First released 28 September, 2019. Available here.
Content warning: Anti-Semitic and Islamophobic/racist conspiracy theories and tropes, white supremacist nationalism, discussions of ethnic cleansing, genocide, the Holocaust, mass murder, terrorist violence against civilians, Epstein, and Qanon.
Derek Johnson: Now for our Furious Political Thought segment, this month we’re discussing Conspiracy Theories and Xenophobia with our guest Byron Clark, who’s been researching this topic for his YouTube channel. Welcome Byron.
Byron Clark: Hello, thanks for inviting me on the show.
Ani White: Cheers, can you tell us a little about yourself?
Byron Clark: Yeah sure so, I’ve essentially been involved in left-wing, progressive and socialist activism from about the time of the time of the anti-war movement around the invasion of Iraq through til today. During that time I’ve done things like an oral history of the Occupy movement in this city, and most recently what I’ve been doing is this youtube channel where I’ve in particular been looking at the far right and, like you say conspiracy theories around that.
Derek Johnson: You’ve dealt with the Great Replacement theory and the UN Migration Pact theory on your youtube channel, for listeners who are unfamiliar can you explain these theories?
Byron Clark: So the Great Replacement theory, that termed was coined by Renaud Camus from France in about 2011, it was the title of a book he wrote, although you can trace back the idea earlier than that as well, it’s essentially the idea that White Europeans are being replaced by some other population. The popular one we hear these days is that the Muslim population is going to replace the White population of Europe. And of course there’s a North American variant of this as well which usually says that the replacement is coming from Latin Americans, and soon they’re gonna replace the White population.
For a lot of people on the far right, Great Replacement can be a softer way of saying White Genocide which is the other term that’s used to describe this
Derek Johnson: Can you explain the function of the White Genocide conspiracy theory, what that really means?
Byron Clark: Yeah, so what they’re talking about is that White people will go from being the majority of the population either in the US, or Europe, or whatever country. Often alongside the claim is then that whoever is then becoming the majority will wield the power, so particularly in the European context, people are talking about White Genocide to say that the White population is dying out, because the birth rate is below replacement level, and immigrants are having a lot more children, and therefore within a couple of generations, another ethnic group will be the majority, and then they will be able to elect whatever government they want, bring about sharia law or whatever.
None of which really holds up when you look at the demographic data. There will be some countries where the White ethnic group will become one minority among many, that’s due to happen sometime in the US in about the 2040s, but in that situation it’ll be the largest minority group, and then there’ll be a number of other minority groups.
Derek Johnson: Yeah they tend to see it as a zero-sum game there.
Byron Clark: Yeah. And the UN Migration Compact ties in with this theory, It was a relatively obscure UN document that came about after the crisis we had in 2015, with such a large number of migrants trying to get to Europe across the Mediterranean. If you read the document it’s mostly about protecting the Human Rights that people already have, but when they cross a border, so it talks about things like avoiding using detention except as a last resort, and ensuring that people won’t be detained for too long, and all that sort of thing.
But it’s been spun into this conspiracy theory by the far right, who say this UN agreement is going to open up borders for all Western countries, and they’re gonna have to accept the mass migration of migrants from the Global South, and so on and so forth. If you actually read the Compact it doesn’t have anything about that, it’s more about protecting the rights of undocumented immigrants when they enter a country, it doesn’t actually require UN Member States to change their existing immigration laws, or refugee quota or anything like that, it’s just about making sure that when people do enter a country without proper documentation that then they still are entitled to the usual Human Rights that we’d expect for anyone else.
But it’s been spun into this bigger conspiracy that’s made to tie in with the Great Replacement, or White Genocide, the conspiracy theory being that the United Nations is facilitating the Great Replacement.
Derek Johnson: In a non-binding compact.
Byron Clark: And it is non-binding yeah.
Ani White: It should be [binding].
Byron Clark: It’s essentially aspirational, it’s saying we wanna try and achieve these things-
Derek Johnson: That’s pretty devious.
Byron Clark: Yeah, yeah.
