When lockdown began, I joined a shit-tonne of right-wing Australian politics groups on Facebook.
To clarify, I’m not a conservative, nor do I normally contribute to political discussions online. I don’t have the right temperament for it; I don’t speak Russian, for starters. I do, however, follow politics closely, and I’ve been increasingly concerned about the rise of ultra-nationalist sentiment both abroad and at home. I joined these groups so I could keep an eye on Australia’s radical right fringe while we were all locked inside. I had also run out of shows to watch.
The online right in Australia can be broadly divided into three categories: traditionalists, agitators, and fuckwits.
When I say “traditionalists”, I want to be clear. I don’t mean people who acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land, or that cherish traditional community values. I mean traditional Australian conservatives. The kind of people for whom a dream date would be an IPA lecture, an after-dinner brandy over a copy of The Australian, and then a bout of coke-fuelled hedonistic destruction of an expensive hotel room. Traditional, conservative people.
Most of their comments are fairly predictable. For example, here’s one from the Liberal Party’s page: “Dans Andrews (sic) government still stuffing up virus tracing. 9 months still doesn’t get it.”
It seems to me that the phrase “still doesn’t get it” is actually quite a good endorsement when you’re dealing with a pandemic. They’re absolutely right. Unlike Trump, Bolsonaro and Boris, Daniel Andrews has never “gotten it”.
Arguing with traditionalists is pointless. They don’t generate ideas; they just regurgitate them. They are the ass-end of the Human Centipede that is the Australian conservative movement.
Which brings us to…
These guys devote their time to cooking up conspiracies and spreading them to “moderate” conservatives. They’re like Big Issue salesmen, except in this case, the Big Issue is “the Jews”. Their posts spread with alarming speed, and can be extremely dangerous when given a large platform. If only there was an analogy for something spreading quickly and causing mass devastation. Perhaps something modern that we could all relate to? Unfortunately, I can’t think of anything.
One agitator in particular caught my eye. He’s a self-styled social commentator, libertarian, and freethinker, who conveniently holds identical opinions to the ones expressed on Sky News. Nothing screams “independent thought” more than holding the same views as the most powerful media monopoly in the world. I won’t mention his name, because it’s more important to criticise ideas than people. Also, Australian defamation law is fucked beyond belief and I don’t want to get sued by a tubby fascist.
Let’s just call him Captain Covid.
The Captain regularly posts videos of him speaking at anti-lockdown rallies. In one video, he shouts into a megaphone:
“Daniel Andrews will go down in history as the worst violator of human rights that Victoria has ever seen!”
I commented asking if perhaps the thousands of Indigenous people who were kidnapped, raped, and often murdered, might have a different perspective. Perhaps, the whole “genocide” thing might be a little worse than lockdown?
The Captain disagreed. His response:
“6.5 million people with rights deprived, death toll rising fast, children dying from lack of medical care, suicides on the rise, huge spike in preventable fatalities due to reduced diagnosis of other medical conditions, and millions set to starve world-wide due to reduced food supply… I know what I said, I understand history, but unlike you I also understand the reality of what we’re seeing today.”
Putting aside the million-plus deaths due to COVID-19 in less than a year, the lack of evidence for a spike in suicides, and the bizarre finding that life expectancy may actually increase in 2020 due to social distancing, it was the last sentence that struck me the most.
“I understand history” sounds an awful lot like “I don’t give a fuck about Aboriginals” to me. If you understand history, you shouldn’t be able to brush genocide under the rug.
Look, Captain, I understand the frustration. Nobody likes being told to stay home, and Netflix gets tedious after two weeks. The Kissing Booth is a terrible movie. But when you claim that lockdown was worse than things like this:
“The terrified women and children were cut down by sword wielding murderers only meters into the scrub. Others jumped into the waterhole, plunging into the inky blackness in a vain attempt at escape. As each one emerged for breath, they were gunned down until the large body of water ran a deep red.”
You sound like a massive cunt. Speaking of cunts:
While every political movement has its share of fuckwits, the right is far more embracing of theirs. Progressives like to publicly shame their fuckwits, sometimes over an embarrassing Tweet from a decade ago, and sometimes for less serious transgressions. Conservatives, on the other hand, welcome fuckwits with open arms. Ironically, on this one issue, conservatives are more accepting of diversity than progressives. While progressives will shun anybody who isn’t educated on racial bias, conservatives see this ignorance as a trait to be admired.
Racism is the foundational value for many Australian conservative Facebook groups. There’s the One Nation pages, for instance, which focus almost exclusively on racial grievance. In these groups, I’ve seen Waleed Aly described as a “turd that needs to be flushed”, and the spread of COVID-19 blamed on refugees and their “failure to learn English”. This is especially galling given that, in discussing One Nation’s catastrophic failure in the QLD election, party candidate Stuart Bonds referred to it as a “death nail” for the party. He meant “death knell”.
The terrifying reality is that One Nation’s supporters are relatively even-handed compared to some other groups. In a group called AusPol 2.0, for example, I saw a certain meme posted multiple times.
We won’t post it here, but let’s just say it could not be more cliched or hamfisted. A masculine, blue-eyed, blond-haired, bearded Aryan edges closer to an equally caricatured orthodox Jewish man. The latter asks the former “who radicalised you?”. The Uberman responds: “You did.” The implication: I see you for what you really are. I wasn’t radicalised. I’ve just seen the truth. Scoff those red pills, folks.
This was extremely troubling to me, as I recently released a documentary for the ABC about my Jewish ancestry. It occurred to me that I should have joined these groups under a pseudonym. There are few names more Jewish than David Rose. I would have only been slightly more obvious under the moniker Israel Hebrewstein. I probably should have used a pseudonym for this article, too. Shit.
Here’s what I took away from my journey down the conservative rabbit-hole. Firstly, don’t join these groups. They’re depressing as fuck. Just re-watch The Kissing Booth.
Secondly, radical ideas don’t just appear. They have to gestate first. When you hear a politician say something bizarre and conspiratorial, chances are it came through the Facebook pipeline of bad ideas. Echo chambers are real, and they’re powerful. We ignore social media bubbles at our peril.
Lastly, the far right is alive and well in Australia. It can be easy to forget this as you munch on a democracy sausage once every four years. It can be easy to forget this when you compare Australia with nations just a little bit further down this disastrous path *cough* America *cough*.
The truth is, I didn’t even scratch the surface of this world. I only dug around on Facebook. Imagine what’s on 4chan, 8chan, or worse, the Liberal Party Facebook page.
The far right are here, and we need to be ready to handle it far better than other nations have.
By David Rose