Politics Opinion

CPAC 2023 a breeding ground for dangerous ideologies

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Pauline Hanson was one of many conservative speakers at CPAC 2023 (Screenshot via YouTube)

The recent CPAC conference gave a platform to a number of speakers with ties to neo-Nazis and 'jobbers' voicing racist hate speech, writes Tom Tanuki.

MUCH WAS MADE, for a few days, of various shocking, salacious and offensive things said at Australian CPAC 2023 (the Conservative Political Action Conference). One of the speakers said Indigenous people should learn English if they want a “Voice”. Based! Another one, a hack corporate comic happy just to scrounge up work, “joked” about Indigenous people being “rent-seekers” and “violent Black men”. Triggered!

Most of the conversation was like that. Pretending to pertain the Voice to Parliament, but really only trading in whatever mucky culture war capital might be raised by deriding Indigenous people while it’s topical to do so. Welcome to/Acknowledgement of Country traditions are “woke”! If you want to help Black people, go help the real ones in Alice Springs! Benefits! The usual shit that paid racists say to entertain unpaid racists.

They see the Referendum as a time to shoehorn Indigenous bashing back into our vibrant Australian discourse. The CPAC idea of “shifting the Overton window” is really no more thought-out than picking on certain groups of people in the hopes that it'll become topical to do it, thereby giving them more work.

Work, rather than dialogue, is the desired outcome. There's no intellectual Right-wing culture at CPAC. These aren't the old smart – if rather kill-the-poor – conservative figures who know more about the economy than you. They don't know much about anything except for a) what annoys Left-wingers and b) how to get more work.

Australian CPAC has been trying really hard to copy the energy of American CPAC since it began in 2019. It’s a poor imitation. They shuffle their speakers list like a deck of cards, often suffering last-minute withdrawals by big-name U.S. culture war darlings who aren't thrilled at the prospect of stirring up lefties in the arse end of the world.

They've been trying to say shocking enough stuff to get condemned in the papers for years now, like when Mark Latham talked about killing lefties last year (although I think I'm the only one who even mentioned that). Nobody, for the most part, bothers. Australian CPAC is a bit of a cringefest.

So I have no doubt that this year's media moment would have made CPAC organisers feel alive. All it took to get condemned for a few days, by a handful of voices, was scraping even further at the bottom of the barrel than ever before. Well done!

The CPAC brand of bottom-feeding culture war “politics” isn't winning much at the polls in Australia, but it keeps them all paid, financed and/or subscribed to and that’s enough. This is Trumpian politics — essentially conducting yourself in the political arena the way WWE pro wrestlers build up hype for WrestleMania. In pro wrestling, the term “jobbing” denotes mid-tier wrestlers who earn a solid paycheque out of continually losing to other up-and-comers. That's what these guys do. They're jobbing.

The only remarkable thing about Australian CPAC 2023 was the numerous explicit connections its jobbers can boast with a small neo-Nazi group: the National Socialist Network (NSN). NSN is punching above its weight. It’s extraordinary.

Ex-Liberal MP and TERF fundamentalist Moira Deeming spoke at CPAC. She had a whole contingent of NSN members show up to her “Let Women Speak” rally earlier this year. Their stated intention was to show solidarity with the transphobes and to defend them from the Left. But Moira used her speech to say that the neo-Nazis were actually “socialists”, because the term “National Socialist” has “socialist” in it, so that means they're actually Left-wing.

This is CPAC-tier ingenuity. Why condemn your would-be friends, who make you look bad by association, when you can just pretend they don't exist?

Moira’s speech made said neo-Nazis quite annoyed in their little Telegram channels. They felt spurned because they really did just show up to support her. I suspect Moira is hoping that these specific neo-Nazis continue to remain deplatformed so none of us can fact-check their intentions. Funny that an apparent free-speech proponent of letting people speak actually requires ongoing censorship in order to not have her bullshit exposed.

Moira should tell U.S. import and fellow CPAC jobber Elijah Schaffer that the NSN isn't real. He featured one of them on his podcast two weeks ago! (The NSN member he had on is one Joel Davis, who manages to reconcile organising rallies against “grooming” with endorsing the legalisation of Catholic paedophilia. Nazi paedos! Cool.)

Elijah has moved to Australia to wane into irrelevance on the quiet Tweed coast and post offensive shit online to pay the bills. He used his CPAC time to repeat the usual coded racist, White supremacist inanity. He's a raving antisemite and it wasn’t long ago that being so far off the deep end would've gotten you banned from CPAC Australia (like with Lauren Southern in 2020, when organisers were scared of getting in trouble for hosting her).

In 2023 they can boast of even fewer principles than ever, however, so they're only hoping they can scum some attention off of Elijah.

CPAC 2023 also hosted the founders of GiveSendGo, the primary financing platform for militant Australian White supremacy. During their speech, they equivocated about how they are “not Nazis”, essentially dodging the subject of what they’ve done.

Here’s what they’ve done: They have allowed for what I think is around $50,000 of fundraising by NSN. Maybe more. They've hosted fundraisers for things like legal defence for Australian Nazis who've attacked Black people, and hospital bills for Australian Nazis who've been hurt in fights they picked with black people. NSN leader Tom Sewell is planning to put the fundraising monies he didn’t spend on lawyers to purchase land in the country. They want to establish a miniature White supremacist enclave. I bet that will end peacefully.

Nobody interested in generating real political capital would allow their big day to be so littered with explicit connections to violent neo-Nazis. So it’s fair to assume that Australian CPAC hosts and attendees are just jobbing. I only worry about how they’re helping fringe neo-Nazism and the ultimate consequences of that.

By accommodating the people who keep neo-Nazis funded and the famous racists who come here to work with them, CPAC 2023 is broadening the space in which neo-Nazis are accepted at least on their margins. These are militant extremists who once wanted to recruit the Christchurch killer and now venerate him. The Australian scene that created that murderer was allowed to fester in the ruins of the now-dead late-2010s patriot movement.

Australia gave the world that serial killer. The more militant neo-Nazis you help create by providing space for them, the greater a chance that one of them will hurt more people later on, just as their doomsday power conspiracies encourage them to do. This is why we discourage people from platforming or encouraging neo-Nazis.

For all that, no, I am not pretending that openly Hitlerite neo-Nazism is “on the rise” in any mainstream sense. As long as its chief proponents in Australia are a bunch of violent, Hitler-saluting losers, I don't fret that they’re about to ride a wave to sweeping mainstream success. Similarly, if Australian CPAC continues to coddle NSN’s buddies and enjoy attention off of increasingly close dalliances with them, I doubt they’re positioned for great political success.

I never like to misrepresent the dusty corner of the political fringe that I and other anti-fascists frequently observe as a mainstream matter. It’s a fringe one and long may it remain so.

But in this dusty fringe, it takes only one person to murder 51 people. That’s why we task people with never opening up the doorways to let more of them through. And that’s why anyone who spoke at CPAC 2023 should be hung out to dry, really. They took part in something that helped to legitimise a space in discourse for people espousing a very dangerous, violent ideology.

They ought to hope we don’t get another Christchurch soon — if we do, I hope they all decide it was worth jobbing for.

Tom Tanuki is a writer, satirist and anti-fascist activist. Tom does weekly videos on YouTube commenting on the Australian political fringe. You can follow Tom on Twitter @tom_tanuki.

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