Far Right

December’s planned far-right speaking tour, “Ann + Milo Live”, has collapsed with ticket holders directed to Penthouse’s upcoming Gavin McInnes Tour.

The “Ann + Milo Live” tour was to feature Ann Coulter, Milo Yiannopoulos, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (more commonly known by the pseudonym Tommy Robinson) and former Katter Australia Party Senator Fraser Anning. The tour promoter (believed to be Dan Spiller, aka. Future Now Australia) emailed ticket holders today simply stating that “due to unforeseen circumstances our Ann and Milo tour has had to be cancelled”, no further explanation was offered.

Australia has become a regular pitstop on the global far-right speaking circuit. In the past year Australia has seen tours by Milo Yiannopolous, Lauren Southern, and Stephen Molyneux. The “Ann + Milo Live” tour was one of two far-right tours planned for this coming month, and there are never ending rumours that Steve Bannon intends to cash in on the Australian alt-right’s happiness to throw money at any low-rent foreign racist that shows up in Sydney.

The “speaking tour” is a key source of funding for modern far-right agitators. Stephen Yaxley-Lennon has launched multiple speaking tours to cash in on recent contempt of court proceedings and is due in the United States in less than a fortnight.

Local racists who splashed cash on the “Ann + Milo Live” tour are not being offered a refund. The promoter appears to have instead onsold the ticket sales to rival Penthouse, who have also attached Stephen Yaxley-Lennon to their previously announced Gavin McInnes tour.

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Penthouse have delayed and rebranded their planned Gavin McInnes tour. The Proud Boys founder and far-right thug Gavin McInnes was due to commence his Australian speaking tour this week. Penthouse, having picked up Stephen Yaxley-Lennon from Dan Spiller’s Future Now, are now promoting a Gavin McInnes + Tommy Robinson double bill for the first fortnight in December.

It is still unclear whether McInnes will even be allowed to enter Australia.

Last week Sudanese Australian lawyer Nyadol Nyuon launched an online petition calling on David Coleman and Peter Dutton (the ministers for Immigration and Home Affairs respectively) to prevent McInnes entering Australia. The petition has quickly attracted 30,000 signatures and has prompted national debate.

Nyuon argues that McInnes is coming to Australia to spread hate and encourage violence and should thus be barred:

The thought of Gavin McInnes coming to this country to spread hate is extremely concerning. The fact that his hate speech is often accompanied by violence which is extremely concerning. A man who encourages violence, who formed a gang labelled a hate group and that serially engages in violence should not be allowed into Australia. We should not allow Australia to become the last hope of such a group.

In the Guardian, Jason Wilson similarly made the case for denying McInnes a visa, detailing his history of violence.

These calls have been picked up by the ALP, with shadow immigration minister Shayne Neumann calling on the government to refuse McInnes a visa on character grounds. Neumann wrote:

“Labor strongly supports the refuse or cancellation of visas of non-citizens on character or criminal grounds and the removal of criminals from Australia under Section 501 of the Migration Act.

Under these powers you, as the responsible Minister, have the power to refuse visas for individuals if there is a significant risk that the individual would:
– vilify a segment of the Australian community; or
– incite discord in the Australian community or in a segment of that community; or
– represent a danger to the Australian community or to a segment of that community, whether by way of being liable to become involved in activities that are disruptive to, or in violence threatening harm to, that community or segment, or in any other way”

In the coverage that has followed, even the Murdoch media is now referring to McInnes as the leader of a violent gang (eschewing the usual euphemisms, “provocateur” and “activist”).

Calls to use of Section 501 of the Migration Act for any purpose are not without their critics.

This legislation is more commonly deployed for explicitly racist purposes, deporting so-called “foreign criminals”. Approximately 1,500 New Zealanders (predominantly Maori) have been deported under Section 501 since 2015, despite supposed free movement and residency between the two countries. Section 501 has been used to deport children, split families, and in some cases deport people who have lived their entire lives in Australia.

The political problem is that any appeal to the good graces of the government has the potential to provide cover for the existence of an incredibly unjust piece of legislation. Australia’s “border protection” regime, and all the executive powers that go with it, serve deeply racist purposes. The Australian government detains and tortures groups of asylum seekers, “turns back” (refouls) others, and holds the threat of random and arbitrary deportation over the heads of many more. Migrants and asylum seekers in Australia are held in a state of uncertainty and terror, and Section 501 of the Migration Act is one of the mechanisms the government uses to do this.

