Why the alt-right want to call Australia home

On Friday, Canadian alt-right YouTuber and activist Lauren Southern will host the Melbourne leg of her national speaking tour, alongside fellow alt-right YouTuber and compatriot Stefan Molyneux.

Southern’s video announcing her tour really tries to bring the drama: ‘You guys are at a crossroads. Do you want to retain your culture … your borders, family, identity? Or will the boats keep coming, the no-go zones keep growing and will you become another victim of multiculturalism?’

While ‘identity or multiculturalism’ doesn’t quite carry the same portent as, say, ‘socialism or barbarism’, Southern’s theme of a people standing at a crossroads, of a once mighty nation facing the choice between self-preservation and eradication, evokes the obsession among the global far right with the idea of the so-called ‘Great Replacement’.

First put forth by French far-right author Renaud Camus, the ‘Great Replacement’ is the fanciful idea that white Europe is being replaced by people of African descent in a sort of revenge of history where the formerly colonised usurp the colonisers – according to Camus, this time it’s deeper and far more serious because it’s a demographic colonisation. It’s an idea that’s been taken to its extreme with groups like Génération Identitaire, the French section of a European far-right youth movement (with which Southern is affiliated) that burst onto the scene in 2012 with their chilling video, ‘Declaration of War’.

Another of Southern’s far-right causes célèbres is the imagined plight of the white South African farmer, who epitomises the victim of what neo-Nazis and white supremacists have called white genocide. White genocide takes Camus’ ‘Great Replacement’ idea further, articulating a notion that whites are not only being replaced through low fertility rates and mass immigration but that they are literally being killed in countries like South Africa, which have a black majority. This is an idea that has been championed by not only South African white supremacists like Steve Hofmeyr but also alt-right platform Breitbart News and even further back, Norwegian far-right terrorist Anders Breivik, who murdered 77 people in 2011, most of his victims children. Breivik even included a reference to the persecuted white South African farmer in his very own Mein Kampf titled ‘2083 – A European Declaration of Independence’.

Southern tackles this alleged persecution in her documentary Farmlands, where she travels to South Africa with nothing but a camera crew and her shrewd journalistic skills to unmask the truth. Despite the numerous flaws in Southern’s method, the main one being that none of the evidence presented points to a conspiracy by a black elite to systematically kill off South Africa’s white Afrikaner population, Farmlands proved to be a hit and for an extra $15, her guests this Friday will be able to watch it before the main event. Southern and Molyneux, however, will not be at the screening: before their event, they’ll be wining and dining with only their most dedicated – and cashed-up – fans at a meet-and-greet dinner, tickets for which cost $749 per head.

This points to one of the reasons why Australia has become the international alt-right’s favoured destination: there’s big bucks to made out of a readymade audience starving for heroes. When alt-right figure Milo Yiannopoulos – something of a has-been in the US and UK where he first rose to prominence – toured Australia in December last year, around 10,000 people paid to see him in the five states he visited. Every city had two to three shows a night and each was sold out. Canadian alt-right ‘intellectual’ Jordan Peterson also played to sold-out audiences when he toured Australia in March and his book 12 Rules for Life, a barely coherent attempt at fusing self-help with classical philosophy, remains in the top ten of the Australian bestseller list. In September, Australian audiences will be treated to the disgraced former UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, while Milo recently announced via Facebook that he will be returning to our shores by the end of the year.

In the same way that Mel B, Ronan Keating and Boy George have all spent time on Australian television, the alt-right celebrities touring Australia continue this country’s generous tradition of welcoming any washed-up celebrity who arrives on our doorstep. As Richard Cooke wrote in October last year: ‘Part of this is a wider national tendency to coo over any outsider who can stomach 22 hours on a plane. We scramble to take photos of them with koalas and ask what they think of Australia after they’ve been in it for three hours. We want to adopt them, or disown them, but above all to seek endorsement, or at least attention.’

