With heavy backing from cabinet ministers for the center-right governing coalition, a formal recognition of the supposed growing threat of anti-white racism nearly passed Australia’s senate on Monday.
“[T]he Senate acknowledges…the deplorable rise of anti-white racism and attacks on Western Civilization; and…that it is okay to be white,” the resolution read. The latter phrase is pulled directly from a successful trolling campaign engineered by posters on 4chan in 2017.
Since then, both the slogan and its acronym (IOTBW) have migrated from online antagonism to meatspace, astride resurgent white nationalism and ethnostate fascist movements in the United States. It’s a simple enough idea, laundering white discomfort with critiques of colonialism, repression, and inequality into an innocuous-looking phrase and then hiding behind a smirk when people correctly decode it as a minimization of non-white people’s pain. It’s akin to the tricks conservatives have pulled against black athletes who protest police violence during pre-game nationalism ceremonies, or the posts your dumbest Facebook friends have written asserting that “Black Lives Matter” insinuates that white ones don’t.
As with other supposed pranks connected to the so-called “alt-right,” the goading intent of the 4chan dudebros melted quickly into sincere embraces from right-wing figures who seem to enjoy both pissing off liberals and stoking white resentment for their own political advantage. Former KKK leader David Duke has celebrated IOTBW pamphleteering, former White House reporter Lucian Wintrich used the slogan as the title of a speech he tried to give at the University of Connecticut (at the invitation of the campus Republicans), and Steve Bannon protege Milo Yiannopoulos sold T-shirts bearing the phrase.
Please note #WentworthByElection voters 👇
The Liberals just sided with One Nation and Frasier Anning on a motion straight out of the alt-right playbook.
— Kristina Keneally (@KKeneally) October 15, 2018
But the Monday vote in Canberra shows how close the modern iteration of white identitarian politics is to swallowing whole governments. Far-right political leader Pauline Hanson’s resolution lost 31-28, with all but five of the votes for the motion coming from members of the ruling Liberal-National Coalition government. Six members of cabinet, including the ministers of trade, small business, resources, communications, and Indigenous affairs, voted with Hanson.
As with the original leafleting campaign in the United States, supporters leveraged their circular logic to argue that anger against the resolution confirms that efforts to improve the lot of non-white citizens are actually efforts to harm white people.
“If we can’t agree on this, I think it’s safe to say anti-white racism is well and truly rife in our society,” Hanson said. “I would also hope the Senate does the right thing and acknowledges that it is indeed okay to be white. Such a simple sentence should go without saying, but I suspect many members in this place would struggle to say it.”
The basic ideal of the open society is in dire shape as Australia invites racist trolls and ghoulish David Duke fetishizers into its official national policy debate. Brazil, the world’s fourth-largest democracy, is about to elect an authoritarian who openly pines for the good old days of military dictatorship and who’s promised violence against political enemies. Hungary and Poland have been ruled by xenophobic authoritarians wary of democracy’s core practices for years. Older, smaller bastions of the democratic idea are sliding back toward fascism as voters grant rising shares of power for anti-democratic pro-fascist parties in Italy, France, and Germany. Mainstream conservatives cling to power in the UK but increasingly wield it in deference to the demands of ultra-nationalist racists. Far-right ideologues are riding elevated political tides in Greece, Finland, Austria, Sweden, and the Netherlands. Whether in or out of formal political office, protofascist white street activists stage mass demonstrations and occasionally brawl with police and counter-protesters across Europe.
And then there’s the United States, where it’s not hard to imagine Rep. Steve King (R-IA) introducing an IOTBW resolution of his own — and then watching President Donald Trump tweet incredulously about any Democrats who voted against it from the same phone he’s used to encourage and applaud the racists who fueled his rise to power.