Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells questions ASIO director general Mike Burgess (Images: APH)

While first Canberra and then the nation became preoccupied with other matters, the farce of ASIO’s “reclassification” of potential terrorist activity unfolded further as, in estimates, director-general Mike Burgess played patsy to Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells and her attempt to dodge the reality that right-wing terror represents one of the major threats to our safety today.

To recap: ASIO has recently reclassified specific terror threats as general ones, relabelling Islamist terror and right-wing terror as “religious” and “ideological” respectively. This move appears to be in response to ideological pressure from within the Coalition to sever the visible public link between the mainstream right, and the increasingly deranged and violent far right growing in numbers across the western world.

Burgess’ and ASIO’s weak and compliant response to this demand only serves to de-concretise the real threat of right-wing terror, the specific milieu from which it emerges, and to legitimise what ASIO has always loved to do most — treat left-wing protest and civil disobedience as part of its remit in fighting “subversion”, and infiltrate such groups, thereby corroding democracy and a pluralist open society.

ASIO’s de-labelling of political terror as “ideological” has been criticised not only by the left but by the right — Greg Sheridan, Janet Albrechtsen and Jennifer Oriel have all, to their credit, explicitly slated the move in the last few days, which appears to have stung Burgess into saying that he “won’t hesitate” to talk of “Islamist” and “right-wing” terror if the situation demands it.

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So he appears to have been appeasing political operatives all along. Whether that is good new or bad news about operating principles remains to be seen. 

The appeasement continued, when Fierravanti-Wells used national security issues for cheap sophomoric political gotchas, with the old absurd falsehood about Nazism and “national socialism” being “on the left” and emerging from communism. Burgess was happy to compliantly agree with the senator that socialism and fascism were “two sides of the same coin”. 

No they’re not, and the suggestion is vile. Socialism is a broad movement across all forms of political expression; fascism is a violent expression of the right, organised around the right’s principle of preserving a hierarchical national culture against alleged globalising and universalising cosmopolitans, whose support for equality is held to be the subversive championing of the weak against the strong.

Nazism was put into national power by the mainstream right, and its first victims into Dachau were communists, social democrats and progressives. Whatever few economic socialists there might have been in the early Nazis, they were soon wiped out — and the economic form was a sideline at best.

Nazi Germany was a capitalist state, run in conjunction with large corporations, who ran the work-death camps during the war, using their accountants to calculate the optimum starvation-survival time of workers for profitability.

Nazism’s obsessive and distinctive organising principle was anti-Semitism, and the myth of the global Jewish conspiracy, alleged to underlie both Bolshevism and capitalist internationalism. Any attempt to integrate Nazism into the political spectrum — as per Fierravanti-Wells and Burgess’ joint effort — denies the specificity of Nazism’s Jew-hatred, and of Jewish suffering, in a manner that has a long and dark history in the Italian-Catholic conservatism that Fierravanti-Wells draws on. 

Burgess sounds like an intellectual mediocrity. So too does Fierravanti-Wells, but with a few IPA talking points to wield. She’s working defence, especially with the Italian political heritage. No mainstream right in the Western world has been so entwined with fascism as the Italian mainstream right.

For decades they have coddled and collaborated with fascists, from reinventions such as Gianfranco Fini’s MSI, to the fascist subsections of “the League” to the shadowy terrorist “black hand” groups which contributed to the violence of the ’70s — and were responsible for the most lethal terrorist atrocity of the time, the 1980 bombing of Bologna train station which killed 80.

Right-wing terrorism has often been lethal on a scale beyond political strategy, expressing pure hate, and serving as a precursor to the high death-tolls of the Islamist version (and the Christian state terror of Bush and Blair, for that matter). 

I can see why the Australian mainstream conservative right is so desperate to separate itself from the hard right, which ultimately shares an overarching world view, albeit in a pernicious form.

It’s because the next right wing atrocity is on the way, and there’s a good chance it will happen on Australian soil. It’s only a matter of circumstance that the Christchurch massacre didn’t. If or when it does happen, what are we going to find? That the perpetrator admired John Howard, as did Anders Behring Breivik? That they watch Sky News, turned into an open sewer of reaction to get a global audience of fanatics because they couldn’t build a mainstream Australian one?

The Australian right has fed this beast for decades. It has produced one mass killer already, whose origins — and our culpability for him — have been obscured by him committing the atrocity offshore.

There has never been a left-wing act of terror by an Australian and if by any chance the notion of generic “ideological” terror is steering ASIO’s operations, then it will be misallocating resources. There is no point where the revolutionary left and the far right meet, no quasi-mythical underground.

The violent far right will be found in the dank chatrooms and roid-rage gyms, the pathetic patriotic front harassment demos, the gun clubs and the army reserve, and all the other places where the mainstream right are found.

Time for the latter to take some responsibility for their extreme and take out the trash. Maybe I have to say this out loud to target the ‘chino-and-pearls student cafeteria crap Fierravanti-Wells is spruiking.

An attack on Australian soil when it comes may be on a mosque. Or it may be on a synagogue. Jewish schools in Australia have security guards out the front. They’re not there because of the Deakin University Palestine Solidarity Campaign — they’re there because of the sort of people who agree with Craig Kelly about George Soros.

I would have thought at some point sheer self-interest would persuade the mainstream right to get real about the nature of the far right — when the vice-president of the US had to be hustled out of the Capitol building ahead of an angry mob.

As the Coalition deal with the political kitsch of a reactionary like Fierravanti-Wells, Labor might want to think about who they would replace Mike Burgess with — unless they’re comfortable with a head spy who thinks socialism is the moral equivalent of fascism (whatever later prevarications he may have offered).

And what they would do with ASIO, a Cold War relic incapable, it seems, of addressing the world without wreathing it in webs of fantasy that conform to the prejudices of its recruits — and who quite possibly stalk the halls, muttering in the manner of Connie Fierravanti-Wells, “…you know, Hitler was a vegetarian…