DX: In this episode of Mont Icons, we interviewed Anarchist journalist Andy Fleming, an icon of Australia anti-facist activism. Andy is known online as SlackBastard and is devoted to exposing the far right in Australia. Andy has written extensively about the links between the Christ Church terrorists and the local far-right groups. THe recent release of the Christ Church enquiry report inspired us to approach Andy for insight. This episode is a bit different. For security concerns, we conducted this interview over the phone.
MF: So Andy, thank you so much for joining us at Mont. What have you been up to this week?
AF: What have I been doing? Well, I've been doing the usual, which is looking at what members of the far-right are doing online and responding to information that I receive about that. And, I guess interacting with journalists and other writers. Also this week, where I do a show on 3CR in Melbourne called Casarun. And this week we interviewed the author of a book about CasaPound in Italy. So I've been reading that book and I've been reading about CasaPound and Italian politics this week.
MF: Wow. What does that teach you about the state of far-right politics in Italy?
AF: Well, I’m familiar with CasaPound. And I guess the first thing that occurred to me when reading the book or thinking about talking to one of the authors, was the fact that about 15 years ago, there was an activist in Melbourne called Luke Connors who was a member for something called the Patriotic Youth League, which was the Australia First party's attempt to establish a youth wing. He adopted the handle CasaPound online. So when thinking about CasaPound, I think about how it serves as a model and an inspiration for fascist activists around the world, including in Australia.
DX: Can you talk a little bit if you have any background on the link with Ezra Pound, the poet?
MF: Yeah, it's named in honour of pound. Because he was a big fan or a huge fan of Mussolini and Fascist Italy. So he volunteered some of his writing to support Mussolini. And I'd have to check but I found an article that was published a few years ago, detailing his accounts relationship to anti-semitic belief systems and fascism, which provided a detailed account of his engagement with fascist politics. But I think he's one of a number of figures. And I guess one thing that's important to remember in the context of discussion of Pound and his relationship to fascism is there were many artists and intellectuals and others who embraced fascism when it first emerged. And in discussing CasaPound now with the author or co author of this book, she pointed out that there was a kind of attempt to do notification in Germany after the Second World War, but there was no such process instituted in Italy. So for that reason and for other reasons, fascism remains a kind of it's both a dividing line in Italian far-right politics, in the sense that CasaPound is somewhat unusual. Unusual in the sense that it embraces historical fascism or to the achievements of Mussolini’s regime. It also seeks to adapt it to the 21st century. Which is why I think there was a journalist who dubbed them the fascists of the third millennium. It also made me think of the Italian anarchists and other anti-fascists of the 1920s in Melbourne and throughout Australia about which John Franco Christiani has written about in the last few decades. I find history fascinating, but, you know, those dimensions are fascists of history in particular interest, because I suppose because they were in Melbourne context and Australian context, the OG anti-fascist back in the 1920s.
MF: Wow, that's really cool. I mean what you're talking about is really, really interesting. When I was in Rome, early last year, all the monuments to Mussolini was still up. And I found that really fuckin shocking, you know, going to the football and seeing this huge, monolithic structure dedicated to Mussolini. I found it really bizarre that those hadn't been reevaluated or taken down.
AF: Yeah, it's an interesting history. I guess the other thing that it makes me think of is the ways in which just in the last few years, the historical legacy of Franco in Spain is being reexamined. And there's all sorts of court battles and other things going on there to do precisely with how to approach the hundreds and thousands of memorials to Franco. And I think it was just this week, it was recorded that Franco's family has lost possession of one of his mansions or something.
DX: Yeah I saw that and it’s been kind of appropriated to tell the story of Franco's reign. And they're trying to re-badge it in tribute to the writer that occupied it prior to it being appropriated by Franco.
AF: Yeah. I think of a comrade from Spain, who's no longer with us, but his account of growing up in Spain was that he didn't realise until he was an adult that his parents were members of the CNT. They completely suppressed that knowledge. So he was brought up as a good young Spaniard. And it was only later through his own investigations into history, into politics, and to the history of anarchism in Spain that he discovered his own parents were radicals during that period. So that kind of his testimony to the ways in which, I guess, culture, politics, society adapted in Spain to Franco's legacy. And also I mean, you know, during the course of this year, we have interviewed a number of people, but one of them was a scholar from United States who's looking at or read a book on youth subcultures in Spain from the 70s onwards and the ways in which, following Franco's death, there was a reopening of public space in Spain, to allow youth in particular, to reinvestigate and to, I guess, rediscover that history and attempt to, you know, incorporate whatever lessons might be taught from that era into their own kind of cultural and political practice.
