Fascism: Are we there yet?

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neo-Nazi Blair Cottrell with suspended Sky News host Adam Giles (Image via @PaulKidd)

There’s a lot of discussion about Fascism at the moment, in the media it’s “this is fascism, that’s fascism”, which indicates there’s some confusion about what fascism actually is. Political editor Dr Martin Hirst interviews Australia's most prominent Nazi-hunter, Andy Fleming, to better understand this vexing term.

THE TERM “fascism” and descriptor “fascist” have been bandied around by ill-informed members of the commentariat in the last few weeks. The decision to remove Sky News from televisions in Victorian railway stations was described as “fascism” on Sky News itself. The use of the emotive and taboo term “Final Solution” by Queensland Senator Fraser Anning in his maiden speech invoked the Holocaust and led to accusations that Anning might be an actual Fascist.

Then we had the incident of a real and actual fascist being platformed on Sky News (again) and not challenged on his pro-Nazi views. Add to the mix my favourite fascism reference of the last few weeks – Peter van Onselen’s attempts to equate national socialism (Hitler’s version of fascism) to Marxism – and it seems there’s an epidemic of “fascism this” and “fascism that”.

We even had the prospect of the Liberal Party electing as its leader – and therefore, Australia’s prime minister – Peter Dutton, a man many regard as a fascist-style politician.

So, what’s going on? Are we already at peak fascism, or is there some way to go yet? There does seem to be an increase in global uncertainty and turmoil, and authoritarian populist politicians are sprouting up in many parts of Europe and other regions of the world.

To help IA readers understand what fascism is today, I went to see one of Australia’s leading authorities on fascism from both an historical and a practical perspective.

Andy Fleming (aka @slackbastard) is one of our best and bravest Nazi hunters. His blog Slackbastard is a treasure trove of information about Australia’s homegrown fascist grouplets and often includes photos of their most prominent members. It is regularly updated and contains inside information that, I’m sure, the Nazi fanbois don’t like being in the public domain.

Independent Australia: There was a rush of outrage when Senator Fraser Anning of Bob Katter’s Australia Party appeared to call for a return to the White Australia policy on immigration and invoked the phrase the “final solution” in his maiden speech recently. But, is Fraser Anning a fascist?

Andy Fleming: Insofar as I’m familiar with them, I think Anning’s views could be described as proto-fascist; that is, if Anning is not a fascist, his rhetoric (and the ideas which underlie them), provide the political foundations for the development of a genuinely fascist ideology and movement. In this context, while accurately describing his viewpoint is essential, it’s also critically important to examine its effects and its relationship to other, "non-fascist" doctrines on race and nation — in particular Australia’s status as a colonial-settler state, the denial of Indigenous sovereignty, the the White Australia policy, and the brutally-punitive system of mandatory detention. In other words, Anning can and perhaps should be understood as expressing views and supporting policies that are part of a racist continuum rather than an isolated, ‘fascist’ outlier.

IA: Why do you think someone like Anning feels it’s okay to use this type of language? Personally, I think that the normalisation of racism in the media has something to do with it.

Fleming: There’s a very strong Islamophobic sentiment in Australia, as there is across the Western world. Anybody who’s spent any time on social media or read the comments section in almost any online publication, whether mainstream or fringe, will encounter some of the most vile aspersions being directed at Muslims. Unfortunately, this would appear to be a more-or-less permanent fixture of contemporary political discourse, one which has moreover been incorporated into the business models of many online publications and, of course, Facebook and Twitter. More broadly, while sections of the media do pander to racist and White supremacist notions, paranoid nationalism has deep roots in Australia, so it makes sense that it produces figures like Anning.

IA: Speaking of the media, is Sky News fascist, or just a home to far right ideologues?

FlemingNo, I wouldn’t describe Sky News as fascist, but it certainly does provide a home for a range of rightwing ideologues happy to flirt with – and even positively court, in some cases – fascist doctrines. The Channel also appears to be subject to a kind of Foxification, meaning that things are likely to get a lot worse as time goes by.

IA: Well, what did you make of Blair Cottrell’s appearance on the Adam Giles Show? It caused a stir and now he’s banned. Is that all it takes to stop the Nazis?

FlemingCottrell’s appearance on The Adam Giles Show was certainly remarkable, not only in light of Sky News Australia’s program director Greg Byrnes’ later admission that he and Sky were fully aware of Cottrell’s views when they invited him on to the show, but also the openly-supportive nature of the interview itself. In this context, it’s worth recalling John Birmingham’s observation that ‘Sky News After Dark isn’t a news operation, it’s a digital Nuremberg Rally’.

