The pushback against recent far right assaults on LGBTIQ communities saw thousands gather at a Trans Day of Visibility event in Melbourne’s CBD last Friday night, as well as another held in Sydney’s Newtown on Sunday, where a mass of supporters braved torrential rains to make their point known.
Two recent events have served to draw reactionary forces out onto the streets. One was the staging of WorldPride in Sydney, which was a global honour now tragically marred, while the other was the controversial Let Women Speak tour of UK antitransgender figure Posie Parker.
In Sydney, a group of fascists known as Christian Lives Matter conducted an impromptu antiqueer demonstration through the Newtown streets on a Friday night, and weeks later, hundreds of these men attempted a violent attack against a small band of trans rights agitators in a suburban street.
While out the front of Victorian parliament in downtown Melbourne, members of the nation’s most notorious neo-Nazi group, the National Socialist Network, mobilised in support of Posie Parker, as they goosestepped through the street gesturing the Nazi salute.
“A just struggle”
The small group of activists set upon by Christian Lives Matter on 21 March were from Community Action for Rainbow Rights (CARR). And this group along with other progressives released a 4th April open letter, calling out the recent spike in homophobic and transphobic incidents in this country.
“In light of a disturbing rise in anti-trans violence, we progressive organisations express our solidarity with transgender people and support their fundamental right to live freely, equally and with dignity,” the letter begins.
And those who’ve undersigned it further called out NSW One Nation leader Mark Latham over his stoking of the flames of this hate campaign. And they also point the finger at Liberal Party figures Moira Deeming and Katherine Deves over their own transphobic campaigning.
The statement also makes clear that “the fight for sexual and gender minorities” is “a just struggle”, and it underscores the need for trans and gender diverse people to be protected from discrimination, in areas like housing and the workplace, especially in light of recent backlash.
Twitter page AltMediaWatch has been monitoring the rise of far right groups in Australia, with its recent tweets focused on My Place: a group that developed out of the Freedom movement, which aims to infiltrate local councils in pursuit of its ultraconservative agenda.
However, the majority of AMWs recent online activity has involved monitoring and exposing Christian Lives Matter, with its focus on an imagined threat against children, which posits that they’re “being exposed to hyper-sexualisation in schools, on TV and across many other platforms”.
Sydney Criminal Lawyers spoke to Sam from AltMediaWatch about the cracked ideology propagated by CLM, the actions of politicians in stoking the flames of hate, and the fact that the turnouts at recent visibility rallies signal that the majority of the population is in support of trans rights.
Sam, as an online antifascist researcher, have you been surprised by the rise of Christian Lives Matter in the public eye over the last month?
I can’t say I was surprised by the rise of CLM into the public sphere, no.
As far as culture wars go, Australia tends to follow closely behind the US, and I’ve been following other antifascist researchers, like the amazing Kate Burns on Twitter covering the rise of Christian fascism there for some time.
The group CLM popped up on my radar during the funeral of George Pell.
Videos appeared online of their members removing ribbons, that represented the victims of institutional child sexual abuse at the hand of the Catholic Church, from outside St Mary’s Cathedral and intimidating protesters.
I’ve been concerned about their escalating behaviour ever since.
On mentioning Christian Lives Matter to others, after they’d marched through Newtown on a Friday night, some queried whether these people were also involved in the Freedom movement that was prominent over the pandemic period.
In your understanding, are these some of the same actors that were demonstrating about vaccines and lockdowns?
It’s a fair assessment to say that CLM members were radicalised online in antivaccine and conspiracy echo chambers during lockdowns.
In an interview during lockdown with Martyn Iles, the now former head of the Australian Christian Lobby, CLM leader Charlie Bakhos asked probing questions about Iles’ beliefs surrounding the New World Order, a conspiracy dating back to the Cold War, which has seen a popular rebirth among online antivax groups and other members frequently sharing antivaccine information online.
Key figures from the Freedom movement, like Romeo Georges, Joel Jammal and Millie Fontana, have also been in attendance at CLM rallies, like that outside Channel 10, after the group got offended by a joke about Jesus on The Project.
ASIO’s stated that monitoring the far right now takes up about 50 percent of its terrorism caseload, which was related to online networking over the pandemic period.
