Bob Katter, the original Proud Boy

“I know these issues come up all the time with you: racism, sexism, homophobia — I don't know how racism is ever raised with you given your background. It's just ridiculous.”

ABC journalist Barrie Cassidy during a publicity interview for Katter's 2012 book, An Incredible Race of People.

“I am Bob Katter and I am a proud western chauvinist.”

Bob Katter, 2017.

The far-right is a serious and present danger in Australia. However, strategies used by prominent far-right figures are effective in manipulating public opinion and the media by obscuring abhorrent political views with a big dose of the “true-blue Aussie bloke” character.

A case in point is the acceptance that Bob Katter enjoys as something of a folksy crank or 'leftist' 'hardman'. 

Katter is seen as a 'living meme', with each new incident or statement becoming public entertainment. This is despite his explicit, career-long commitment to ethno-nationalism, homophobia, misogyny, and general reactionary conservatism.

Katter's response to journalist Jason Wilson's story regarding his 2017 pledge of allegiance to the Proud Boys is a case in point. It provides an opportunity to address the ways in which concepts such as 'larrikinism' and 'mateship' have long been used in Australian political discourse to paper over the cultivating of lines of solidarity and protection amongst racists, misogynists, and homophobes, i.e., the very same conditions under which fascist groups such as the Lads Society, Identity Australia, True Blue Crew, and the Proud Boys seek to obtain legitimacy.

Katter uses appeals to ignorance and 'irresponsibility' to excuse his regular association with figures such as Blair Cottrell, Tom Sewell, Fraser Anning, and the Proud Boys. This whitewashes how closely his political commitments are aligned with the ideas and desires of the far-right.

One key factor in sustaining Katter's role as a mediator of reaction within the Australian mainstream is the support he receives from right-wing elements of the union movement and the ALP, both of whom attempt to use Katter to bolster the credentials of a supposed 'left-wing' nationalism.

Our history of Katter's political statements leads us to conclude that Katter's own brand of National Socialism is no less extreme than the political views espoused publicly by the Proud Boys, a group he recently denounced as extremists.

It is important not to underestimate the extent to which the Proud Boys in Australia overlap with – and are interconnected to – other far-right and fascist networks throughout Australia. On this point, we recommend this thread from slackbastard which details some of their connections.

Katter: ethno-nationalist, misogynist, homophobe

Bob Katter is an explicit ethno-nationalist who has long advocated the idea that “Australians” are a distinct race whose reproduction is threatened by the combined forces of immigration, abortion, and homosexuality.

In 1995 Katter declared that: “I will try, as I always do whenever I speak these days, to bring this nation’s attention to probably the most important thing: put simply, we belong to a vanishing race.” In 2002 Katter is quoted as saying, “What is so wrong with the Australian nation that it has decided to eliminate itself from the gene pool,” a line that he repeated again in 2012 in a media article on his book, An Incredible Race of People. The book itself opens with a poem by Mary Gilmore, a racist nineteenth-century labour activist who was part of a group of ethno-socialists who travelled to Paraguay in 1893 in an attempt to establish a white-only utopia, a history that Katter himself is well aware of.

Katter’s misogyny and biological racism come together in his arguments against abortion. In 2006, for instance, he argued against the abortion drug RU486 on the grounds that immigrants were not capable of reproducing “Australians”. On this point, it is worth noting that Ben Shand — the Proud Boys “President of Ipswich” — is himself a militant anti-abortionist, in line with his Christofascist, Pentecostal beliefs. He and other members of the Proud in Queensland members attended the 'March For Life' rally in Brisbane in September 2018, protesting against decades overdue abortion law reform. Katter's thoughts on the relationship between abortion, immigration, and decline of the “Australian race” are also comparable to a number of Proud Boys tenets, including explicit Western chauvinism, the closing of borders, and the “veneration of the housewife”. In Shand's own words, this latter idea implies that “there should be a time in every woman's life where they are a mother, where they are at home with kids, looking after kids.”

