By educating the public properly on the dangers posed by White supremacists, the mainstream media holds the power to diminish the neo-Nazi threat, writes Tom Tanuki.
YOU MIGHT NOT be aware that last Friday, a group of reportedly knife-wielding neo-Nazis set upon an anti-fascist fundraiser in Melbourne. You will recall the group, of course, because they were plastered across the media landscape amid cries of condemnation and urgent calls for the State Government and law enforcement to act to prevent fascist radicals from seizing public spaces again.
So you'd think setting upon a bar with knives in hand would be the subject of even more feverish media panic about the rise of neo-Nazism and such. It would ordinarily form an excellent opportunity to recruit countering violent extremism (CVE) specialists, sympathetic centre-Left politicians and perhaps the head of ASIO to comment on what new laws and police powers might next be introduced to protect us all.
But there is no panic.
There was instead a smattering of formulaic "neo-Nazis vs Antifa" coverage and we've all moved on. That's because this situation was handled summarily by a small group of Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice, or S.H.A.R.P.s. They ran the National Socialist Network (NSN) out of Thornbury where the bar was located, chasing after them with mic stands and chairs and generally leaving them worse for wear.
This is an example of physical resistance, which is a part of the toolkit of anti-fascists in responding to violent grassroots fascists. Physical resistance is not in the mainstream political vocabulary, of course. Despite most physical conflict in the Australian fringe political landscape being less extreme than any typical Saturday night on Melbourne's King Street, the mainstream liberal education we all receive tells us all violence, in any situation at all, is wrong.
I'm inclined to agree regarding the political process, of course, because no democratic process should be threatened or undermined by the promise of violence. But I part ways with liberals on whether physical resistance is appropriate in response to the kind of people who want marginalised groups dead. Violent people, organising towards violence as an outcome, may need to be met with violence in the right context as a defensive gesture. That's simply true, whether or not it sits well with liberals.
People perhaps can't wrap their heads around the idea of principled, politically engaged punks who are willing to use their hands to combat an immediate threat. Still, that's exactly as it is. The people who were involved aren't on some slippery slope toward political violence toward the wider community. They were engaged in physical defence against a very specific group of dangerous people - and no more than that. I tell you this: they are more principled in what they will and won't do than many politicians who stalk the halls of Canberra.
I understand this isn't a comfortable mainstream conversation to have. I can't expect establishment media outlets, CVE specialists or, naturally, ASIO to celebrate street violence. Often, many of these voices are as anti-Left as they are anti-Right, explaining away all nuance and context to position us as just as bad as each other - the violent White supremacists exactly the same as the people protecting others from them.
Still, regardless of the outcome, a Melbourne bar was still set upon by knife-wielding Nazis. That was confirmed not just by partisan voices like my own but also by passersby who spoke to Channel 9 for a news report. This seems worth commenting on.
I have seen it said that this was "just teenagers", reducing the threat posed here. But this incident didn't happen in a silo. It only took place after those young neo-Nazis worked their courage up to do it after months upon months of unchecked intimidation, harassment and even physical assaults in Melbourne and surrounds. They've been attacking random people in the city, often filming and sharing around the incidents.
Police have done nothing - perhaps they've not known, or have otherwise been unable to act. For once, someone responded to them decisively and protected the local community from more danger.
I have also seen it said online that now they have been attacked and chased off one time, we can no longer continue to breathlessly warn each other about the danger of organised neo-Nazism in Melbourne. Personally, the last thing I want to do is bang on these dregs. I'd rather they vanish completely.
But this idea fundamentally misunderstands the nature of the danger these young men pose. We didn't warn about them (as we continue to do) because they had an unblemished street-fighting record. That isn't the danger. We warned about them because they are being groomed into an ideology that compels its true believers toward terrorist attacks of mass violence.
Like the Christchurch killer, another Australian they are taught in their scene to venerate, they are being radicalised to goad each other toward more acts of mass violence. So we might laugh and cheer when they are run off from a night in Thornbury, but we know that one day they could arrive with more than just knives. That's why they continue to be a danger.
And with the rare exception, two years of breathless media reportage and ASIO scrutiny only appear to have emboldened them. That's why it was so powerful that they were made to look like weak fools and cowards last week. If we could allow a little nuance into our mainstream political education for a moment, we can actually celebrate the power of that and its potential to protect people from real, bloody fringe political mass violence.