The mainstream media is giving racial extremists such as Tom Sewell a platform to spread his message of hatred to potential recruits, writes Tom Tanuki.
ON WEDNESDAY, neo-Nazi groups were raided in Adelaide. Two people were arrested — one for possessing an IED and the other for possessing “extremist material”. More raids followed in Queensland. The leader of White supremacist groups European Australian Movement (EAM) and National Socialist Network (NSN), Tom Sewell, took to Telegram to say that the Adelaide arrests were of members of an ‘unaffiliated group’ and that the bomb was only firecrackers. But firecrackers alone don’t make an IED — they’re only a component in one. So this is probably a lie.
I want to take this opportunity to dive into the irrational goals and propensity for violence of Sewell and his neo-Nazi groups. I believe these groups are developing young men and boys who will be capable of committing a terrorist attack. They repeatedly say they are non-violent, though. What are we to believe?
I think their individual members might only turn violent after being threatened by state action, like Sewell once threatened. But I don’t know that. I know it’s impossible to take them at their word because neo-Nazis change their own direction at the drop of a hat. That irrationality is what makes them effective neo-Nazis. Their history demonstrates this.
Neo-Nazis after World War 2 have faced an uphill battle trying to convince the public of the virtues of fascism. In frustration, generations of neo-Nazis – from street-level nationalist thugs to important WW2-era fascist philosophers like Julius Evola – have eventually given up in waves on the futility of populist organising while hiding their fascist beliefs.
Trump’s 2016 election and Brexit hinted at the potential for a springtime for nationalism; as that moment petered out, the world was left with many disenchanted people. Some of them settled into extremist forms of neo-Nazism. The most emblematic of those forms is the doctrine of “leaderless resistance”. This idea, at its most extreme, dictates that lone-wolf insurrectionary attacks will speed up a process of social decline that neo-Nazis can capitalise on. Terrorism, basically.
Tom Sewell’s trajectory mirrors this tradition. He began active involvement in activism in a leadership role with the United Patriots Front (UPF), 2016’s successor to the anti-Islam Reclaim Australia group. The far-right patriot movement was enormously popular online; at the height of the UPF, Sewell regularly says, their Facebook videos reached more viewers than free-to-air evening news. Sewell was always a neo-Nazi, but all UPF leaders obscured their beliefs in exchange for the limelight. Neo-Nazis gain a lifelong education in saying one thing and doing another, which often begins during abortive populist political phases like this.
It took the work of anti-fascists and journalists to expose the ideology of people like Sewell. After social media bans, failed rallies and legal/state recriminations, the patriot movement scattered. Sewell organised the now-defunct Lads Society in 2017-2018, a “clubhouse” and gym space for the recruitment of young men which was less concerned with the public spotlight. Still, they encountered anti-fascist and popular resistance and their group lost two club spaces as a result. Sewell eventually wound up at the same destination of many failed far-right public figures. He gave up on hiding for the sake of optics and openly embraced neo-Nazi Hitlerism in public through EAM/NSN.
A regular misconception I hear is that this must mean they aren’t interested in popular recruitment anymore. After all, Adolf Hitler isn’t exactly a popular guy. But it isn’t true, as Sewell has explained many times. Hitler’s actually really popular if you’re a Nazi — and these people are deeply out of touch with the rest of us. Many of his kind are convinced Hitlerism would be widely accepted if only White people could let go of the “stigma” of Hitler and WW2.
Sewell recently told his members that they must pay back an “ancestral” debt inherited from their White Australian predecessors for the “crime” of participating in war against Nazi Germany. I would be delighted to see them tell veterans that at an ANZAC dawn service.
Their recruitment strategy is also shaped by the knowledge that they are under imminent threat of proscription as a terrorist organisation. Sewell believes that intelligence agencies change their approach based on the size of the group they’re targeting. ASIO, he says, will take more swift and decisive action against a group of 100 members than a group of 1,000. Because 1,000 disenfranchised extremists are more likely to splinter and take unpredictable retaliatory action than 100, and 1,000 “lone wolves” are harder to track. (Maybe this is a rumour, or maybe he was told it by someone in intelligence.)
Having multiple groups allows EAM/NSN to switch members or create new ones in the event of the proscription of one group. The loose, shifting array of groups means it doesn’t really matter which groups had the IED materials. Under the auspices of the “leaderless resistance” doctrine, any member of any group could – and possibly thinks they should – independently amass bomb materials while participating in any group, including EAM/NSN.
In part two of Alex Mann’s The Base Tapes, his incredible exposé on neo-Nazi terrorist group The Base, leader Rinaldo Nazzaro tells a would-be Australian recruit who brings up an interest in “bombings” that what members do in their own time is their own business. Leaderless resistance.
So Sewell is in what he sees as a race against time to recruit as many people as possible, to stall intelligence efforts. But relegated to platforms like Telegram, where only scumbags, journalists, anti-fascists and cops linger, he must use other means to recruit.
His platform: the Australian mainstream media. The means: stunts.