MF: Where did all this begin for you, Andy? What, at what point? Did you start really getting interested in this? Was it something your parents kind of inspired in you? Or did something happen in your youth that really, you know, made you pivot and inspired to become an activist or an anarchist?
AF: Well, it wasn't my parents, No. I don't, I mean, I'm unable to provide too many details. But I remember I had a desire to understand the world and my place within it. And so I've had an interest, longstanding interest in politics and political philosophy and all sorts of other things. And I guess it was, you know, probably during my teenage years that I've developed a serious interest in these sorts of things. And that's just carried through into my adult life. And I do remember, I guess it's a different kind of environment now in the internet age where the kinds of things that are interested in are much more easily accessible. So my kind of clues as to the existence of say anti-fascism in Germany was derived from reading shock horror headlines in the tabloid media about squatters in Berlin battling with boneheads or following the collapse of the wall and so on. So, I mean, sort of long standing interest. But it was only around 15 years or so. I guess it was ago that, basically what happened was that a website called Fight Them Back had emerged, and I think it described itself as being a Trans-Tasman alliance of anti-fascists or something. And it was actually, I think, inspired to launch because the Australia First Party and the New Zealand National Front announced at that time that they are going to form a Trans-Tasman Alliance. And so activists here in Aotearoa decided that something should be done about that. So this website was launched. And I thought it was interesting. I wrote a couple of things for it. They seemed to like it, and encouraged me to write more. And that's, you know, around about the point at which the blog became a forum for those writings and, you know, others.
DX: You’re blog’s been very instrumental in kind of revealing what's going on right now in Melbourne and, and in Australia.
MF: And how we got here.
DX: Yeah yeah. What kind of inspired this particularly was the events of the last week, which have been quite, I imagine have been quite busy for you?
AF: Yeah, they have, I mean, I still haven't managed to read the full report. But the first thing I did was examine what it had to say about the relationship between the killer and the local far right movement. And, you know, reading through that most of the material I was quite familiar with.
MF: Just to be clear, we're talking about the Christchurch terrorist attack and the Commissioner's findings.
AF: Yeah, yeah. So, I mean, one thing that I, you know, if you read the account given of his I guess, recent evolution, recent evolution of his political views, his engagement with groups like the UPF, and so on and so forth in the lad society, of course. You know that's not us, you know, quite familiar with that I was aware, and can confirm that when the killer center kind of threat to an online user of Facebook, I can confirm that that did take place, and police did not act. And reading that made me think about how, you know, I think this, it's arguable that the massacre did have some impact on the ways in which the police and the state has responded to that kind of material appearing online. I mean, also, at about same time, as the report was published, you know, a teenager in New South Wales was arrested and has been charged with terrorism offenses, seemingly on the basis. And, you know, this is before the courts and so on, but seemingly on the basis according to police of certain things that he posted that morning, which indicated, according to them, allegedly, some preparedness to undertake some kind of act. And, I mean, that kind of rhetoric is, well, it's not common, but it's not uncommon either. And so, to the extent that one of the things that police and other authorities have to do is wade through this material and make a determination as to who's, you know, a real threat, let's say, and those who are simply shit posting. It's not a straightforward task. And the only thing that can really inform that is having some kind of background on some awareness of the history of engagement by the particular individuals making that kind of statement. And one of the things I do through the blog and other things is actually try and examine that history and determine for myself, you know, who is the person who's just, you know, tweeting about I guess the kykes race will now and who is it? Who is it from among that group of that cohort, that's of most interest and for me, it's that it's, and I get, I get, you know, sent material occasionally by someone on Facebook who is appalled that someone they've discovered someone online saying something outrageous, and they bring it to my attention. And it's kind of like in those situations, I have to make a determination because there's thousands of these individuals. Who is of most interest to myself and I generally operate on the basis that well what kind of position does this person occupy within this movement? Do they have an influence? Are they likely to be influencing others? And then attempting if it's necessary, thought, I think it's worthwhile trying to excavate that history and I guess, finding out as much about that individual and their associations as I can.