Derek Johnson: I read the thing, and it seems to be in line with most of the UN requirements after WWII. The changes to international law vis a vis refugees, and stateless people, and the freedom of movement of people in war-zones, and fleeing countries that are at war, and it should be completely uncontroversial.
Byron Clark: Yeah, it’s a pretty tame document really. When I first heard about this from following the local far right, with them saying it’s a document that’s gonna bring about open borders, my first thought was if there was a document that was gonna be signed by all the nations of the world and we’re gonna open borders, I’m sure I would’ve heard of that, because all of the open borders activists I know would be talking about it. But yeah I looked into this and it’s really very mild, and it’s essentially reiterating existing human rights law.
Ani White: So
[the Migration Compact theory is]
obviously nonsense, and why is the Great Replacement theory nonsense?
Byron Clark: Like I touched on earlier, if you look at the demographic data it doesn’t really hold up. I hadn’t looked into the data because I thought, well if Europe does become a majority-Muslim continent in 2050 or 2060 or whenever it’s supposed to happen, I don’t really have any opinion one way or the other about what religion the majority of the population is practising.
But I was reading a book at the start of the year called Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline, which is looking at demographic data and making projections as to what the population will be for the rest of the 21st century. The two authors actually make the prediction that population globally is going to peak around 2050 and then start to decline, the reason for that being that the factors that led to lower birth rates in the developed world are coming about much quicker in the Global South. So things that took 100 years to happen in Europe, or the United States and Canada, are happening within a generation in some of these other countries as they develop very quickly. For example, the population’s urbanising, and people in cities tend to have less children, and that sort of thing. And one of the statistics in this book was, because when somebody migrates to another country they may have more children than the native population in that first generation, but by the second generation the birth rate has usually met the native population. And birth rates are also falling in the Middle East and North Africa, these source countries for Muslim migrants into Europe. So they predict the Muslim population of Europe is gonna peak around 10%, which is nowhere near a majority.
Derek Johnson: Yeah that’s some ludicrous hysteria, and belies the fascist racism and everything, and again all the people that say Islam’s not a race, well they’re talking racial demographics here, of people who follow a religion and a culture. Anybody can convert to Islam, or deconvert and become an atheist, at any point in their cultures…
Byron Clark: Yeah, that’s another thing, it’s hard to say what the Muslim population will be because who’s to say that the grandchildren of Muslim migrants is still gonna be practising that same religion? You can’t really say for certain.
Derek Johnson: Yeah I find it strange that the media doesn’t push back on these things, as far as pointing that these kinds of conspiracy theories have long existed, I mean Jack London wrote a book about Chinese people coming here and taking over and everything. We had the whole Yellow Peril in the 19th century, with waves of immigration that led to the Chinese Exclusion Act in America. It just goes from one group to another, of who gets to be the scapegoat, and we saw how things ended up with WWI and II.
And now the War on Terror, allowed after the Cold War’s end, for the larger powers, the Western powers to come up with a new excuse for imperialism, with fighting Islamic terrorism, and that just again fed into tropes going all the way back to the Victorian era, and the publishing of One Thousand and One Arabian Nights.
But it’s just never pointed out that these are really old-school tropes and stereotypes about X, Y and Z given ethnic group, and it’s very strange. Now that it’s being aimed at Muslims, people are acting like this is a new phenomenon, this racialisation of Muslims and Islam.
On the one hand, I can see why the right would not understand the histories of culture, and of course are part of the problem, and are doing on this on purpose. But there’s kind of a wider responsibility of liberal democracies and the free press, to point out that all this stuff is racist scapegoating and propaganda.
Byron Clark: Yeah absolutely, and that was something that we didn’t see very much of with the campaign against the UN Migration Compact. The first country to say that they weren’t gonna sign it was Hungary, with the far right regime that’s in power there at the moment. Then the next one to be influenced not to sign it was Austria, and that was due to the campaign led mostly by the Identitarian Movement in the country. And then [the campaign] spread to a number of other European countries, where there’d be a far right party who maybe were part of a coalition government, not necessarily in power but holding the balance of power… in Belgium the government essentially collapsed over this issue, because one of the smaller coalition parties in the government refused to support signing it, and Belgium had to hold another election. So it became this quite significant thing despite really being a document that wouldn’t really change very much.
