Watching the moral panic about 'African gangs' play out in Melbourne, Andrew P. Street suggests the media's tendency to portray a group as a 'gang' that terrorises the streets or a 'militia' that patrols the streets, is based on the colour of their skin.
According to our Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton, Melbourne is in the grip of African gangs – despite the Australian Bureau of Statistics publishing data that indicates crime in Victoria, as with most of the rest of Australia, is on the decrease.
Meanwhile Channel Nine’s A Current Affair took to the outer Melbourne suburb of Cranbourne this week to speak to members of a new militia who’ve promised to combat lawlessness in their suburb with nunchucks and modified crossbows.
“Joe” told ACA reporters that he has “knuckle dusters, various steel pipes, a pen gun, and bullets that have been hollowed out a little bit with mercury in them. That way if you only nick your target, you know they’re going to die five days later in an excruciating death.”
To be clear: this man just announced plans to painfully murder people he suspects of being criminals. So when host Tracy Grimshaw rhetorically asks “Are they going too far?” we can safely say: yes. Yes, they are, Tracy.
This neatly illustrates one of the many privileges of being born as pale as a fishbelly.
And the fact that these people are being chuckled at on national television rather than being rounded up by armed anti-terrorism units neatly illustrates one of the many privileges of being born as pale as a fishbelly.
After all, had these men been Muslim, or Sudanese teenagers, or pretty much anything other than white dudes who apparently think Steven Seagal is a gritty documentarian, they’d already be in detention. And this is a problematic blind spot because unlike young African migrants, angry white men are an actual and growing terrorist threat.
In 2015 NSW Police deputy commissioner Nick Kaldas flagged right-wing racists as a threat to social cohesion, adding “I would say that there is definitely activity on the right wing, the extreme right wing, of politics and people who are using events around the world to create incidents in Australia.”
And as though to illustrate this point the following year, right-wing extremist Phillip Galea was arrested and charged with multiple terrorist offenses relating to plans to blow up the houses of left-wing activists. He’s currently undergoing psychological assessment to determine whether he’s fit to stand trial.
And last month a NSW white supremacist who pleaded guilty to firearm offenses admitted his plans to shoot up Tuggerah Westfield shopping centre on NSW’s Central Coast.
People are angry, and getting angrier. And it’s not even like that anger is hard to understand. For example: Cranbourne has been a rural community until relatively recently, before succumbing to the encroachment of the suburbs. When people see their way of life changing in ways they don’t like, they get mad – and if no-one on the left will take that rage and fear seriously, then the right will express themselves.
It doesn’t help that we have talkback radio hosts firing people up about immigrants who have it too good, and politicians like Pauline Hanson and Tony Abbott blaming refugees for terrorism – a claim which ASIO chief Duncan Lewis flatly denied existed last year, thereby drawing sustained criticism of the spy agency from Andrew Bolt and Ray Hadley.
Middle-age dudes flailing about with nunchucks seems more comical than threatening – but the US experience suggests it’s time to stop laughing at them and start listening to them.
The media’s love affair with right-wing groups seemed to hit its low point earlier this year when a report from Channel 7’s nightly news featured an interview with Blair Cottrell, a veteran of numerous “patriot” and white supremacist groups, who was given a platform to express his views as though he was a legitimate political commentator and not a violent neo-Nazi with convictions for arson, burglary and stalking his ex-partner. But it’s a pattern we’ve seen before overseas.
In this legitimising of right-wing violence we seem we’re heading to a similar situation to that of the US: a country where, coincidentally, the majority of terrorist attacks are carried out by far-right extremists that are overwhelmingly white and male (115 of 208 investigations between 2008 and 2016, to be specific).
At the moment, groups of angry middle-age dudes flailing about with nunchucks seems more comical than threatening – but the US experience suggests it’s time to stop laughing at them and start listening to them.