circumstance in which violence is accepted represents a negation of democracy, of the idea that we are civilised enough to use discussion, consensus and the vote to resolve political dispute. Where does this end? We start off thumping real Nazis like Richard Spencer and then move to reporters from right of centre websites or people next to us on aeroplanes. Before we know it the people who like those right of centre websites are making common cause with Richard Spencer.
I'm reminded of Thurber's Very Proper Gander:
Not so very long ago there was a very fine gander. He was strong and smooth and beautiful and he spent most of his time singing to his wife and children. One day somebody who saw him strutting up and down in his yard and singing remarked, "There is a very proper gander." An old hen overheard this and told her husband about it that night in the roost. "They said something about propaganda," she said. "I have always suspected that," said the rooster, and he went around the barnyard next day telling everybody that the very fine gander was a dangerous bird, more than likely a hawk in gander's clothing. A small brown hen remembered a time when at a great distance she had seen the gander talking with some hawks in the forest. "They were up to no good," she said. A duck remembered that the gander had once told him he did not believe in anything. "He said to hell with the flag, too," said the duck. A guinea hen recalled that she had once seen somebody who looked very much like the gander throw something that looked a great deal like a bomb. Finally everybody snatched up sticks and stones and descended on the gander's house. He was strutting in his front yard, singing to his children and his wife. "There he is!" everybody cried. "Hawk-lover! Unbeliever! Flag-hater! Bomb-thrower!" So they set upon him and drove him out of the country.The only winners from punching Nazis and Fascists are the Nazis and Fascists. And if you think punching people who you disagree with is just fine and dandy then you're part of the problem not part of the solution. If your mythology tells you - and left wing mythology does just this - that violence is central to Fascism and Nazi-ism then your punching that Nazi makes you one and the same as him.