Politics

In Australia, Anti-Immigrant Racism Is Everywhere

The alleged Christchurch shooter is a product of the dog whistles and overt bigotry in the political mainstream.

Fraser Anning and other senators sit in chairs in Parliament.
Fraser Anning (back row) and other senators at the Parliament House on Nov. 28, 2017, in Canberra, Australia.
Michael Masters/Getty Images

Words from a vile manifesto, written by an Australian, have been floating around the internet following the New Zealand terrorist attack that saw 49 people killed at mosques during Friday prayers.

It calls Islam a “savage belief” and the “religious equivalent of fascism.” “Worldwide, Muslims are killing people in the name of their faith on an industrial scale,” it reads. “The entire religion of Islam is simply the violent ideology of a sixth century despot masquerading as a religious leader, which justifies endless war against anyone who opposes it and calls for the murder of unbelievers and apostates.”

But it wasn’t written by the alleged shooter, Australian citizen Brenton Tarrant. It was written by an Australian politician.

Sen. Fraser Anning also tweeted, even before Friday’s death toll was public, “Does anyone still dispute the link between Muslim immigration and violence?” That link is Fraser Anning, and people like him.

Anning—the Aussie Steve King, perhaps—is a now-independent senator who is too racist even for the extremely racist party that elected him. Elected in 2017 as a One Nation party replacement candidate (after “free speech” crusader Malcolm Roberts was caught up in the citizenship debacle), Anning chose to sit as an independent, then opted to join another fringe party, until he was kicked out of that one too, for his infamous speech calling for a “final solution” to the Muslim immigration problem.

His latest comments have been roundly condemned by everyone in Australian politics—by the prime minister, the recent ex–prime minister, the soon-to-be prime minister. Prime Minister Scott Morrison tweeted that Anning’s comments were “disgusting” and “have no place in Australia, let alone the Australian Parliament.”

Of course, they shouldn’t have a place—but they do.

Anning and Tarrant may be extremists, but they are extreme representatives and undeniable products of a racist Australian culture—one that is at best quietly tolerated and at worst wildly stoked by politicians, not to mention a Rupert Murdoch–fueled mass media. Whether it’s demonizing asylum-seekers, demonizing African youths, demonizing Indigenous Australians, or demonizing Muslims, racism is insidious in the mainstream culture.

Note that while Anning’s 2018 final solution speech was condemned, he wasn’t removed from Parliament over it. A man who made an approving Hitler reference remains an Australian senator, a tacit endorsement of his bigotry. Politicians are falling over themselves to condemn Anning now, amid another open show of racism, but there seems to be no rush to condemn the dog whistle kind going on in the media every single day.

The alt-right has a strong presence Down Under, inviting figures like Milo Yiannopoulos to speak and holding fascist rallies—one of which Anning defended attending earlier this year. (Anning was also expected to address a meeting of neo-Nazis with Hitler fan Blair Cottrell later this weekend.) It’s alive and thriving online, a community that Tarrant was reportedly a part of. This report dives into one of the favorite memes of the Australian far right, one recently used by Tarrant both on the forum 8chan and on Twitter. It shows a highly stereotypical Aussie bloke, wearing Outback get-up, brandishing the bottle of a popular Aussie beer, with the caption “hold still while I glass you.” The same meme is frequently used by the Dingoes, an online group known for anti-Semitic views. Lest you think this is a murky subculture, a onetime Labor Party leader has appeared on the Dingoes’ podcast. That leader, Mark Latham, is now a One Nation candidate.

Latham, admittedly, has fallen far in the years he has been out of politics. But this excellent tweet thread from Guardian columnist Jason Wilson, who covers the far right, chronicles the horrific racism even mainstream figures have engaged in. “Remember when the Australian Senate almost passed a literal white nationalist meme?” he tweeted. “Remember all the free media Milo and Lauren Southern got? Remember ‘African Gangs’? Remember ‘white farmers’? Remember the Soros conspiracy theories during the SSM referendum?”

I don’t speak for all Aussies when I say I was not surprised to learn the shooter in the mosque attack was an Australian—but I do speak for many. Tarrant may have been radicalized online, but he was emboldened by the words surrounding him on national platforms, by right-wing commentators writing in major newspapers that a “tidal wave of immigrants sweeps away our national identity” (this from one of the most well-known “journalists” in Australia). His article was called “The Foreign Invasion.” Tarrant’s manifesto is called “The Great Replacement.”

Other parts of Tarrant’s manifesto echo words by other public figures. Australia, you may recall, is not in Europe, but Tarrant refers to himself as European and treats Australia as an outpost of Europe. One recent former prime minister seems a little obsessed with Australia being part of “the Anglosphere,” while Anning was ultimately kicked out of his second party for continuing to distinguish between “European” and “non-European” migration.

The nationality of the other suspects has not yet been revealed, so it’s hard to speculate on any extent to which New Zealand’s own alt-right was involved. I often tell Americans that New Zealand is Australia’s Canada, a better, more progressive version of Australia with a reputation as a welcoming place. The relationship between white and indigenous New Zealanders is much better than that of many colonial societies, but it still leaves a lot to be desired. Ironically, the National Front, a far-right group with only about 1,000 members, is said to have been influenced by the Canadian alt-right—the Lauren Southerns and Stefan Molyneuxes and Jordan Petersons—to adopt a “pseudo-academia, clean-cut appearances.” New Zealand journalist Paula Penfold spoke to i24 on Friday, saying that while New Zealand is not known for hate crimes or mass violence, “there has been knowledge of white supremacy in Christchurch for some decades now. We’ve never seen violence like this, but there is a sense now that this is a situation that has been building.”

As Joshua Keating noted Friday, “New Zealand has had one of the fastest-growing immigration populations among developed countries in recent years, much of it from Asia. This has led to at least some political backlash, with [Winston] Peters’ New Zealand First party calling for immigration restrictions and accused of fomenting racism. Police clashed with right-wing nationalists who rallied outside the Parliament in Wellington in 2017.”

The world is again in shock, but it’s no surprise that Tarrant was Australian. After all, as he wrote in his manifesto, he was a “regular white man from a regular family.” So true.