Tom Tanuki is a real Australian ‘patriot’, someone who has stood on the front lines of protest to shout down the extreme right wing and their messages of hate and violence. With the imminent arrival in Australia of one of America’s most extreme racists, Tanuki is helping lead a new group that takes a different approach to confronting the violence.
Touring speakers like Gavin McInnes – one of the co-founders of Vice Media – strive to institutionalise and monetise violence and they want to export it from America to here. I’ve been prominent in Australian anti-racist activism for long enough to have seen my fair share of street violence – often first-hand. Sometimes it’s unavoidable. But it’s not welcome, and McInnes should be held responsible for it.
Since 2016, I’ve been tied up in these ‘culture wars’ – the ones being waged across social media forums and rallies across the West: alt-right, far left, neo-Nazis, Antifa, white supremacy, socialism, and me, bobbing through it all occasionally making a scene.
I come up with my own actions and tactics to deal with organised racism, and work alongside other anti-racist groups. I’ve learned to use humour as a tool that can overpower violence in the right circumstances. But nationalists are wealthier than they used to be, and they’re willing to pay and invest in those who would glorify fighting, like Gavin McInnes. He’s coming to Australia in December to agitate and recruit.
Bloody Americans, right? Their contribution to the culture wars at these ‘far left vs. far right’ rallies is the worst. The world saw what happened at Charlottesville, when Heather Heyer was killed by a white supremacist driving a car into a body of protestors. Since then, the conflict has not become any more civil. The US is a very different beast to Australia, but I see the footage of what happens at their rallies and I hate it with a passion.
Call them what they are: battle royales. Groups in America like the Proud Boys, Patriot Prayer, and assorted leftist groups – the things they all say to agitate in the lead up to their ‘rallies’ in Portland and various other hot-spots play out with all the subtlety of Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan doing promo for Wrestlemania V. They all gee each other up for a massive street fight. It happens. They all beat up on each other and film it. The cops sit on the sidelines and let it happen. They gather the footage to gloat or whine, like World Star Culture Wars Edition. Then repeat, with more intensity.
I hate those rallies. I hate the footage of them. Hate the very idea of them. I hate the idea that I’m supposed to ‘celebrate’ when footage comes out of someone on my ‘side’ punching someone on their ‘side’. I hate being sent some dumb footage of someone on my ‘side’ being punched, as though that’s supposed to hit me in my feelings. It’s brutal – sheer childishness and tribalism gone mad.
It’s hard for me to say all of this because I’ve been around long enough to know that fights do happen. I wasn’t born with a placard in my hand; I’ve been around, and handled enough situations myself. People get punched for finding themselves in precarious situations, sometimes. That’s part of life whether you’re involved in activism or just, well, an adult having a disagreement with the wrong people.
People grew breathless about ‘political violence’ in Australia after the now semi-defunct patriot group the ‘True Blue Crew’ [TBC] punched on with some Antifa at a Coburg rally in 2016. But I ask you, if you can see worse out on a Saturday night in Melbourne’s King Street than I’ve ever seen at any rally in Australia – and you can – then we’re hardly in Paris flipping over cop cars and burning buildings, are we? It’s not quite storming the Bastille, right?
Not to mention that I’ve stood before a media pack at a rally in 2017 while some of these patriots loitered around just metres behind me. I was filming an action at a rally for an anti-patriot satire/comedy/action group I once ran called the Million Flag Patriots. Nationalists back then hated the way it undermined them. So they were behind me – and as I learned later, they had knives in their pockets. (They admitted it themselves in someone else’s recorded footage.)
They were ready to go for me, too. But I had mates standing in between us and staring them down. Those activists – those staunch friends – that stood between me and them, ready to fight? I might owe my life to them. I’ll never know.
So I know how these things work, and I am not so cloistered and naive to be able to dismiss the inevitability of an occasional blue when passions and politics run high. That’s grassroots activism for you, whether it aligns with your politics or not.
But these US rallies? They’re something else, quite apart from anything we’ve seen in Australia. They’re growing worse. And there are people who actively want Australia to see that level of socio-political violence. These days, they’re more powerful than they used to be.
Earlier, I mentioned the TBC – the biggest fist-swinging thing in Australian nationalism in 2016. Strangely, I almost miss them now. (I don’t. At all. But bear with me.) They were the worst, and given their tendency toward violence, this would appear to contradict what I’ve said above. But again, hear me out.
For those of you who don’t know, the TBC were a pack of often-violent ‘patriots’ who made the group purpose-built for belting up lefties at rallies. They were the bottom of the barrel. Many of them had domestic violence charges. They were seeking to legitimise their violent tendencies in a fresh subcultural context, on a street, fighting with Antifa.
The TBC were mostly as working-class as it got. When they were milked for tens of thousands of dollars in merchandise money in exchange for things like street-level patrols to hunt for made-up African gangs that never even eventuated, I almost came to feel bad for them.
I almost felt bad because the TBC, in hindsight, were formed as part of a frustrated cry to be heard from lost and manipulated Aussies prone to casual racism. In the lead up to the 2016 US Presidential election, Turning Point USA, Act for America and many other well-funded right-wing think tanks pumped many millions of dollars into creating the most fertile socio-political viral network ever.
It likely affected the US election. It was so potent, the online network was signal-boosted right around the world, including to Australia. These peoples’ online social/news feeds were collateral damage in the global battle to win people over to anti-immigration sentiment by meddling with Twitter and Facebook.
