The Last Word: Patriot Games
Jan 28, 2021 | Jeremy Jones
In the 1990s, the AUSI Freedom Scouts was the most public of the Australian groups modelling itself on the type of people who led the violent assault on the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
This group publicly claimed an unlikely 3,000 members and said it was conducting training camps in preparation for the upcoming battle between “freedom fighters” and the Australian Government.
Publishing material referring to the need for the “armed citizen” to “prepare physically for the imminent world crises,” the AUSI Freedom Scouts failed dismally to bring American style far-right thinking to Australia. They were not alone in this failure.
The glossy magazine Lock Stock & Barrel sought to create, and tap into, a market of Australians who wanted to imitate the US “patriots” of the type who (dis)graced our screens with their behaviour in Washington DC.
The militia sub-culture to which they belonged included an organisation described by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation as a “clandestine Christian Extremist Paramilitary Group” which “had ready access to weapons and talked about using violence in support of its anti-government, anti-Asia political agenda.”
Those associated with the Strategy newspaper, which served as a platform for basically any unhappy, disgruntled and angry potential mob leader, hosted a visit by US conspiracy theorist and anti-government polemicist Jack McLamb. McLamb was promoting his “Operation Vampire Killer”, which aimed at propagandising and recruiting serving members of the police and military for actions such as those which recently took place in the heart of US democracy.
Their loose network included the Confederate Action Party (which was perhaps under the misconception that the US Civil War included Queensland), the Christian Patriots Association (which took credit for shooting attacks on banks), and the Australian Integrity Movement (which attacked “Jews” and “Jewish leaders”, who, it claimed, “neutralised” safeguards against a “take-over of Australia”).
It is never easy to transpose US experiences to Australia, and this has been even harder for groups such as the Citizens Electoral Councils (now Australian Citizens’ Party), who hold the very American, unAustralian belief that the UK (which is also the Australian) monarchy is a source of secret, conspiratorial evil.
That is not to say that any of the more recent marketers of US-sourced malevolence do not present dangers here.
But in Australia, there are a number of features which militate against the development of a movement such as that which stormed the Capitol, including our social security system, different attitudes to gun ownership, compulsory voting and far less disrespect for the concept of decisions being accepted as legitimate after democratic processes have taken place.
Leaders of our national and regional governments represent the party which has the support of a majority of elected representatives, severely limiting an “outsider on the inside”, becoming Prime Minister or Premier (which should give food for thought to those republicans recommending a directly elected Head of State).
We also have differences of demography, geography and self-perception – although I have lost count of the times I have been told by Australians that they have rights based on amendments to the US Constitution.
That said, I would never underestimate the harm which extremists can cause, with a number of mass casualty crimes committed by single actors who believed they were contributing to saving the world through murder.
Online media, and social media in particular, is creating individuals who often have no awareness of alternative points of view, and can reinforce perceptions which have no relationship to the reality of the society in which they live.
There are real, dangerous, malicious people in Australia. Some affiliate with the extremist organisations which have recently featured in some authoritative pieces in the Australian media, but others are simply waiting for the opportunity to harm both people and the social order.
Australia is not the USA, but we need to be aware of the genuine threats presented by the conspiratorial far-right, as much as by others who rationalise malevolence and violence with religious or other political ideologies.