A recording of Akubra hat influencer and independent MP for Kennedy Bob Katter popped up on YouTube last week where he appeared to take the pledge of allegiance for far-right hate group the Proud Boys.
“I am Bob Katter and I am a proud Western chauvinist,” he stammered into a megaphone with his trademark crackle. “It is us who brought civilisation into the world and we won’t be apologising for it. Don’t get in our way.”
Throughout the recording a gloating gaggle of Proud Boys egg Katter on (“West is best!”) and stand around him offering thumbs up while gazing into the camera. The video appears to have been shot last year, but a copy received by The Guardian this week was date-stamped 2017.
“My irresponsible larrikinism often gets me into trouble,” Katter said in a statement to SBS News. “Young blokes always come up to me on the street, at venues, so I think you’ll probably find 4000 examples of me mixing with irresponsible people.”
Last October, the Katter Australia Party (KAP) dumped senator Fraser Anning for his bigoted views on immigration and race. Views that, one could argue, were a significant factor for Anning’s political career in the first place.
This May, the KAP refused to disendorse candidate Brendan Bunyan who compared Muslims entering parliament to the rise of the Nazi party in a series of racist Facebook posts is 2012.
“I don’t know who this group is or anything about it,” Katter said, of the infamous hate group The Proud Boys, whose founder, Gavin McInnes, was denied entry into Australia last November. “I would tenaciously back the government on their decision,” he said. “We separate ourselves from extremist groups and we consider extremist groups to be very dangerous and have always backed any measures without curtailing freedom of expression.”
It raises the question, what is extremism in the eyes of an “irresponsible larrikin”? When Katter was saying “I am a proud Western chauvinist” into a megaphone held up by a group of boys hollering phrases like “West is best!” did the thought “hmm… bit extreme, maybe?” not cross his mind?
Since the be-hatted Katter squawked his way into notoriety in 2012, he’s frequently shielded his nationalistic grandstanding with the aesthetic signifiers of true-blue patriotism (e.g. the dumb hat). Much like Howard did with Hanson in the ’90s, Katter has leveraged the extremism of the rival fringe parties to nullify the toxicity of his own.
In a more sensible moment in Australian history [file not found], Katter may have received proper scrutiny. Now, with Katter, it isn’t so much a matter of what he is but what he isn’t. The discourse around him and the KAP tends to be “ah, these blokes are harmless” and “Hey! At least they’re not goose-stepping in knight’s armour in the lower house to NSBM!”
“Irresponsible larrikinism” offers a wide shadow for Katter to lurk within. Is he the man from Ironbark, decking a Sydney toff over a snooty prank? Or is he Mulga Bill, ditching the cycling craze for YouTube fascism? The content might change, but the meter remains the same.
The brand Katter has carefully cultivated offers a continual nudge nudge, wink wink of blokey matehood and pub banter bigotry.
That Katter flirts with extremist ideologies as a way of appeasing his electorate is all the more farcical. To declare yourself a proud Western chauvinist is to alienate anyone in your electorate who isn’t a cis-het, white male. It is hard to take Katter seriously when he is expounding outrage over rural Australia’s suicide rates or domestic violence statistics while also yukking it up with the people who make those issues demonstrably worse.
Is Katter a larrikin? Debatable. Is he irresponsible? Definitely.
What do you make of Bob Katter’s self-declared status as an “irresponsible larrikin”? Write to [email protected]. Please include your full name if you’d like your comments to be considered for publication.