Ani White: I just wanna go back to that point about ‘Islam is not a race’ bulls**t. For example, a lot of New Atheists have propagated it, who think of themselves as liberals. I think it’s important to note that race isn’t this pre-existing, pre-social genetic category, it’s actually about racialisation which is a social process. So it would be absurd to say, well Judaism is a religion, so the Holocaust wasn’t racist. So the point about the racialisation of Muslims is that they’re racialised, they’re treated as a race. When you get these Islamophobic surges, people like Sikhs will get attacked for example, because they’re perceived as being Other in a similar fashion to Muslims. So it’s important to understand that Muslims are racialised, regardless of whether they are ‘a race’, because there’s really no such thing as a race.
Derek Johnson: Byron, you mentioned Hungary. Also, that was a prime example of where conspiracy theories were used as politics. Orban used these conspiracy theories of the West, and George Soros releasing migrants and refugees into the country to destabilise them, and destroy Western culture, and spread homosexuality in universities, and that led to this Anti-George Soros Law. Can you speak to anything about that?
Byron Clark: Yeah, I’m not that familiar with Hungary, but yeah I heard about the banning of a university that was apparently funded by George Soros and so forth. It’s a real example of how these [conspiracy theories] can spread quite easily if people in power are the ones propagating them.
Ani White: I think another thing [the Soros theory is about is] the old theory that Jewish people are conspiring to flood supposedly White nations with migrants, and that it’s Jewish people backing other ethnic minorities. So that’s kind of an old and terrifying conspiracy theory, you’ve now seen a revival with the Soros fixation. Even on what could be called the broad left, the loose Green Party or conspiracy theorist left-
Derek Johnson: Yeah.
Ani White: I mean the US Green Party.
Derek Johnson: Yeah laughs
Ani White: The US Green Party is very ****ed.
Derek Johnson: Yeah the US Green Party, and the Canadian Green Party, have been really falling for a lot of this propaganda that’s been drifting from the far right, and from Russian propaganda, and Alex Jones seems to be the mid point or the gatekeeper, where it kinda flows through, he’s like a funnel, where it flows through him from the right over to the fringes of the near-left. I’ve had to unfriend people talking about George Soros funding the White Helmets in Syria, and causing all the **** in Syria, and he’s the real villain, not Assad.
It seems like it’d be quite simple for people to just read the actual UN Migration Pact and see that none of these bizarre claims are in there. Where do you think these theories come from politically?
Byron Clark: Yeah so I guess it starts, with the Great Replacement or White Genocide, also just in general the distrust of the United Nations that you see in so much of the far right, particularly in the US the Alex Jones-influenced Patriot movement-
Derek Johnson: The John Birch Society started that here-
Byron Clark: That sorta thing yeah. I know the old Alex Jones conspiracy [theory] back in the 90s was the UN Black Helicopters. So it sorta comes from there. If you can promote the idea to this kind of audience that the globalist United Nations is pushing open borders with this compact… Like you say, if you go and read the compact, if you have good reading comprehension you can see this is not a really big deal. I suspect most of the people pushing – well, maybe not the people pushing the conspiracy to start with, but the people who’ve adopted it and then spread it further – probably aren’t reading the actual text. They’ll be looking at things like Stefan Molyneux[‘s] 90-minute video where he went through line-by-line and interpreted each sentence, and said this is what this means, and I think that’s where people are getting their information from, so they think that they’re more informed than if they’d just read it, because they’ve had a meta-analysis done by someone, but that someone is Stefan Molyneux laughs
Derek Johnson: Jesus, ****ing crank.
Ani White: Can you talk about how these theories have been mainstreamed, politically and also in the media?
Byron Clark: Yeah certainly, so the video essay I did The UN Migration Compact: From Alt-Right Meme to Mainstream looked at this, and I did it specifically looking at how it happened in New Zealand, but I think it can be looked at as a case study for the way that it happens with not just this conspiracy theory, but I think with some other conspiracy theories as well, how they start on the fringe and how they move their way through into the mainstream.