But perhaps more importantly, with a lack of an explicitly ideological and seriously organised far-right outfit in Australia like those in Europe – including a lack of leading far-right intellectuals or spokespeople (and no, Hanson is not one of these) – it’s the Australian mainstream that actively promotes extreme ideas about immigration, Islam and so on, leading to a normalisation of certain far-right ideas across a wider section of the population.

For example, while the policies of turning back migrant boats and indefinite offshore detention are being pushed by the likes of Italy’s far-right Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, both of those policies continue to receive bipartisan support from both the Liberal and Labor parties here. When Southern and her comrades in Génération Identitaire set sail on the Mediterranean to stop NGO boats from rescuing drowning migrants, they were simply enacting what the Australian Border Force was set up to do. Southern’s crocodile tears for the confected plight of white South African farmers are the very same tears immigration minister Peter Dutton shed when he announced his intention to fast-track these farmers’ visa applications due to the ‘horrific circumstances’ these people face at home.

The Australian media, too, have played a role in promoting these figures. As Jason Wilson wrote in the Guardian:

Perhaps it’s no surprise that Andrew Bolt railed about [Southern’s] visa problems. Nor that Miranda Devine had Southern on her podcast to talk about how antifa and Muslims cause her immigration woes. But earlier puff pieces about her visit, and op-eds defending her in regional newspapers, suggest that [News Corp] has a disturbing inability to distinguish between ordinary, conservative provocateurs, and those adjacent to white nationalist or fascist movements.

Murdoch’s News Corp owns the majority of the press in Australia and last year, according to an investigation into Islamophobia in the media, its papers were found to have printed 2,891 negative pieces about Islam across their papers nationally, making up 31 per cent of opinion columns.

The popularity of these alt-right figures in the mainstream and the existence of an audience for their ideas in this country are issues that the anti-fascist and anti-racist left need to take seriously. While the usual far-right thugs turned out to support Yiannopoulos last year – and we could expect that they will come out again for Southern and Molyneux this Friday – the paying audience seeing these speakers are not necessarily the same types who would come to an ‘Aussie Flag Pride March’ headed by the likes of Blair Cottrell from the United Patriots Front (UPF), or the muscled meatheads who would train at his so-called Lads Society gym in Cheltenham. Experience from Milo’s tour would suggest that this audience is relatively younger than the UPF thugs, wealthier and university-educated. While Cottrell might openly declare himself a fascist and a lover of Adolf Hitler, this new alt-right audience would prefer a term like ‘race realist’. As Angela Nagle describes in her book Kill All Normies, this new alt-right see themselves as part of an ironic subculture, not a far-right movement, yet their ironic memeing masks and help fuels the most sinister, reactionary ideas such as racism, genocide and extreme misogyny.

While this new iteration of the far-right presents challenges to the anti-fascist left and there are ongoing debates within our movement on how to effectively take on these currents, one point of agreement should be the necessity of building a broad, diverse activist movement that can challenge the alt-right both intellectually and physically on the streets.

This doesn’t mean punching on: it does mean working collectively to confront the alt-right whenever they mobilise and disrupting their ability to come together, organise and cohere. We should aim to expose the ideological debt the alt-right has to the fascist tradition and the very real links that alt-right groups and figures have to established fascist and white supremacist movements. This helps us isolate the hardened alt-right core from their softer supporters, denying their movement the activists they need to grow.

But just as importantly, on our side, we should operate with the aim of drawing in as many people as we can into the anti-fascist movement so that we can prevent the alt-right from becoming the cohered mass movement in this country that it has the potential to be. Anti-fascists will be giving Southern and Molyneux the welcome they deserve with a counter-protest when they arrive on Friday. Anyone who stands against the bigotry they promote is welcome to join.

Stop the Far Right rally – from 5.30pm, Friday 20 July, Fed Square Melbourne


Image: Lauren Southern (via Instagram)

Chris di Pasquale

Chris di Pasquale is a Master of Translation student at Monash University and a member of Socialist Alternative.

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