MF: How do you think the far right has changed in the last four or five years? Or has it always been quite a dangerous undercurrent in our society, it just has been brought to prominence now or people are just more aware of it in the last year or so? Or has something shifted in the community that has it radicalized them further?
AF: In terms of understanding far-right ideology and movement in Australia, you can adopt various frameworks. I mean, I'm in the longer historical period, I situate it in terms of the white Australia policy. And there's an argument that if you compare the Australian far-right to similar movements in other places, one of the reasons that hasn't flourished, is because the state has already occupied the territory that the far-right normally would. In other words, the state itself in, you know, it's a colonial settled state. And from its inception, one of the pillars, if you adopt someone like Paul Kelly's framework, was the white Australia policy. And that’s only really, well it’s a living memory that only began to be dismantled. But I think that leaves a legacy. And if you look at the, it's not always the case, but for some of the more important white nationalist political parties and groups, one of the things they're trying to do is rehabilitate that history, and to draw upon whatever sentiment, whatever sympathy remains for white Australia. And I think that that's, you know, probably a minority position. But there's still many people who view that era as being, you know, one of stability and order, and the so called worker's paradise, and so on. And I want to try and rehabilitate that and invest it with new life. And that's not a simple project. In terms of the more recent history, I think, reclaim Australia was a key moment. And what that how I read that was, I placed that in the context of the war on terror. And so I knew that for many years prior to reclaims emergency 2005, I'd witnessed the this kind of sentiment centered upon Islamophobia, but drawing upon the wider, xenophobic beliefs, I suppose the sentiment has been building over time, it was supported by both official government policy but also, you know, various far-right actors attempting to push it along. So as I witnessed as the emergence from principally online environment of a sentiment that been in existence for some time, it was kind of like a coming out party. And, you know, it was relatively small. I mean, if you compare them, you know, there would have been thousands, who took part in reclaim Australia rallies. So relative to other, you know, political mobilizations fairly small, but nonetheless significant because it was one of the first times in recent memory that a group of that size had mobilized on the streets for many years. And naturally, it was looked upon as being, and you had, you know, you had groups like UPF emerge almost immediately following the emergence of recline and that was intended to be a kind of vanguard of the movement. And what was interesting about that, and why, I mean, I wrote a thing for The Guardian about it, sometime in 2015. But one of the things that was interesting to me was the ways in which neo-nazis, and also Christian fundamentalists had thrust themselves into the very center of that, that discourse and that movement. And their intention was to radicalize it, if you want to use that term. You know, in a way that used hatred of Muslims to further problematize, let's say, immigration and multiculturalism and political correctness and all those other kind of bugbears of the right in a way that would actually allow them to organize and to harness that sentiment in a way that would allow them to build in the following years. And, you know, in getting back to Christchurch, I mean, one of the things that happened was, well, the UPF collapsed after Facebook pulled the plug, and that was its life line. And it had accrued by the time, and it's in the report, I think it says 120, it might have been 160,000 followers, or likes or whatever on Facebook. And that's quite an audience. So there's a real appetite for that sort of, and it came from outside Australia as well. So it was a, you know, a global phenomenon in that sense. But pointed too, I guess, in that respect, pointed to the existence of transnational networks of nationals in various countries as in case of Casapound, are looking to one another for inspiration and support, and paying close attention to one another's activities, and trying to understand why one thing works in one context, and how it might be applied here. But I think that 2015 was a key moment. It gave birth to a whole range of much smaller groupings.
MF: Is that because of the refugee crisis?
