In March 2019, an Australian white supremacist walked into a mosque, armed with a shotgun, and killed 51 people, including a two year old boy. The man who enacted those killings wanted to wipe out those he’d been told were replacing white people, and erasing white culture. The first thing on my mind when I saw that was this article published only a few months prior.
Though complaints were made to the Australian Press Council, no action was taken to remove the article or punish the media outlet. The reason this article prompted little outcry among the employees of News Corp is because white supremacy, racism and the deadly ideology of the ‘Great Replacement’ belief system are viewed as harmless thought experiments – rather than things that lead to children being murdered by Australians with shotguns.
I wrote, a few days after the Christchurch attack:
“Politics and media are each split into two factions: a large number of people who are explicitly racist, and a large number of people who refuse to accept that the other people could ever be explicitly racist. Together, they create an environment necessary, (though, on its own, insufficient) for the spawning of far-right terror and large-scale massacres”
People are already dying. Movements are coalescing. The broader media feedstock into this system hasn’t changed enough, certainly not in Australia. There are no more chances to fuck this up. Stubbornness means lives are lost. A tin ear means innocents suffer. There are no more chances, and there is no more time.
in 2018, Australia’s national broadcaster aired a long interview between Four Corners reporter Sarah Ferguson and alt-right, Nazi-adjacent grifter Steve Bannon. Ferguson said she’d heard others call Bannon racist, and declared that “there’s no evidence that that’s what you are”. That’s the same Bannon who, prior to that interview, complained too many CEOs in Silicon Valley were Asian, and said of black Americans being murdered by police, “What if the people getting shot by the cops did things to deserve it? There are, after all, in this world, some people who are naturally aggressive and violent”.
The problem with that interview is that it provided a stream of content for Youtube videos of Bannon ‘owning’ establishment media and gave him legitimacy on Australia’s most trusted media outlet. Bannon’s goal is not making a good argument – it’s prominence and platform. The format of an interview simply gives liars a free substrate in which to deploy their craft. But the criticism of that interview was not received well by Australia’s journalists.
Bannon, of course, went on to threaten to behead Dr Anthony Fauci, who’s been leading COVID19 efforts in the US, adding that his severed head should be placed on a spike outside the White House.
The history of media support for white supremacists
Providing an interview platform for white supremacists isn’t anything particularly new, not even for the national broadcaster. Historian Evan Smith found a clip from 1964 doing pretty much the same thing:
It’s not just Bannon. In 2016, Tom Tilley, host of Triple J’s Hack program (again, on the ABC) invited Australian Neo Nazi leader Blair Cottrell onto the program. Turns out that the man who perpetrated the Christchurch massacre three years later commented on the ABC’s Facebook post of that ‘debate’, ‘Knocked it out of the park, Blair’. The ABC reported that the murderer had posted in support of Cottrell, but pointedly excluded mentioning that it was on the ABC that Cottrell had appeared, or an ABC post upon which the Christchurch killer had commented.
In response to a complaint, the ABC vigorously defended hosting Cottrell on the program. “What is required is that a diversity of perspectives be presented over time, and that no perspective be favoured over any other”.
Cottrell has appeared on Sky News Australia and Channel Nine too. It’s an ongoing thing. In 2017, for a debate about the Charlottesville murder, in which white supremacists murdered the 32 year old Heather Heyer, Tilley invited another white supremacist onto Hack. “Do they have the right to stand up for their culture if they do feel that it is being pushed back?“, Tilley helpfully asked while interviewing the racist. “Multiculturalism is the end of white people and that’s why you have things like Unite the Right”, the racist replied, his voice being broadcast across the entire country.
Only a few months after the Bannon interview, the ABC’s Hamish McDonald did an interview with a Danish white supremacist, and that footage was immediately used as promotional material on the racists’ Youtube page.
They’re terrorists, so treat them like it
That white supremacists, white nationalists, neo nazis and eco-fascists are all agglomerating into what is very clearly a terrorist movement, following the attack on the US Capitol building, isn’t news to anyone who’s been following this closely for the past while.
