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Elections demand transparency to halt schemes by Christofascists and conspiracists

West Australia’s council elections seem a strange place to pinpoint a warning about American radicalising political games infiltrating the Australian landscape. While it is strange, it is nonetheless important.

American conservative and commentator Andrew Breitbart declared a (contested) doctrine that “politics is downstream from culture.” According to his institutional heir, Steve Bannon, this means strategists must change culture to open up the possibilities in politics. From his time as Breitbart News editor to Chief Strategist of Trump’s White House, he fomented culture war. He continues the goal through hosting his War Room podcast and video.

It is crucial not to underestimate the importance of podcasting in the conveying of “news” and the creation of information bubbles. Bannon’s War Room podcast and video has become a major influencer in the international Right. It continues to chart in the top 10 political podcasts in the USA and the UK. In Australia, it is charting at No.11. Naomi Klein’s important book Doppelgänger describes how crucial the podcast is to the Mirror World inhabited by the radical and conspiratorial Right.

Bannon’s message is anti-democratic, ultraconservative religious and conspiracist, with his podcast performances pitching him substantially to the right of Fox News, playing to the Trumpist CPAC crowd. His production is described as the “top spreader of misinformation in the conservative media ecosystem.”

Bannon’s repeated advice to his audience is that every possible election must be controlled and contested by their faction. In America this means sowing chaos in school boards and library boards, fired by the energy of outrage against pandemic measures and infiltrated with QAnon talking points about “groomers” in schools and libraries.

It is not clear that Bannon’s approach will work. It has varied outcomes in America. What is true is that it is motivating coalitions on the Right to coalesce and contest the most minor of elections where they can have more impact, shaping decisions on culture war issues.

The group behind Perth’s council campaign is called Stand Up Now Australia which was established by Peter Harris. It runs Community Connect, where candidates who know to keep their “mouth shut when it was needed,” campaign on more mainstream issues, concealing their conspiracy agenda. The group claims to have achieved between 11 and 20 successful candidates, with potentially 3 or 4 of the 9-member Busselton council emerging from the program.

They represent conspiratorial positions opposing the 15-minute or smart city idea, as well as promoting sovereign citizen fantasies.

The other category of special interest targeting council elections, just as it targets state and federal contests, is the Pentecostal movement. West Australia’s experience illustrates the degree to which these two movements are intermingled. “Freedom” movement’s Harris was the founder of, and a key donor to, the federal “Family First” party and a member of the Assemblies of God church in South Australia. Harris claimed in 2005 that his political position was not aligned to the American Christian Right, but around the party’s founding in 2004, it was claimed that the many candidates around the country were “coy” about their religious beliefs “on advice.”

It is noteworthy that the Christian Right gives permission to “lie for Jesus.”

In Australian councils, winning elections means taking steps to gain influence over the “economic, social and cultural development” of the community. Instead of fringe figures bullying councils to the point that they have taken their meetings online, conspiracists would become part of shaping what groups and events the region chooses to fund.

A quorum of 3 councillors allows the setting of agenda as well as considerable sway. The role can also, as in Moira Deeming’s climb to state politics, help build profile.

Anything that could be defined as “woke,” such as events tied to First People or multicultural groups could be challenged. This includes libraries which have become a focal point for conspiratorial opposition to LGBTQIA+ celebrations.

Solving the problem of understanding what Australia must do to address the crisis of candidates contesting our elections with anti-democratic goals is not simple.

Much damage can be done in one term. Trusting democracy to remove problematic representatives at the next election allows harm to be done in the meantime.

A group that secretly plans to deceive the electorate about their intentions could be considered to commit the crime of conspiracy. It is very unlikely that an Attorney-General or Director of Public Prosecutions would act on this, not least because of freedom of speech (or silence) objections. States with an obligation to truth in political advertising might have more scope to pursue such a false impression, even produced by omission.

We need changes to the electoral laws to prevent people from lying or hiding their intentions.

