The St Kilda neo-Nazi rally, the swamp of the ultra-right and the Ukip-ization of Australian politics

In the course of 2018, a number of hate preachers had uninterrupted access to the Australian media outlets, and were able to spread their messages of hate and intolerance far and wide. These preachers were able to disseminate their vitriol because of the active complicity of sections of the Australian political and media establishment.

Oh, and by the way, none of the hate preachers in question were Muslim – they were white. While in this day and age, the term ‘hate preacher’ is normally associated with Islamic clerics, that description can equally be applied to the more effective – and better publicised – hate preachers who were business suits. Do not focus exclusively on religious garments to identify those whose message is one of racial and ethnic hatred.

In St Kilda, a south-eastern suburb of metropolitan Melbourne, a neo-Nazi rally was held by about 150 ultra-rightists and racists. The gathering was met with anti-racist protestors, and the original goal of the neo-fascists – to incite racial violence – was defeated. While it is tempting to simply ignore developments like this, it is important to elaborate the political significance of such gatherings.

The rally was attended by racist Senator Fraser Anning, who has gone on record advocating a return to a ‘White Australia’ policy. In his first speech to the federal parliament, Anning condemned multiculturalism, denounced the Muslim community, and called for a reintroduction of a white-only immigration system in Australia. Anning, one of a number of ultra-rightist and racist politicians, has been condemned by the Australian political establishment.

The current stand-in for the position of Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, issued a statement about the neo-Nazi rally, condemning the ‘ugly racial protests’. Note that the PM did not explicitly denounce the fascist gathering, but – like US President Trump in the wake of the Charlottesville race riot – condemned both sides as equivalents. This incident serves to highlight the role of the mainstream Australian political parties in aiding and abetting the political circumstances that gave rise to neo-fascist groupings, like the ones at St Kilda.

This perverse equation of racist militants with anti-racist protestors is a sign of the times in Australian politics. The demonization of refugees and asylum seekers, the constant attacks on immigration as a security issue, and the promotion of xenophobia by the corporate media have fan the flames of the ultra-rightist and racist groups. While the neo-Nazi groups may be small in number and remain on the fringe, it is the complicity of the mainstream that needs to be examined.

The St Kilda rally, and the presence of a united front of disparate ultra-rightist groupings, is an inevitable consequence of the Ukip-ization of Australian politics. The latter is not my invention, but a concept originated by British sociologist and blogger, Richard Seymour. Ukip is a specifically British creation that originated in the bowels of the Tory financial elite, and has pushed British politics in a xenophobic and ultra-rightist direction. We can see similar trends here in Australian politics. Stoking paranoia about Muslim immigrants as ‘potential terrorists’ and whipping up social anxieties about refugees is not unique to Ukip, but a characteristic of the major political parties in Australia as well.

Hate preachers

At the beginning of this article, we spoke about the presence of hate preachers in Australia in the course of 2018. One particular example of this variety of species is Nigel Farage, founder and former leader of Ukip. He came to Australia and conducted a speaking tour in September last year. His trip was sponsored by sympathetic Australian businesspeople, and Farage was given respectful coverage in the Australian media.

He travelled to a number of Australian capital cities, where he was able to recycle his message of vitriolic hate. It is true that he was met by enthusiastic counter-protesters, the latter actually confronting the politics that Farage promoted – a job that the media failed to do.

The most appalling aspect of his speeches, apart from his racism, was his attempt to position himself as a defender of working people. Ukip, in a similar way to far right parties across Europe, adopt a leftist mask to disguise their pro-business and neoliberal politics. Farage, in finding a supportive audience in Australia, seeks to direct public anger about the inequalities and injustices of capitalism onto the most vulnerable – immigrant communities, welfare recipients and refugees.

The far right has a long history of cynically appropriating leftist-sounding phrases – even talking about ‘revolution’ to disguise its nature as a revolt of the oligarch. Farage himself is a former investment banker and multi-billionaire, who presents himself as a ‘rebel’ against the mythical ‘politically correct’ cosmopolitan establishment.

Another hate preacher who was able to gain a sympathetic audience in Australia was Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief of staff, campaign adviser and alt-right ‘theoretician’. Interviewed by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Bannon was basically given a free pass, and the interview failed to confront his racism. Bannon went to great lengths to deny that he is a racist, or that his political platform contains any hint of racism. That is quite interesting, because in 2018, at an international conference of ultra-rightist parties, Bannon proudly declared that he wears the label racist as a badge of honour.

Bannon is nothing if not a clever and cynical media operator. His main target, in his interview, was China, and its supposed rising influence in Australia. Tapping into the long and dark history of anti-Asian sentiment in Australia, Bannon repeatedly stressed that Australia was the ‘tip of the spear’ in America’s drive against China. While stopping short of urging a direct military confrontation, Bannon nevertheless took a belligerent stand against China, drawing on recent hysteria about a purported Chinese military presence in Vanuatu. Never matter the hundreds of American military bases sprawling across the Asia-Pacific.

The American ruling class has been ramping up the militaristic rhetoric against China in recent years, because of the latter’s growing economic and technological clout. China has opened up to foreign capital and investment, and has participated in international economic relations with numerous countries. Chinese ‘market socialism’ has caused intense trepidation in Washington, not because it presents a military threat, but because China can mount a serious challenge to American economic interests. Bannon sought to include Australia in America’s new Cold War – against China.

There is no shortage of hate preachers in Australia – Andrew Bolt, a columnist for the Herald Sun and syndicated radio show host, regularly spouts his hatred for migrants in his columns. Whipping up fears about mythical ‘African crime gangs’ in 2018, he went on record to denounce immigration as a form of colonisation. In this endeavour, he was reflecting the thinking of major figures in the ultra-conservative Liberal government, such as Peter Dutton, the current Home Affairs minister. The media’s racialized reporting about crime has consequences for the South Sudanese, and other African communities in Australia.

The ultra-rightist swamp

Jason Wilson, writing in The Guardian newspaper, states that we must call out a fascist movement, even though it is still small and disparate. These groups may be fractured today, but with a uniting set of theories centered on racial resentment and anti-multiculturalism, these groups can combine. Aided and abetted by political and media figures who regurgitate hysteria about immigration and trash refugees, these groupings can gain a wider audience. Ignoring them would be the height of folly. As John Passant stated in his article regarding this issue:

Ordinary workers and others have to unite around the common goal of stopping fascism from spreading and getting a bigger audience before it is too late — too late for Jews, Africans, Muslims, women and the organised working class. Unite now.

Exactly.

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