Going to Extremes
Jan 27, 2021 | Naomi Levin
Creeping conspiracies in Australian politics
A growing number of Australian politicians and political candidates are creating environments that are introducing Australian voters to the same conspiracy theories and extremist views that led to recent violence in the United States. Many of these conspiracy theories can also be traced back to dangerous antisemitic tropes.
This article exposes Australian political figures who are allowing extremist and false theories to flourish on their social media pages and political parties fielding candidates with backgrounds in far-right groups.
The coronavirus pandemic has been a central theme around which some of the world’s most enduring conspiracy theories have reorganised themselves. Many of these conspiracy theories draw on age-old antisemitic tropes – that Jews have too much power, are greedy or wish to acquire wealth, and that Jews use human blood for ritual purposes. It is likely, though, that many of the people who are liking and sharing this content are unaware of its antisemitic roots.
Some of the most popular claims include that the virus is not actually dangerous – or even real – rather it is being used as a tool by political leaders to encourage conformity, limit freedoms or impose draconian laws. This is an appealing argument to those tired of living under lockdown restrictions. However, this claim is also used as a gateway to suggestions that a “global elite” is using the cover of COVID-19 to dominate global affairs. It does not take a super sleuth to find evidence of Jewish figures alleged as key actors among this global elite.
From a different angle, so-called “anti-vaxxers” worry that coronavirus vaccinations will alter recipients’ DNA or will somehow include a micro-chip so governments can track or control recipients.
All these claims have been fact checked by reliable sources and been found to be false. Yet they have implications for those concerned about antisemitism, with many of them seeming to be a new spin on the old blood libel smear, as even United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has recognised. Last November, Guterres said, “With COVID-19, another virus has spread – antisemitism and hatred of many kinds. Age-old blood libels have been given new life.”
Australian politicians and global conspiracies
In November 2020, Senator Pauline Hanson introduced a motion to the Australian Parliament calling on the Australian Government to reject “the Great Reset” and boycott the World Economic Forum (WEF). The only two senators who voted in favour of it were Senator Hanson and her one remaining party colleague, Senator Malcolm Roberts. Despite the vote failing on the Senate floor, there are others, on the Coalition benches, who have publicly condemned the possibility of a “Great Reset,” including former minister Senator Matt Canavan, Member for Hughes Craig Kelly and Member for Dawson George Christensen.
The Great Reset is a collection of vague proposals espoused by the WEF, an independent non-government organisation that encourages cooperation between governments and business. The Great Reset is seen by the WEF as an opportunity to reconfigure the global economy and move toward “stakeholder capitalism” with “stronger and more effective governments” in the wake of the shock of the coronavirus pandemic.
While opposition to the vague proposals that make up the Great Reset is of course legitimate, it becomes much more problematic when these proposals are presented as a conspiratorial plot, or an imminent threat to our way of life.
Conspiracy theorists see the Great Reset as benefitting “global elites”, an amorphous group of business leaders, Freemasons, socialists, communists and Marxists. According to the US-based Anti-Defamation League (ADL), “As is so often the case with conspiracy theories, one can find antisemitic sentiments in [critiques of] the Great Reset, with some believers going so far as to accuse Jews of orchestrating the plot or invoking George Soros and the Rothschild family.” ADL research also found that, while much of the concern about the Great Reset is founded in conspiratorial thinking, neo-Nazis and known antisemites are among key promulgators of Great Reset hysteria.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has issued neither support nor condemnation for the Great Reset. However, the Australian Financial Review’s political editor Phil Coorey has argued that these vague proposals to “reset capitalism” in a more socialist or communitarian direction are unlikely to be attractive to the current government.
Coorey’s assessment has not stopped a number of federal MPs repeatedly posting online about it. Liberal MP Kelly published a post on the Great Reset to his Facebook page with a photo of World Economic Forum head Klaus Schwab and a photo from a WEF video of a 3D printer with the text “scientists in Israel are creating plant-based meat.” More than 1,000 comments were left on the post, including references to the Jewish Rothschild banking family – a common link made in antisemitic tropes about Jewish power – and false claims suggesting Israel would only be making it for export and would never let its citizens consume the product (Israel actually has one of the largest percentage of vegans in the world).
Senator Roberts warned on his Facebook page that the Great Reset would be “much much worse” than the Weimar Republic – the German era in the early 20th century that immediately preceded the ascent of the Nazis and was politically democratic but very feeble and economically disastrous.
In an interview on YouTube, Senator Roberts describes the Great Reset as a continuation of Agenda 21. Agenda 21 was a non-binding sustainability plan adopted by UN members in 1992. However, some have presented it as a plot for domination by a corrupt global elite, or mechanism to impose socialism on the world.
A 2013 Southern Poverty Law Centre Intelligence Report noted that some on the far-right are positing that Agenda 21 is a “Satanic Jewish conspiracy to control and enslave the planet,” while University of Tasmania academic Dr. Kaz Ross has written, “Any talk of ‘global bankers and cabals’ directly taps into longstanding antisemitic conspiracies about supposed Jewish world domination often centred on the figure of billionaire George Soros.”