So these people dutifully cried out. They didn’t even have any real terrorist attacks or immigration problems here in Australia to whinge about. But they whinged about it all anyway, completely duped by their own smartphones. They formed groups. Rallies happened. It got rough. Then the TBC appeared.
The TBC’s confused, aggro cry echoed about Australia for a bit. It landed on page one of the Herald Sun a few times in Melbourne. People like me weaponised taking the piss out of it with the Million Flag Patriots. And then, their cry just… faded away. It meant nothing in the end. They just said a lot of awful racist and sexist stuff, and punched a few lefties. And, finally, got ripped off over $200 embroidered TBC hoodies that you can now find in bargain bins. (That’s why I pitied them. They were manipulated first by the ruling class, and then by their own.)
Two years on, I look at these Proud Boys and what I see is an imported, hipster-douchebag TBC for wealthy blokes. Nowadays, the far right have no problem spending at least $200 on lower-tier tickets to see famous racists who get paraded around Australia on tour. ($800 for a meet and greet!) Nationalism has shifted up a socio-economic tier or two and now it caters to consumers and obnoxious rich kids.
That’s what the Proud Boys are. Consumers. The middle-class. The cashed-up. The lonely and bored.
A Proud Boy will try to punch a lefty at a rally too. Just like a TBC member would have. But not because they’ve fought all their life. No, it’s because they’ve spent thousands on a personal trainer to prepare them specifically to punch lefties at rallies. Proud Boys have to do it too, if they want to complete their group initiation: the final ‘degree’ of becoming a Proud Boy is punching a leftist at a rally, and getting arrested for it. McInnes’ rules. He coded violence into the DNA of the Proud Boys as a group:
“I always thought, what’s our fourth degree? […] And then I realised, it’s being physically assaulted for the cause. Getting arrested, getting in a fight. The fight has to be an organised fight – it’s not just getting in a fight. It has to be some sort of conflict that is officiated. Now, if you get arrested for something, that’s being officiated by the police.”
Proud Boys are being fleeced too, really. But nowadays, it’s not by locals. It’s by an ongoing parade of wealthy overseas cultural agitators on tour. McInnes will fly in from America for a series of speaking engagements that he has said will pay him more per show than he’s ever received. He’ll take Aussie cash by the bucketload, create some street fights outside his events, stir up violent sentiment, and then take those ‘nationalist’ dollars outside the state borders with him.
I don’t do Million Flag Patriots anymore. It wouldn’t make any sense now, because patriotism as a movement has been replaced by a series of paid events for comfortably wealthy bigots.
These days, I co-run Yelling At Racist Dogs [YARD], which is a DIY effort to record and share the best, most entertaining abuse hurled at these organised racist groups during events.
YARD is very mouthy, I suppose. It’s rough around the edges – but also avowedly non-violent. Doesn’t stop these wealthy paid nationalist tours from breathlessly labelling YARD as ‘authoritarian terrorism’, to directly quote the tour organisers for Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux. Yes, yelling is ‘terrorism’ to these hysterical purveyors of tour-marketing hyperbole.
With what I’m trying to do, no-one gets punched, and people hopefully have a laugh at the videos afterwards at the expense of organised racists. In the culture wars, that’s frankly a relatively noble aspiration.
The Proud Boys are much lighter on restraint. They’ve ditched the excess baggage that the rest of the alt-right carries by resting on vague dog-whistling statements about being ‘Western chauvinists’. They welcome a multi-racial membership base, and there’s nothing more nauseating than watching Proud Boys parade their black and Asian members about like immunity tokens.
They’re more of an anti-feminist and anti-LGBTQI group, in practice, and a brief check in with anti-racist researcher mates tells me that unhappy separated fathers make up a good chunk of their membership. But Proud Boys are less about political theory and more about the practice of violence in rally environments against leftists. That’s the real allure of being a Proud Boy.
The Proud Boys are a personality cult. They follow McInnes’ rules and take their sense of identity from his leadership. What follows is some of the things Gavin McInnes has been telling his followers lately. These quotes will need no explanation or adornment. Remember, this is a speaker being paid to come here next month and say things like this to Australians. The following quotes come from his pay-walled CRTV online show, ‘Get Off My Lawn’:
“We will kill you. That’s the Proud Boys in a nutshell. We will kill you. We look nice. We seem soft. We have ‘Boys’ in our name. But like Bill the Butcher and the Bowery Boys, we will assassinate you.”
“Get in trouble. Get arrested. Get fired. Let’s all get in this together. They can’t kill us all.”
“We need more violence from the Trump supporters. Choke a motherfucker. Choke a bitch. Choke a tranny. Get your fingers around a windpipe. If they spit on you that’s assault.”
That is what these people are paying for to come into this country and weasel about, agitating for violence. That is Gavin McInnes. He wants to recruit locally. For his ‘gang’, as he himself labelled the Proud Boys while talking to Joe Rogan. And they bear this out in reality, too – Proud Boys were filmed running riot through Manhattan last week after a McInnes talk, gang-bashing any leftist they could find. They’re growing more confident.
I believe the Proud Boys are a pack of rich boys who want to feel powerful, and are willing to pay to be part of a fraternity dedicated to violence. But I abhor them and anyone like them, regardless of their political ‘wing’, who wants to invite violence into this country on the scale that America experiences.
Yes, I’ll be there all the way to yell at them with YARD if the government makes the mistake of letting McInnes in, but it’s not all in the name of fun. I try my best to undermine these people because anyone who wants to reduce Australia to experiencing America’s violent socio-political climate is an enemy of progress in this country and an enemy of mine.
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