Dutton and the conservative extremists: Civil disobedience is not terrorism

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Peter Dutton was interviewed by David Speers on ABC's Insiders (Screenshot via YouTube)

Recently, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton described Islamic terrorism as “Left-wing” and LNP senators complained that the head of ASIO referred to “Right-wing” extremists in a way that upset “conservative” Australians. Dr Martin Hirst reports.

IT SEEMS THAT despite all the hand-wringing to the contrary, the terms “Left” and “Right” do matter and might actually mean something.

Let’s start by unpacking some rather confusing and illogical remarks by one of Australia’s most outspoken and out-of-their-mind politicians, Senator Malcolm Roberts

When he was questioning ASIO Director-General Mike Burgess before the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee during this week’s Senate Estimates hearings, Roberts said:

I'm trying to put the question to you properly, Mr Burgess — the terms 'the Left' and 'the Right' would seem to be ones that confuse. Maybe they're even designed to confuse. I'm not accusing you of using those terms for that intent. They've been generally accepted across the community. But, to me, Hitler was raised as someone from the Right when he was a socialist.


In fact, most of the dictators and most of the mass murderers of the last century were actually socialists or communists. So 'the Left' and 'the Right' gets fuzzy. Perhaps a better terminology would be to do with control versus freedom, in terms of the people who are seeking to take away freedoms, whether it be from a country or from individuals within a country. Because it seems to me that, whenever the terminology is confused, your job of communicating to the Australian people will be more difficult.

Hitler was a socialist”? Well, no, he wasn’t. Hitler was a fascist and we’ve been here before, but this talking point is not going to go away. Not while it can be deployed to gaslight the public and throw kibble to the rabid and barking mad supporters of One Nation and other far-Right nodules of craziness on the political spectrum.

The excitable and imaginative Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells also voiced concern over the same issue when questioning Mike Burgess at Senate Estimates this week.

Director-General, I'm… concerned about the use of the terminology of 'Right'. 'Right' is associated with conservatism in this country and there are many people of conservative background who take exception to being tarred with the same brush. I think that you do understand that your comments, particularly when you refer to them solely as 'Right-wing', have the potential to offend a lot of Australians.

Perhaps, then, we should talk about conservative extremists if that would keep the Senator happy.

Why are these senators so upset about the deployment of the term “Right-wing extremists”? Apart from the fact that the extremists tend to be among their voter base and most vocal supporters, we might argue that it is to cause deliberate confusion and to provide some sort of camouflage for the extremists at their end of the political spectrum.

And why would Roberts and Fierravanti-Wells want to do this? The most logical reason is to protect their benefactor, Peter Dutton. The conservative extremists in the Liberal Party and their fellow travellers in One Nation are keen to have Dutton replace Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Pauline Hanson has been outspoken about her support for this move.

This is because Peter Dutton thinks Left-wing activists are as bad as and as dangerous as Islamic terrorists. And so do Hanson and co.

According to Dutton and the conservative extremists, advocating for civil disobedience in the face of unjust laws and discriminatory policies is as bad as blowing things up in the name of Allah.

Of course, Dutton’s view is nonsense, but it is dangerous nonsense.

Don’t take my word for it — take Peter Dutton’s.

These are his most recent words on the subject, which suggest that fascists and anti-fascists are essentially the same —lunatics in Dutton’s language of hate:

If somebody is going to cause harm to Australians, I just don’t care whether they’re on the far-Right, far-Left, somewhere in between, they will be dealt with.

And if the proliferation of information into the hands of Right-wing lunatics or Left-wing lunatics is leading to a threat in our country, then my responsibility is to make sure our agencies are dealing with it and they are.

Dutton was given a chance to back away from this crazy position by the ABC’s Patricia Karvelas. But he didn’t back down, he doubled-down.

Asked by Karvelas to clarify if by referring to Left-wing terrorism he meant Islamic terrorists, Dutton said: “Yes, I do and anybody in between.”

Then on the ABC’s Insiders, David Speers again asked Dutton if he stood by the claim that Islamic terrorism is Left-wing. Again, Dutton declined to walk back the comment. Instead, he waffled on about evil-doers all over the political spectrum and, once again, made the false equivalence between Left and Right.

Dutton’s response flies in the face of everything reasonable and sane.

Islamic terrorism is real, but it is deliberately misrepresented by Dutton and people like him in order to prosecute the sham “war on terror”. The threat level in Australia and most parts of the world is today relatively low.

On the other side, the threat level of neo-Nazi and openly fascist groups on the far-Right is growing. This was the point being made several times over the past two weeks by the head of ASIO, Mike Burgess.

According to Burgess’s first Annual Threat Assessment, the threat level in Australia today is “probable”.

In the main, Burgess says, ‘violent Islamic extremism’ remains ASIO’s ‘principal concern’, but he then added, ‘in Australia, the extreme Right-wing threat is real and growing’.

He continued:

‘In suburbs around Australia, small cells regularly meet to salute Nazi flags, inspect weapons, train in combat and share their hateful ideology. These groups are more organised and security-conscious than they were in previous years.’

In the Director-General’s whole speech, he did not mention Left-wing terrorism once.

That is all Peter Dutton’s invention and spin.

This week is not the first time that Dutton has used his Home Affairs portfolio to signal an aggressive intent to clampdown on civil disobedience and to target Left-wing activists and causes.

Dutton loves to “both sides” the Left and the Right, claiming in the aftermath of the Christchurch terror attacks by committed young Nazi, Brenton Tarrant, that the Greens were just as bad as the notorious fascist-embracing former senator, Fraser Anning.

During the 2019 election campaign, Dutton called GetUp an “abomination” and “undemocratic”. At the same time, he was giving oxygen to the discredited myth that white farmers were being murdered in large numbers in South Africa.

In 2018, Dutton infamously called reporters and cartoonists crazy lefties, adding “they’re dead to me”. Of course, this makes him a superhero to conservative columnists who sing his praises, but it betrays Dutton’s hardened undemocratic views.

He went even further in October 2019, telling Ray Hadley that climate protestors should be gaoled and have their welfare benefits cut for disrupting a mining convention in Melbourne:

“People should take these names and the photos of these people and distribute them as far and wide as they can so that we shame these people… Let their families know what you think of their behaviour.”

This betrays Dutton’s real purpose in conflating Islamist extremism with Left-wing protests. If activists can be demonised in the public eye, it becomes much easier to criminalise them.

There is a world of difference between civil disobedience and terrorism. Civil disobedience is a necessary and legitimate tactic to resist tyranny. Terrorism is the deliberate targeting of civilian populations with unrestrained acts of extreme violence.

Dutton knows this, but he doesn’t care and will promote a raft of lies, hatred and vitriol to convince gullible supporters that civil disobedience and terrorism are pretty much the same thing. Equating anti-fascists with the actions of Right-wing (conservative) extremists is one way to do this and Dutton gets a lot of help from the fringe-dwellers in the conservative media.

Just this week, Spectator published a long rant arguing that anti-fascists and actual Nazis were two sides of the same coin.

They’re not.

Dr Martin Hirst is a journalist, author and academic. You can follow him on Twitter @ethicalmartini.

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