By Lisa Shore

Illustration by Lydia Hancock.

On January 20, during The United States Presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C., American white supremacist and face of the newly minted Alt-right, Richard Spencer, was punched in the face by someone wearing a balaclava.  I can now confirm with 100 percent certainty that someone was not my 102 year-old great aunt Regina. I know this because if she were to sock a Nazi in the face (or any member of our family for that matter), she would want her mug to be the last thing a fascist sees before little blue birdies start circling his head.  Long story short: In 1939, my great grandmother and her four-year-old daughter, Regina, escaped the fascist pogroms of Russia thanks to the kindness, generosity and risk-taking of their gentile neighbors who illegally obtained the legally required documentation to board a ship and sail to America. Had any segment of the escape been exposed, all of them, including the non-Jewish neighbors, would’ve been put to death. If not by the Russian government then certainly by the impending Nazi invasion. Needless to say, it would probably bring Regina great emotional satisfaction to punch a Nazi in the face, but why let the bully have a chance to be the victim?

Let’s explore for a minute why a person becomes a hate activist, how they recruit a following and why anyone would follow them. The answer, quite simply, is a tweaked version of Einstein’s famous formula: E = MC². Momentum (energy) is created when the susceptible are manipulated into an organized lethal conspiracy against a group of people based on their ethnicity or race and is increased by an ego. Square that and well, you’ve got a real problem on your hands or, in Spencer’s opinion, a final solution.  A resolution he likes to call ‘peaceful ethnic cleansing.’

Now we understand how the seeds of hate are planted in the dirt of racial basis.  The problem is, it’s almost impossible to expect anyone, masked or unmasked, under these threats to think with their head but not react with their heart. Which is what a punch to the face of any bully, on the playground or otherwise, really is.  It’s an emotional and physical reaction to the belief that conventional retaliation has not, cannot and will not work. So, now what? Do we ignore him? Reason with him? Girl, please, the stakes are too high for that.  This is what I believe the purpose of a dark figure like Richard Spencer should be for our society: a wake-up call.

Common sense dictates that you can’t win much of anything (a football game, an argument or an attempt to time travel back to the 1900s) if you’re always on the ropes and playing defense.  They aren’t waiting around for the right opportunity to react to us. For example, more state abortion restrictions were enacted in 2011–2013 than in previous ones. Or that during the first quarter of 2014, legislators in 38 states introduced 303 provisions seeking to limit women’s access to care.  Or the canonization of Rowan County, Kentucky government clerk Kim Davis when she broke the law and refused to issue a marriage license to a gay couple? And why was there ever a North Carolina law dictating which public restroom is legal to use — a law that that the state’s governor signed?

Despite the organization of activist groups like Black Lives Matter and The Million Woman March or more formal organizations such as Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, there is still no definitive leader for our movement. Is it possible that we need a hateful and racist activist like Richard Spencer to inspire us to get angry enough to create real change? Do we need a sort of general to organize our angry, but peaceful demand to keep the country moving forward?  Look, with the world the way it is right now, we don’t have time for the knee-jerk reaction of a punch in the face. We need to knock the lights out of their movement forever with something stronger than our fists.