In terms of "stopping Nazis", were it not for various efforts at monitoring, documenting and analysing the contemporary Australian far right, it’s almost certain that Cottrell would never have been exposed as a neo-Nazi, and consequently his appearance on Sky would have generated a lot less controversy. Or, to put it another way, if you had to rely on mainstream media in Australia for your understanding of fascism and the far right, including its leading personalities, organisations and activities, you would likely have only a very partial and often misleading sense of the current state-of-play; further, insofar as having an accurate picture of your political enemies and rivals is necessary in order to better combat them, so too would anti-fascist struggle be derailed.

IA: How about the Sky journalists? One or two came out against Cottrell being on air, but then it seems they got all defensive again when members of the public and the Victorian government took action rather than just talking about it. 

FlemingI suppose a distinction can and should be made between Sky journalists and Sky commentators. In the case of the former, I’m not surprised that a number chose to denounce the decision by Sky management to give a neo-Nazi activist a simpering interview. Of course, the original offence was compounded by Cottrell’s later comment – in direct response to Sky journalist Laura Jayes – that he ‘might as well as raped [her] on air’, as ‘not only would she have been happier with that but the reaction would have been the same’. When Cottrell’s other commentary on the subject of women, his endorsement of the use of terror against them, and his criminal record is taken into account, this is a deeply-disturbing response (even if both Facebook and Twitter regard such commentary as within the bounds of acceptable discourse), and it would be truly shocking if Sky employees did not vocally object to such statements directed at their colleagues. Otherwise, I think the defensive reaction to the broader public backlash is perfectly understandable, and closely-related to employees’ desire to both keep their jobs and, perhaps, be able to contribute to far more sensible discussions of politics and society.

IA: You’re perhaps the most informed commentator on the Nazi fringe in Australia. What’s the state of play among these groups?

FlemingNeo-Nazism continues to exist on the fringes of the nationalist and patriotic movements, with some electing to maintain their distance from more mainstream political developments and others choosing to throw themselves into their middle. Reclaim Australia, for example, attracted neo-Nazi participation, and the United Patriots Front (UPF) acted as a bridge between those espousing explicitly fascist and neo-Nazi politics and the bulk of participants in Reclaim (and its numerous satellites) motivated by a more straightforward fear of and resentment towards Muslims, The Left and other, allegedly traitorous, elements. Since the collapse of Reclaim and the UPF, Cottrell and co. have embarked upon a period of political consolidation, attempting to cohere their most-devoted followers into a more solid political unit — that is, they’re building fascist cadres.

Also taking part in this political process are members of "Antipodean Resistance", for which there’s a strong cross-over in membership with the lads, but who otherwise occupy their time putting up neo-Nazi propaganda at schools, universities, synagogues and anywhere else likely to attract media attention. Both groups are the subject of ongoing investigations, so I expect that further details regarding their activities will be published before the end of the year. 

Finally, as well as explicit and covert neo-Nazi groups, it’s also important to recognise the more subterranean efforts of neo-Nazis, White supremacists and members of the so-called "Alt-Right" to popularise fascist ideas, many of which are to be found in Anning’s speech but which also emerge in a range of different contexts. "Cultural Marxism", for example, has been denounced by Chris Uhlmann, while the figure of George Soros is frequently denounced as a nefarious (((influence))) on global politics; there are many other examples.

IA: How can we stop the far right and Nazi sympathisers from growing here in Australia?

FlemingPut simply, by collectively organising to oppose them. This opposition can take many forms, but the chief strategy, as I see it, is to attach a cost to engaging in fascist politics. Beyond this, it’s important to present political alternatives to the madness of fascist reason and to cultivate an anti-fascist sensibility among the general public. Insofar as the desire for empowerment or liberation drives alienated (White, predominately male) youth in particular to seek out fascist political formations, the absence of such alternatives means that fascists "win" by default. Of course, the communities which are the targets of fascist violence must also be empowered, to both engage in self-defence but also to pursue their own political visions in collaboration with others.

IA: Finally, Andy. Fascism, are we there yet?

FlemingNo, not quite yet ... but in a global context, the conditions under which most labour are hardly benign, and global capitalism condemns hundreds of millions to lives of hardship and poverty. Rampant inequality and a natural environment on the point of total collapse doesn’t bode well for the future, or the possibility of creating healthy, liberatory alternatives.

Still, the struggle continues — as it must.

You can follow political editor Dr Martin Hirst on Twitter @ethicalmartini.

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