Katter’s record of homophobic statements is well known amongst mainstream commentators but is generally excused or euphemised as part of his 'maverick' identity. What is less often acknowledged is the extent to which Katter's homophobia is tied in with his ethno-nationalist beliefs, connections that are of course there for anyone who cares to look into them.

In a 2008 speech on superannuation equality for same-sex couples, for instance, Katter argued that “People have belief systems because they are important for the survival of the race and the survival of the tribe. If homosexuality is a fashion statement, it is a very dangerous fashion statement and it is at the present moment in Australia. … We have chosen a values system that says that we do not have children, and other races have chosen a value system that says that they do.” In the same speech, Katter goes on to say that “I think it is everyone's duty to reflect upon the fact that the sort of viewpoint that I have must win in the end because the other viewpoint leads to the non-survival of the race.” This sentiment is coupled with Katter's view of homosexuals as inherent vectors of disease and degeneration. In 1994, for instance, he is quoted as saying that “New South Wales ... has its gay Mardi Gras and skites about all the people that came out from San Francisco, the city of a million people and 20,000 AIDS cases, presumably to bring their pestilence and plague with them.”

As with the issue of abortion, Katter's homophobia overlaps with a number of Shand's own homophobic views, the two having met as part of the Queensland Proud Boys participation in an anti-marriage equality gathering in Brisbane in 2017. It was at this event that the Proud Boys made the video recording of Katter's “Western chauvinist” pledge that featured in the recent Guardian story. This clearly demonstrates the extent of the mutual appeal between Katter and the fascist far-right, one grounded in a shared political outlook rather than ignorance or happenstance. It is also noteworthy that the Proud Boys do accept the membership of both cisgender (exclusively) gay men and men of colour — a fact that Shand uses to launder his bigoted views and associations with other white supremacists, such as Fraser Anning and Blair Cottrell.

First image, Ben Shand interviewing Blair Cottrell, one of Australia's most infamous neo-Nazis.
Second image, professional homophobe, Australian Conservatives senate candidate for Queensland, and general reactionary bottom-feeder Lyle Shelton hanging out with members of the Queensland Proud Boys including Jordan Clayton-Nelson and Dan Schy. Standing behind them is fundamentalist Christian hate preacher Dave Pellowe.
In case it doesn't go without saying, being a “bloke who is sick of PC nonsense” is less a counterpoint to being a Nazi than it is an entry level requirement for being one.

On the question of political alignment, Katter likes to portray himself as a rough-and-tumble member of the “hard left”. His true views on the relationship between labour and capital, however, share next to nothing in common with the ideas of radical leftist politics. Rather, many of the ideas that Katter tries to present as 'leftist' are attributable to a deeply conservative variety of social corporatism. This doctrine of hierarchical social relations has been historically favoured by the Catholic Church, Benito Mussolini, and reactionary socialists who oppose notions of class conflict. In his first speech in the Federal Parliament in 1993, Katter stated that “private ownership was the great bulwark of protection against the excesses of government and of bullies of all types and of collectives in our society today.” In the same speech he derides the ideas of Karl Marx and points to Russia, “the great basket case of the planet”, as evidence of the failure of Das Kapital. Clearly, Katter's critique of Marx is grounded in Katter's own conservatism, rather than in any recognisably 'leftist' tradition of thought.

Katter’s conception of property institutions is equally grounded in his own ethno-nationalist commitments, having stated that “The English had private ownership centuries before any other race.” Katter's claims to embody the ideals of a “hard left” are therefore based on little more than a commitment to supporting the most reactionary inclinations of the Australian labour movement, in partnership with the interests of a supposedly non-exploitative form of 'Australian' capitalism. On examination, Katter's 'leftism' turns out to be less 'hard' than it is white, authoritarian, and capitalist.

Unions and ALP for Katter

Bob Katter has long enjoyed the support of both mainstream unions and leading figures of the Australian Labor Party (ALP). Katter is particularly close with recently elected ALP leader Anthony Albanese. Katter openly and wholeheartedly backed Albanese's bid for party leadership, particularly against the early interest of Tanya Plibersek, whom Katter blamed for the ALP's electoral losses in Queensland. As reported by the ABC, Katter's support for Albanese rests on over 21 years worth of mutual affection between the two, with Albanese having described Katter as “one of the great characters of the national parliament ... He's a mate of mine and I am proud to say that. He is a fair-dinkum bloke.”