AF: Yeah, totally. I mean, if you look at, one of the groups that was thrown up by this was the True Blue Crew, of which Philip Galea, who was just recently sentenced to 12 years of terrorism in Melbourne. He drew great inspiration from me without great, but their first, I think, their first mobilizations in Coburg in 2016. And they had discovered that, you know, a local Councillor Sue Bolton is a socialist, and some others have organized a rally to, you know, pretty standard fare free the refugees, Aboriginal land rights, and so on and so forth. You know, otherwise kind of unremarkable sort of thing. But the TBC determined they know they were going to take this opportunity to organize a counter rally. And if you look at the rhetoric at the time, it was, we support fortress Australia, we support the locking up of asylum seekers and refugees on prison islands offshore. And I had some, I mean, when I look at that, and the ways in which they chose to portray their action in those terms, there's a sense in which I have some sympathy for them, because what they're saying or what they're responding to, is actual government policy, which at the time, enjoyed bipartisan support. And I think one of their frustrations was how can you with some justification, although it's not straightforward, but how can you accuse us of being racist when we're just celebrating what's actual government policy? So and the other thing, I guess, through the work generally, is to try and examine the ways in which these groups and ideas that are often considered marginal or something, the very porous nature of the border between marginal political phenomenon, or phenomenon and the political mainstream. And that's the sort of thing that I think needs to be paid particular attention to, because it's important, but it's also potentially a point of vulnerability where you can make when I say you, I mean, we, as whoever can make interventions that tries to draw attention to those similarities and those commonalities, and through doing so seeks to disrupt them, such as those sorts of ideas are better understood as being marginal for good reason. They're subject to marginalization. And that's a constant process. So it's a constant kind of battle to kind of, you know, push back against this kind of stuff.
DX: You've been instrumental in documenting this phenomena, so you're very well versed in it. I'd like to hear a little about the kind of opposing forces to this and over the same kind of history, what do you see is the kind of trends there in response to this, and how effective have they been in combating it?
AF: Well, I'm mostly I'm in Melbourne, I'm mostly familiar with, you know, things that have been going on in Melbourne, although I have, you know, I'm part of a broader network that stretches across Australia and overseas. If you take the first reclaim rally in Melbourne, April 4 2015. You know, I tried to encourage people to attend the counter rally and the essential point was to occupy, in a physical sense, the public space that reclaim had declared as its territory, in other words, and that happens has happened previously on anti-racist, anti-fascist mobilizations. It's about contesting that public space. And through doing so it's like a concrete embodiment of opposition, and it has a disruptive effect. And my experience at that, on that occasion and on subsequent rallies and counter rallies was, what was being in encountered was a hardcore of neo-nazi and fascist and other racist activists around which had assembled hundreds, if not, you know, in different locations, several thousand sympathizers. For many of those individuals, this was, you know, this was, in many cases, their first public protest, that never taken to the streets in any political capacity previously. And they experienced some shock and surprise, when they turned out in Melbourne, and they were, you know, hundreds, thousands, of people out there shouting at them and telling them to go away, it was a real shock. And to me it demonstrated the ways in which the event was policed. And it demonstrated the kind of naivety on the one hand, but also the fact, it was testament to the fact that there are actually hundreds thousands, many thousands of people in Australia, who are sympathetic to these kinds of doctrines, but need some kind of push, in order to mobilize them such that they take to the streets and jump up and down, waving, you know, their flags. So I think that those sorts of counter protest actions, one of the effects, and this is kind of like a general, I guess, anti-fascist methodology, if you like, is to attach a social cost to engagement in far-right politics. Whether that’s not having fun when taken to the streets, or being subjected to, you know, other forms of criticism. There's a whole range of tactics can be employed, which one of the effects of which is to try and sort the wheat from the chaff. So part of the idea is to discourage those who are merely sympathetic from engagement with these politics.
