We live in interesting times — especially when a deadly pandemic necessitates the peaceful yet ominous granting of “emergency powers” to heads of states who may or may not readily wish to relinquish them.
If such events aren’t troubling enough, readers will find more disquieting facts in Australian writer, educator and broadcaster Jeff Sparrow’s slim book — one which fortunately also offers some hope for a problem-plagued world.
Sparrow, who contributes to the Guardian and is an active participant in Australia’s digital news scene, provides some interesting context to the Christchurch massacre. He is a former editor of the literary journal Overland, and has written several books, including Trigger Warnings: Political Correctness and the Rise of the Right (2018).
Central to the book’s woeful theme are events surrounding the March 15, 2019 mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand by a right-wing extremist referred to only as Person X, honouring the pledge by the New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to never utter his name — because the victims, not the perpetrator, deserve to be remembered.
Easily read in one sitting, Fascists Among Us encapsulates the origins of fascism as a hate-filled ideology promoting violence as a Machiavellian truth, and gives readers examples of 21st-century websites helping to spark a rebirth amongst extremist conservative groups worldwide.
One day before 51 Islamist worshippers were gunned down at the two mosques, Person X had proudly posted on 8chan, a far-right website, that “its time to stop s—posting and time to make a real life effort post,” even promising to “live-stream the attack via Facebook” — which he did.
As a writer who leans politically to the left, Sparrow is cognizant of the era we now live in and blunts the expected accusations of “fake news” from ultra-conservative mainstream media and internet trolls by providing an impressive array of source notes in his book.
A terse, fact-based writing style recounts the gradual transformation of Person X from a ranting, xenophobic internet troll who specialized in posting demeaning memes to a violent, deadly shooter — a fascist who Sparrow suggests is the changing face of this violence-prone ideology.
According to Sparrow, the violence at Christchurch was “consciously designed,” representing what he calls “a particular strategic choice for the fascist movement” in the internet age, moving away from the mass rallies that characterized Mussolini’s and Hitler’s rise to power, instead encouraging “lone wolf” attacks.
He refers to such acts by solitary individuals as the new face of fascist terrorism that seeks to incite young men into conducting rage massacres, hoping to destabilize liberal democracies while drawing attention to a perverse ideological belief in a “pure race” devoid of contamination by immigrant groups.
Sparrow calls fascism’s anti-Muslim sentiment the “racialization of Islam,” stating “almost every aspect of early twentieth century anti-semitism repeated itself in twenty-first century Islamophobia,” and then comparing this disturbing trend with the racialization of Judaism that preceded the Holocaust.
Unfortunately, he sometimes resorts to the same hyperbole conservative extremists use in hateful posts. By trying to draw a direct link between President Trump’s 2016 election and the steadily increasing number of far-right internet sites that spew hatred, Sparrow appears affected by the highly-partisan American political scene.
Yet the stated and implied similarities between supporters of earlier far-right autocratic leaders and today’s bombastic right-wing radio and television hosts who blindly champion a controversially elected leader of the free world, while ignoring his autocratic tendencies, should give readers some pause.
Extreme right-wing views, uttered under the guise of constitutional freedoms, provide cover for dangerous internet fascists like Person X, whose hate-filled 74-page manifesto inspired other copycats.
Sparrow remains hopeful liberal-minded users will develop ways to combat such internet-inspired fascism.
Joseph Hnatiuk is a retired teacher.