On Friday afternoon in D.C., blocks from where President Trump was inaugurated, somebody ran up to Richard Spencer and punched him in the face. It’s a face you probably know: Spencer has become the most visible member of a small group of self-proclaimed white nationalists who believe the Trump presidency will help them mainstream their ideology, which has the ultimate goal of creating a whites-only “ethno-state.”
He’s the guy who takes credit for coining the term “alt-right,” and was the subject of several major profiles in mainstream outlets before and after November. After the election of Donald Trump, he became particularly infamous for exclaiming “Hail victory!” — the English translation of “Seig Heil!” at a celebratory event for self-identified members of the “alt-right.”
At the moment he was punched, Spencer was talking on camera about the pin on his lapel depicting Pepe the Frog, a cartoon amphibian that white nationalists co-opted during the campaign for their own memeing needs. Then, the punching video was released onto the Internet, where it was its destiny to become a meme itself in a bunch of circles within Liberal Twitter.
The meme even became an ethical question (“Is it okay to punch a Nazi?”), and a virtual bounty hunt for the guy who did the punching. Here’s a step-by-step guide to how arguably the first major meme of 2017 ended up being a video of Spencer being punched in the face.
Step 1: Spencer gets punched in the face
Spencer was giving interviews around the corner from a bunch of protesters at about 2:30 p.m. on Friday, when a masked man ran up to him and punched him.
Among the people interviewing him at the time: Zoe Daniel, the Washington bureau chief for the Australian outlet ABC, who said that the punch was actually the second time Spencer was punched that day. Daniel saw the first punch, and she said that she “moved across to ask him what he was doing at the protest and to get his reaction to being punched by a random stranger.” As they were talking to him, he was punched again.
Up close, Daniel said, it was a “pretty nasty moment.”
Spencer himself tweeted about it shortly after.
Step 2: Captain America
With little visual evidence of the actual moment, some Twitter users dig a famous drawing of a Nazi punched in the face:
For what it’s worth, Spencer prefers not to use the term “Nazi” to describe himself. At this point, the meme is starting to crystallize around the idea of a “Nazi punch,” a la Captain America.
Step 3: “meme to end all memes”
A couple hours after it happens, Spencer hops on Periscope to talk to his followers. In the broadcast, he says he worries that the video of the punch is going to become the “meme to end all memes” and that he’s going to “hate” watching it.
“I did take a punch, he didn’t knock me out, he didn’t knock me down,” Spencer said. He also added that after he was punched the second time, someone spat on him.
Step 4: The video
The video of Spencer getting punched (filmed by ABC) emerges. Fair warning, you can hear some offensive language in this video, and as the rest of this article should have made clear, it also includes imagery of someone being punched in the head.
Step five: The meme
Pretty soon after the video goes live, people start a) talking about how they can’t get enough of watching Spencer getting punched in the face, and b) putting the original video to music.
Step six: The backlash to the meme.
A meme about punching a Nazi in the face will, among people who are not Nazis, raise the inevitable question: Is it actually okay to punch a Nazi in the face? Alternatively, is it actually okay to watch it? Some said no. Nick Spencer (presumably of no relation to Richard Spencer) who writes the Captain America comic book was among them.
Another person who actually witnessed the punch (and who doesn’t appear to be a supporter of Richard Spencer) followed the guy who did it and tried to confront him. It wasn’t productive, but it was captured on video:
The Australian journalist who witnessed the attack also noted the tension between the joy some were getting out of watching a figure like Spencer get punched in the face and the broader questions it raises about whether violence has a role in political resistance. Daniel, the journalist, told BuzzFeed that the whole thing “has provoked a bigger debate about what is okay because people are obviously trying to justify the fact he was hit on the basis of the sort of person he is and the beliefs he holds.”
Later, the celebrities got involved.
This article has a pretty good rundown of what happened next: Silverman got into an extended debate about the ethics of punching a white supremacist, during which it appeared that she wasn’t fully aware who Spencer was when she initially condemned the violent response to his beliefs.
Step seven: The meme grows stronger
Someone made a Twitter handle devoted to remixing the punch with songs, and comedian Tim Heidecker composed an entire song about it.
Step eight: Profit
WeSearchr, a bounty-hunting as journalism site run by perennial troll Chuck Johnson, put out a “bounty” to identify the person who punched Spencer. Identifying the white nationalist as a “conservative, pro-Trump activist,” the site raised a few thousand dollars.
[Update: it appears that WeSearchr has now been suspended from Twitter]
Meanwhile, someone launched a now-deleted GoFundMe campaign that may or may not have been a troll, which urged liberals to “go high” and donate funds to help Spencer.
And eventually the punch moved from off the Internet and into the world. Now it is a T-shirt you can buy (although its creator says the proceeds are going to the ACLU. Also: language warning at the link).