Beyond that, which, which is a kind of, you know, a short term, perspective, longer term, in many cases, I think, you know, one of the more valuable forms of anti-fascist activism is promoting literacy, and education, and knowledge of history. And that's engaging by all sorts of people who are, and don't consider themselves as anti-fascist necessarily, but the effects of that is just to kind of encourage a greater awareness and understanding of society. I think, in general, that tends to have the effect of ameliorating these kinds of attitudes. So there's lots of different approaches. I mean, you know, in the online sphere, Facebook and YouTube, have emerged as some of the most critical venues for the promotion of these kinds of doctrines. And, you know, it's often expressed as frustration with these corporations. They're so negligent in terms of their kind of, you know, corporate social responsibilities or whatever. And the problem there I see is, I understand them as being essentially, you know, amoral institutions. One of the reasons this kind of material flourishes on my sites is because it promotes engagement. And what the political economy, or the business model of these corporations is precisely to harvest data, and to sell that data to advertisers. So more engagement means more data, means more capacity to sell, which means better profits. That's basically it in a nutshell. And it's the case that, and the frustration is because these are so I mean, Facebook has, I don't know how many billions of users Facebook has now, but it's using Google and YouTube and so on, you know, they've begun to establish and have over years a virtual monopoly on online life, which is not good. It’s not thatMark Zuckerberg is invested in the promotion of fascism is just, it's whatever, you know, promoting engagement, and that's a difficult thing to address. And you can kind of, people like myself and others, we've got little pop guns that we sometimes shoot at them and, you know, it has some kind of marginal effect. You know, occasionally I mean, I remember, you know, in the immediate aftermath of Christchurch massacre, the CTO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, issued a statement saying yes, we are appalled and we take this very seriously and blah, blah, blah, you know, a PR statement. But it was interesting to look at, well, what's been the actual concrete effect? And so I mean, on occasion, I'll check, you know, the hundreds thousands of pages and groups dedicated to racial hatred and white supremacy and see how they're faring. And some are attacking down, some remain. But it also is also often remarked upon in the literature, it's like whack a mole.
DX: Who are the kind of people providing inspiration or to even ideological support in Australia?
AF: Well the killer title, the manifesto, the great replacement. And that was first, well, that particular version of this thesis, was first propounded by a French writer several years ago. But in terms of its popularization, it's you know, it's a meme. But one of its chief popularizers was Lauren Southern, who published a video on YouTube which she’s since taken down, but which is in circulation, which had many hundreds of thousands of views. It hasn't been established that the Christchurch killer viewed it, but it's quite likely, I think.
And, you know, essentially what it really kind of resolves into is, there's a conspiracy to destroy the white race, through mass immigration of unassimilable elements into Europe and elsewhere. So it's part of the whole defend Europa thing. Which is also something that Southern engaged in by traveling to Europe, joining with members of generation identity under the banner of defend Europe, and attempting to disrupt rescue with rescue efforts in the Mediterranean. You know, obviously, we've had waves of people fleeing war and violence in the Middle East and North Africa, attempting to make their way to rail or safe harbors. In Europe, there was a backlash against that. And defend Europe was a political project by the far-right, intended to directly intervene and to disrupt those rescue efforts. This is an idea, a pillar that's been adopted by a range of different actors. What it also points to is the idea that there's this is a moment of crisis. I think that, what one of the things that compelled or propelled the Christchurch to kill, to act, and a whole range of others is, there's a sense that this is one of the last moments or opportunities to put a halt to this destruction of Western civilization. And the stakes are Western civilization. So major stakes, and if individuals conceive of themselves as being, you know, soldiers in this cause, to the extent that this is a real moment of crisis that provides further ammunition, let's say, for them to undertake what would otherwise be considered radical acts. So this is kind of political impetus informed, in particular, by these particular thesises but it's part of a broader ideology, which finds Europe and Western and white civilization in crisis. I mean, in the Australian context, I don't know that it's been published yet. But, you know, there was a conference on fascism and anti-fascism in Adelaide late last year. One of the papers that was presented was examining the use of the rhetoric or the term, I think, Western civilization in the Australian parliament. And trying to chart over time, I think there was a long term, I don't remember the exact parameters, but over a considerable period of time, and taking note of the fact that in the last few years, use of that term has skyrocketed. So it's the kind of concern that is being expressed both by fascist bloggers, but also in very mainstream political circles. And that's part of the whole, you know, if you think about Cultural Marxism, or cancel culture, and all these sorts of ideas and concepts, that are, that have gained some currency. And for some people employing it, you know, they have particular concerns which, with which I might have some kind of sympathy. But it's part of I understand that the dangers associated with the adoption of that sort of rhetoric or those sorts of ideas, is to do with the extent to which they normalize positions, which are actually emanating from the far-right, and which serve their purposes. So that's part of the conscious project is to try and introduce the sorts of terms and ideas and concepts in such a way that the origins are obscured and they, I guess, political thrust and put political ramifications obscured and render them the kind of, you know, such as the kinds of concerns have been expressed by these actors begin to occupy political conversation. So rather than addressing the fact that the planets burning, and maybe we should do something about it, instead we're talking about, you know, I don't know, gender neutral toilets or something. When I think about the things that really concern me, and I think should be a concern to others, it's not that sort of thing. It's more like, ‘bloody hell entering into another summer’. You know, it's really hot. A billion animals died. Apparently, during the last bushfire season, the Great Barrier Reef is dying. Social inequality is rampant. These are the sorts of things that I think people should be paying attention to. These are real moments of concern and real crisis. This forms a crisis being offered, I think, you know, both reflect the concerns of far-right actors and proceed from their ideology, but also have the purpose of turning people's attention away from the things that really matter, about which if people chose to act, would have consequences for authority and power, and they'd rather avoid that.
