Where have all the racists gone?
Jokes! They’re just gearing up for another round of mob violence by going insane on the internet. But the first wave of alt-right influencers who came up off the back of Trump and Brexit are a lot less visible than they were a few years ago.
There are a couple of reasons for that. QAnon, COVID and the January 6 insurrection ushered in a new generation of professional conspiracists more in tune with what the chronically online freaks of the American right are after.
Mainly, though, they were never the sorts of people who could go very long without ruining their prospects through their own stupidity. Even platforms like Twitter had to finally start banning the Milos and Steve Bannons of the world when they started talking about beheading people and how it’s actually okay for adults to fuck kids.
The campus speaking tours have dried up. The book deals have vanished. The massive audience reach has been taken away. So what’s a far-right grifter to do?
Thankfully, if you’re a racist has-been, there’s a place you can go where everybody knows your name: Australia.
For a long time, Australia has been a kind of continental hospice care home for celebrities past their prime. The Madden brothers from Good Charlotte play weird acoustic sets at the cricket now. Redfoo gets glassed in Sydney pubs. And now it’s become the image-rehab facility of choice for professional bigots across the English-speaking world. When even FOX and CPAC won’t touch you, Australian TV networks and journalists will line up to give you the validation and airtime you can no longer get anywhere else.
That’s what far-right British commentator Katie Hopkins was hoping when she touched down in Sydney last month. It takes a lot for Twitter to ban someone, or for a British tabloid as rancid as the Mail Online to drop a regular columnist. But Hopkins managed to pull off both — the first for winkingly referring to Black Welsh rugby player Ashton Hewitt as a “baboon,” the second for calling for a “final solution” against Muslims.
In Australia, though, Hopkins’ history of calling migrants “cockroaches,” gloating over the drowning of refugees in the Mediterranean, or promoting the anti-Semitic “white genocide” conspiracy theory wasn’t a problem. Instead, she was tapped by Channel Seven, the country's biggest commercial TV network, to star on the next season of Big Brother VIP.
Sadly for Hopkins, she couldn’t resist publicly boasting about breaching Australia’s strict hotel quarantine restrictions, including by flashing anyone who turned up to deliver her food. The ensuing public backlash ended with her contract being canceled and her visa revoked.
Even without a plum gig on a prime-time reality show, Hopkins has already established a foothold in Australia via regular appearances on Sky News, Rupert Murdoch’s local FOX variant. Long the unloved crank-pit of Australian television, Sky has morphed in recent years from a little-watched cable news channel into a massive global far-right content farm. White nationalist figureheads like Hopkins, Milo Yiannopoulos, and Lauren Southern have teamed up with Sky’s domestic take-peddlers to churn out paranoiac catnip about critical race theory and January 6 that have given Sky a huge international audience.
Why anyone would give a shit about what fourth-rate Australian political commentators think about critical race theory is a great question, but the grift is paying off big-time for Sky. Some of the network’s homegrown creatures are even starting to pop up in the U.S. Alan Jones, a former Sydney shock jock who helped incite the Cronulla race riots in 2005 and once wrote a love letter to a high-school boy he taught, is enjoying an end-of-career resurgence as a Sky presenter mouthing off about Joe Biden’s mental capacity and how lockdowns are 1984. Others are now interviewing Donald Trump or chatting with Tucker Carlson.
Southern, in particular, has found Australia to be a happy hunting ground. After briefly retiring from professional bigotry and trying to rewrite her past, Southern moved to Sydney in 2020 and has been shilling for attention ever since. Besides writing weird reactionary kids’ books and picking fights with Australian Muslim politicians, Southern has found a surefire way to establish herself in Australia’s media ecosystem: fear-mongering about China.
Ever since invading the continent and violently dispossessing the original inhabitants, the Australian colonial project has been obsessed at the thought of someone doing the same thing to it. Combined with a liberal dose of anti-Asian racism, it means that the country’s superannuated media set will give airtime to anyone who validates the national paranoia that China is getting ready to invade from 5,000 kilometres away.
Again, what in God’s name a Canadian alt-right YouTuber knows about the geopolitics of the southwest Pacific is anyone’s guess. But that hasn’t stopped government MPs from declaring that they’ve “politically fallen in love with her.” (Fun fact: the politician who said that, Barnaby Joyce, was forced to stand down as deputy prime minister and leader of the conservative National Party in 2018 after impregnating one of his staff and being accused of drunkenly groping a woman at a political function. Despite that allegation still being open and unresolved, he became deputy prime minister again in June.)
But no one’s been able to parlay Australia’s receptiveness to racism into a half-assed career revival like Steve Bannon. The lifelong white supremacist has had a dream run Down Under, setting himself up as a kind of all-purpose political sage with whom the country’s most “respectable” journalists fall over themselves to befriend.
Like Southern, Bannon has gotten a lot of mileage out of playing up the “threat” posed by China. Newspapers have run softball interviews with him on the subject, and government MPs have appeared on his podcast about it.
But nothing compares to “Populist Revolution,” a 2018 special episode of Four Corners, Australia’s longest-running and most respected current affairs program. In “Populist Revolution,” Bannon sat down with Sarah Ferguson, one of the country’s most lauded journalists, and got forty minutes in prime-time on the publicly-funded national broadcaster to paint himself as an “economic nationalist” representing the disenfranchised working class.
Ferguson, for her part, compared Bannon to Bernie Sanders, and confidently told him that “I’ve watched people ask you or accuse you in various ways of being a racist, and there’s no evidence that that’s what you are.” It is unclear if Ferguson knows how to use Google, or has ever heard of a website named Breitbart that Bannon used to run.
When Australian journalists of color took exception to her description of a man who thinks his life’s calling is to provoke a civilisational war between the West and Islam as “not a racist,” Ferguson had this extremely normal response:
Two years later, Ferguson jetted off to Washington to report on the aftermath of the January 6 insurrection, where she did a sit-down interview with Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio. For some reason, Bannon’s comments a few months earlier about beheading public officials didn’t make the cut.
So if you’re a QAnon TikToker or an anti-vax influencer wondering when the other shoe’s going to drop, don’t worry about it. Jump on a flight to Sydney, and a squad of Australian journalists will be ready to meet you as you get off the plane.
Alex McKinnon is a writer based in Sydney.