The Melbourne based Campaign Against Racism and Fascism put out a statement rejecting calls to deny McInnes a visa on just this basis. The CARF statement read in part:

Although we are disgusted and outraged by international fascists visiting Australia, we also recognise that the Department of Immigration and the Australian Border Force already execute the brutal, draconian border “protection” policy of the Australian Government, and we denounce any expansion or strengthening of that policy. We also bring to attention the irony of a Labor Party MP calling for the denial of McInnes’ visa on the grounds of his white supremacist views when it was the Labor Party themselves who pandered to white Australia’s xenophobia and created the groundwork of the current immigration regime.

The only possible defence against fascism is working class self-organising and self-defence. The Campaign Against Racism and Fascism calls on all those who oppose racism and fascism to reject the false protection of the state and instead take direct antifascist action.

The reality is more difficult.

The far-right is a growing threat in Australia. There is a sizeable audience for fascist ideas within Australia and there are plethora of far-right groups organizing in an attempt to relate to this audience. Tours by far-right agitators like Gavin McInnes help groups like the local Proud Boys franchise recruit and organise. If we want to stop the growth of the far-right in Australia, fascist organizing needs to be shut down.

But no matter how much we might wish for working class self-organisation and self-defence against fascism, the situation on the streets has been very different.

The state has shown a willingness, time and time again, to deploy overwhelming police resources in order to facilitate fascist events and demonstrations, and in doing so brush aside the opposition that has been mounted by small antifascist groups from the far-left.

More people are taking the threat of the far-right seriously; thirty thousand people have signed Nyadol Nyuen’s petition, something that would not have happened three years ago. But there is not yet any mass anti-fascist movement with the capacity to shut these groups down, and majority of people concerned about the growth of the far-right maintain their faith in the police and the state.

It would be preferable to stop a far-right movement before it grows, before it becomes established, and before it has the capacity to crush its opposition. As anti-fascists we have to organise, we make the case that the police and the state cannot be relied on and that working class self-organisation and self-defence are required. But we have not yet succeeded in this task.

Until we do, I welcome any set-back that the far-right faces, wherever it comes from.

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Background Briefing has today published the results of an investigation into neo-Nazi infiltration of the Young Nationals in New South Wales.

Earlier this year The Australian and The Land newspapers reported that a “former” alt-right figure, Clifford Jennings, had been elected to the Young Nationals state executive at their May 2018 conference in Lismore.

The Land reported that Jennings and “an alleged alt-right bloc attempting to hijack proceedings” and that:

A motion calling for strict controls on migrants who were not from ‘culturally appropriate nations’ was narrowly defeated after a 90-minute debate.

Responding to media inquiries back in May, Jennings claimed he had long since abandoned any connection with the alt-right and denied that he had any “sympathies towards white nationalism or the alt-right movement”.

The Background Briefing report details how a group of up to 25 people with links to the far-right joined the Young Nationals in New South Wales just in time for this years conference. Despite their denials, it is clear that Clifford Jennings and others involved in the group have fascist politics and that they joined the Young Nationals with the explicit aim of capturing that organisation for the far-right.

This information has come to light as the result of an ongoing project by research group, the White Rose Society. White Rose researchers have gained access to a range of Facebook groups used by the far-right.

Clifford Jennings and other NSW Young Nationals infiltrators were members of a closed Facebook group called The New Guard. Facebook records reveal the group was created on 25 February 2017 and that it was originally titled “Fash Queensland”. The about section describes the group’s politics:

“Our Cause started with an Australian fascist group – the original new guard… We are the soil in which the movement will grow. Our Objectives are to enable nationalists to begin businesses, acquire funds, learn skills… Nationalists, fascists, national socialists, libertarians, Christians, pagans, agnostics, atheists and truth seekers are welcome in this place.”

The group’s administrator signed posts as “The Aussie Fascist”.

In this group, Jennings and others discussed far-right politics, made plans, and recruited young people drawn to fascist politics online to undertake action in the “real world”. To the media, Jennings has claimed that he has long since ended his association with the far-right.

But in January 2017 on a closed Facebook group Jennings wrote:

“I view fascism as being in the interests of my blood, it’s probably better to just call me a nationalist, all I care about is the fourteen words”.

Jennings’ posts are littered with references to coded neo-Nazi slogans.

The Young Nationals infiltrators have since moved from organising online. The group has links to both the Lads Society and neo-Nazi outfit Antipodean Resistance. Background Briefing journalist Alex Mann staked out the Lads Society HQ in Sydney and confirms in his report that multiple members of the far-right plot attend its Friday fight nights.

