Go­ing to ex­tremes to fig­ure out rad­i­cals

Au­thor ‘goes rogue’ with Aussie big­ots for his new book

Central and North Burnett Times - - SPORT - BY Letea Ca­van­der

JOHN Safran is back and invit­ing read­ers to go with him down a rab­bit hole of ex­treme po­lit­i­cal views and rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion in Aus­tralia. The au­thor is in the thick of it, again, from in­ter­view­ing Aussie ISIS sup­port­ers to Re­claim Aus­tralia lead­ers, and the re­sult is a com­plex and manic pic­ture of some of Aus­tralia’s ex­trem­ists.

The book was writ­ten be­fore Don­ald Trump’s rise to the US pres­i­dency, in the midst of the Re­claim Aus­tralia ral­lies in 2015 and last year.

Safran ar­rives at a rally held in Mel­bourne, is recog­nised, and from there dives into the gonzo style of story-telling that he has em­braced since his 2004 tele­vi­sion se­ries John Safran v God.

Safran talks to reli­gious and po­lit­i­cal rad­i­cals, many born and raised on home soil.

Fram­ing rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion in terms of re­li­gion, Safran says, is cru­cial to bet­ter un­der­stand­ing it. It is one of the things he wants read­ers to glean from the book.

“Re­li­gion is cours­ing through Aus­tralia at the mo­ment in a way that peo­ple don’t usu­ally think about,” he says.

“The way is­sues are dis­cussed (is) through a re­ally non-reli­gious lens.”

Safran says be­cause it is of­ten dif­fi­cult for peo­ple to un­der­stand that ex­trem­ists truly be­lieve in magic, or that key reli­gious fig­ures are about to re­turn, me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions of­ten frame is­sues in a more “palat­able” way for the reader, lis­tener or viewer.

“The key play­ers in Re­claim Aus­tralia are re­ally mo­ti­vated by this be­lief that the Chris­tian Mes­siah is about to re­turn and there’s spir­i­tual war­fare go­ing on,” Safran says.

“I also hung out with a cou­ple of Aus­tralian ISIS sup­port­ers. And their be­lief in the scrip­ture and their be­lief they have to go to Iraq or Syria to fight be­cause the Mus­lim Mes­sianic age is about to hap­pen re­ally drives them.

“That’s so dif­fi­cult to ac­cept if you’re a reg­u­lar Aussie, be­cause what do you do with that?

“Peo­ple are driven to rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion be­cause of iso­la­tion, and big­otry to­wards them, and for­eign pol­icy and all that is ob­vi­ously true, but there is that other layer that is so im­por­tant and is so dif­fi­cult to get your head around. And be­cause there’s no ap­par­ent an­swer to it, it’s hard.”

Safran’s fame was con­firmed fol­low­ing the air­ing of the afore-men­tioned TV se­ries, when he took a world trip and an­a­lysed a few be­lief sys­tems along the way.

Since then, the self-ti­tled “Jew de­tec­tive” has also trav­elled to the US to in­ves­ti­gate a mur­der and has writ­ten the fairly hi­lar­i­ously ti­tled, Mur­der in Mis­sis­sippi: The True Story of How I Met a White Supremacist, Be­friended his Black Killer and Wrote This Book.

The au­thor also says the rise of so­cial me­dia has played a huge role in peo­ple form­ing ex­treme be­liefs.

“Es­pe­cially now be­cause there’s so much me­dia out there, es­pe­cially so­cial me­dia, and news sto­ries and mes­sage boards, you can cherry-pick any­thing and make it fit what your ex­ist­ing the­ory is,” he says.

“Es­pe­cially when you’re Jewish you re­ally pick up on this. Like when peo­ple have con­spir­acy the­o­ries about the Jews con­trol­ling ev­ery­thing, so ev­ery­thing can fit into that.

“And if any­thing goes wrong in the world, you can scan around un­til you find the Jewish con­nec­tion and that be­comes the story.

“It’s the same with other sorts of big­otry... you can pluck things ... and make ev­ery­one look bad re­ally.”

Some mo­ments of hi­lar­ity in the lat­est book come when Safran sud­denly gets a dose of re­al­ity from “reg­u­lar” peo­ple op­er­at­ing out­side of the rad­i­cal world the au­thor finds him­self in.

“In the months since (fin­ish­ing the book), I’ve had time to de­com­press,” Safran says.

“I thought I was be­ing bal­anced by think­ing ‘oh, I might spend a few days with the white su­prem­a­cists’ or ‘I’ll spend some time with ISIS sup­port­ers’, and I thought there was some logic to that.

“Now I spend a few days with the peo­ple down at the cafe ... and I no­ticed close to the end (of writ­ing the book) there was some­thing funny about when a nor­mal per­son shows up on the scene and breaks the bub­ble.

“Now I know for my next book I need to put more of that in. For my next book I need to spot the book a bit more with reg­u­lar peo­ple.” De­pends What you Mean by Ex­trem­ist: Go­ing Rogue with Aus­tralian De­plorables is out now through Pen­guin Ran­dom House. John Safran will ap­pear at the By­ron Writ­ers Fes­ti­val (Au­gust 4-6). More at by­ron­writ­ers­fes­ti­val.com.

PHOTO: PEN­GUIN RAN­DOM HOUSE

◗ John Safran has re­leased a new book, De­pends What you Mean by Ex­trem­ist.

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