By Kaz Ross
The goal these days is to shift mainstream political debate to the far-right around certain key ideas. (AAP: Dan Peled)
Everyone’s Nazi these days, it seems. Bothered by punctuation mistakes? You’re a grammar Nazi. Like to protest hate speech? A leftist Nazi.
Nazi is most often used in our society to describe a person intolerant of the beliefs of others. It’s become a confusing term, with some even believing that Nazis were actually socialists (for what it’s worth, they weren’t).
In Germany, the use of Nazi symbols is still prohibited, although a ban on Nazi imagery in computer games was recently lifted. But at the same time, the tightening of anti-hate speech mechanisms on social media platforms (including heavy fines in Germany) has led to an exodus of neo-Nazi groups. Many are moving their cyber-activities to unregulated online spaces such as the Russian-hosted platform VK.
Yet on the streets of the United States and European countries like Germany and Sweden, identified neo-Nazi groups are still regularly marching and demonstrating on hot button issues like immigration. Sometimes that action results in violence to property or people such as in Charlottesville or Gothenburg.
The sight of swastika flag-waving men shouting “Jews will not replace us” and “blood and soil” while marching en masse is genuinely terrifying.
People demonstrate as they hold a Nazi flag displaying a swastika in Yaroslavl. (Reuters: Vladimir Kutin)
What about Australia?
On the surface, things don’t look too bad here. Individual Nazis rather than organised groups have been in the news for serious and violent crimes such as murder and drug and firearms offences.
The Nazi group attracting the most media attention, Antipodean Resistance (“The Hitlers you’ve been waiting for”), have been operating for over a year but so far have confined their activities to putting up stickers and posters on Australia’s eastern seaboard or taking hikes in the bush.
Noted ethno-nationalist Dr Jim Saleam attracted only 709 votes — or less than 1 per cent of the vote — as an Australia First Party candidate in the recent Longman by-election.
So does Australia have a neo-Nazi problem?
In short, yes. Look not on the streets but online. Nazism is thriving in the meme-rich world of the internet.
The 21st century’s “Nazi 2.0” looks very different from its predecessor.
The goal these days is to shift mainstream political debate to the far-right around certain key ideas: white genocide, the importance of rejecting globalism, and establishing a white ethno-state. This process is called shifting the “Overton window” and is based on the idea that politics and policy can be deeply influenced by expanding what’s acceptable to talk about publicly.
Here’s an example of how it works. The plight of white farmers in South Africa was the basis for a series of rallies in Australia in early 2018. Conservative politicians and political contenders such as Avi Yemini (Australian Liberty Alliance candidate), Andrew Laming (Liberal), Fraser Anning (independent) jumped on the issue and called for special visas for the white farmers. In response, Minister Peter Dutton then asked Home Affairs to look into providing assistance, describing them as “the sort of migrants we want to bring into our country”.
Suddenly the notions of “white minority under threat” and “white genocide” became part of everyday political discussion.
Less than six months later, visiting alt-right provocateur Canadian Laura Southern wore an “It’s OK to be white” T-shirt as she landed in Australia. Senator Anning was sharing memes about “white pride” online and talking about the “final solution” in the Senate.
And Pauline Hanson put up a motion calling for recognition of the “deplorable rise of anti-white racism and attacks on Western civilisation”. She asked the Senate to acknowledge that “it’s okay to be white”.
Overton window smashed.
Where do these ideas come from?
Instead of looking to Germany, we find the source of the neo-Nazi playbook is David Lane, an American ex-Ku Klux Klan member who formed a white supremacist terror group called The Order. While serving a 190-year jail sentence for violence, he churned out bulk Nazi materials and coined the key neo-Nazi expression, the 14 words: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”
His manifesto, The 88 precepts (H is the 8th letter of the alphabet, so 88/HH is code for Heil Hitler), outlines the foundational beliefs for Nazi 2.0. According to Lane, the white race must be preserved against deliberate attempts at genocide by a global Jewish conspiracy. And the white ethno-state is the solution he proposed.
During 2017 and 2018, a meme frequently shared on Australian patriotic Facebook pages asked exactly this: “Asia for the Asians, Africa for the Africans. But what about the white race?”
Or as Senator Anning has put it, “diversity should be managed to remain compatible with social cohesion and national identity”.
What makes statements like these Nazism? The underpinning belief that only shared ethnicity (blood) can create strong and cohesive societies. And that these societies need to be tied to traditional lands (soil).
Australian Nazi 2.0
But how does this work in Australia? After all, Europeans have only been here a few hundred years.
Many Australian neo-Nazis turn to 1788 and Cook’s landing as heralding a new “race”: the white Australian. They long for a return to the White Australia policy. They reject multiculturalism as a weak and despised civic nationalism. They believe that only so-called “compatible white races and cultures” can truly integrate into a strong Australian ethno-nation.
For them, Henry Lawson said it best:
Clear out the Calico Jimmy, the nigger, the Chow, and his pals;
Be your foreword for years: Irrigation. Make a network of lakes and canals!
See that your daughters have children, and see that Australia is home,
And so be prepared, a strong nation, for the storm that most surely must come.
Dr Kaz Ross is a lecturer at the University of Tasmania.