The Background Briefing report indicates that The Nationals are taking fascist infiltration of their party seriously, and that a number of individuals with revealed links to far-right politics have been sent ‘show cause’ notices which could result in the termination of their memberships. Jennings is yet to be expelled from the party.

Background Briefing will air on Radio National this Sunday, you can click through to listen to their story here. A transcript is not yet available.

Extensive screenshots, photos and other documents, along with profiles of five more far-right activists involved in the Young Nationals infiltration have been posted online by the White Rose Society today.

The far-right infiltrators mentioned in the Radio National piece are Clifford Jennings, Thomas Brasher, Oscar Tuckfield, Nicholas Walker and Michael Heeney. The White Rose Society has also compiled profiles on Stuart Churchill, Lisa Sandford, and Justin Beulah.

The far-right in Australia are active, organising, and seeking inroads into mainstream politics. The likes of Fraser Anning, Pauline Hanson and Clive Palmer are making various barely concealed appeals to this constituency. The Young Nationals infiltrators are just one far-right group who have moved from closed Facebook groups to “real world” politics, theirs is unlikely to be the last attempt.

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Guest review of John Safran, ‘Depends What You Mean by Extremist’, 304 pages released by Hamish Hamilton, May 2017.

I got very irritated reading John Safran’s latest book Depends What You Mean by Extremist. As someone who had been to most of the anti-fascist rallies in and around Melbourne in the last few years; watched in horror as Pauline Hanson clawed her way back to power; and scrolled through my Twitter account with interest as Phil Gallea as well as Blair Cottrell, Neil Erikson & Co faced criminal charges for trying to blow up the Melbourne Anarchist Club (the former) and staging some cringe worthy and offensive public theatre (the latter) – I picked up Safran’s book with interest.

And my interest quickly turned to frustration.

Safran’s book fails on two counts. It fails firstly to identify, critique or explain the deeply held political ideas of people on all sides; instead relying on amusing caricatures and Safran’s interest in religion as both the organizing principle and fuel to progress the story.

Secondly, whilst attempting to be a cross between Louis Theroux and Hunter S Thompson, Safran fails to become truly immersed, or really understand, any of the people he surrounds himself with.

I also found I had concerns about some of the ways Safran conducted himself, or at the very least the way he has expressed himself.

Safran offers up curiosity and caricature, without understanding, interrogating or attempting to explore the deeply held political views by the people on all sides of this story. After reading all 304 pages, the reader is left with no clear idea on anyone’s ideology. There is no attempt to unravel the far-right’s seeming preoccupation with Muslims from their wider ideologies, any more than there is any evidence of understanding that for “the left” anti-fascist activism is just one part of broader political work.

This is not only a failing of Safran’s book, but a disappointment. While there is one Chapter The Hustings that talks about the broader political situation of the time (Trump, Brexit, One Nation etc), there is no real discussion of how the characters are, or could have been, influenced by the current political climate. The cast of characters appear with no context, or even any musing about how they have come to their beliefs. It is as if they have appeared with no history, no story, no ideology – just kooky characters for Safran to examine as curiosities. Almost as if he is collecting them like Pokémon– the Neo-Nazi, the garden variety racist, the socialist, the anarchist, the ISIS supporter.

Without interrogating people’s core beliefs and finding what drives them to action, every character comes across as either a weirdo or entirely irrational. Safran milks this for all it’s worth. He presents himself as the only rational actor; the only one looking at both sides of arguments; the only one not blinded by ideology, dogma or religion. It is sensible, moderate Safran against a world of not only flawed, but contradictory characters.

Safran spends much of the book examining these contradictions. “I like looking at tangles,” he says to the unkindly nicknamed Mr Snort and Mrs Sneer (seemingly if you won’t go on the record, but you are a good plot point you get an unkind nickname). Whether it is a Sri Lankan Christian associating with Nazis; Muslim converts who also happen to be Monty Python fans or racists having Asian girlfriends – Safran is there to savour the juxtaposition. He seems incapable of comprehending these very human contradictions. As he divorces his subjects from their broader politics he also robs them of their lived experiences. It is these experiences that not only influence someone’s politics, but also form their individual quirks and foibles. The resulting contradictions seem to leave Safran’s mind spinning. It is as if he expected only two-dimensional stereotypes. And as he comes face to face with living, breathing, and contradictory humans – he is shocked.

