Some history, and a comment on society today.
Some years ago, a leader of the Jewish community in Australia received a call from a distressed young man named Jeremy Jones.
This individual was not Jewish but had been receiving death threats and had been subjected to acts of vandalism, by people calling him a range of things all beginning with the adjective “Jewish”.
It was a time when my activities against the Australian far-right racist fringe were becoming known to the far-right racist fringe, who misdirected their rage at another Jeremy Jones.
Not long after this incident, I was driving in leafy north shore Sydney on a Sunday afternoon when my brakes failed and I cruised through a (fortunately) empty intersection. I used my handbrake to slowly edge into a nearby service station where I was informed, the next day, that my car had been vandalised and I was fortunate that I had escaped serious harm.
This was in a period when far-right thugs had sought to intimidate Asian Australians, women’s groups, Jews and others, mainly on university campuses but also in the suburbs of Sydney and other Australian cities.
A variety of extremist neo-Nazi or otherwise racist groups held meetings, published newsletters and planned actions against varying lists of enemies, which were not uniform or consistent but nevertheless always included Jews.
After one of these newsletters declared me as “Kike of the Month”, the house of a different J. Jones was vandalised with Holocaust denial and other antisemitic slogans.
Yet another person opened an envelope bearing my name and was told that the author of the enclosed note knew how to find me and that I would suffer consequences for my work against racists.
Over the years, I have taken telephone calls at work phone numbers from people threatening me if I didn’t stop talking negatively about racists and seen countless social media posts by anonymous individuals on the same theme.
After the Director-General of ASIO Mike Burgess warned in February of the dangers to Australians of far-right extremists, a number of commentators posited that our intelligence, security and law enforcement agencies have had a sad history of ignoring this threat. They are wrong.
For over 30 years, I have personally been acquainted with Federal and State agencies taking far-right extremism very seriously, and not only because a number of the racist thugs saw law enforcement as agents of the enemy they were fighting.
Some of the racist fringe purport to be acting to defend Christianity or Christendom, but the religious element is generally less important to them than it is to the far more ideologically sophisticated, and larger, Australian Islamist terrorist subculture.
But that does not mean they lack Manichean world views or messiah complexes, or that they are not dangerous.
Due to a combination of incompetence, unreality and the good instincts of most of the people they claim to champion, the far-right has not been able to garner much of a support base. To the contrary, they are correctly understood to be intellectually contemptible and morally repulsive.
Which brings us to the atmosphere in many societies today.
The spread of COVID-19 has brought major changes to all of our lives. Loss of loved ones, personal experience of illness, unemployment, massive financial loss and fears for the future are afflicting people in many places. This is a time of high stress, pressure and tension.
For some, the reaction is to find scapegoats and targets for frustration and anger. Antisemites and other racist elements have tried, and will continue to try, to whip up hatred against Jews, Chinese and probably others.
Experience suggests that strong moral leadership from all levels of government against racism is necessary, but not sufficient.
We should be grateful that our federal and state agencies are both aware of the reality of far-right extremism, and willing and able to defend our community from it.