Alt-right in­fil­tra­tors find soft tar­gets in Aus­tralia's mori­bund po­lit­i­cal par­ties

The Guardian Australia - - News / Politics - Ja­son Wil­son

Be­fore Robert Bow­ers shot up a syn­a­gogue in Pitts­burgh in late Oc­to­ber, killing 11, he added one last post to Gab, the “free speech” so­cial me­dia site which had be­come a favoured haunt for neo-Nazis.

“Screw your op­tics,” it read. “I’m go­ing in”. The word “op­tics” was a ref­er­ence to an in­ter­nal de­bate in white na­tion­al­ist pol­i­tics that has been run­ning since their mur­der­ous march on Char­lottesville led to doxxings, ar­rests and other real-life con­se­quences.

One the one hand, peo­ple such as Bow­ers ad­vo­cated for an un­apolo­getic em­brace of the black-shirt role play that un­mis­tak­ably marked Char­lottesville out as a neo-Nazi gath­er­ing; the ex­trem­ist ide­ol­ogy that un­der­pinned the move­ment; and also the racist vi­o­lence that is the only real end­point of fas­cist pol­i­tics.

On the other hand, more strate­gic or disin­gen­u­ous white na­tion­al­ists were urg­ing a path of “normie” dress, less

pointed ad­vo­cacy and quiet en­try­ism into or­di­nary, con­ser­va­tive pol­i­tics (their op­po­nents like to re­fer to them as “op­tics cucks”).

On pod­casts and so­cial me­dia threads, white na­tion­al­ists from this lat­ter fac­tion ar­gued that young white na­tion­al­ists should keep a low pro­file, stay in school and work, and carry out their po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism within es­tab­lished po­lit­i­cal in­sti­tu­tions.

We know that some peo­ple had some suc­cess for a time in car­ry­ing out this strat­egy. James All­sup, who marched in Char­lottesville with white na­tion­al­ist group Iden­tity Evropa, was elected as a com­mit­tee­man for a lo­cal Repub­li­can branch in eastern Wash­ing­ton state.

The plan — which is tac­ti­cally sound — is to in­fil­trate mori­bund lo­cal par­ties in or­der to turn their rel­a­tively small num­bers into out­sized po­lit­i­cal lever­age.

Those who dis­miss the small num­bers on the far right rarely con­sider how small the mem­ber­ship of mod­ern po­lit­i­cal par­ties tends to be, and how easy par­tic­u­lar parts may be to stack.

All­sup was found out with dili­gent re­port­ing but also be­cause he is a high­pro­file fig­ure who couldn’t bring him­self to tone down his boast­ing about his en­try­ism.

No doubt other, less prom­i­nent white na­tion­al­ists are en­gaged with Repub­li­can pol­i­tics around the coun­try, and un­der­neath the radar.

This brings us to re­cent rev­e­la­tions in Aus­tralia about the “alt-right” in­fil­tra­tion of the NSW Young Na­tion­als.

Ac­cord­ing to the ABC’s Back­ground Brief­ing re­port that first ex­posed this large-scale en­try­ism, this was part of an ex­plicit plan that ex­actly re­sem­bled the kind of strat­egy that James All­sup and oth­ers have been ar­gu­ing for in the United States.

The ABC re­porter Alex Mann said “con­clu­sively” that “alt-right, young, savvy, na­tion­al­ist[s] are covertly join­ing main­stream po­lit­i­cal par­ties right here in Aus­tralia, and they’re seek­ing to in­flu­ence the heart of our democ­racy.”

In the Young Na­tion­als the group had at­tained ex­ec­u­tive po­si­tions, al­most passed alt-right mo­tions and had come close to con­trol­ling the youth or­gan­i­sa­tion.

When sev­eral of the mem­bers un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Na­tional party re­signed last week , they did so with a let­ter crammed with al­tright talk­ing points about “mass third world im­mi­gra­tion” and in­nu­mer­ate fears about white Aus­tralians “be­com­ing a mi­nor­ity in their own coun­try”.

This in­cur­sion into a ma­jor Aus­tralian po­lit­i­cal party is alarm­ing, but it needs to be un­der­stood in the con­text of a glob­ally con­nected white na­tion­al­ist move­ment where ideas, strate­gies and de­bates flow eas­ily be­tween na­tional con­texts.

This is the same strat­egy that has been ad­vo­cated and im­ple­mented in the US. It’s worth not­ing that All­sup was ini­tially de­fended by lo­cal Wash­ing­ton Repub­li­cans, some of whom had been en­thu­si­as­tic about an in­fu­sion of fresh blood into lo­cal con­ser­va­tive pol­i­tics.

It’s fair, even ur­gent, to ask: are the age­ing, of­ten mori­bund and shrink­ing grass­roots or­gan­i­sa­tions in con­ser­va­tive par­ties suf­fi­ciently aware of the threat posed by alt-right en­try­ism?

Are they ac­tively look­ing for it? Do they have a plan to de­fend them­selves against it? Do they know how many mem­bers of their youth arms are also in­volved in far-right pol­i­tics?

As con­ser­va­tive groups think these ques­tions over, they should know the fol­low­ing: the strat­egy of “good op­tics” does not mean that the peo­ple car­ry­ing it out pro­fess a mod­er­ate ver­sion of white na­tion­al­ism.

There is no such thing; there is only a strat­egy of de­cep­tion – and racism.

• Ja­son Wil­son is a Guardian writer and colum­nist

Those who dis­miss the small num­bers on the far right rarely con­sider how small the mem­ber­ship of mod­ern po­lit­i­cal par­ties tends to be

Pho­to­graph: Lukas Coch/AAP

‘This in­cur­sion into a ma­jor Aus­tralian po­lit­i­cal party is alarm­ing, but it needs to be un­der­stood in the con­text of a glob­ally con­nected whitena­tion­al­ist move­ment’

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