At last. The mainstream media are finally printing what Melbourne’s anti-fascist campaign has been saying for years. Blair Cottrell is a Nazi.
It doesn’t take a genius, and it shouldn’t have taken this long. After all, the guy called for a picture of Hitler to be hung in every school more than five years ago. On this basis alone, there should have been a furore after Cottrell appeared as a guest on the ABC’s Hack program. There should have been companies pulling their funding from Channel 7 after it crossed live to Cottrell and his mates during a fascist vigilante meeting.
Perhaps some of the difficulty has been that, besides the Hitler fandom, Cottrell’s pitch isn’t that different from the daily dirge of hate speech we get from “Sky after dark”, the Murdoch press and right wing politicians such as Peter Dutton and Pauline Hanson.
Australia’s media are populated with journalists and commentators who gleefully embrace far right talking points such as “imperilled South African farmers” or “African gangs”. Cottrell is driving down a freeway paved by broad sections of the mainstream right, people who baulk at Hitler references and open anti-Semitism, but are otherwise nearly as vile as Cottrell.
Now, however, something’s changed. Sky overstepped the mark, and the condemnations have been swift. I can’t say exactly why this has happened, but I am glad it has.
After Sky’s one-on-one interview with Cottrell about immigration, the backlash has been widespread. Labor ex-minister Craig Emerson quit the station, claiming this was “another step in a journey to normalising racism and bigotry in our country”.
Huggies, Specsavers and Amex all pulled sponsorship. The Victorian Labor government banned Sky from TV screens on train platforms. Even arch-conservative columnist Andrew Bolt, a man whose views are only a hair’s breadth away from Cottrell’s, called Sky’s actions “a serious and embarrassing error of judgement”.
Faced with this avalanche of condemnation, Cottrell has fought back. Raving on Twitter, he said of Sky presenter Laura Jayes: “I might as well have raped [her] on the air, not only would she have been happier with that but the reaction would’ve been the same”. Such sexist smack talk is hardly a surprise coming from Cottrell, who claimed that he used “terror and fear” to control women. But it did add fuel to the fire.
It was to be expected that Cottrell would back himself. Perhaps it is also unsurprising that the Murdoch media empire would step in with a counteroffensive. A Herald Sun editorial lambasted the Labor minister Jacinta Allan for her decision to pull Sky from Metro train screens as “Stalinism”!
Bolt, perhaps afraid that his earlier criticism of Sky might be misinterpreted, re-entered the fray and called for Allan to be sacked.
Who knows where or how this political skirmish will end, but one thing is certain: our campaign of directly confronting the far right has been vindicated. Our counter-rallies attempted to rip the mask of respectability off Cottrell and his far right associates. We weren’t embarrassed by accusations of lack of nuance. We didn’t resile from the truth. We called them fascists because that’s what they are.
When the United Patriots Front held a demonstration of hundreds in the rural Victorian city of Bendigo to try to shut down a mosque, we said it was racism, plain and simple. We held a counterdemonstration to welcome the mosque. We argued that the far right were attempting to use Islamophobia to build a street campaign in the image of an insurgent fascist movement across Europe.
We understood that these forces speak a language of racism, violence and brutality and that, if we didn’t do something about it, events in Europe could be the shape of things to come: fire bombings of refugee camps, the murder of leftists and attacks on unionists. We said then, and we say it now: we must protest the far right and try to stop them from growing.
Through all of the mud slung at us for protesting, the liberal opinion pieces that claimed we were “just giving them oxygen”, we maintained that what gives the far right oxygen is the political establishment and the mainstream media. They have paved the way for the rise of this new fascism and amplified its voice.
Because of the public acknowledgment that the Nazis in our midst are very dangerous, I hope we never have to read another column that suggests that anti-fascists are just the same as the fascists.
And I hope that at the next anti-fascist demonstration I will be standing arm-in-arm with Craig Emerson, Jacinta Allan and the other luminaries who have spoken out against Sky for promoting a Nazi.