The recent neo-Nazi demonstration in the Melbourne CBD is clearly linked to this sort of organising.
But how much is Christian Lives Matter caught up in the overall rise in the far right, which includes groups that identify as Nazis, white supremacists, patriots and even Trump supporters in the US?
We’ve seen right-wing politicians, like Mark Latham, playing on the perceived victimhood and anger of the mostly Maronite Christians who make up CLM, become a significant threat.
Their association with traditional elites in both the church and the political right has helped legitimise them, provided them cover for their actions, and helps them hide behind the lie that they’re just trying to protect the children.
Unlike the more fringe elements of the far-right, this has allowed them to operate out in the open, but it also makes them a lot more vulnerable and easier to identify, as we’ve seen since Belfield.
A large aggressive Christian Lives Matter demonstration took place in Hyde Park on 18 March. The rally was in aid of “saving the children” from transgender people. Speakers were lamenting having brought up their children only to have them taken away.
Most of what was being said made little sense. What’s your take on the ideology that CLM is propagating?
Just to clarify, while many CLM members attended and participated in the 18th March rally, it wasn’t organised by them officially.
It was organised by one of CLM’s members by the name of Charlie Taouk, who operates the group Stand for our Children’s Future.
Now, to answer your question, the ideology being pushed by CLM is straight from online conspiracy groups.
There is a belief that an agenda is being pushed by dark agents trying to groom people’s children into becoming trans.
I know to a normal person outside of this, that will sound ridiculous, but it’s what they believe.
A CLM member arrested after the Belfield riot for inciting violence against members of Community Action for Rainbow Rights (CARR) gave an interview where he stated that he believes that the members of CARR were sent by the government as bait to incite violence to stop Mark Latham speaking.
These beliefs bear an uncanny resemblance to the conspiracies we have seen propagated by QAnon believers.
One Nation NSW leader Mark Latham has outdone himself in recent days with a tweet he directed at Independent MP Alex Greenwich.
But you’ve pointed out that Latham has been whipping up Christian Lives Matter as well. Indeed, when the group attacked a small number of pro-trans activists in Belfield two weeks ago, they were at a meeting waiting to hear the One Nation politician speak.
So, how much of the blame can we level at Latham for the far right spilling out onto the street?
There are a few politicians who should be taking the blame for exploiting the fears of people for political gain over the past few years.
Unfortunately, I don’t see them stopping anytime soon. Using culture war politics is an easy way for them to score political points without having to do anything.
Instead of having to work to change people’s lives for the better by tackling issues, like the housing crisis, the rising cost of living and inflation from skyrocketing corporate profits, grifters, like Latham, can just fan the flames and ride the anger into the NSW upper house, as we’ve just seen.
It’s very dangerous. Unfortunately, the people being put in the firing line are those who don’t have the power to fight back and that’s why it’s important to shine a light on groups like CLM.
And lastly, Sam, over the last month, CLM marched through Newtown, rallied in Hyde Park and attempted to attack a small bunch of protesters out the front of a church, while neo-Nazis marched in front of Victorian parliament.
For those who haven’t been monitoring the web, this has basically come out of nowhere. And there’s also been a sense that these mobilisations may just be the beginning.
Do you consider that we might be seeing more of these far-right actions moving into the future? And if so, how should those opposing them be operating?
Between the importation of US culture wars by politicians, like Latham, and TERFs, like Posie Parker touring the country to spew their hate, we’re seeing dangerous groups, like CLM and the neo-Nazis of the National Socialist Network, emboldened.
They’re taking the opportunity to recruit and organise against the queer community and the events in society that make marginalised people feel safe and seen.
It’s been escalating for quite some time and queer peoples cries for action have, unfortunately, fallen on deaf ears. Those of us who consider ourselves allies need to step up and listen.
What we can do, in the face of renewed threats from the far-right, is platform those voices in the community who have been calling for action and organise more effectively.
We outnumber them. We saw that in Melbourne recently. We need to build better networks to be able to show up and protect our LGBT+ comrades on a far more consistent basis, because we cannot expect the police or the government to keep us safe.
We protect us.