Racists in Australia had credibility long before the St Kilda rally

On and offline tempers have been flaring this week over the St Kilda neo-Nazi rally and the counterprotest.

On and offline tempers have been flaring this week over the St Kilda neo-Nazi rally and the counterprotest. There are some claiming that while there were some Nazi elements at the protest, there were those there in “good faith”, speaking out against what they perceive as threats to their safety and wellbeing from “African gang violence” and migration more broadly. Controversially perhaps, I believe them (I believe they actually think their livelihoods are at stake), but that doesn’t make it right, nor does it mean that they get to completely disassociate themselves from those who influenced and led the rally.

First, the myth of African gang violence has been put to rest. So why is it so persistent in the minds of many? I think there are a few things influencing it, but mostly, those giving it credibility. Yes, credibility the word being applied liberally by various social media commentators, politicians, and traditional media stalwarts who have argued we shouldn’t call the gathering “Nazis” because it gives them credibility.

Famous communications intellectual Marshall McLuhan coined a term “the medium is the message” to describe the way in which the medium (i.e. newspaper, Twitter, etc) is used to broadcast a message, and how often this has an influence on the way the message is not only received but also perceived.

When we have an opposition leader from one of the two major political parties using African people as fodder for a state re-election campaign, backed by his federal colleagues, the actual truth becomes immaterial. The credibility of a politician (the medium), in this case, a minister stating something as factual (the message) is enough for another phenomenon, the “illusory truth” effect also known as the “repeat a lie often enough it becomes the truth” effect to establish itself.

As an Indigenous person from the Northern Territory, this is an all-too-common occurrence we see from an unholy alliance of media and politics. Perhaps the most notable example is the 2007 “Intervention” and the propaganda leading up to it and of course the looming election campaign. Any type of critical scrutiny of this frenzy was decried as paedophile apologetics.

Unfortunately, “fake news” is not a recent phenomenon despite what rose-tinted reporting about the good old days of journalism would have you believe, and unfortunately, it hasn’t been limited to Indigenous affairs either. Who could forget the “children overboard” incident? Similar to the other incidents listed here, there was a federal election looming, and what better way to secure support than through racism and fear mongering?

It was claimed by the politicians at the time that a boat carrying asylum seekers were threatening to and actually throwing children overboard as means by which to force Australia to accept them. This was a lie, but even after the truth was revealed, the fear-mongering had secured support in Australia, the rightwing government won that election, and put in place tougher border security measures.

Perhaps the saddest consequence of this was that it regressed the zeitgeist of this nation to one of fear and paranoia towards refugees seeking asylum via boat, one we haven’t recovered from to this day.

Amplified messages of crime waves and chaos in the streets of Melbourne, residents “scared to go out to restaurants”, those were deliberate choices in words, against deliberately chosen victims. These lies have been repeated by the rightwing media in Australia, and the Victorian Liberal party campaign flyers featuring images of dark hooded figures.

While we see now that most of the political parties and independents have distanced themselves from the rally, there is no denying that our political and media landscape is largely responsible for what happened in St Kilda.

Our time-honoured tradition of compartmentalisation is bursting at the seams my fellow Australians. We can’t criticise the St Kilda rally without seeing how the actions and propaganda around the illegal detention of refugees is blatant hypocrisy and “credibility” for racists.

We can’t criticise the St Kilda rally without seeing how the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act to implement the detrimental “intervention” policy is blatant hypocrisy and “credibility” for racists.

We can’t criticise the St Kilda rally if we think “Australia Day” can be reinterpreted to some sort of post-modernist individual expression of what it means to be Australian.

We can’t criticise the St Kilda rally if we think calling the display of Nazi symbols, ideologies and sieg heils what they are is somehow going to give them credibility.

Our politicians and media have already done that.

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