Our media is clearly not capable of conducting the appropriate level of investigation and revelation so voters know what is at stake. The ABC does not have the funding to carry out its core mandate, let alone adding this task to the portfolio. It would, however, have the benefit of being a relatively trusted source by those who care enough to research their candidates’ views and intentions.

Nor are our commercial networks the trustworthy bodies to task with this project. Ninefax is compromised by its leadership, not to mention understaffed. Moves on Australian Regional Media (radio) and Australian Community Media (The Canberra Times etc) in recent weeks need monitoring for the impact on their integrity.

News Corp clearly is not a contender. Added to its integrity crisis is the fact that News Corp bought the body that published our suburban and regional mastheads. In 2020, it stopped printing them, putting 76 online and closing 36 permanently. It cut the number of journalists covering local news to a third of the former force. News that used to be delivered to most homes is now unwritten or locked behind paywalls. In Australia, 2.8 million people remain “highly excluded” from internet access. Online news can also limit access to reliable news for some older Australians. These actions by News Corp function as another of its major blows to Australia’s democratic project.

We require a database across the three levels of government so that voters can see what relevant commentary and affiliations our candidates are disguising. This is not something easily tackled by a civil society organisation. It constitutes a substantial workload. A crowdsourcing platform, for example, would require constant monitoring to prevent defamatory submissions remaining on display.

This is a debate Australians need to have urgently, so that voters can know the crucial facts about the candidates they must elect. Democracy demands transparency.

This essay first appeared in Pearls and Irritations as Deception: radicalised groups are infiltrating Australian democracy in your town

 

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11 comments

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  1. New England Cocky

    Aw shucks Lucy ….. why not go the whole hog and legislate truth in political advertising, with miscreant political parties (not just candidates) being banned from further advertising across all media until the final declaration of all polls in the geographic area of that election. Do it three elections running and you lose the right to publish any advertising in the next succeeding three (3) elections,

    So, why not have the same ”truth in news coverage” where demonstrable political propaganda ”disguised” as comment gets three (3) strikes and loses their publication licence, television broadcast licence, indeed all rights to influence public opinion for three (3) years for the first offence, five (5) years for a second offence and total loss of news reporting licences for a third offence.
    .
    Now to deal with Murdoch Media Monopoly (MMM) ….. there could be an inquiry into the anti-competition effects of this news monopoly. Collecting sufficient biased or ”yellow journalism” articles would not be difficult and collected over a year would amount to almost the entire publication run of all MMM mastheads and television channels.
    .
    Naturally OUR ABC would have to be sanitised of blatant MMM sycophants by sending them back to Holt Street where their meagre talents may be better appreciated.

  2. Lucy Hamilton

    We need to do all those kinds of things.

    We can negotiate some way to assess how to detect what would constitute “criminal conspiracy” etc.

    We cannot sit back in lazy interpretations of “free speech” when people and organisations are using our naivety to kill the democratic project and install an (electoral?) autocracy that would stop all climate action, at the same time as dictating what we can do with our bodies.

  3. Andrew Smith

    Interesting, few issues presented inc. Bannon (& Miller)/Tanton Network, Koch Network’s ALEC American Legislative Exchange Council & local MSM/LNP media strategy, in regions especially.

    Bannon has been active across the Anglosphere and Europe liaising with alt right, white nationalists, neo-Nazis and, allegedly, Russia (like Farage too in the past?), but his muse was always dec. white nationalist John ‘passive eugenics’ Tanton of fossil fueled ZPG, admirer of white Oz policy and ‘racist founder of the modern anti-immigration movement’ (SPLC).

