Why do police high five Neo-Nazis?

Mar 27, 2023
Melbourne, Australia, March 18th 2023. Thomas Sewell and fellow neo-nazis saluting at counter-protesters at a Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist (TERF) rally, where feminists discredit diverse gender identities, specifically transgender women. Credit: Jay Kogler/Alamy Live News

On some level it is straightforward for a Neo Nazi protest to be easy for police to handle. As we saw on the streets of Melbourne last weekend, and repeatedly over recent years, a high five for white supremacist protesters is an easy gesture for some police officers.

It’s not just that there can be shared ideology. Certainly some police are sympathetic to the white supremacists’ cause. These share a loathing of non-white people or leftie issues. The “woke,” as they now call progressives, are a disgusting, dirty rabble who make trouble. Some police are highly conservative and repulsed by difference. Some sought out a police career because it gave them the odd chance to thump an enemy. Active ethno-nationalists join police forces and armies around the world, often to gain the military training they need for the race war they seek. Not all are filtered out in the selection process.

On the streets though, Neo Nazi protesters can be easy to handle. They appear, give or take their presence at freedom rallies through Covid19, in small enough numbers to know they can’t institute direct violence – so far. So they play to their personality.

Most of the young men who step onto the path to Neo Nazism are aggrieved at having lost centre stage to women and others who ought to know their place. Core to that step too is the spirit of trolling.

A certain kind of young man loves the opportunity to shock and appall those around him. There is laughter to be achieved at the pain of the target and the horror of empathetic bystanders. Your tears are their glee. Your softness is their signal for a boot in the guts. On the internet, active Neo Nazis have used cruel jokes and memes to tempt teens and young men from this path of bullying hilarity to ethno-nationalism. Message boards, of the sort that spawned the QAnon joke, have been used to radicalise youth who don’t get the respect – or girlfriend – they deserve as a man, and white.

This isn’t to say there isn’t pain and passion amongst the Neo Nazis. There is. Resentment and bigoted loathing fill many of them. Others are more there to shock and bully those they designate as “weak.” Some truly believe that white, straight men are the most powerless of identities at this moment, overwhelming evidence to the contrary unseen because it is the static landscape of our lives.

Knowing the far right is a minority, the clever minds amongst them deploy democracy’s weaknesses to end it. Libertarians emphasise the utmost freedom of speech and association implicit in the concept of western liberalism. Some argue that toxic speech is best seen rather than kept hidden, best shrugged off as a minority position rather than given undue emphasis. This suits Neo Nazis very well indeed. The problem with this for the rest of us is that community grievances (and conspiracies) can be harnessed to the mission. Thus we see incels (involuntary celibates) melded into the far right cause over shared misogyny.

White supremacists use Christianity too to whitewash their ugly bigotry (just as other ethno-nationalists around the world are using their dominant faith). Christianity, like white men, is becoming challenged as the societal norm, and this shift is portrayed as being “under siege.” Thus loathing of Jews or Muslims can be depicted as an honourable defence of the Christian tradition. Old bigotries can be made pure by depicting an assault on women’s equality, or LGBTQI+ erasure, as obeying God’s laws (as the radicals define them). By depicting Queer existence or feminism as a threat to children’s welfare, the radical right can make themselves seem the protectors of the innocent.

The best disguise for these ethno-nationalists is the adoption of a progressive veneer. Even from its origins in the mid-twentieth century, a defence of the environment was inherent to fascism. An attack on the scientific knowledge about trans existence was one of the great book burnings carried out by the Nazis, and homosexuals joined Jews and Gypsies and dissenters in the concentration camps. In the modern world, this presents as a fauxprogressive movement notable in feminist circles that would define a woman by her biology. (Didn’t we just spend centuries overcoming that limitation?)

In the world of internet partisanship and the lightning travel of conspiracies woven together to shape a created world with only passing resemblance to the real one, it is easy for the disaffected to be drawn into the far right sphere. The pandemic has given a masterclass in how yoga mums and Neo Nazis could become part of the same movement, bonded by “saving the children” from mythical elite cannibals. A joke for the white supremacists became a mission for deluded women.

By contrast, refugee activists see their friends in Australian indefinite detention suffering hideous torments, since indefinite detention alone is defined as a form of torture. Our leaders and their contractors compounded that torture at every turn. Refugee supporters are passionate about the pain we see in nightly conversations with people driven to the brink (or beyond) of suicide that we can’t help.

Climate activists too tend to be passionate, even desperate. We see the damage in Lismore and Pakistan, in roiling wildfires and rising prices of food. We know that our future looks bleak. The intransigence of government, just as with refugee policy, in the face of this knowledge is infuriating, frustrating and frightening. Government panders to short-term budgetary concerns and the pressure of lobbyists while we see the trillions of debt accumulating from the permacrisis and the millions displaced, thousands even here in Australia already.

Many in the LGBTQI+ community, and particularly those who are gender diverse, see their own current oppression becoming their extermination in the very near future. The models emerging from America, compounded by the bigotry spewing from British women, make this an immediate and justifiable terror. Depicting LGBTQI+ people, wrongly, as a threat to children, and trans people, wrongly, as a threat to women and children, is a powerful way to provoke violence against them. This is already being codified into hundreds of laws in America. American models are followed here; we must not disregard it as a foreign perversion.

So climate protesters, LGBTQI+ protesters, refugee activists – all will be deeply passionate and frightened about very real and immediate harms.

By contrast Neo Nazis are there as much for the banter and the chance to intimidate those they define as weak. Both can be deployed to recruit new young men (and sycophantic women). There is no downside for them in these protests so far. A bit of a joke with some sympathetic police officers is a given. The jokes that make them easy work for the police act as recruitment.

The cunning recruitment tactics help them build into a danger. That’s why we saw “feminists” supported by and chatting with, Nazis on Melbourne’s streets.

Victoria’s police leaders and government need to communicate how they will handle the presence of Nazi memelords on our streets, and the confusing fact that they are easier – currently – to handle than protesters who are frightened and angry about real and immediate harms.

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