“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides, on many sides.”
These were the words Donald Trump first uttered in the wake of the deadly Charlottesville riots earlier this month. A woman died at the hands of a Neo-Nazi, and the President was talking about dualities, condeming hatred on both sides. The President was labelled a racist, and criticised for being too lenient on the xenophobic views of the white supremacists.
But perhaps there is merit in understanding the motivations on both sides of the fence. Not just the radical right wing so-called racists. And not just the members of our bubble. And Melbourne Journalist John Safran agrees with this.
Who are these people chanting “All Lives Matter”? What spawned the resurgence of Neo-Nazism? Why is there a black man speaking at a Reclaim Australia rally? And who the heck voted for Pauline Hanson?
These questions are more relevant than ever, and they are questions Safran endeavours to answer in his powerful book, Depends What You Mean By Extremist.
LISTEN: Mia Freedman and Amelia Lester try to make sense of the Charlottesville riots.
This book is a reminder – if you have somehow forgotten – that these issues aren’t unique to America. If you thought white supremacists could only walk unmasked down the streets of the Deep South, you’ve obviously never ventured into a Reclaim Australia rally.
Safran begins with a roll call of one such meeting.
Outside Melbourne’s Parliament House, a motley crew of protestors have assembled to call for the end of multiculturalism in Australia. There’s a blonde woman, paying respect to the Wurundjeri people, the traditional owners of the land. There’s a Sri Lankan Pastor who wants to send Muslims home. And then there’s a bunch of burly men looking like bikies. They are from the far-right United Patriots Front. Among them is a smattering of skinheads, emblazoned with swastika tattoos and making holocaust jokes. Neo-Nazis aside, it’s not the white-washed crowd you would expect at a Reclaim Australia event.
The cast of this book – the ‘deplorables’ – is as fascinating as any true crime story. But what might shock you most, is the fact that they live in your suburb.
As a member of Melbourne’s Jewish community, Safran is in a unique position to comment on these people. No one would blame him for fearing the uprising of Neo-Nazis, but he doesn’t. Instead, he’s determined to learn what led them to this point of extremism.