Sensationalist neo-Nazi stunts were tricks pioneered in the 1960s by George Lincoln Rockwell, founder of the American Nazi Party. The EAM and NSN don’t deviate far from Rockwell’s playbook, developed specifically to draw attention and recruits to his small group. Hence their Grampians hike stunt and the A Current Affair incident.
It’s hard to cover these groups in a way that doesn’t make them appear more powerful, given that they rely on irrational displays of strength to promote themselves. Consider that Rockwell once gave American Nazi Party member James Robinson an award for punching Martin Luther King Jr in 1965. King did not press charges and, as a result, he received more popular sympathy, but neo-Nazis still saw it as a win — they simply saw the violence as great promotion.
Sewell is now being rewarded by an online international “community” of neo-Nazis for punching a Channel Nine security guard. His irrational display of strength was a bad decision that will impact his groups legally. But when Channel Nine broadcasted it, along with a mystifying Sewell interview, they promoted EAM/NSN. It led to a massive spike in Sewell’s Telegram channel followership and because of it, they recruited more members.
EAM/NSN use shock and stunts to recruit, but not simply to dodge repercussions from the State. They ultimately want to set up what Sewell describes as “fifth columns”. This means growing independent groups which can undermine a nation from within. He means building White-only enclaves — communities of only White supremacists. This concept draws from a rich lineage of White separatists who have tried to build (or seize) towns in America, Europe and South Africa. The idea of these enclaves is to prepare for a collapse of civil society, one that all neo-Nazi conspiracy theorists anticipate; in a predicted period of instability, they foresee using their skills to seize power.
Practically, this means they try to live together in houses in one area, with a plan to build outwards. They are currently attempting this in several states. (Historically, the destiny of many notorious neo-Nazis has been getting snitched on or shot in the face by other neo-Nazis; these enclaves will be special, bucking that historic trend.)
Still, they regularly state in their Telegram channels that they are non-violent. This is to muddle and delay the process of proscription as a terrorist organisation. Tom Sewell regularly states that there is “no political solution” to White genocide, the paranoid fantasy that there is an orchestrated plan by Jewish powerbrokers to exterminate the White race.
He is quick to clarify that he doesn’t imply violence, but in his circles, all White supremacists know that ‘no political solution’ implies a terrorist solution. The Christchurch killer committed an act of leaderless resistance in response to that made-up “problem”. As we know, Sewell tried to recruit him. I recently noticed Sewell telling a neo-Nazi who said they’d be buying a gun: ‘buy some White-out’. This obliquely refers to the White-out Nazi slogans Brenton Tarrant covered his rifle in.
So, of course, Sewell supports violence. At one moment, he is simply careful enough not to say so regularly in the hope that ASIO doesn’t whisk him away. But the next moment, he goes and attacks a security guard and uploads the footage himself.
How does it add up? It doesn’t. He is deeply irrational.
A Sewell anecdote follows. He is an esoteric Hitlerist or an occult fascist: that’s someone who puffs up their fascist politics with a veneer of garbage pseudo-spiritualism. (This tradition began with a race-shifting idiot called Savitri Devi, an Italian woman pretending to be Indian, who invented praying to Adolf Hitler in the 1940s. Long story.) Sewell said on a podcast recently that he was electrocuted one day. When he passed out, he was visited by an “Aryan god”. The god told him he was great, or something. Bear with me here. When he woke up, he went to a hospital. They told him he had never been electrocuted at all.
Initially, I thought this meant that Sewell needed a visit by a crisis assessment team. Then I realised that the truth is a lot sadder: he is making it up because he wants to style himself as a spiritual successor to Adolf Hitler. It’s the kind of rubbish fairytale that a loser creates to appeal to disaffected boys, the kind of 16-18-year-olds who are ideal White supremacist recruitment material. Well-rounded men, obviously, don’t get excited at the idea of electric Nazi ghosts paying compliment to a balding suburban prepper.
I believe his “non-violence” claims as much as I believe his electrocution story. Tom Sewell listens to nobody but himself and is perfectly entitled to do tomorrow the complete opposite of what he says today. Any neo-Nazi can — and does.
I would not have shared much of the above were I merely hoping to pen a piece hoping to educate on the EAM/NSN, or correcting people on how to talk about them. I’ve seen enough of that and I am past the point of convincing media outlets that they must get coverage right. What we must do in response to this is organise better.
Anti-fascist individuals and collectives around Australia need to begin getting in touch with each other. The autonomous part of many of these collectives is now so autonomous that many of them may as well not exist. I am continually surprised at the ignorance of people about this growing threat.
I do not believe that holding rallies alone will fix this issue. People need to begin to make enquiries about whether these scumbags are organising down the road from them because increasingly, they are. Their stunts will become more obnoxious and they will begin to target more than just a Channel Nine building. That violent incident was the beginning, not the end. We should be ready.
I said last fortnight that we cannot wait for ASIO to fix our problems for us. People must stop waiting for headlines altogether and reach out to each other in anticipation of the problems these groups pose. Talk to each other. Stop pretending like active anti-fascism – whether be it activism, research, conversations or hitting the streets – is a thing for overseas, or a thing of the past, or a thing someone else does.
You go do it.
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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