The US Capitol Riots Should Be A Wake-Up Call To Australia

To think that Australia is immune to what has unfolded in America is nothing short of deluded. It’s impossible to shake the feeling that things are going to get worse.

US Capitol riots

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Last week, extremists armed with rifles, chemical irritants, molotov cocktails, and pipe bombs attacked the US Capitol, at Donald Trump’s suggestion, in an attempt to prevent the certification of the election results and keep the president in power.

Trump, the textbook definition of a fascist, urged the crowd to march on the seat of the US Congress at an earlier rally. He declared that “this is the time for strength” and complained of “weak Congress people.”

The mainly white mob paraded Nazi tattoos and white supremacist flags as they swarmed the Capitol. The attack resulted in five deaths. Senators returned after the building was secured, but even then, 147 Republican officials voted to overturn the election results based on made-up claims of election fraud.

These events were an entirely predictable consequence of the previous four years. This is what it looks like when fascism and white supremacy have a stranglehold on an empire in rapid decline. This is America, but it is also a sombre wake-up call to Australia.

The US has been giving off signals of mass violence and ethnic cleansing for some time now, and Australia’s not far behind. To think that Australia is immune to what has unfolded in America is nothing short of deluded. It’s impossible to shake the feeling that things are going to get worse.

We are not “above” this crisis when there have been 434 Aboriginal deaths in custody since 1991 and no-one has ever been held criminally responsible. Aboriginal people are the most incarcerated people on the planet, and Blak communities in the Northern Territory still suffer under the racially discriminatory Intervention.

Last month was the 15th anniversary of the Cronulla race riots, an outburst of white violence which we altogether failed to reckon with. Thousands of white people devolved into a frenzy, searching for Arab and Lebanese people to attack. John Howard, the prime minister at the time, refused to call it racist.

When white nationalist groups marched under the banner of ‘Reclaim Australia’, politicians enthusiastically spoke at their events. More recently, Fraser Anning posed for pictures with Nazis gathered on St Kilda beach after he called for a return to White Australia and a “final solution” to Muslim immigration.

It’s not just a political fringe either. Influential government figures like Peter Dutton are fond of neo-nazi talking points. Pauline Hanson infamously called for the internment of Muslims but it was Scott Morrison, then Immigration Minister, who proposed mass internment camps for as many as 30,000 people.

Australia has thrown people into prison camps for nearly 20 years. “You are worse than I am,” Trump joked when Malcolm Turnbull explained Australia’s abhorrent migration policies to him. Trump leads a state which keeps kids in cages and forcibly sterilises migrants, and his observation should haunt us.

When an Australian white supremacist murdered 51 Muslims and attempted to murder a further 40 in Christchurch, Morrison singled out “tribalism” as the issue, whatever that means. The truth is that the gunman’s ideology was and remains well represented in all levels of Australian culture, media and politics.

Just earlier that month, Morrison himself claimed, falsely, that sick refugees would steal hospital beds. Earlier, much of the ruling Liberal-National Coalition voted to support a Senate motion which noted “anti-white racism” [sic] and affirmed the white supremacist slogan “it’s okay to be white”.

White journalists routinely platform Nazis and other far-right figures, and news outlets make easy money off publishing racist lies — from the fabricated “African gangs” panic to the total fiction that Black Lives Matter protests spread COVID.

Above all others, Sky News After Dark has grown more unhinged as it spreads misinformation. Not only did Sky News Australia promote the lie that the US election was stolen, but it also downplayed the insurrection as it happened. At this point, Australia’s chief media export is far-right conspiracy theories, and its main import is washed-up white supremacists.

It’s difficult to overstate the government’s complicity with the Trump regime. Morrison provided Trump with some much needed international legitimacy and failed to criticise his authoritarian behaviour. Collaborators in government have loudly supported the president and spread his conspiracy theories.

More and more, our political class borrows Trumpian tactics. Morrison misled parliament and party members survive what should be career-ending scandals by refusing to admit any responsibility. That fact that ministers can flout the law without consequence is cause for alarm.

There is always a feeling that Australia is far away from the bad things which grip other countries. Whether from apathy or ignorance, this complacency is dangerous in the face of flourishing fascism. It is impossible to look at our recent history and not see the makings of a great many terrible things.

Media outlets and politicians regularly dehumanise minorities, and the white majority are in denial about genocide against Aboriginal peoples. After the war on terror, many are accustomed to a culture of fear and permanent emergency. Economic inequality and the pandemic will exacerbate these forces.

It is easy to imagine where these conditions lead because we have seen them so many times before: the erosion of civil rights, sanctioned discrimination, white supremacist violence and, in the extreme, mass deportations, segregation and internment. This grim future is increasingly likely but not a certainty.

We need to de-platform white supremacists from traditional and social media. We must find consequences for politicians who exploit Nazi rhetoric, and we need to take white supremacist extremism more seriously. We could finally own up to the truth of Australia’s violent, white supremacist past.

Some of these are more likely than others, but none of them will come about without action in our everyday lives and communities. The question isn’t what you would do if white supremacy and fascism gained a foothold in our society, but what you will do now that they have?

Joshua Badge is a queer writer and philosopher living on Wurundjeri land in Melbourne. They tweet at @joshuabadge.