TRUE OPINION: The difficult and largely thankless task of monitoring and exposing ugly-minded right wing racists and fascists would be appreciated a little more if understood a bit better, writes Tom Tanuki.
March 15, 2020 marks one year since white supremacist terrorist Brenton Tarrant entered Al Noor mosque in Christchurch armed with five guns and killed 51 people, injuring 50 more. What’s happening to mark the anniversary? Some people in the Muslim community intend to acknowledge it by mourning and continuing their recovery, although they don’t mark annual anniversaries in the Western way. Perhaps many others might read a commemorative column or two to recall the event. But I also know this: Neo-Nazis will be celebrating the anniversary on that day.
Meanwhile, anti-fascist researchers will continue the ongoing task of monitoring them, exposing them and doing what they can about their terrorist plans. I am writing today in appreciation of those researchers for the thankless task they undertake.
Before I move on, do not tell me not to say Brenton Tarrant’s name. That’s what Jacinda Ardern said she’d do. Ardern is a head of state, so her choice of words can mainstream toxic ideas or individuals. I’m not a head of state. It’s important for me to say Tarrant’s name because I insist that you don’t forget about him. Not saying Tarrant’s name allows white people like me the luxury of erasing him and his actions from my life – even if my whiteness means I could easily change my mind and align myself with his worldview tomorrow if I wanted to!
Antiracist scholar Ibram X. Kendi, in How to Be an Antiracist, says that “being an antiracist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination.” The opposite of that is the kind of amnesia that allows us to avoid critical thought and action. Do you think that saying Tarrant’s name gives him ‘power’? You are wrong. It’s your amnesia that gives his ideas space to grow. Anti-fascists insist that you – we – remember Tarrant.
Within three hours of the Christchurch massacre, then-Senator Fraser Anning posted on Twitter: “Does anyone still dispute the link between Muslim immigration and violence?” It was a message quite typical to Anning’s white nationalist campaign. I was with Sean Bedlam at the time, with whom I started the obnoxious anti-racist action group YARD in 2017. We were trying to process the horrors of what we’d seen in that video.
Our confoundment quickly turned to anger at Anning. We already knew that he was having a campaign meet the next day in a Moorabbin space; up until that point we didn’t think safe to lead people into a remote industrial estate with Anning’s fanbase of neo-Nazi hangers-on. But at that point we threw caution out the window and used the YARD platform to ask people to head there the next day. With half a day’s notice, over 100 people showed up to holler abuse at attendees. One young bloke came along with some eggs. He approached me and told me what he wanted to do. I tried to discourage him from doing it. (I’m grateful that Eggboy didn’t listen to this old man.)
We organised this because anti-fascists understand that it’s important, if you’re capable, to disrupt and physically stand against white supremacists. You can’t let them flourish and do what they like; they go on to gain confidence and power, and Christchurch showed us what confident white supremacists do. Showing up is important. Using your body in some way is important if you get to.
IF YOU VALUE OUR JOURNALISM PLEASE SUBSCRIBE & HELP KEEP US ALIVE! WE DO THIS ALL UNFUNDED & IN OUR FEW SPARE MOMENTS. WE NEED 2,000 SUBSCRIBERS TO BE SUSTAINABLE. HELP US REACH OUR GOAL. WE ONLY NEED A FEW HUNDRED MORE OF YOU!
But later, when Anning’s campaign went further off the rails after the exposure of the hidden neo-Nazi influence on his campaign, his party failed to secure any seats in the federal election and he fled the country to avoid his debt to Australian banks. Without that ‘presentable’ face of white supremacy lingering in Parliament, the most serious threat from neo-Nazis became the splintered, covert cells of extremists that are dotted around Australia and New Zealand. They’re the kinds of cells that encourage more Tarrants. That threat cannot be dealt with so easily, and this is where anti-fascist researchers have come into their element, working tirelessly to expose these cells.
These extremists aren’t seeking a political pathway to their ideologically white supremacist goals – they are seeking a violent and insurrectionist one. They are indoctrinated by books like Siege, a collection of writings by neo-Nazi James Mason which encourages an acceleration of the disintegration of civil society through autonomous white supremacist cells carrying out random terrorist attacks. In groups, they organise gyms, safehouses, training camps and ways to promote their ideology, sometimes covertly and sometimes overtly.
Anti-fascist researchers have exposed these accelerationists in New Zealand’s Dominion Movement, which dissolved in the wake of Christchurch, and its next iteration, Action Zealandia. The vitally important Australian research group White Rose Society published the identity of one dangerous, radicalised member of Action Zealandia on March 10, outlining his ties to the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF). He wasn’t the first NZDF neo-Nazi radical to be exposed by groups like White Rose and similar NZ groups like Paradoxx and Paparoa – last year, their work led to the arrest in December of another military member with ties to these groups. These are people who support and encourage accelerationist terrorist plots while amassing weapons. The more they organise, the more likely they are to carry out an attack. Therefore, this research work can save lives. It causes the groups to disintegrate, it interrupts their organising abilities and sometimes it takes them off the streets.
Don’t be fooled by the idea that our federal intelligence agencies are always ahead of these research groups. The above work and results is research-led. A significant amount of arrests that occur happen as a result of it. I won’t assume that I know the result of the covert work undertaken by ASIO or the AFP into tracking these dangerous extremists, but I know that when work by anti-fascist researchers is published there are more than enough journalists and intelligence agencies ready to leap in and claim credit for the outcome.