Not long now until the two year anniversary of the Christchurch massacre. The attack, and the fact that the perpetrator was Australian, has been almost entirely erased from Australian media, culture and discourse. The first anniversary of the murders, and the release of a New Zealand Royal Commission into it were both relatively minor blips within Australian discourse. Australia’s few journalists of colour still struggle to feel safe, or represented, or heard.
Much of this problem comes from the simple fact that Australia’s media landscape is mostly white, and therefore free to see racism as a cute thought experiment. Seeing footage of police officers begging white nationalists to spare their lives because they have children hasn’t really changed that.
How do we know it hasn’t changed? Charlottesville based activist Molly Conger received a long direct message on Twitter from (at the time) unspecified journalists seeking to “interview members of the far-right”; right after Four Corners reporter Sarah Ferguson announced her departure to the US along with Tony Jones, to cover the white nationalist terrorist attacks. After some wry jokes from Twitter folks, Conger confirmed that it was indeed Four Corners and Sarah Ferguson asking to interview white nationalist terrorists. In her original post she included her reply, pleading with the team not to provide a platform.
“Don’t lend them the legitimacy of your institution. Don’t publish their words uncritically. Don’t’ publish them at all unless you have a subject matter expert to dissect them and present them as the falsehood they are. This is life and death for us”.
That last sentence has a grave and terrifying reality to it, given Conger lives in Charlottesville. “I get so many death threats I can catalogue them by the gunmaker mentioned”, she wrote in 2019. Of course, it’s completely baffling why they wouldn’t ask for Conger’s perspective. More telling is that they expect her to happily pass on the contact details of people who explicitly want to kill her.
In fact, many American anti-racist activists now refuse to speak to journalists if those same journalists are giving a platform to white supremacists (in much the same way climate scientists had to deny comments if those stories also featured deniers).
A smattering of Australian journalists are tuned into the tactics of white supremacists, the alt-right and terror groups, and are figuring out new approaches to dealing with the rising terror threat of white supremacists.
This comes at a time when these terror groups are beginning to ramp up in Australia: “Far-right violent extremism constitutes up to 40% of the Australian domestic spy agency’s counter-terrorism caseload, up from 10-15% before 2016″. A teenager from Albury in New South Wales was planning a “mass casualty attack” just prior to being arrested. Australia’s anti-terror regimes are failing to do much of anything about it. An inquiry will focus on social media, but has no mention of television, print or legacy digital media: Andrew Bolt is free to write about how the white race is being wiped out by dirty ethnics, as much as he pleases.
These terror groups aren’t growing in the widespread air of suspicion and paranoia that surrounded Islamic terror in the 2000s. They’re free and unhindered. They have the support of sympathetic voices in police, political and media establishments, and they have the support of people who can’t process that they’re a direct threat to our safety. They have journalists hunting tirelessly to find ways to elevate their voices to larger audiences.
It wasn’t that long ago that Australia’s largest white nationalist political party helped a guy into office who called for a ‘final solution’ on immigration, and publicly celebrated the actions of the Christchurch shooter. Large-scale media campaigns targeting non-white Australian occur alongside this rising drumbeat. The ‘African gangs‘ panic, the Yassmin Abdel-Magied attacks, front pages featuring young black women who’d breached COVID19 quarantine, spurring incredible amounts of abuse. None of these are treated as a threat, or as a contributor to the solidifying web of white nationalist violence around the world.
As America’s white supremacist groups evolve further into a violent terror network, and Australia’s racist organisations follow suit, it’s shocking to see that prominent, powerful journalists at the country’s national broadcaster frozen in time, from 1964 to now. Christchurch should have changed this. The Capitol attack should have changed this. Charlottesville should have changed this. Change is possible: you don’t see climate deniers given a platform anymore. There are no excuses.
That this persists isn’t disappointing. It’s terrifying. It’s danger. The Christchurch attacker posting lengthy celebratory comments on Triple J Hack videos should’ve sparked a massive reckoning, but all that happened was a muted erasure and a rapid forgetting.
Journalists: please, don’t wait until a mass casualty attack in Australia before you decide to stop playing directly into the hands of white supremacists. There are no more chances. We are here now, and we are in danger.