So in the New Zealand context, [there] was an online petition to parliament started by a woman called Carol Sakey, who I get the impression has been around the alt-right, coming at it from a very conservative Christian, and very xenophobic particularly Islamophobic position, but she has a youtube channel where she posts videos which are just her speaking into a webcam, where she talks about things like the Islamic takeover, talks about supporting Tommy Robinson, the British far right leader who’s currently in jail, and things like that. She was the one who started this petition, and then the petition she started was promoted by one or two other right-leaning youtubers, shared around a number of alt-right Facebook pages, like one called One Nation New Zealand, which was a one-person breakaway from New Zealand First, which is a conservative, somewhat nationalist party here, but one of their candidates broke away because he was too far right for even that party, and formed this thing called One Nation, named after the Australian One Nation Party I presume, they shared it, and a couple of other small parties started by people who had been candidates for the Conservative Party and then thought no I want to start a more right-wing party, so that was the One New Zealand Party, and [the petition] got shared by the South Island Independence Movement, which is kind of this weird South Island separatist movement, there’s not really any historical reason for South Island nationalism to be a thing, but there is this Facebook page, and it was founded by Solomon Tor-Kilsen, who’s known as an alt-right figure in this country, he used to run Facebook groups like Stop The Islamification of New Zealand and things like that, before they fell afoul of Facebook’s community standards and disappeared.
So it went around all these little Facebook groups like that, and then it got to the New Conservative Party, which is a re-emergence of this old[er] Conservative Party… not like the Conservative Party in the UK where it’s a large party, it was always a fringe party, never been in parliament though it got close at one point, but the leader who was funding the party had some sort of a sex scandal with a staffer and ended up resigning. So the party’s re-emerged as the New Conservatives, and they are maybe a little bit less religion-orientated than they were when they were the old Conservatives, but seem to have a more alt-right adjacent view on issues like immigration. They started promoting this petition and also speaking at the rallies organised by a group called New Zealand Sovereignty, which as far as I can see was just put together for the sole purpose of opposing the Migration Pact.
So there were these rallies happening, and people from these rallies would start calling in to talkback radio, Newstalk ZB which is a quite right-leaning station here, would have people call in and talk about it. Because people were calling in and talking about how they were opposed to the Migration Compact, they started publishing headlines like Overwhelming Number of Callers Opposed to UN Migration Compact.
And then by the time they are interviewing the Deputy Prime Minister about this, they’re coming at it from a position where they’re saying, ‘Oh a lot of people are opposed to this, people are saying there’s been nothing in the media about this, why has there been this secrecy?’ They’re coming at it as if there’s this groundswell of opposition to signing this document, when really the opposition only came from a relatively small group of far-right individuals and organisations.
Derek Johnson: Like people’s crazy uncles and aunts that sent them chain mail.
Byron Clark: Pretty much yeah.
Derek Johnson: Was what it seemed like from watching that part of your video.
Byron Clark: Almost literally, people were sharing this petition around, and calling into the radio and saying ‘Oh I’m worried about this’-
Ani White: The old vocal minority which is mistaken for a silent majority
Byron Clark: Yeah.
Ani White: They’re vocal on this, whereas a lot of people probably just didn’t care. Probably a majority of people were not as concerned with either supporting or opposing it. But you have this vocal minority which then has the perception of being a majority because they’re the people talking on it.
Byron Clark: Exactly, yeah.
Derek Johnson: Where’s the mainstream media on this? I think journalists could’ve killed this in like two seconds by doing investigative journalism into essentially a ring of flakes and a cult, or a party, trying to push an extremist agenda to get into political power.
Ani White: Yeah there’s no investigative journalism in mainstream New Zealand media, to be honest. Sorry Byron, you were saying?
