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