Category Archives: Politics & Social Issues

Peter Boghossian and Matt Thornton, a conversation about the Portland train stabbing

On Friday, May 26th of this year, two men were killed on a local Portland train. You can read an account of the event here – Wikipedia.

Within hours this sad tragedy had become a political talking point for too many. Surely the rise of the ‘Alt-Right’ has created an environment where Nazis like this attacker felt free to spew hatred? Obviously Portland is a racist city. And of course, Donald Trump is to blame. On it went. Posts shared, and ideologically held opinions safely reinforced.

Before long various sites began sharing posts made by the attacker on his Facebook page. He seems to have supported Bernie Sanders; hoped Hillary would get shot, expressed a large dose of anti-Semitism, supported Black Lives Matter as well as the Nation of Islam, was in “solidarity” with the protestors at Standing Rock, and was in favor of an ‘Aryan State’. A scroll through the man’s Facebook page didn’t reveal someone who supported Trump, but rather someone who was mentally ill. And that shouldn’t have surprised anyone.

I don’t think most of the people who began using the murder of these two men for their political agenda are bad human beings. I don’t think they recognized, or perhaps even now realize that they were washing their hands in the blood of the dead.

So what is there to say about such a terrible event?

The most productive thing we can do is draw lessons from these incidents that help keep those we love safer.

It’s important to understand that in doing so, in mining the past for future instruction, I am not judging the actions of those that were there. I rarely take too seriously people who claim with assured tones how they would respond in such a high pressure situation. Unless they have plenty of past experience to validate their confidence, the truth is most people have no idea how they will react. Some will freeze, some will flee, some will confront or engage – and most would be surprised at how little control they have over which of those reactions occurred. We all hope we would respond appropriately, but we are all, at various times, vulnerable to anger and fear.

Finally, we need to use this incident to remind ourselves, and those we love, just how dangerous knives are. I’ve often heard, from people with no training or experience, questions related to why a police officer was involved in a shooting when the suspect ‘only’ had a knife – or was potentially reaching for one. People, as a whole, have absolutely no idea just how dangerous bladed weapons can be. Dennis Tueller’s twenty one foot rule hasn’t just been proven to be true, it’s been revised – in most cases you need more than twenty one feet.

When this mentally unstable attacker moved away from the two young women he was verbally harassing, everyone else should have moved away from him.

It would not surprise me (I am not making a moral argument), if Jeremy Christian ends up pleading on a self-defense charge. Why? Because he was on train, confronted by three men (disparity of force), shoving ensued (it escalated), and he therefore used a weapon. Is it disgusting that a man would yell horrible things at two young women, scaring them in the process? Yes! It is disgusting. Does that mean you can then go ‘hands on’, and begin applying physical force? No, it does not. And unfortunately, Portland city streets are filled with a variety of mentally ill people, most of whom are non-aggressive – a few of whom who are. And they daily yell horrendous things to passersby. Remember this, mentally ill people may be hearing things and seeing things you and I are not. Reasoning, deterring, and communicating with them the way you might your normal street thug is not a reliable plan.

When you feel threatened, control distance. Make space between yourself and the threat. And teach those you love to do the same. If you can’t make distance, put something between you and the threat, a car, a door, a weapon. Then dial 911, and let the professionals and first responders of this city deal with mentally unstable, aggressive, and potentially dangerous people. And please, teach those you love to do the same.

  • Note: special thanks to SBG coach Paul Sharp for his thoughts on this topic.

Cowards, assault, & the Nation magazine

Lewis Allen Wilson. Steven Glenn Young. William Burleigh. Michael Carey.

These are just some of the people killed in Oregon over the last few years—from one punch.

Teaching self-defense has been my only profession for the last 25 years. That much of the population is uninformed is about the dangers inherent in blunt force trauma to the skull isn’t news. What is news is the surprising number of people who think it’s morally acceptable to punch someone in the face if they consider their views repugnant.

A few days ago, a widely viewed video of white nationalist, Richard Spencer, being sucker punched in the side of the head by a protestor went viral.

There is nothing extraordinary about the existence of white nationalists, or violent protestors. What is surprising is that many well-known left wing activists, and outlets, are applauding this assault. When Portland Philosophy professor, Peter Boghossian asked on Twitter, “Do you think it’s a good thing that a bad man was punched?”, secular activist, Dan Arel responded, “I have no problem with it. Racists must know their message won’t be tolerated here.”

Responses like this can be forgiven because they reflect an ignorance about the dangers of head trauma. Many people may not know that when people’s skulls run into concrete, this often leads to serious injury or death. What cannot be forgiven, however, is the complete lack of self-awareness required to miss the irony inherent in advocating physical violence as an appropriate response to ugly ideas. I’m quite sure many were fully capable of turning Trump’s “grab them by the pussy” into wearable fashion over night, but somehow the same people cannot think of a witty retort to a neo Nazi whose missed his calling by 77 years?

For those may claim I’m being hyperbolic when I say “many well-known left wing activists and outlets”, and painting with too broad brush, take a look at this article from The Nation.

To quote:

The transcendental experience of watching Roger Federer play tennis, David Foster Wallace wrote, was one of “kinetic beauty.” Federer’s balletic precision and mastering of time, on the very edge of what seems possible for a body to achieve, was a form of bodily genius. What Foster Wallace saw in a Federer Moment, I see in a video of neo-Nazi Richard Spencer getting punched in the face.”


Two things. First, it’s obvious from the immaturity of those words that the author of that passage knows nothing about real violence, which, given their fairytale view on it, is probably fortunate. And second, as a Mixed Martial Arts coach whose been working with athletes for well over two decades, I’ve never heard anyone romanticize a poorly thrown sucker punch launched at a man who was facing away – but the again, I train actual fighters, not cowards.

It’s as cliché as it is true: freedom of speech becomes most important the moment it’s applied to concepts, thoughts, and ideas we find abhorrent. It’s when the speech is really ugly, vulgar, repulsive, that freedom of expression matters. The best way to deal with people who have bad ideas is, in the spirit of Martin Luther King and Ghandi, to rationally and civilly, engage those ideas, not to punch them in the head. And those who consider themselves “liberal” should be the first to recognize this.

In physical violence, perhaps safe spaces have reached their ultimate conclusion. They’ve created a group of people incapable of vigorous debate on ideas, and so handicapped by way of creative response that all they have at their disposal are tools of censorship and violence. And doesn’t that sound eerily similar to some other notorious groups? Perhaps Dan Arel and Richard Spencer have a lot more in common than either has yet to realize.

There in lies the irony so much of the modern left seems to be missing. It’s not easy to make a man like Donald Trump look good by comparison, but the people who physically assault others because of words, and those who applaud them – manage to pull it off.

Here is something Natasha Lennard (writer of the Nation piece), Dan Arel, and all their left wing fans clearly don’t understand. Sometimes violence is the answer. But when violence is the right answer, it is only because it is the only answer. Your job, is to make sure the reason it’s the only answer is because it’s your final option – not because you’re too creatively inept, too communicatively feeble, and too witlessly impotent – to respond any other way.