MF: Were you surprised that a lot of our conservative media companies try to deflect any inspiration that Brenton Tarrent might have conjured in Australia to a European kind of obsession? Does that seem to be a trend that in Australia, we tend to defer any kind of responsibility, and we just don't acknowledge that we have these issues and this relationship with those policies, and we want to go back to that period of stability or something. It's kind of ingrained in our whole ANZAC riddled identity or something.
AF: Am I surprised? No. I think it's given, you know, this wasan atrocious event, who wants to stick their hand up and say, ‘Yeah, I contributed’. So precisely on that basis, it's all about becoming, placing as much difference between oneself and that act and that actor. And I just, you know, of course, I was completely unsurprised. And I fully expected it. The real question is how do you tackle that.
DX: Yeah, I was very interested in kind of asking your idea of strategy in this respect, especially if we return to your analysis of Facebook, for instance, is the strategy of engagement there? Is it going to amplify the wider problem of Facebook's dominance, or if you leave it unaddressed and uncontested, and there's just a wide space for people to have these discussions without kind of criticism or or whatever, you know, allowing space to people. So strategically, where do you sit on that? Is the bigger problem, corporate dominance over our kind of discussions? Or these interior discussions that people are able to have without contest?
AF: Well, I mean, you know, I'm an anarchist. So I'd like to see the corporate structures dismantled. And that would kind of, if there's no Facebook, there's no Facebook, right? Which kind of, you know, but in terms of the kinds of interventions that can be made by individuals like myself, I do think it is somewhat remarkable that a figure like Lauren Southern has been rehabilitated, and incorporated into Sky News’ programming. And so, it's not a litmus test, but it's kind of like, you know, it says something.
MF: It’s on the nose.
DX: It's been a very busy week, I think for you, because we've got Lauren Southern, rehabilitated. This like, kind of report that's just come out and the arrest.
MF: How do you read between the lines when you have someone like Lauren Southern on Sky News, you've had this terrorist attack in Christchurch, you have someone like Dutton you know, like, how do you try to make sense of that and read between the lines? Because to someone like me, and I mean, I'm speaking from, you know, as a Muslim and a minority; it just seems so obvious that things are kind of conflating in a very dangerous way, but yeah, you're kind of not allowed to talk about or it makes you a lefty straightaway or something.