Byron Clark: Yeah all we really saw in this country was Newshub, which is a Six O’clock News programme, they had up on their website an explainer about the compact, like this is the Migration Compact, this is what it says. But they didn’t look at the movement against the Migration Compact. Some overseas media was, there was an article I cite in Politico called How the UN migration compact got trolled, which looks at the way that social media was used to spread this misinformation, and then influence politics. And that article is largely based on a report by a group called the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, which is a UK-based group that monitors online extremism, so they’ve been following this campaign from Generation Identity and other European far right groups, and have done this report. But yeah no-one in the media had really been looking into the campaign in a New Zealand context, which is why I made the video, because without knowing how it got started, and how it then spread, you wouldn’t know the far right was having this much influence on mainstream politics.
Because one of the consequences of it getting all this attention on talkback radio, and on social media, was that a couple of more mainstream parties ended up adopting it. So the ACT Party, which is a small somewhat libertarian party, with only a single MP, they had their Human Rights Spokesman speaking at these rallies, so there’s photos where you see this thirty-something year old man in a suit, on demonstrations alongside people with ‘No To Sharia! Free Tommy Robinson’ banners, because they felt that there’s this groundswell of opposition to this, this is a potential vote-winner for us. And then you even had the National Party, which is the main centre-right party, who are in opposition at the moment, you had them adopt this position against the compact, and even, they started their own petition against the compact, which was essentially the same as Carol Sakey, this woman who fears an Islamic takeover, they started hosting a petition on their own website.
So it got from a very small fringe to being adopted by relatively mainstream parties for, I would guess opportunistic reasons, I think that the National Party and even the ACT Party probably knew that this was nonsense but they would’ve thought that was a vote-winner for them.
At least up until the events of March 15th which definitely made some changes there.
Ani White: That’s the Al-Noor Mosque terror attack.
Derek Johnson: I don’t wanna make it just about America, but this is very similar to some of the investigative journalism that’s gone into the networks of Islamophobic propagandists in this country, that’ve been spreading anti-sharia stuff, and the 9/11 Mosque, and all these things. And it seems like if you listen to these people call in, or you see them speak in almost any country, they’re using the same verbiage and jargon. It seems like this is, I woudn’t say it’s completely coordinated so much as they’re all drinking from the same trough here. In the same way that American politics reoriented on the right, with the failure of the Bush administration at the end there, where the Neo-Conservatives kinda lost their welcome, and that kinda opened the way for paleoconservatism to come back in, and I kinda saw where that was going where that would lead to a kind of America First Party along the lines of what happened in [WWII], with Charles Lindbergh and so we went from the Tea Party stuff to now where the Republican Party is just an openly fascist doomsday cult.
And so the politics there, were those parties that were linking up with the alt-right were some of those more paleoconservative, old-school type conservative parties, that had been on the outs for decades and then got a new shot in the arm because of all this propaganda?
Ani White: And how have these conspiracy theories fed into far right terrorism?
Byron Clark: Yeah so in terms of the parties here, with ACT and National I think it was just them being totally opportunistic.
With the New Conservative Party, I get the impression more that they’re true believers in some of this stuff, the party is I think being infiltrated by the alt-right, although I’ve found it difficult to ascertain whether they’re being infiltrated by the alt-right or that they already are alt-right and are just rolling out the welcome mat for them. But I know their Facebook page, for example, where they promoted a lot of this anti Migration Compact stuff, they’ve also shared things like videos promoting Douglas Murray’s book The Strange Death of Europe, which is another book that pushes this Great Replacement-style conspiracy theory, I don’t think he uses the words Great Replacement, I think he’s tried to make himself a bit more mainstream, but they’re promoting that. And they’ve even shared videos from a local alt-right youtuber Lee Williams, who has just decided to endorse the New Conservatives, after he went along to a meeting with the leader of the ACT Party and asked about the UN Migration Compact, and the leader said ‘Oh you’ve heard a lot of misinformation, there’s a lot of conspiracy theories…’ and so on, so ACT has really distanced themselves from this conspiracy theory, but the New Conservatives are not distancing themselves really at all, but are perhaps trying not to talk about it so much.
