The reason fascists were able to gain so much power in Germany despite being a minority was the public perception that communist activists were committing violence against them. The dynamic they exploited was the exact same dynamic modern day fascists exploit.
This is why the German nazis staged the Reichstag fire. It was a turning point in the regime, and gave them public license to begin rounding up communists.
On the night of February 27th Hitler and Goebbels were having dinner at Goebbel’s Berlin home. Just after 21.00, Goebbels received a phone call from Dr. Hansfstaengl that the Reichstag building was on fire. Goebbels later claimed that he felt the news was so fanciful that he did not inform Hitler even though he was in the same house. It was only when he received another phone call that confirmed the news, that Goebbels informed Hitler. They immediately left for the Reichstag where they met Goering. All three declared that the fire was the work of the Communists and Socialists and the SA was put on alert to maintain order if and when the communist insurrection started.
The SA did what was required of it and rounded up as many communists as they could find – nearly 4000 people. “Arrests upon arrests. Now the Red pest is being thoroughly rooted out.”
Violence against the Nazis helped the Nazis, so much so that they faked violence against themselves to increase public support. Do you think today is different?
The only benefit to beating up your opponents is that it's a threat. "Don't spread your message, or we will hurt you." That's why fighting worked in the past. It actually did stifle the message.
Well, guess what? That doesn't work anymore. We have the internet. Anonymous message boards exist and fringe voices can amplify themselves hundreds of times over. If people are scared, they create an anonymous username and viola, instant safety. When most of your country has an internet connection, intimidating people into silence does not work. The only thing it does is tell everyone that you are violent.
When Richard Spencer went viral because he got punched, guess what happened? It gave him a shitload of publicity and he gained tens of thousands of followers. Did the fear tactics work? Did he stop spreading his message? Well, you tell me. I know people don't like to admit it, but the dude who punched Richard Spencer helped Richard Spencer.
The Internet is a weird place. Leftist bubbles especially. Every person I have spoken to about this IRL gave me the same reaction:
"Who's Richard Spencer?"
Then I explain, and the conversation inevitably goes like this:
"I mean, I don't like Nazis but I don't like the idea of punching people either. Why did he get punched? What did he actually say?"
I mean come on. Use your heads. What are they going to do when they get home?
"Punch a Nazi" is about the most counterproductive form of activism I can think of. It's just an excuse to do something that feels good. I mean shit, you might as well buy Richard Spencer adverts on national television. That's the effect it has.