On February 1, far-right icons Gavin McInnes and Tommy Robinson will appear in Perth as part of the “Deplorables Tour”. McInnes is the founder of the chauvinist men’s group the Proud Boys, which was recently labelled as an extremist organisation by the FBI. Robinson co-founded the English Defence League, an Islamophobic organisation in the United Kingdom.
The event comes on the back of a series of tours featuring speakers from the far right, including Milo Yiannopoulos, Lauren Southern, and Nigel Farage. These events provide a platform and audience for foul displays of racism, homophobia, and misogyny, as well as some of the most outrageous conspiracies, such as the persecution of white farmers in South Africa, or the creeping influence of Sharia law in places like Europe, Australia and the US.
Students have been at the forefront of a number of campaigns over the decades opposing war, racism, and sexism, all in the course of fighting for a better world. We need to be ready to confront those people who want to drive society to the right and who make targets of minorities and the oppressed. There is a particularly urgent need for us to do this as McInnes and Robinson prepare to make their way to Perth.
McInnes and Robinson represent some of the worst that the right has to offer. They combine the aforementioned racism, sexism, homophobia, and conspiracy theories with street violence aimed at these minority groups, as well as the left. In fact, in order to join the highest rank of McInnes’ former cult/gang, the Proud Boys, one has to get into a physical fight for the cause, which usually means beating up a leftist in public.
Robinson is no different. While he may have left the English Defence League, over ‘fears’ that it was becoming too extremist, Robinson led the group for a number of years, during which time it became infamous for street brawls and violence.
It’s important to see that the pair enjoy their current standing as part of a rise in the popularity of far-right politics across the globe. This popularity is born from the dire economic and political situation that many have found themselves in, 10 years on from the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). Millions of people have lost their jobs, been forced into debt, and have lost their homes. Meanwhile, those at the top of society have only grown richer. People like Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates control personal fortunes which eclipse the GDP of small, and increasingly not so small, countries.
Absent from all of this is any sort of political leadership that is willing to challenge the situation. Instead, traditional parties of the centre-left have embraced austerity politics and, as a result, have become completely sidelined. In some instances, even the parties of the right, who have failed to move further right, have been decimated. The resulting power vacuum has allowed for the right’s electoral successes. The election of Donald Trump in 2016 is the most obvious example here. The failure of Obama to address growing inequality post-GFC, and the Democrats running a war hawk and Wall Street favourite, Hillary Clinton, created a situation in which someone as odious as Trump could come to power.
However, Trump in many ways is only the tip of the iceberg. Just last month, the fascist Jair Bolsonaro, who famously claimed torture was a “legitimate practice”, claimed victory in the Brazilian elections. In France, the leader of the populist-nationalist National Rally party, Marine Le Pen, has overtaken President Emmanuel Macron in the polls. This comes 18 months after Macron defeated Le Pen in the presidential elections by a margin of nearly 33%. The far-right is also making gains in places such as Germany, Austria, Poland, and performed well in the recent Swedish elections.
Australia has largely been spared from the fallout of the GFC. But this doesn’t mean that the far-right hasn’t been growing here also. Peter Dutton’s recent attempt to take the Liberal party leadership, Fraser Anning calling for a “final solution” to immigration, and the myriad of far-right speakers touring the country, such as Reclaim Australia, the United Patriot’s Front, and Party for Freedom, are all symptoms of a far-right growing in confidence in Australia. They find fertile ground here thanks to the right-wing nature of Australian politics.
Recent racist fear-mongering about ‘radical Islam’ and ‘Sudanese gangs’ in Melbourne plays directly into the narratives of the far-right. As does the recent homophobic and transphobic backlash that we are witnessing in the wake of legalising marriage equality. Topping it all off is the bipartisan support for the mandatory detention of refugees, a policy that is lauded by the far-right in the world over.
If this is the state of Australian politics now, it’s not hard to imagine the far-right making serious gains if the political and economic situation in Australia took a dive in the next couple of years.
Nothing about this is written in stone. It is possible to challenge these ideas and the people who espouse them. This challenge cannot be limited to polite debate or erudite discussion. It needs to involve a physical presence of people in the street whenever ghouls like McInnes and Robinson dare to show up. We need large, vibrant displays of solidarity with the Islamic community and immigrant communities, with Indigenous people, with LGBTQIA+ people—and we need to be ready to call out those who want to attend the events of the far-right.
Students have led campaigns in the past that pushed back against the homophobia, transphobia, racism, and sexism that fuels the far-right. We have also been involved in the working class and union campaigns that have halted them in their tracks. We need to be ready now to do it again as the threat of the far-right grows.
Anyone who wants to oppose the right should come along to the protest against Gavin McInnes and Tommy Robinson on February 1 next year.
If you want to get involved and help build the protest, as well as any those that come up in the future, get in touch with the campaign group United Against Bigotry and Racism.