AF: Um, well, I mean, you know, I speak from a certain situation and have a particular perspective and I’ve worked with all sorts of people across time, and I think, where there's common areas of concern, there's a basis for solidarity and discussion about what to do, you know, what is to be done. I mean, in terms of Southern, you know, she was invited to speak at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference in Sydney. And then she was dropped. And it's unclear to me exactly what was the decision making process that meant, because she was trumpeted as being one of the key speakers and then dropped, and it was the organizers attributed to some scheduling matter, which I'm not sure I believe. I think there was a certain sense in which CPAC understood that in association with one of the chief proponents of the doctrine that inspired the Christchurch killer, was a bad look. But that's not the case with SKy apparently. And I think it's kind of like, you know, my reading of a Southern situation is, I mean, she announced her retirement from politics and being a propagandist, shortly after the massacre. And I think it might have been, I'm speculating, but I think it might have been a moment for her where, you know, she's pursued this essentially a grifting career and, and gotten to a point where she had to make a decision about how to go forward. Whether to, you know, double down or take a step back. And she decided to take a step back and relocate to Australia, and pursue a career on Sky. I mean, it speaks to the kind of, you know, Sky's Murdoch and Murdoch dominates along with one or two other institutions, Australian media. And I guess it speaks to the danger of monopolization, the crisis within media and journalism. And those are structural things about which it's difficult, you know, as a blogger, to address but has to do with the changing nature of Australian political economy and global political economy and so on. So, I don't think there's any easier or obvious solution. In many respects, I think it's just about trying to well, in my own terms, just paying attention, attempting to draw other people's attention to things and where relevant, asking them to consider, you know, taking some form of action in response. And that's, for me, that's the lifeblood of any kind of social movements. You know, movement implies moving means doing things. And the important thing in that respect is to have a clear idea of what it is that you're doing, what your goals are. And if you can do that, whether you succeed or you fail, you can draw something, you can learn something from it. If you're not sure what you're doing, or why you're doing it, it makes it much more difficult. So, and in terms of more generally, I think on the other hand, you can point to, for example, you know, the Australia Day, debates launched, I guess around about this time. And it is significant I think, that if you look at, January 26 events in Melbourne, there's the official state sponsored, you know, multicultural celebration. Which on some level is fairly innocuous, it's different principally, local communities, getting together, having a parade and celebrating, you know, the good things of life. At the same time, it's other issues with that date, and so on. And I guess it you know, it is the case now that in 2019, 2020, you'll have much larger people, much larger mobilizations, decrying the fact that it's invasion day, and there's no treaty and, you know, all the other issues to do with the colonial settler state. And that has some, you know, not insignificant degree of support. So, you know, white Australia and its legacy has, you know, there is a legacy and has an effect, but it's not uncontested. It's a tribute to the Aboriginal movement, that it's been successfully able to navigate those circumstances to a point at which non-indigenous peoples are beginning to listen more, and maybe hear what's being said, and to want to express some form of solidarity with those struggles. So, you know, it's not straightforward. Excuse me, but, you know, I guess what I'm saying is there are some hopeful signs of certain kinds of cultural and political shifts that potentially, or are have the potential perhaps, you know, we're resulting in something vaguely resembling some kind of just outcome. So, you know, that that's kind of like a struggle, I guess.
MF: Another thing that I find really compelling in your work is the brave step to reveal some of these far-right actors. When did you start doing that? And how dangerous was that in the beginning?
AF: Well, almost immediately. I think one of the first posts I made was about a figure, who's now departed, but was a fellow blogger. A fascist, very active online, who was threatening to hurt people, myself and others, and I wondered, ‘Well, who is this guy?’. And partly that was, you know, out of general interest, like, who what kind of person makes these kinds of threats or whatever. And also, because I have a personal interest, like, ‘Is this my neighbour? How careful do I have to be?’ And also the thing is, in terms of the extreme right, and neo nazi activists and so on, the encourable lies. They all, because I understand, the more rational among them, like a Blair and others, and they've stated as much they understand if the Nazi tag I mean, it has less purchase, perhaps, than it used to. But still, if you're understood to be a Nazi, you have much more difficulty selling your message to the public. So what that means is that many of these actors are forced to wrap themselves in Australian flag and declare themselves patriots and blah, blah, blah. So that was back when, more recently, you know, I had never heard of Blair April 4 2015. And there he was surrounded by members of National conservative, giving some speech about blah, blah, blah. And I thought, well, ‘Who is this guy?’