Both Senator Roberts and Dawson MP Christensen have posted content featuring Soros, a prominent Jewish philanthropist. Soros supports numerous causes in the US and Europe, including many decidedly left-wing ones – some of which, critics argue, are extreme. Soros has long been a target of the extreme right, as well as others, who oppose the causes he funds. Christensen hit back at critics accusing him of antisemitism, explaining that he didn’t know Soros was Jewish and adding, for good measure, he himself had had a great-grandmother who was one-quarter Jewish.
In posting on their social media accounts about the Great Reset – which most Australians have never heard of, much less have concerns about – these MPs are lighting a flame that draws in conspiracy moths.
Responses to Senator Roberts’ posts include: “Sores [sic] is a fuckin old Jew and has never been any good” and “It’s time for a REVOLUTION and the emergence of hunting parties! Look out [Bill] gates, [the director of the US’ National Insitute of Allergy and Infectious Disease Dr Antony] fauci , [Daniel] Andrews the people are coming for you.” More alarmingly for Jewish people, Senator Roberts also allowed this comment to remain on his page: “Hope for the western world ended in May 1945 in Berlin.”
And alarmism over the Great Reset is not confined to social media. Senator Canavan has appeared on Sky News calling it a global order that takes away “agency and sovereignty”. It is “crazy, kooky stuff”, he told host Paul Murray.
Conspiracy theories on Liberal MP Kelly’s social media pages are not confined to the Great Reset. He promotes coronavirus-related medical therapies not approved by Australian health authorities, and encourages scepticism about the safety of coronavirus vaccines.
An investigation on news site the Daily Beast found that far-right groups are increasingly jumping on the anti-vaxxer bandwagon in order to drive a wedge through their societies and attract dissatisfied citizens to their cause. The article quoted Imran Ahmed, founder of UK think-tank Centre for Countering Digital Hate: “‘Anti-vaxxers have huge platforms on mainstream social media that are open to exploitation by far-right groups,’ Ahmed stressed, ‘just as they have been exploited by hucksters already’.”
Among the comments on Kelly’s Facebook page in response to his anti-vaxxer posts are people equating the coronavirus vaccination with the Holocaust and others pushing arguments raised by those active in QAnon.
QAnon, as described by Canadian expert Marc-Andre Argentino, is “a decentralized, ideologically motivated and violent extremist [sic] movement rooted in an unfounded conspiracy theory that a global ‘Deep State’ cabal of satanic paedophile elites is responsible for all the evil in the world”. QAnon has also been described by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and others as “laced with antisemitism.”
Pauline Hanson’s One Nation candidates
Unrelated to the pandemic, but equally alarming, during recent elections, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party endorsed candidates who held extremist and dangerous views.
Dean Smith (no relation to WA Liberal Senator Dean Smith) was 22-years-old when he was preselected to contest the regional Western Australian seat of O’Connor on behalf of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation. According to information he provided to the local Albany Advertiser, he was a labourer who wanted to invite German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche to a dinner party and opposed immigration. The Australia/Israel Review has also discovered that prior to the election, he tweeted messages like “Jews gonna Jew, the white will out do”, praised former One Nation Senator Fraser Anning because he “got the mozzies [Muslims] scared” and abused a former South African cricketer for caring more about white rhinos than “white man”. More than 7,000 West Australians voted for him.
After being defeated by Liberal incumbent Rick Wilson, Smith retained his membership in Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, but sought to also connect with members of more hateful movements. He posted Holocaust denial material, continued to spread antisemitism online and, according to the US-based Southern Poverty Law Centre’s Hatewatch blog, Smith participated in an interview with members of “The Base”, possibly with a view to joining that dangerous white supremacist group.
The Base seeks to motivate members and provide training to bring about a race war in order to rebuild a white society. Rinaldo Nazzaro, The Base’s founder, told potential recruits, “You’re going to be stepping into probably the most extreme group of pro-white people that you can probably come across.”
According to the Hatewatch blog, Smith was interviewed by The Base’s leadership one month after Base member 18-year-old Richard Tobin was arrested by US police after he tried to instigate “Operation Kristallnacht” – a plan to vandalise American synagogues. Smith apparently eventually withdrew his application to join The Base, but continued to share racist and antisemitic posts on his Twitter page and his now deactivated YouTube account.
Also representing Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, Torin O’Brien contested the seat of Rockhampton during the 2020 Queensland State elections. He received 12.4% of the vote, third after Labor and the Liberal-National Party.
O’Brien was previously national president of an anti-immigration, anti-Muslim group called the Patriots Defence League of Australia. Researcher Andy Fleming has circulated a photo of O’Brien wearing a Patriots Defence League of Australia t-shirt with the text “national president Torin O’Brien standing up for those affected by Islam.”
The Australia/Israel Review is unable to determine if the Patriots Defence League of Australia is still a functioning group, although the Age reported in 2015 that the group was deregistered “in the public interest.” Nonetheless, despite all of this information about his past being publicly available, O’Brien was endorsed as a One Nation candidate.
In 2020, the world watched as societal cracks widened at a rapid rate, with conspiracy theories and extremist language spread by politicians playing a major role in this trend. Important political figures in democratic countries chose to lend credibility to nonsensical claims, giving them a respectability they do not deserve. In the US, this culminated, in early January, with the violent insurrection at the US Capitol trying to overturn a democratic election. It is incumbent on Australia’s political parties – large and small – to ensure their elected representatives do not take Australia down the same path. If they do, Australia’s tolerant and multicultural society and democratic norms could be at significant risk.