fascism blair cottrell
Far-right extremist Blair Cottrell is seen talking to supporters on St Kilda foreshore on January 5 (Image: AAP/David Crosling)

On the first shabbat of the year, swastikas appeared in Melbourne. Between you and me, I haven’t been my chatty self since then. At some point on or around January 5, I was struck by confusion, then silence.

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent is good advice. It’s not much use to the reporter. On January 5, I set off to the beach for Crikey to document the ethno-nationalist rise. Still, you never heard a word from me.

You heard about it, though. You heard the thing condemned. Not even Murdoch press had the stomach for a homemade SS helmet worn in Melbourne’s Jewish heart. Scott Morrison himself addressed those demanding what they claimed were sensible immigration policies. Reference to “sensible immigration policies” wouldn’t have been my first choice of reproach in this case, but, I am not prime minister.

I am, however a local. My neighbourhood is the neighbourhood of the world’s largest population of Holocaust survivors outside Israel. I’m neither Jewish nor a death camp survivor so I will not say that I know the pain a swastika can produce. I will say that when it was painted on a children’s playground by a synagogue and stuck to the front of a Jewish old folks’ home on my bus-route on the first shabbat of the year, I found I had nothing much to say.

I have nothing much to say about the rally. I spoke with several people on the side opposed to fantasy Sudanese violence and none of them said a thing that sounded true. I asked a woman from Balwyn North to state her profession and she answered, “concerned mum”. I asked her to state her reason for attending, she said, “We want the Australian way of life back as it was.”

Another man used the same words. I asked her him explain his use of the majestic plural, and “we” referred me to back to speaker, Blair Cottrell. “Blair actually stated this was nothing to do with racism.” I asked him if she didn’t think young Blair, who has declared his faith in Hitler and Hitler’s memoir, might not be a touch on the Nazi side. He said that I had bought the lies of a corrupt corporate media.

In sum, it was the sort of conversation you’d have with a real-life Pepe the Frog. You tell the fascist they’re a fascist and they deny it with a joke. I have read in online glossaries that this is known as “hiding power-level”, but who knows what they’re calling it now The only thing to know is the trick of fascist deception.

The extremists are the counter-protesters beyond the police. The Nazi gestures are a joke to make fun of the extremists. The date of the peaceful, non-racist protest was held 100 years to the day after the formation of the German Workers’ Party as a joke.

This joke is hardly new. I believe that Goebbels wrote it. It proceeds: “Knock Knock. Who’s There? It’s literally Hitler. Which is to say, the hallucination of a mind warped by corrupt elites; political correctness gone mad.

I had not yet gone mad. I was saved by Walter Benjamin, a German Jewish intellectual whose eventual suicide at 48 was not his own madness, but that of the Nazi regime. Benjamin understood that Hitler was a show. His function was deception. Fascism is deception and an aesthetic victory over reality. Leni Riefenstahl’s films; shiny boots; speeches praising total war. These are all attempts to pull a mass of people into order with the deception that they’ll soon be free.

When you know just a little about Goebbels and the very bad jokes he wrote for Hitler, you can see that “literally Hitler” is a bad but effective joke. As repellent as it was listening to a Nazi telling me the darnedest things, it didn’t shut me up. It didn’t shut up the counter protestors, either, who were largely old hands. They’d heard the Nazi joke before. What did shut me up was the shock that no one else seemed to remember it.

Frankly, I blame Mike Carlton. The guy owes me for every word I haven’t written in three months. I was sorting out my notes and my digital recordings to finish my report and I thought, “I’ll just have a look on the socials.” Carlton had declared that these Nazis weren’t real Nazis but, “fat, white, bogan, sub-IQ males desperate for a root.” Alan Sunderland, ABC’s head of editorial policy more or less, agreed.

Notwithstanding the relative care taken by many in media at the time of the rally not to pull some “No True Nazi” act of snobbery, this ignorance reappeared. The failure to get the bad joke and to identify precisely with the antisemitic lies the Nazi tells about the powerful ruling class Jew, Australian media and Australia’s media figures began to fulfil the fantasy written for them by fascists.

The articles about Pauline Hanson’s idiocy. The claims that Fraser Anning couldn’t spell. The constant, devastating barrage of “Nazis are just fat white bogans who never read immersive novels” has not ceased. Not even for Christchurch.

It is a conscious choice not to name the twits still feeding this fiction in every outlet that they can. It is my hope that with a little patience, those younger than Sunderland and Carlton can learn to fear the image of the Reichstag as the Reichstag itself. It is on the advice of Crikey’s Shakira Hussein, who accompanied me to the rally, that I urge all protests to answer the Nazis only with an egg. The challenge to Nazi grammar is nowhere near as potent as the lowest obscenity.

The sign of Shoah was painted on a playground. Those who lived in its shadow woke up to find it on their front door. 51 souls are dead. We’ve been telling Australia’s best-known ethno-nationalist that she’s not as bright as we are for 23 years and her mob of liars are on the rise.

It’s not a crime to forget the title of a book. It’s a crime to forget how power instrumentalises our snobbery.

Peter Fray

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