It happens repeatedly with the work of White Rose Society, but also, consider Cormac Rothsey, a man who made very immediate threats to stab Muslims at a mosque in his local area in 2019. Cormac’s arrest was billed in the media as a “NSW joint counter-terrorism investigation with the Australian federal police into rightwing extremist ideology online”. But I know that wasn’t the case because the information was publicised by anti-fascists that I know personally. ASIO admitted in their annual threat assessment issued last month that “The relentless advance of technology was outstripping our technical capabilities to monitor threats and protect our fellow Australians”, citing 2018’s metadata laws as the solution to this issue. But it’s not the solution, because finding out what these people are doing and interpreting it is still extremely difficult work unless you have the talent for it. Anti-fascist researchers lead the way in this pursuit.
All of this occurs in the context of our gross ignorance about the complicity of media and politics in mainstreaming the ideas that make white supremacy seem palatable.
White Australian terrorist: Brenton Tarrant (Image: ABC)
In 2018, Andrew Bolt was publishing theories about an intentional “tidal wave” of migrants “changing our culture” that would have been perfectly at home in Tarrant’s manifesto, which itself detailed the white supremacist ‘Great Replacement’ conspiracy theory (which asserts that Bolt’s “tidal wave” is a program deliberately meant to destroy the white race). But Bolt never gets sacked for anything, so no need to reconsider your views when they start racking up a death toll, right?
In the wake of Christchurch, Pauline was grilled on television by a Channel Seven presenter for helping to create the circumstances that create horrors like Christchurch. But Seven vowed to keep her on for future appearances anyway, heroically affirming their support for diet-white supremacist starter pack ideas.
More recently, Channel Nine’s Today interviewed Katie Hopkins. The problem with Katie is that she’s been a regular proponent of the same white genocide conspiracy theory that Brenton Tarrant espoused (as well as all the extremists named in this article). Karl Stefanovic said to her on the show: “You do tend to fire people up. I really enjoy your company.” Yes Karl, Brenton Tarrant’s broader worldview does irk me a bit.
Away from the media and over at Parliament House in 2018, Pauline was tabling “It’s OK to be white” motions in Parliament and the Liberal Party was voting in favour of them, nearly allowing a white supremacist 4chan meme to be validated by a federal Parliament for the first time. (They later blamed their support for the motion on an ‘administrative error’.)
More recently, ASIO might have said that “right-wing terrorism” was a growing threat, but Liberal senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells’ biggest concern about that was with the use of the word ‘right-wing’. “There are many people of conservative background who take exception with being charred [sic] with the same brush”, she told the head of ASIO. How about the time the Libs were busy voting up memes made by Tarrant supporters? Was that of conservative background?
Whether on television or in the Senate, these mainstream ways of accommodating or palming off the threat of white supremacy are a way for us to collectively maintain our amnesia about it. That’s in spite of the fact that the 2019 book The Far-Right in Contemporary Australia demonstrated through research the direct link between the mainstream media’s narratives and far-right activist recruitment and expansion.
Another amnesiac trick is to draw a false equivalence between the neo-Nazis organising to murder people and the invented threat of ‘leftwing extremists’. Senator Fierravanti-Wells raised this, citing a couple of ancient and completely inaccurate examples she knows nothing about. Minister of Home Affairs Peter Dutton did it too, equating “rightwing lunatics or leftwing lunatics” as though that’s a real thing. It’s not. It’s a line these people peddle to render any close, sober analysis of neo-Nazi extremism into the abstract.
When they talk about ‘leftwing extremists’ they’re probably picturing these anti-fascists I speak of, right? You know, the ones that did some of their intelligence agencies’ heavy lifting for them? The reality is that the people who make up these groups are not all covert anarchists, socialists or communists, but quite ideologically diverse.
Throughout history anti-fascist coalitions have often fractured as the threat of neo-Nazi efforts has waned, because their distinct political differences begin to show. In any event, anti-fascism is not an ideology. It’s a collection of tactics designed to stop fascists from succeeding. The most vital form of anti-fascism in Australia and New Zealand of the past year, by far, has been research.
These researchers in this space can spend untold hours scouring conversations, chat apps and social media platforms and often to no avail. If they do locate something and publish it after all their hard work, as with the numerous examples of thwarting extremists outlined above, they are rarely thanked for it.
Their work is often stolen, reattributed, or sometimes ignored to society’s peril, or they are dismissed as ‘extremists’ or the like. And though that work can save lives, these aren’t people who demand acclaim or praise. They are anonymous. You can’t thank them or give them a medal. Exposure is often too dangerous because the threat of fascist reprisal is real. They simply believe in what they do, and do it well.
On March 15, I will mourn the victims of the Christchurch massacre. I’ll continue my commitment my one little cog in a larger anti-fascist network, even if I only get about as a mouthpiece and foghorn. But importantly, I’ll also stop to consider that there’s fascists celebrating the anniversary. Because we must not forget that they exist, or ignore what they’re trying to do.
Finally, because of that fact, I will express my gratitude to the ongoing work of my local anti-fascist research network. They’re assisting in stopping murderers, disrupting dangerous extremist groups and thus protecting people. They’re the best at what they do, and they aren’t generally appreciated for it. But if you don’t want another Christchurch, I think you’ll join me in thanking them.