The reason that the parties are distancing themselves from it now is that when the shooting happened at the Al-Noor Mosque… the shooter named his manifesto after the Great Replacement theory, that was the title of his manifesto. He had written lots of things on his gun, the names of previous mass shooters, Mediaeval Crusaders and Serbian nationalists and far right dogwhistles like 14-88, but on a lot of his rifles he’d written the words ‘Here’s your Migration Compact.’ So he was very much influenced by the Great Replacement theory, and the conspiracy theories around the UN Migration Compact, which caused a little bit of a mini-scandal here with the National Party because the petition they had on their website was removed within a couple of hours of the shooting, when it became apparent that the shooter had been influenced by this theory. When the media asked them about it they said it was removed weeks ago because it’s been signed, we didn’t keep the petition up there any longer, but when it became apparent that it was up there right up until the shooting, there was a bit of media scrutiny on the National Party, and it ended up with them basically scapegoating a staff member, who initially they described in the media as an emotional junior staffer, although it later came out that it wasn’t a junior staffer, it was a former Ministerial Press Secretary who’d worked with them for about six years. He was fired by Parliamentary Services, and the party’s just going on as if they’ve absolved themselves of being involved in this campaign. So they’ve distanced themselves from it, ACT distanced themselves from it, but New Conservatives not so much.
Derek Johnson: So have these conspiracy theories activated other local New Zealand people to go from having sharia signs to crossing the line into terrorism?
Byron Clark: Not that we’ve seen yet, at least. After the shooting happened, the police put together a list of 100 people of interest, and this included people in the Muslim community who they thought might be a risk for retaliatory attacks, it included some disgruntled firearms owners because the gun laws had changed as a result of this mass shooting, but it also included a number of people who are active online spreading far right views. I know of two of these conspiracy theorists who have been visited by police, and I only know that because they’ve been promoting it themselves, like one of them actually got his phone out and filmed the police visiting him, and put it up on youtube. And so they’re trying to push a narrative of ‘Police State Oppressing Conservatives’ or whatever.
But there are definitely people spreading these types of conspiracy theories still. And I’ve seen some comments in the alt-right channels that I follow that may indicate that some of these people could make the jump into committing some sort of act of violence. We haven’t seen it yet, but unfortunately I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s more Islamophobic violence because definitely, you can get into a social media space here where you’ll be seeing nothing but this Islamophobic fake news, conspiracy theories about the Great Replacement and things.
And as often happens with conspiracy theories they become this grand narrative, where everything gets pushed into it. So there was a bit of a debacle with the last census here, where they did the census online for the first time, and we don’t have the results yet even though it’s been about a year, so I’ve seen some of these pages saying that the government’s not publishing the census results because they want to hide how big the Muslim population’s gotten. Which is somewhat ridiculous, the Muslim population’s about 1%, and maybe when the census results come out it might be 1.5%, but of course these groups are claiming that there’s mass migration happening, or about to happen because of the UN Migration Compact.
And they also claim that the media is now being censored because we’ve signed the compact. The bit that they point to for this is Objective 17 in the compact, which is ‘Eliminate all forms of discrimination and promote evidence-based public discourse to shape perceptions of migration.’ Under that it goes into-
Derek Johnson: God forbid!
Byron Clark: Yeah. Evidence-based public discourse could mean if that a media organisation is publishing fake news about migration that they could lose state funding. Which of course wouldn’t affect any completely privately funded media. But this has been spun by the far right to say any media that criticises migration are now gonna lose their funding, because of the Migration Compact.
So there’s this alt-right online echo-chamber at the moment, where people are being told mass migration’s just around the corner because of the Migration Compact, the media is all censored because of it, government’s not releasing the census results, and so on. And I think somebody who’s in that echo-chamber could end up, as awful as it would be if this happens, could end up committing some act of violence against the Muslim community again.
Ani White: With this almost media-scape of social media conspiracy theory, it’s not just that they’re subscribing to any particular theory, but they’re in this kind of alternative universe, this meta-narrative that people are buying into.