The result of not examining individuals’ politics is, obviously, a very unpolitical book. It makes no attempt to understand or explain the politics involved. Safran instead roundly focuses on religion. While religion does have a part to play in this story, I don’t believe it is at the centre of what is happening amongst “Australian Deplorables.” Everyone has bigger agendas to push than religion – whether that be a return to White Australia, or fighting back against capitalism. Those who profess to have strong religious beliefs, are not content with simply practicing their religion- there is an element of a crusade about it, and at least some political dimension. Not a single sentence in his book is dedicated to the discussion that filled column inches, placards, and the shouts across police lines: is the current wave of Islamophobia in Australian society racist? There is no discussion about the intersection of Islamaphobia and racism. Those who are involved in anti-Muslim politics are described as racists, but there is no discussion around how this particular strain of racism is a product of current global politics.

Safran’s failure to examine both the broader political landscape and people’s individual politics makes the characters on all sides of this story less relatable than they most likely are in real life. It is easy to laugh at a character study of Jim Saleam or the anarchist “ninjas”. As Safran depoliticizes them, they are as two dimensional and stereotypical as the Channel 9 news would like us to believe. This is a disservice to everyone involved. How can we combat racism and Islamaphobia without understanding where it comes from? And similarly, how can the ideas of anti-fascism, socialism or anarchism be shared and understood when the only representation of these people are hokey stereotypes, devoid of motivations and ideology.

To be kind, one may excuse Safran for failing to interact with the political side of this story by arguing that he wasn’t trying to write a political book; that this was an exercise in gonzo journalism. That Safran was merely “going along for the ride” and reporting on what he saw and experienced. But on this count, Safran fails as well.

While Safran attempts to immerse himself in both the far-right and “the left” – it feels obvious throughout the book that neither side trusts him; and he never “lets go”. The book feels less like a wild ride on the fringes, and more like covertly observing from the corner. By trying to play all sides of the issue, Safran is neither trusted or respected by anyone. It feels like both sides are keen to capitalize on his platform to promote their causes, but constantly weighing up the risks of having him along. Safran “participates” – whether that is smoking a cigarette with Ralph Ceminara, or showing up to a community day at the Melbourne Anarchist Club, but it is obvious through his writing that he views himself as separate to proceedings. Unfortunately for Safran it takes more than a joint with the fascists or a beer with the anarchists to really get amongst these people and understand them. Safran’s reluctance to “pick a side” results in almost everyone treating him with extreme caution; and this prevents him from doing what the book’s subtitle would have us believe happened: “Going Rogue with Australian Deplorables.”

Throughout the book, the reader is conscious that Safran is trying to write a book. It is not just out of interest or curiosity that Safran is hauling himself around the country attending rallies, interviewing people and following leads. It feels that he is single mindedly chasing moments, experiences and people that would translate well into his narrative. Safran is at his most delighted one the sole occasion he has the opportunity to change the narrative. When the UPF decide to shift a rally from the Melbourne CBD to Melton, but to do so at the last minute to stop counter protesters from effectively organizing; Safran vacillates on whether to tell No Room For Racism this information. When his personal trainer tells him to tell the anti-racists what is going on, Safran reflects:

“I first think he’s being moral, but it’s not that. My trainer also does graphic design so he has a creative bent. He thinks my duplicity will be better for the book, because it will change events. “You’ve become the puppetmaster,” he tells me.

..I’m like, My God, the conspiracy theorists were right! It’s exactly what they say: beware of the Jews, they play both sides – the communists and the capitalists. I am the devious Jew.”

I think this attitude, while understandable, is deeply concerning. No one would argue that it is the worst thing in the world to want to write a successful book. However Safran presents himself as someone with an interest in what is going on and possibly led people involved to expect him to eventually choose a side and use his platform for good. Anti-racist activists care so much about the work they do that it seems inconceivable that someone who is viewed as “progressive” would ever do anything to assist Neo-Nazis. Yet it was only through self interest that Safran tipped off No Room for Racism about this crucial piece of information. At the end of the day, it all comes down to the book for Safran. “Mr Snort” at the Melbourne Anarchist Club challenges Safran about his role – “Are you part of building an anti-racist movement or are you just about books and selling and career and profile?” Safran never answers the question. At one point Safran says “I would love, for the sake of this book, to be mildly beaten up.” He is lucky enough that this never comes to pass; unlike many who put their bodies on the line to resist against racist organizing and sustained injuries from both racists and the police.

It is notable that Safran hardly mentions the police. As he sketches out rallies he mentions the numbers of police. Anyone who has been to any demonstrations in Melbourne over the last 5 years will have noticed an increase in police presence and the intensifying nature of what a police response looks like. He does not at any point mention the violence perpetrated by police – both with physical violence and pepper spray. So out of touch with police attitudes at these rallies John Safran obviously felt safe enough to bring a knife with him to the Melton rally.

