the white rose society


On 21 June 2023, Councillor Tim Baxter from the City of Port Phillip successfully tabled a motion to reaffirm the council's commitment to the LGBTIQA+ community after rainbow story hour events were cancelled due to threats from the far-right. This has come in the wake of a wave of cancellations from councils and other event organisers this year, particularly related to IDAHOBIT Day and during Pride Month. This motion allows the City of Port Phillip to begin work on how to hold safer events in the future, an urgent issue for many other councils that requires leadership. We are pleased that the City of Port Phillip is showing leadership on this issue and hope it will lead to safer events for the Rainbow Community and families.

There were some small changes to the motion by Councillor Baxter's colleagues, including the addition of Victoria Police as a stakeholder. Regardless of our position on police, their “safety advice” to councils has driven many event cancellations and councils will continue to liaise with them. In some instances, Victoria Police have told councils it's still unsafe even if drag queen story hours are moved to Zoom. Tom Tanuki has written about the issue of Victoria Police failing to protect the LGBTQI+ community, including events for children.

Councillor Baxter reached out to us and asked if we'd write a statement to support his motion and explain some of the groups who are involved in targeting councils and events for children. We wrote this in support of his draft motion and he read part of it in his speech to the council. We publish this below in the hope that it may assist other councillors who want to articulate the threat of the far-right, the need for solidarity with the Rainbow Community and the need for leadership on safety for community events.

Statement from The White Rose Society in support of Councillor Tim Baxter’s draft motion:

The White Rose Society is a collective of antifascist researchers from around Australia, formed in 2018. Our work has educated and informed the media, the public, community groups, and parliament about extremism, by documenting, exposing and countering the role and rise of fascism and neo-Nazism in Australia. We believe that in order to confront the increasing attacks against LGBTQI+ people in public life and find ways to counter it, we must name it correctly, as a form of far-right extremism.

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated to many the interconnected dependencies between the far-right and conspiracy theories. For some time prior to the pandemic, the White Rose Society was concerned about the spread of organised conspiracy movements, particularly rhetoric emerging out of the ‘QAnon’ and the ‘Sovereign Citizen’ conspiracies, and had begun tracking this in our work. Because of the far-right nature of organised conspiracy movements and the many violent incidents associated with them, we continue to monitor and collaborate with other activists and researchers who are deeply invested in documenting the growth and impact of them on our society, families and friends.

One of the more troubling aspects of this phenomenon has been the global rise in far-right-directed moral panic against the LGBTQI+ community, and in particular, the current flash-point surrounding Drag Queen Story Hours. As such, we write this statement in support of Councillor Tim Baxter’s motion to reaffirm a commitment to protect our LGBTQI+ family and friends from far-right extremism.

The groups targeting these events, while often distinct, are, however, frequently interconnected via the online, far-right, conspiratorial milieu. Avowed white supremacists such as the National Socialist Network, a group with ties to convicted terrorists and/or intercepted extremist acts, have instigated some of these events and attempted to infiltrate the online spaces of ‘Sovereign Citizen’ groups like My Place in order to radicalise them further.

These groups are also connected via the surge in reactionary Christian-Right politics, with Christian Nationalist rhetoric and biblical references frequently used as justification for their actions. This may come in the form of prophet-like pronouncements from leaders within the various groups, or, in the case of Christian Lives Matter, a general militant obligation to “defend” their faith from the perceived attacks that social progress presents.

The radicalisation within conspiracist spaces is also achieved via Australian extremist outlets such as The XYZ, whose content is spread far and wide throughout conspiracist channels and accounts on Telegram and Twitter. The news-like medium is used to spread explicitly Antisemitic falsehoods which posit that movements to make society more inclusive are part of a broader global agenda of Jewish domination. A sentiment shared, albeit not always so openly or clearly defined, within the soft-right conspiracist groups, who prefer dog-whistle language such as ‘globalists’, ‘Khazarian Mafia’, or ‘Freemasons’. We must stress that such Antisemitic conspiracies should not be considered separate from the targeting of LGBTQI+ events.

Online, groups like National Socialist Network, My Place, The XYZ, and others use their social media accounts to “paint targets” on those they violently disagree with, including events for children, council staff, entertainers, activists, democratic or progressive institutions, healthcare workers, and politicians. This enables them to mobilise large groups of people, often from outside the council area, to send abuse and make threats online or in person.

Recently, this has escalated to organised attendance at council meetings by My Place in an effort to disrupt their proceedings, force changes, or sow distrust in the process of democracy itself. Some councils have cancelled events at the mere suggestion by the National Socialist Network that they would attend. This has only emboldened such groups, who have revelled in the idea that they can shut down an event just by mentioning it, even if they had no intention or capacity to actually attend it. Such responses by councils reinforce to both neo-Nazis and queer communities that support for LGBTQI+ people will buckle as soon as it gets a little too hard.

We believe that everyone has the right to feel safe at work and in their personal lives. Every council employee has the right to do their job free of abuse, harassment and threats of violence. Though Drag Queen Story Hours are the major focus of far-right groups at present, if tomorrow they ended forever, the far-right would find other reasons to target councils. Examples of this include conspiracists mobilising around 15 Minute Cities, the targeting of Holocaust literature, or Indigenous events.

These far-right extremists are ideologically authoritarian and anti-democratic and bear all the hallmarks, strategies, behaviours, and ideologies of fascistic movements before them. Intimidating council employees, including librarians, is a long-established tactic of far-right extremists. The White Rose Society knows from many years of observing far-right activity that conceding defeat at the mere threat of a far-right response does not make staff safer. This demonstrates to the far-right that councils are a soft target that will not only not resist them, but will openly retreat and willingly create space for them to grow.

We are deeply concerned at the escalation in offline events in countries such as Aotearoa New Zealand and the United States, where elected officials and their staff have been subjected to violent attacks and attempts at “citizen’s arrests” by ‘Sovereign Citizens’, all of which is followed very closely by, if not directly connected to, groups here in Australia. In the United States, which often drives far-right political thought and tactics, groups of neo-Nazis terrorise Drag Queen Story Hours, chanting and Sieg Heiling. Similarly, on the streets of Melbourne, neo-Nazis are also regularly mobilising to intimidate the LGBTQI+ community. We must not normalise the mobilisation of the far-right by capitulating to their whims and demands.

This concern is also exacerbated by the fact that in online far-right spaces in Australia, it is common to see public advocacy for executions of political and social enemies and fantasies of a military takeover that would usher in “Nuremberg 2.0.” This fetishisation of violence often includes explicit support for the Train family, who executed three people in Wieambilla in what many conspiracists consider to be a “false flag” operation and was instantly folded into the broader conspiratorial narratives prevalent within these groups.

During this time of global far-right-directed moral panic against people of diverse genders and sexualities, we strongly emphasise the necessity of continued partnership and solidarity with advocacy groups centred on and led by members of the LGBTQI+ community. A commitment to diversity and inclusion requires courage and leadership from councils, to enact policy and respond to the far-right in a way that advances the struggle of the LGBTQI+ community for progress and equal social status. The far-right would see LGBTQ+ people shunned from society or eradicated completely. Our solidarity with the LGBTQI+ community and a unified stance against the far-right is essential.

Resources on holding safer events: