By Karen Stewart
Mr Morrison, I was rather shocked by your choice of the word “ordinary” to describe the recent Four Corners episode regarding QAnon. What our family has experienced is anything but ordinary. The cause of our family breakdown is anything but ordinary. It could, of course, be possible you’ve rejected the premise of the story, as is your wont. The Four Corners story was not about you.
The Four Corners episode was primarily about national security. It outlined the complete inadequacy of Australia’s national security as you also highlighted recently on 2GB when you said of QAnon, “I barely even knew what it was until more recently, over the last year or so.” Our family’s story was revealed due to this abject failure of Australia’s national security. We do not see that as being ordinary.
Early 2018 saw QAnon making its presence known in Australia and it captured members of my family. QAnon proponents were hyper-focused on Trump’s every tweet, word, and wink. In June 2018 Matthew Wright, armed with a rifle, barricaded a bridge at USA’s Hoover Dam with his armoured van. He was demanding the government’s release of unredacted reports from the Office of Inspector General which QAnon claims would reveal the “deep state.” He later pleaded guilty to terrorism charges. QAnon supporters made themselves known in Tampa, Florida at President Trump’s rally in July 2018. If Australia’s intelligence agencies did not brief our Prime Minister on this growing threat; that is not ordinary.
Several Twitter accounts were attributed to my QAnon family members; one of which is now widely known as @burnedspy34. It was common for QAnon accounts to tweet allegations of paedophilia, cannibalism, satanism, political corruption, and religious distortions. Accounts were easily identified as QAnon by their use of hashtags: WWG1WGA, The Great Awakening, The Storm, Dark to light, Pizzagate, Pedogate, Enjoy the show, Grab your popcorn, We are the news, Do your research plus the cartoons of alt-right symbol Pepe the frog. Accounts using these phrases frequently tagged @ScottMorrisonMP on Twitter. I am incredulous that our Prime Minister’s account was tagged in threatening and provocative QAnon tweets that went unrecognised, unchallenged, and without action. That is not ordinary.
While politicians erroneously warned of African gangs in Melbourne, the alt-right QAnon movement was garnering more conversions in Australia. The Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States declared QAnon a domestic terrorism threat in mid-2019. In September 2020, ASIO’s Heather Cook told a parliamentary enquiry that right-wing extremism accounted for up to 40% of Australia’s counter-terrorism caseload; double that of 2016. Despite this, Australia did not join our Five Eyes allies in proscribing some far-right groups as terrorist organisations. That is not ordinary.
The wife of Australia’s largest QAnon proponent was employed by Prime Minister and Cabinet in the latter half of 2019. I felt confident the security clearance checks for this new employee would alert the government to QAnon’s large presence in Australia and highlight the interactions of QAnon influencers with the office of Prime Minister. The employee’s security clearance checks must have passed because she subsequently remained in Kirribilli House for over a year. This would evidence those security clearances as being grossly inadequate. If a person whose spouse and son held extremist views was able to pass these security clearances to work alongside the Prime Minister of Australia, there is potential for many other employees to be a security risk. That is not ordinary.
The more immersed my brother and nephew became in QAnon, the more volatility we saw, eventually resulting in personal threats. Their radicalisation and proximity to our Prime Minister, gave little alternative but to report to NSW Police and the National Security Hotline. I envisaged an intelligence report being written briefing the government on QAnon and any risk to the Prime Minister. I expected this report to feature a warning that not only was QAnon at the doorstep of the Prime Minister’s office, but the risk was inside the building with him. That is not ordinary.
Upon Donald Trump losing the US election, QAnon social media accounts, including my family’s, posted frequently about an event scheduled for January 6. QAnon played a big role in the attack on US Capitol resulting in the deaths of five people. The loyalty to QAnon was a common theme in the arrests. Australians needed to be reassured that our democracy was far more robust than the fragility we witnessed in USA. There was no such reassurance nor condemnation of the QAnon cult. That is not ordinary.
Former Research Professor in Genocide Studies and Prevention, Gregory H. Stanton, published an article on the website, Genocide Watch, stating “The world has seen QAnon before. It was called Nazism. In QAnon, Nazism wants a comeback.” Never again. That is not ordinary.
It is not reasonable to be flippant or glib about the ethics required and expected from someone in the esteemed office of Prime Minister. It would be most unfortunate if comments made by a Prime Minister disregarded our family’s anguish and diminished the very serious effects of radicalisation. Government condemnation of QAnon could have avoided many more conversions to this group. There was a myriad of information available for government agencies to recognise that the alt-right QAnon cult had converged upon the highest office in our land, yet no warnings were given. That is not ordinary.
We chose to forego family relationships to alert Australians of a significant danger. We were compelled to tell Australians there was a fox in the hen house. We did the task the government and its agencies had failed to do over the preceding three years. It would appear the Stewart family had more information on QAnon, and over a longer period, than the Prime Minister with access to all intelligence agencies. That is not ordinary.
The Four Corners episode was not a personal attack upon you. Guardian Australia’s articles were not an attack on you. Crikey’s articles were not an attack on you. The Daily Telegraph’s articles were not an attack on you. Channel 9’s 60 Minutes programme was not an attack on you. The Irish Times article was not an attack on you.
However, if you are claiming this particular ABC Four Corners episode was about you; fine, let’s make it about you then. After all, “The Prime Minister takes the lead role in Australian Government counter-terrorism policy coordination.” Mr Morrison, the Australian people deserve an answer to this important question: how did your counter-terrorism policy coordination allow a conspiratorial quasi-political evangelical movement, that almost succeeded in a coup d’etat upon the world’s largest democracy, to infiltrate our home turf of Kirribilli House?
This article was originally published on karen thinks aloud.
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