. So it wasn't that difficult. But I went online, and I looked for material that he published. I discovered all these statements that he'd made on YouTube, and statements he was making on YouTube and elsewhere was, ‘Hitler was the top bloke’. ‘The Jews, we need to get rid of them’, yada, yada, yada. And I was able to document that. And eventually, you know, that's the sort of thing that I do that sometimes makes its way, eventually, media reportage. And it did in this case. And part of the impetus for me is, sometimes these statements I’ve been making are made more public, sometimes they make more private forums, which requires a little bit of, you know, sneakiness and trickiness in order to access. But there's quite a distinction between the sorts of things they're saying in private and sort of in a public presentation. And so I want to, one of my motivations is to reveal them, as, you know, bad characters are acting in bad faith. I want people to know exactly who these people are, and where they're coming from. And I think on that basis, that tends to undermine their support. Not always, because there's a considerable number of people that just don't care, you know. But for people who do care, and who are like, ‘Shit, fuck that’, it has an effect. And I don't publish everything I know online. I don't make it publicly available for various reasons. So I don't publish papers, addresses or, you know, that sort of thing. Mostly, I want to know, ‘Who is this crazy person online talking about killing Jews?. Ah alright, it's John Smith or whatever, okay’. I'm beyond that I'm not, you know, interested. I'm not necessarily interested, I'm interested in determining those who are leading figures that I think have political capacities, because there's plenty of boneheads out there who are just, you know, constantly shitposting and talking about all kinds of stuff. And there’s an army of them. And I couldn't, even if I wanted to, II don't have the resources to be able to, you know, examine each and every one of them, and so on and so forth. But the thing is that, I guess that material can also become valuable later. So, you know, the fact that there were some people who were paying attention to what the Christchurch killer was posting online and documented prior to conducting this massacre. That's a fairly dramatic example of the ways in which when it comes time to understand, ‘Who is this? Why did they do this?’, you can actually refer to material which gives you some idea of precisely who they were, and what they thought. And that can inform your understanding of the ways in which these sorts of particular figures develop. And I think that's useful because it provides material, and I haven't, you know, there's a discussion on the record about how do you go about detecting these? What are the characteristics that might help authorities determine who among this cohort is likely to do something awful? Is there any way of determining this? And I think there are broad parameters. But essentially, you know, what I try to do through the work is to limit the growth of these movements, to limit their impact. Because through doing so, if you, if you reduce the number of recruits, or however you want to express it, the less likely you're going to have a figure like that emerge, because there's a listicle of talent, let's say to draw upon. And also about making those who are engaged with politics that are aware that there's a price to be paid. And if the state or other forces aren't going to apply it, well there are, you know, members of civil society, or however you want to conceive it, who will. And that's based on the principle that you don't, you know, if you look at anti-fascist organising, you know, there's a group that emerged in the US, Anti-Racist Action, you know, had emerged from a straight crew of teenagers who are battling Nazis in their local town. But one of the things is, they had several principles, one of which we don't rely on the cops or the courts. We've got to take, we've got to understand that it's our responsibility to protect our own communities. Which doesn't mean no engagement with the courts or with the police, but it's an understanding of that these are not reliable allies.
MF: And the fear with that would be, obviously, that people just kind of think they can take justice into their own hands, right?
AF: Well, I mean, it does, yeah. It can lend itself into forms of vigilantism, which aren't necessarily good. However, you know, in general, that sort of thing in the US context, I'm thinking of, and it's a different context, legally, and politically, and so, so that shapes actions. But one of the things that they do do is, you know, docs individuals. They'll determine, ‘Okay, there's a Nazi in the neighborhood and they've been in a graffiting the local synagogue’, or whatever it is doing. They'll determine who they are, they'll find a photo, they’ll put up posters in the neighborhood saying, ‘Did you know that you know, John Smith, number one main street, is the person responsible for putting all this stuff up?’ This is intended to be informing the community about who's in their community. And that has repercussions for those people. And I mean, if you look at the history, I mean, in terms of vigilantism. Depending on the time and the place, um, you know, I mean, one of the things I do on the blog is pay attention to what's happening, say Europe. And during the course over the last however many years, anti-fascist activists are assassinated, they're killed by neo nazis. Those are the kinds of stakes, and there's been dozens. And that's to leave aside all the, you know, hundreds of racist murders by police and other forces, and ne-nazis and so on. So it's, I think it's in that context, that questions about extra legal activities or vigilantism need to be understood. Because or, you know, one of the things we're doing at the moment with podcast is trying to get someone from Poland to talk about the situation there. And the stakes for anti-fascism in Warsaw and Poland, and throughout Eastern Europe and also elsewhere. It's life and death. If you're, you know, so it's not a common. I don't have the same kinds of moral sensibilities, I suppose, that apply in perhaps other contexts. I'm concerned with the safety and security of my comrades and my communities. And I understand the lethal threat that these sorts of political forces represent. And what one of the, you know, important things is to try to think or develop ways of ensuring these ideas and movements don't become wedded to state power. Because once I do, that's, you know, very bad.