Word-of-mouth and community support is a more effective way to stamp out right-wing extremism than additional government policing powers, writes Tom Tanuki.
IN THE PAST YEAR, I’ve read a thousand columns on how all Nazis should be locked up permanently and/or murdered extrajudicially by an army of 007s and Robocops. In the context of the renewed focus on the far-Right and White supremacist fringe after 6 January’s amateur U.S. insurrection and recent Australian Government enquiries into the subject, calls for action are not a surprise to me.
But I am so tired of hearing that many peoples’ best – or only – answer to the problem of the far-Right is throwing cops at it, ignorant as to the motivations of the State, the role of anti-fascism and the power of popular community resistance to this kind of extremism. Bad takes on the far-Right abound, from the Left, academics and, of course, our government.
Mind you, there was an open Nazi White supremacist with a swastika on his forehead using a rudimentary flamethrower on a family this week and you’ll be relieved to hear I’m not nominating you for the task of citizen’s arresting him to role model good community resistance. Nor am I seeking to reduce the risks that White supremacists pose when they commit radically violent acts. I’m not even talking about my (admittedly rather abolitionist) politics regarding the police here. I’m simply talking about the painfully imagination-free way that people write about the far-Right in Australia.
I read a breathless opinion column by someone the other day, which I won’t share here. Its entire point was to insist that all Nazis must be murdered or sequestered away for ideological treason, presumably à la the DPRK. “Lock them away in prisons!”, “Get cops on to them!” and “Get ASIO to deal with them right now!” I read far too much of this breathless cop-wrangling behaviour from purported Lefties. They have no idea what they’re asking for, really.
These powers would be a fascist’s wet dream. Our government, intelligence apparatus and border protection service already have sweeping surveillance and policing powers. Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton is trying to broaden them as we speak. We long ago accepted, to our national shame, that indefinite offshore detention and boat turnbacks for refugees are normal. (I recently listened to Australian fascist organiser Tom Sewell in discussion with a neo-Nazi podcast, discussing the 2014 “Stop the Boats” campaign, which PM Scott Morrison helped lead. Sewell remarked upon the left-wing condemnation of that campaign as “fascist propaganda” and he agreed wholeheartedly. What an endorsement!)
Such is our political paradigm, sporting many of the isolationist and authoritarian hallmarks that a real fascist dreams of. Does the abovementioned columnist think that the militarised police apparatus of this State will take real action on fringe fascist elements? Why would they, even? Our government’s policies set the stage for fringe far-right extremism to grow. The expansion of State powers would only fuel that growth.
We’ve had a revolving-door Liberal Party Government in power all through the rise in fringe nationalist extremism — since 2014, since Reclaim Australia, since the “Stop the Boats” campaign. Their main priority through that time has been to tread on eggshells about the subject, to not condone the rising violence while also trying not to lose the movement as a voting bloc. During that time, we also produced Australia’s worst mass-murderer in the form of the Christchurch killer.
Still, our government will not work in earnest on answers to the problem. Even now, the Liberals’ major contribution to a recent Senate motion to investigate far-right extremism was to insist on the deletion of the “far-right” bit.
I have even noted our government’s tendency to offer significant grant money out to academics who can write up papers for them that explain back to them why Lefties are just as bad as the far-Right. No enquiry into extremism seems to go without introducing some counter-balancing “far-left extremist” element into the equation. There was a paper published not long ago about “symbiotic radicalisation” between far-left and far-right fringe elements, offering up horrifying examples of left-wing extremists helping make the far-Right bad. It included a handful of comments on a left-wing Facebook page by people suggesting they might patrol for stickering White supremacists. Oh, if only those commenters knew that neo-Nazism was all their fault.
I might understand this if, say, Australia had also produced some left-wing mass murderers. But that hasn’t happened, so why is the Australian Government so desirous of finding academics who can prove to them why some fey anarchist in a Footscray squat is as bad as Brenton Tarrant? I believe it’s an effective way of distancing the Government from the need to intervene in what’s actually a very specific problem. The government that would have to shape a cohesive response to the rise of White supremacy in Australia is instead trying to find ways to escape from it, so we must assume they’re not in control of it at all. Only damage control.
Of course, my suggestion is that good anti-fascist community organisation plays a vital role in raising local awareness of and ultimately stopping these dangerous pests. I have seen for myself how anti-fascist movements countered waves of nationalist and far-right extremist movements in Australia over many years, online and in the street. When Channel 7 was helping broadcast the closet Nazis behind Reclaim Australia and the United Patriots Front as ‘concerned mums and dads’, it was anti-fascists who first advised the community that they were, in fact, closet Nazis.
Communities like Coburg protected each other and organised with anti-racist groups when fascists came to town. Anti-racist groups organised coalitions to counter-protest and demonstrate physical resistance to these movements for years. It was tough but it worked, time and again. This approach has always been the cornerstone of forging ties that organised racists can’t break and reducing their standing among the rest of the community.
A government in damage control, academics telling the Government what they want to hear for grant money and opportunities, soft Lefties howling about how all the cops and ASIO should immediately execute all Nazis — what do they share in common? None of them can, or want to, attest to the power of years of grassroots anti-fascist community activism. They paper over the gaps in their politics or understanding with cops and prisons, clueless as to how a community might protect itself.
And again: no, community organisation might not have the capacity to stop the next Brenton Tarrant in the act alone. I am perfectly aware of this. I’m merely questioning “experts” who cheerlead for ASIO and cops, never having paid attention to the fact that it’s the community who is inevitably the frontline in this fight.
Seek out people who have better answers. Anti-fascists are often the only ones who’ve seen the power of the community to protect itself through word-of-mouth and action.
Oh, and that flamethrower-wielding liquid-paper-swastika-forehead Nazi? Apparently, he was citizen’s arrested after all. Don’t count out the community!
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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