    ‘Trump, the Center for Immigration Studies, and the Tanton Network: The Implementation of a Decades-Old Agenda’ https://americasvoice.org/blog/trump-center-immigration-studies-tanton-network-implementation-decades-old-agenda/

    ALEC ‘Koch bill mill’ is where the Voter ID came from to suppress vote of youth and minorities, adopted by UK Tories while mooted by LNP nothing happened https://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/ALEC_%26_Voting_Rights

    Finally, locally our ‘medium’ is bad enough in urban areas, but in the bush as Lucy explains newspapers replaced with online, SkyNews in pubs, aged care facilities, homes etc. and networks’ regional arms on FTA. Conversely, ABC ‘Just In’ Online, like ABC News24, is just trauma, grief, violence murder etc. while avoiding policy issues, and ABC RN has chosen to crimp their own regional and offshore audiences through simply dropping direct podcast downloads in regions with no or suboptimal data coverage…. and anodyne content.

    Reminds me of Jane Mayer’s ‘architecture of influence’ and Nancy MacLean describing it as a ‘long game’; when the context is short term and glib Australia, too easy.

  4. Max Gross

    Until the Murdochs are prohibited by legislation from owning any media outlets in Australia, the situation will continue to deteriorate

  5. Merrin

    “Trusting democracy to remove problematic representatives . . allows harm to be done”
    And those reps are ‘problematic’ according to you or who?
    Democracy is ‘mob rule’, it’d be accurate to call it ‘demobcracy’. Thanks to the criminals in charge of mainstream media, who seem intent on deceiving the public at almost every turn, that ‘demobcracy’ is working perfectly well on their behalf because they are the unelected ‘mob’ with all the power to propagandize. The public doesn’t get a look in.
    “trusting democracy . . allows harm”. What is your alternative, State sanctions on freedom of speech?
    That is where the Misinfo-Disinfo Bill from the Communists in Labor want to take this country.
    “A group that secretly plans to deceive the electorate about their intentions could be considered to commit the crime of conspiracy.”
    A group and a conspiracy like 5 Secret Ministries Scott Morrison and his bestie the G-G?
    The first place people should look for conspiracies is in the Labor and LNP party-room.

    A few other points: someone should inform the AFP that ‘sovereign citizen’ is an oxymoron, one is either sovereign or a citizen. Author Naomi Klein was brilliant when she wrote ‘Shock Doctrine’ (2007) but today, not so much.
    Another NY best-selling author, Naomi Wood is a more contemporary source of insights (DailyClout).
    Re Moira Deeming, the first time I watched her speak was this week in an interview with ex-QANTAS pilot Graham Hood.
    If only we had more politicians like her Aust would be in a better place.

    “We require a database across the three levels of government”, good idea for transparency.
    Why not have politicians wear a recording device that feeds the ‘database’ that is accessible to the public?
    Ed Snowdon would have some ideas on how to arrange that.

  6. Lucy Hamilton

    “Communists in Labor”? Oh Merrin, pet. We wish. (Joke)
    Obama was a traditional Republican and the Albanese government is much closer to old school Lib. It’s doing almost nothing for labour, its constituency.

    See my first message here: there’s a difference between free speech and an industry dedicated to making people believe lies – like the laughable idea that Labor is more centre left than centre right. I’d settle on centrist.

  7. frances

    @Lucy & Andrew Smith, chilling but thank you.

  8. Merrin

    Lucy, Labor wants to end free speech. Why else do you think they are running so hard on the Misinfo Bill? ACMA called for submissions, they got 23,000 public subs, then mustered the courage to publish 1,000 odd. You want to support the agenda of cowards in Labor and LNP? Why? Ex-KGB defector Yuri Bezmenov warned 45 years ago of what is happening and you are playing along.

  9. Clakka

    Well detailed article, Lucy. Thanks for the additional info.

    Further well commented on by NEC and AS.

    Regards.

  10. Lucy Hamilton

    Merrin, your weird and distorted fantasies are the free speech we have to put up with.
    The people manufacturing massed disinfo for political purposes, we don’t.

  11. leefe

    Merrin:

    We don’t have any legal “right to free speech” in Australia. Couple that with some of the most stringent defamation laws in the so-called Western world, and your sugestion of the ALP wanting “to end free speech” becomes as laughable as your reference to “Communists in Labor”.

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