Well the Australian right very sensibly took the weekend off to think about their response to the Christchurch massacre.
They had not been having a good week, with the sentencing of George Pell, the stoush over whether Milo Yiannopoulos should be allowed in, and an intra-Coalition argument about taxpayer-subsidised coal power.
The few remnant “wiser” heads on the right must have been wondering how they got to this place. Hence, I think, Scott Morrison’s quick cauterisation of any “whataboutery” in regards to the Christchurch massacre. His official statement on the matter was that the perpetrator was a racist, right-wing terrorist — a signal to his party and the wider right that they weren’t going to take an offensive-defensive strategy on this one, attacking the left and denying the Christchurch shooter’s right-wing credentials.
Then Fraser Anning’s statements and actions made it a test afresh. Morrison continued to try and put a barrier between Anning and the right by saying that Anning should be prosecuted for his retaliation against William Connolly, the boy who had egg-slapped him. Peter Dutton appeared to be going with that strategy, announcing that he had asked Anning to make no further public comments. For a while, it looked like some sort of separation would hold.
But by Monday, it was already falling apart. Dutton announced that he wouldn’t be lectured to by the “far-left”, and accused the Greens of being as bad as Anning, a man who has talked of the “final solution” for non-white immigrants.
Sunrise, had Pauline Hanson to ostensibly grill her but really — as is characteristic of the hard-right oriented Seven — to maintain her as a subject within mainstream political discourse. In the Herald Sun and in The Australian, Andrew Bolt and Janet Albrechtsen tried different versions of moral equivalence. Both to a degree drew from a piece that Spiked editor Brendan O’Neill had put up almost immediately, comparing the symmetrical nature of right and left identity politics.
Bolt went much further, portraying the Christchurch shooter (and Osama Bin Laden) as some sort of Green, implying that the shooter was drawing his violence from left-wing sources. Albrechtsen confined herself to tit-for-tat stuff about this and that tweet by leftists or progressives. Taking his cue from this, Scott Morrison focused on the “tribalism” of political discourse, a favoured Bolt phrase.
This is all substantial misdirection, and a rather desperate strategy by the right. What they can’t deny is one simple fact: it has been decades since there has been a recognisable, significant left-wing terror group, drawing on mainstream left-wing traditions to legitimise its violence.
By contrast, hard-right/fascist/white supremacist violence has been the exclusive cause of political deaths in the US in the past year, and the sole cause of white-authored, large-scale massacres such as in Norway and Christchurch. Violent Islamism is opposed to European occupation of the Middle East, but it is mostly opposed to the secularism and alleged decadence the West brings. It is a movement which has recognisably right-wing currents.
There is currently no left-wing terrorist problem that those of us arguing very anti-capitalist, pro-socialist positions would have to deal with. The whole spectrum of terror — traditional religious and white supremacist/ethnonationalist — is on the right, and drawing its legitimacy from their relentless campaign around the “cultural weakening” of the West at the hands of mass immigration.
Two decades ago the right switched from an exclusionary strategy towards hard-rightism — a repudiation of it, as an alien discourse with which it had nothing in common — and adopted a “nothing to the right of me” strategy, by which it absorbed the key concerns of hard-right small groups in order to drain them of political market value.
Step by step, and with the enthusiastic leadership of genuine “European” nativists like Bolt, the mainstream right has advanced towards the sewer of violence. This has occurred at the same time as the “set-point” of progressive beliefs has gone the other way. As the country has become more educated, globalised, liberalised and multiculturalised, the right has been unable to resist the pull of its most reactionary elements.
The result, eight weeks out from an election, is a disaster for them. Pell, Yiannopoulos, Christchurch — to a whole tranche of people who would otherwise vote for it, it looks like a toxic freak show. Panic has set in; hence PM Morrison’s bizarre threat to sue Waleed Aly for libel over reports that Morrison himself advocated an anti-Muslim strategy for the Coalition several years ago; hence the near-daily changes to the visa-worthiness of Milo Yiannopoulos.
But the moral equivalence game no longer works. The “extreme” wing of progressives and leftists is Antifa, who engage in a bit of street-level argy-bargy, and people who sit in trees for months to stop them being cut down. The extreme of the right is lone operative terrorists who kill dozens of people in single attacks. There is no symmetry, no equivalence whatsoever between these two sides of politics.
If the right thinks that large sections of the broader public haven’t noticed this, they are being even more clueless than usual.