Politics Opinion

How the media helps neo-Nazi child 'groomers'

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NSN Leader Tom Sewell (image via YouTube)

A vanishingly small group of neo-Nazis protested a family-friendly event in Moonee Ponds last weekend. 

A drag performer who was there on the day uses a Hebrew performance name, thus attracting the fixation of homophobic antisemites. The banners contained messages about grooming and paedophilia. The police allowed them to do this in full view of the families in attendance.

It wasn’t a protest, in any event. It was a stunt to parasitise the popular trend among the right of theatrical moralising about family-friendly LGBT+ events and a made-up danger to children. Because the National Socialist Network (NSN) knew this kind of hate is gathering steam with a larger right-wing audience, they wanted to capitalise on it by way of the Australian media.

Theatrical moralising, because we know they don’t really think kids are in danger. The theatre is in the spluttering, going red in the face and pretending they feel a righteous moral outrage about drag queen storytime. With that, they pop a new lick of paint on ye olde homophobia and transphobia. Nowhere is that more apparent than with neo-Nazis, who obviously, historically and by their own words just want all queer people dead.

And I know they don’t care about the grooming of children, because they do it too. Instead of "grooming" a child to enjoy watching performers in heavy make-up, however, the NSN groom kids to plan for race war, be unemployable for life, go to prison and/or be on an ASIO watchlist. 

A slightly more dire future to commit white Australian children to.

ASIO say that they’ve seen kids as young as 16 involved in these groups. At NSN’s old "base" in Rowville, a rental property full of young men, they used to get the kiddies over to pump weights and heil Hitler in the garage. People monitoring the property reported a little bump in daily attendance over the school holidays. 

I’ve even heard NSN leader Tom Sewell talk on a neo-Nazi podcast about how the young ones are more dedicated to the cause, making them preferable. Because Sewell also said he spent his own teenage years hanging out with adult skinheads, really we’re talking about a multigenerational pattern of fascist grooming.

It's worth mentioning that Siege author James Mason was a prolific paedophile and he’s one of the pioneers of the accelerationist neo-Nazi ideology the NSN commit to. But not all neo-Nazis are child groomers. You might think one bad apple spoils the bunch, but I like to judge each neo-Nazi on his own merits. All I’m saying is most parents wouldn’t bat an eyelid at their kid attending a family-friendly drag performance, but if most parents knew their child was texting with Tom Sewell they’d call the cops.

Like I said, I wouldn’t repeat or show the horrible banners I mentioned. It didn’t seem worth the effect on LGBT+ people who’d read them. Channel Nine evening news had no such qualms, though, cheerfully broadcasting the banners to all of Australia. The Herald Sun, a decorated veteran of producing bad far-right coverage, also reproduced the banners, while seeking an obligatory ring-in comment from Anti-Defamation Commission chair Dvir Abramovich

His comment alluded to "open war" with NSN, not what I’d call a helpful characterisation of the situation. (Not helpful if your aim is to quell far-right extremism, anyway.  It’s helpful if your aim is to keep being sought for lurid comment by the media.)

Dvir has been given a mystifying green light by Meta to post NSN abuse and content to Facebook on their behalf. Because he never attaches to the material he shares any useful insight (every post being essentially “Look at this abuse, just look!”), his page is the only way Australian neo-Nazis can post to Facebook in 2022. Consequently, they all compete to have him share their material.

Self-serving, salacious and offensive coverage helps the NSN recruit. They said so in their own leaked manual, extolling the benefits of media baiting at length.

We are always telling each other that nobody trusts the media nowadays, although studies show that this trust runs lower in more free, democratic societies. Still, national media attention endows its subject matter with a dose of legitimating authority. You seem more important once you’re on the telly, in other words. Bad press can still be good press, because it shows that you’re obviously still worth talking about on a national stage. 

There’s an inherent salaciousness about covering neo-Nazis that makes for good media content. Unhappy little boys, who we’ve established are the NSN’s target grooming demographic, see an allure in the portrayal of the group as powerful villains. 

As the NSN’s manual said

'Even if the articles are mostly negative… We are trying to win over youth who are already sympathetic to the cause.'

Anti-fascists, groups and associated outlets also use the media. We also understand that it’s appealing to produce salacious neo-Nazi coverage. We can accommodate that salaciousness as long as we can ensure the coverage remains detrimental to them. 

That might mean not making the media worth their while to share, for instance, by revealing that they’re child groomers, which isn’t great for optics. Or it might mean exposing their personal details, doxxing them and their race war chatter to their mothers and bosses. We work with journalists who understand the need to approach the subject matter in this way. 

Over the past week, many people shared the view that more mainstream media coverage ought to have happened, and that it might have helped. It usually doesn’t. This week, yet again, it didn’t. The police were seen to have shielded the neo-Nazis and permitted the anti-queer stunt to continue. I understand that people thought that coverage might have highlighted the danger of what cops did. But it never does. Cops have been doing this sort of thing for years, and most media never cared.

The reason NSN left on the day is not because of cops, or media. It was likely because more people, encouraged by anti-fascists and other activists to show up, kept arriving to stand against them. Every person that shows up tips the power balance a little further. If the NSN had hung about, eventually cops would have been forced to pressure them to leave as separating the groups became more and more difficult. The Nazis left and then the cops left.

If we want to help out drag performers who are in danger from child-grooming Nazis, we need to talk with friends and allies about being prepared to show up in a group next time this kind of thing happens. Just our presence is enough. That’s community care. It’s the public who needs to peacefully protect public events from these people. Cops and journos will show up and assist.

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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