Amongst the unions, Katter and his party — Katter's Australia Party (KAP) — have received substantial forms of finacial and political support, including from the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), the CFMEU (Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union), the Electrical Trades Union (ETU), and the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA). The CFMEU is notable amongst this group as one of several unions who have been instrumental in the ALP's adoption of Tony Abbott's refugee turnback policy and shutting down debate on reforms to asylum seeker policy within ALP. These same policies have themselves inspired support and imitation from a number of neo-Nazi groups across Europe.

In financial terms, between 2011 and 2016 the CFMEU and ETU Victoria donated a combined total of no less than $300,000 worth of members money to the KAP. Notable amongst these records was a $25,000 donation from the CFMEU that came 6 months after Katter had appeared in a photo-op with well-known neo-Nazis from the United Patriots Front (now Lads Society). They met at a rally for dairy farmers which the UPF had attempted to hijack. Tom Sewell (in the background of the photo below), once tried to recruit Brenton Tarrant, the neo-Nazi terrorist responsible for the Christchurch attacks.

Left to right: neo-Nazi Blair Cottrell, MP Bob Katter, neo-Nazi Tom Sewell

In August of 2018 the ETU was reported to have distanced itself from KAP after Katter lent his full-bodied support to Fraser Anning's infamous “final solution” speech. While no statement was recorded from the CFMEU at that time, such details did not hold back union leaders such as Luke Hilakari from posturing over the unfounded assumption that the Australia union movement are undivided in their opposition to fascism. While that particular scandal brought many a concerned and surprised voice from out of the woodwork, the record of Katter's statements previously outlined indicates that reactions on the part of many politicians, media, and union leaders were more often contrived and opportunistic than they were credible.

True to form, less than a year later, Sally McManus and Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) preferenced KAP and the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) above the Australian Greens in Capricornia in the 2019 Federal Election. The Katter family have a long association with the DLP dating back to Katter's father Bob Sr., who once held membership. Katter Sr. went on to join the National Party and win his seat on the third count thanks to preferences from the DLP. McManus and the ACTU's electoral strategy spectacularly backfired.

Leading up to the Federal Election in 2019, the ABC revealed the neo-Nazis working on staff for then independent Senator Fraser Anning. This went unremarked upon by both the ALP and ACTU. A number of fascists and right-wing micro parties campaigned and organised alongside each other in Queensland prior to the election, including a now infamous BBQ and campaign event with members of fascist group True Blue Crew and candidates and members from Fraser Anning's Conservative National Party, Great Australia Party, Katter's Australia Party, Pauline Hanson's One Nation (PHON), Shooters, Fishers and Farmers and Independent candidate Sandy Turner. The event was promoted by former Queensland One Nation President Jim Savage, who allegedly told Fraser Anning to “say something really controversial, really hit that nerve” to draw attention to his maiden speech. Media attention post-BBQ resulted in PHON banning their members from associating with True Blue Crew, despite a history of shared membership in their Queensland supporter and voter base. Union members in Queensland have turned out in large numbers many times in the past to oppose fascists and racists, but during the Federal Election in 2019 this anti-fascist union activity was noticably absent — despite candidates from right-wing micro parties making up a majority of the ballot. 

In sum, Bob Katter's dismissal of his loyalty oath to the Proud Boys as “larrikinism” is little more than a convenient cover for his own brand of National Socialism. Far from being a victim of the Proud Boys antics, Katter's politics and values were aligned with the Proud Boys' before any of them, including Gavin McInnes, were even born. Katter's ability to dodge the repercussions of his ethno-nationalist views and fascist hookups can be chalked up largely to the support that he receives from the Australian media, union leadership, and political class, who continue to find comfort in Katter's blokey authoritarianism.

While this support continues to hold, far-right groups such as Proud Boys will be able to derive legitimacy from the interest and support of mainstream political figures.