I have a number of concerns about Safran’s behavior and conduct, and the biggest of them is his carrying of a weapon. In a moment fuelled by whiskey and reading about the Warsaw Ghetto, Safran in what can most kindly be described as a severe case of Hemingway stumbles into a camping supply shop and buys a pocket knife. He mentions this in a somewhat offhand way, and the reader (well at least this reader) forgets about it until Safran upon seeing an act of violence unfold in Melton writes: “I feel the knife in my pocket.”

To be clear, Safran doesn’t do anything with the knife, but I don’t think that is the point. To carry a knife, or any weapon, into a high stress, high emotions situation like the rally in Melton is a plain and stupid dumb idea. It’s not jut dumb. It’s highly disrespectful. It puts in danger every single person in your vicinity. It made me absolutely furious that at this rally people were put at risk for the sake of Safran’s ego. To bring a knife to the rally, but not have the foresight to pack a bottle of water and some sunscreen – that, as far as I’m concerns, bumps up your charge from stupid to moronic.

Police were checking bags at the Melton Rally. The bag checks were very targeted. Wearing a balaclava – bag check; carrying a flag – bag check; punk – bag check. As an unassuming white girl in sensible shoes and no balaclava, my bag wasn’t checked. It would seem D Grade celebrities are similarly exempt from police suspicions.

Mr Snort and Mrs Sneer at the Anarchist Club are entirely suspicious of Safran, which after reading the book – I think they were right to be so. The way Safran characterizes some of the “radicals” he meets is, as “the left” are want to say, highly problematic. Halfway through the chapter entitled “Left-wing pinkoes and right wing death beasts” starts the section dedicated to Comrade Snort and Comrade Sneer (seriously, how did Safran not think to call them that!) with “There are more hot anarchists than I expected here. Don’t get me wrong, there are also flabby radicals who wouldn’t be able to throw a Molotov cocktail without breaking into a wheeze, but still.” How this is relevant to anything that is happening in the book is not clear to me. Having recently had the UPF turn up on its doorstep, the Melbourne Anarchist Club had opened its doors on a Sunday afternoon to bring the community together. Not to perform traditional, socially acceptable levels of beauty for John Safran. This sentence started to make me feel uneasy about the way Safran was viewing, and then writing, about women.

The reader doesn’t see the backstory between Mrs Sneer and Safran, but it seems tense from the start. He describes her first sentence as a snap. Other words used to describe her speaking are – snaps; sneers, complains; demands; hisses. She also “pushes” a pamphlet towards Safran, and when she tires of the conversation she “huffs off”. Meanwhile, Mr Snort just “asks”, “says” and “tells.” Is it too much of a stretch to imagine Safran hurt that the “hot anarchist” women don’t implicitly trust him, talk to him and fawn over his celebrity. And that in return for this, he paints them as mean, irrational, stupid and annoying?

That said, Mel from No Room For Racism gave Safran her undivided attention on several occasions, let him into the inner machinations of No Room For Racism, and invited him to the bizarre truce talks with Reclaim Australia. Safran repays this assumedly invaluable access by referring to her continually as Mel the matriarch. The UPF guys are leaders, the anarchists have a CEO, but when Safran sees a woman in charge she is a matriarch. I can’t help but feel that word minimizes Mel’s position. It plays into the idea of women being soft, social and family oriented. It’s soft power; not hard power. It’s not that those things are necessarily bad. But you’re not calling Blair “Daddy”, are you? Similarly, a woman who explains herself as being “half-Jewish” and is introduced as Rebecca is referred to by Safran only as the “Half-Jewess”. While some Jewish women have embraced or reclaimed the word – it’s hardly a universal reclamation. As with Mel, Safran is quick to make her title particularly feminine, though this is not crucial to the narrative.

The weird sexism, paired with the lack of political insight have made me really question what John Safran is about. I don’t know the answer to that question, but I would caution activists to remember these things the next time he’s hanging around. It seems clear to me that Safran is neither interested in immersive experiences, nor politics. That, coupled with his careless behavior and problematic depictions of women make me irritated. The political work of others has provided Safran with a successful product to hawk. He has never picked a side, but is not impartial. This book lacks the academic rigor to explain what has been happening in Australia recently, and the energy and personal commitment of true gonzo journalism. Its one success is as a best seller for John Safran.

See also:

Andy Fleming, May 19, Depends What You Mean By Extremist : A Review (of sorts).

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