The brutal rape and murder of young Melbourne woman Eurydice Dixon prompted an outpouring of public grief and outrage. Thousands of locals created a makeshift memorial of flowers and cards and left remembrances in Princess Park near the place where her body was found.
A few days later, mourners awoke to discover that the memorial site had been defaced. A 25-metre penis had been painted in white on the grass nearby. Fire crews took hours to hose out the markings.
Such an offensive act seems incomprehensibly cruel. Yesterday, Andrew Nolch, 31, was charged with the vandalism. In an interview with the Age, an unrepentant Nolch said he was making a political statement.
It was, in his mind, “an attack on feminism, on mainstream media for hijacking a vaccine-causing issue and turning it into a men are bad, women’s rights issue”. (The day after Dixon’s body was discovered, a young autistic man was arrested for her rape and murder.)
His Facebook page is filled with statements about vaccines causing autism and, rather than blaming “all men” for the murder and rape of Dixon, culpability should be laid at the door of “big pharma”. Nolch’s anti-vaccine ravings come with an obsessive focus on the mainstream vilifying and marginalising men. Another lengthy post argues:
“The mainstream media is running a brainwashing program which is designed to make everyone think that males are bad. Any event that comes along they twist the reporting so that average males are made to feel as bad as if they did it.
“But here’s the big question, why? Well because men are the protectors of a society, they are the leaders, they are the soldiers, thats [sic] their job in tribes, families etc. If you take them out then you can easily enslave, capture or do whatever to society. Women can be fantastic leaders too but naturally they fit the caring, nurturing child making role … Our entire society is being taken over is what I’m saying.”
The penis painting attempts to assert masculinity; a declaration of male virility against a shadowy force determined to emasculate men and cripple society’s capacity to resist hostile forces (namely the Chinese and/or the Communists).
Nolch’s posts read like the gibberish of a conspiracy theory nutcase. But the ravings of the paranoid sometimes reveal something about the political moment.
Nolch isn’t a trail blazer. His comments about men reflect a growing current in right wing politics across the world. His twitter account is filled with far right talking points about Muslims, refugees, the Chinese and British fascist Tommy Robinson. He has retweeted several prominent far right figures.
On Tuesday night, SBS’s Dateline featured a story about the alt-right American group the Proud Boys. Founded in 2016, the Proud Boys organise under the slogan: “I am a proud Western chauvinist who refuses to apologise for creating the modern world”.
The founder of the movement, Gavin McInnes, regularly makes statements indistinguishable from Nolch’s. For example, in 2013, he said, “There’s a real sort of anti-masculinisation going on. Not with just grown men, but with little boys. There’s a real war on men going on”.
Later in the year he spoke about his relationship with women: “I learned they want to be downright abused. When I stopped playing nice and began totally defiling the women I slept with, the number of them willing to sleep with me went through the roof”.
This deeply misogynist narrative refuses to acknowledge that women are still structurally oppressed, are paid less at work, don’t have full control over our bodies or fertility and are the main victims of sexual and domestic abuse.
But facts never get in the way of bigotry.
And bigotry is front and centre of world politics in 2018. The Proud Boys interviewed on Dateline talked about the confidence they gained with the election of Donald Trump. When you have one of the most powerful men in the world proudly and loudly proclaiming his sexism you are bound to feel entitled. And proud.
In Australia, groups such as the Proud Boys, and the ideas they espouse, are gaining traction.
When Canadian right wing writer Jordan Peterson visited Australia earlier this year his shows were sold out. His book, 12 Rules for Life, a self help book for aggrieved men, is a best-seller here.
Milo Yiannopoulos, one hero of the Proud Boys and famous for statements such as “feminism is cancer”, spoke to more than 5,000 people across the country when he toured this year.
In late July, two other Canadian far right personalities are touring the country. Reports indicate that they will be speaking to large audiences. Stefan Molyneux writes extensively about how “bad mothers” cause the world’s ills. He was one of the keynote speakers at a “Voice for Men” conference, at which he railed against single mothers and unmarried women. “If you don’t have a husband, if you chose the wrong guy, to keep the child is abusive, almost always”, he said.
So there is an increasing intersection between the so called “men’s rights” movement and the far right. Resentful, isolated young men are finding a place in growing online and offline societies that claim that they are speaking “truth” to the “power” of a society dominated by diversity-mongering liberal elites.
The truth is that, governmental rhetoric aside, oppressed groups – Muslims, refugees, migrants and women – are increasingly under attack. The barbaric border policies being played out in Europe, the US and Australia at the moment are a case in point.
In such a context, it is inadequate to dismiss Nolch’s graffiti as a random act of the mentally disturbed or direct our moral outrage at one pathetic and vile specimen.
Nolch’s actions express a growing, deeper, darker current in Australian and world politics. This will not be the last of such despicable acts. We need to organise and challenge all those attempting to build a political movement based on Nolch’s reactionary ideas.
The Campaign Against Racism and Fascism is organising a protest on 20 July in Melbourne against the speaking tour of far right figures Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern.
For details, go to www.facebook.com/events/169270423766223.