Media coverage of Neo-Nazis – back in the news after a recent gathering in the Grampians – may be providing a platform to promote far-right extremism as acceptable political discourse, writes Tom Tanuki.
WHEN THE MEDIA revealed that Nazis from the National Socialist Network (NSN) went on a bushwalk in the Grampians on the weekend before Invasion Day, I did what I always do, I mumbled:
“It's just white men on a bushwalk. Bloody hell. Can’t even walk these days.”
I don’t think that, but me, I’m scarred. I don’t possess the apolitical "purity" of the Channel Seven Facebook comment section, which fills up on-call with comments like my whispered ones. But because I know what promotion Nazis are seeking with their stunts, I can predict what the comment sections are going to look like. I’m an anti-fascist who has obsessed over the optics of this lot for as long as they have. I’m probably damaged goods.
The original article in The Age was decent, responsible reporting by Nick McKenzie and Joel Tozer. It was informed, it recruited subject matter experts for context and it avoided the overwhelming temptation the media have to contact Nazis for a yarn. But when Nazis hit the headlines, the perils of same-day journalism are exposed as mainstream media scrambling to catch up. In their haste, they commit many of the errors that The Age journalists were wise enough to avoid. They promote the Nazis in question, often seeking out their thoughts.
Most coverage, even that of right-leaning publications, seemed appropriate over the Grampians bushwalk. But I think it’s too late for lone bouts of decent journalism to have a remediating effect. Many Australian media outlets platformed far-right groups so many times that the “just white men on a bushwalk” takes propagate organically. The Overton window of what counts for acceptable political discourse shifted to house pathologically disingenuous takes about far-right extremism.
Mention that Nazis are out doing Nazi stuff, and the Facebook comments section blooms:
“Typical Left, says everyone’s a Nazi.”
“But what about the Far-Left?”
“Just white men on a bushwalk.”
The NSN is comprised of scraps of the now-defunct Antipodean Resistance and Lads Society groups. They put up Nazi stickers, go on bushwalks and do deadlifts. They want to build a white enclave. Their leaders' approach has mostly eschewed social media or public promotion — particularly after the Christchurch massacre happened and leader Tom Sewell admitted he'd tried to recruit the murderer.
But they are experienced in stirring up controversy and because their violent views do the heavy lifting they don’t even need to be talented to do it. They’ve been posting their bushwalks for years but they made a big deal out of this one, broadcasting to passers-by that they were Nazis and publishing photos of a burning cross.
According to The Age report, one of their members said to a local:
"We are the Ku Klux Klan.”
I’ll explain that. And the cross. A burning cross evokes the image of the KKK and its brand of early-1900s U.S. Christian white supremacy, which for many people is the most recognisable imagery of fringe organised racism.
If you understand the occult fascist conspiracies and pseudo-spirituality informing Nazis like the NSN, you’ll know they’re not really inspired by the KKK, with much fascist thought being historically anti-Christian. But they knew the burning cross would register with the most laypeople. So this was marketing. Of course the press would report, but the established Overton window would do the real legwork, with much of their target audience likely to respond in the Facebook comments section: Oh, it’s just white men on a bushwalk.
I am damaged goods enough to remember when the media – and our politicians – helped shape the Overton window to let this lot in. I remember the puff pieces that former Lads Society member Blair Cottrell used to receive on Channel Seven and the ABC. I remember when Peter Dutton responded to ASIO concerns about the Far-Right a year after Christchurch by talking about “left-wing loonies”, exposing the hidden Facebook comments section in his brain.
And I remember when these same Nazis hosted a "community meeting" at their gym, to organise vigilante groups to hunt for Sudanese children to bash. Channel Seven attended and broadcast it as a Neighbourhood Watch style initiative, making them look like protectors.
The attempted insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 might have swung the popular consensus hard against the Far-Right fringe, but memories are short. These people wind their way back to our television screens sooner than you’d think. Much sooner when they’re aided by journalists like Sarah Ferguson of the ABC. Having long ago swept aside any objections to her friendly 2018 interview with Far-Right nationalist kingmaker, Steve Bannon, Sarah included a chat with Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the violent Far-Right Proud Boys, in her Trump piece on Four Corners. Just last night! So clearly, elements of Australian media really don’t want to accept the dangers of platforming extremists.
I am not warning against documenting these people, however.
I’ve tried to do it myself for years, since late 2017 when the media were still platforming them and it was mostly just myself and other scrappy anti-fascists like slackbastard, Jews Against Fascism and South-East Anti-Racists trying in vain to get people to notice the Lads Society. Coverage is needed, but we can't afford mistakes anymore. These people are dangerous.
Fascists and national socialists are indoctrinated by a cocktail of really bad ideas. They think that everything is run by malevolent Jews with a plot to exterminate the white race. (In the past month alone, I have seen Tom Sewell blame Jews for everything from COVID-19 to his inability to call in to a radio talk radio.) They believe in end-times occult fascist myths like Savitri Devi’s Nazi corruption of the Hindu "Kali Yuga" concept, which suggests we are in the middle of an age of destruction brought about by modernity. Every fascist pseudo-intellectual and spiritual charlatan they read encourages them down a pipeline of further radicalism.
Sewell once said of the Christchurch killer,
“The difference between my organisation, myself and him, is simply that we believe, certainly at this stage, that there is a peaceful solution for us to create the society we want to live in. ... If we are not given that opportunity, well, time will tell.”
He pretends that the outside world will determine when they run out of other options, like their white enclave one. It’s bullshit. They get to decide if they should turn violent — because as with Tarrant, their paranoid fantasist worldview convinces them a bloody end is coming for them, right now. That compels them to act.
Please, let's continue to document them. People need to know when these parasites appear in their town, whether for a bushwalk, to build a white enclave or whatever they decide to do next. Just remember that years of media platforming opened Pandora’s box. Now they have a direct connection to those Facebook comments sections and they use it, and controversy, to recruit via exposure.
Just white men on a bushwalk, they’ll all say.
Tom Tanuki is an online satirist, social justice commentator, writer and comedian. He has worked in anti-racist political comedy, most notably through his satirical group the Million Flag Patriots and anti-racist group Yelling At Racist Dogs (Y.A.R.D.). You can follow Tom on Twitter @tom_tanuki.
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