But this attack at the Al-Noor Mosque was actually quite significant because it was the first mass shooting in New Zealand since the colonial massacres [ETA: This claim is incorrect, thanks to Tyler West for highlighting that we could also count the Featherston Massacre of Japanese POWs, the Black Saturday massacre in Samoa, the Surafend massacre in Palestine, and the Aramoana shooting. Three of those were state-led atrocities. Apologies for those oversights]. So it had quite an impact on people, and I know you’re based in Christchurch where it occurred, can you describe the aftermath and the reactions to it in New Zealand?
Byron Clark: Yeah, so I work in a building probably about a mile or so from the mosque, and so we were on lockdown on the day when this happened, I was at work until about 7pm. All of the schools throughout most of the city went onto lockdown. It happened the same day as the Climate Change School Strikes, so there’d been a whole lot of secondary students in the city, not that far from the mosque, who ended up all going into the library, and being locked in the library for most of the day. So it was a pretty disruptive event, because New Zealand had never really experienced something quite like this, like you say since colonial times. And nobody really knew what the risk was, at the time we didn’t know if there was just one shooter or multiple shooters. The fact that that the shooter was able to drive so quickly from the Al-Noor Mosque to the Linwood Islamic Centre, initially people were thinking, there must be more than one shooter because how could one shoot this many people and then drive to the East side of the city without police stopping him. Police were chasing him as he left the Linwood mosque, but they hadn’t got to him before he got there. So it was real chaotic on the day.
We found out pretty quickly that this was an act of far right terrorism. I work for an IT company, and people were pretty savvy with getting online and looking, like who is this person, we saw pretty quickly the screenshots from 8chan and that sorta thing, and that he had this manifesto and this live-stream. It became quite apparent, to us at least, that he was a far right terrorist, rather than just somebody who had opportunistically decided to do this, it became quite clear that this was something that had been planned, had a political motive behind it.
It’s made people a bit more aware of the far right. I think a lot of people here-
Ani White: I think it’s kind of a left-wing niche for people to care about the far right, or maybe also people who are likely to be attacked by the far right, but the sort of white majority often didn’t take the issue seriously, the police didn’t take the issue seriously, so I agree it was quite a shock to the system that maybe made people pay a bit more attention.
Byron Clark: Yeah, because we’ve seen in the leadup to this of course things like the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, but that could easily be written off as a uniquely American thing, and likewise the re-emergence of the far right in Europe could be seen just as a European thing, and I think what this really showed not just to people in New Zealand but also to a lot of people watching from other countries, that the far right is really a global movement at the moment. Obviously not in every part of the globe, but in Europe and North America, in Australia and New Zealand, anywhere where it’s a white majority, the far right is linking up with groups in other countries, they’re sharing the same conspiracy theories and propaganda, and pushing that out there.
And I think that’s why there’s been a bit more interest. When I did the video on the Migration Compact I was able to show there are people here who are pushing these conspiracy theories, and they’re actually getting into the mainstream, because we’re not applying scrutiny to where these things are coming from that we really should be.
Derek Johnson: What do you both make of the fact that this whole thing was live-streamed? Is this like a new level of dystopia?
Ani White: I guess it indicates in part that the new far right is very online. So in some ways it very much is continuous with 20th century fascism, in some ways it’s quite distinct and one is the fact that it’s very online. Byron did you have any thoughts on that?
Byron Clark: Yeah, it was obviously to share with the ideological co-thinkers online, on 8chan were cheering him on and so on, and the footage now is being used to make grotesque memes and things like that. The live-stream was part of the propaganda effort of the attack. The other thing is that he made it look very much like a First-Person Shooter video game, to inspire people to show how you can do this, that it’s just like a video game, get out and do this. In his manifesto, his post to 8chan, he encouraged people to do this. And unfortunately we have seen people take inspiration from this shooting, like the shooter in El Paso cited the Christchurch shooter as an inspiration, and I think the shooter at the Poway Synagogue as well, so the live-stream was-
Derek Johnson: Yeah it was stochastic eliminationist terrorism.
Byron Clark: Yeah, yeah.
Derek Johnson: It lines up with white supremacist terrorism in the 80s, and everything going back to the Turner Diaries and everything, in that it’s all stochastic propaganda by the deed, every action, every murder, every bombing is to set off all the only lone wolves out there, just like ping-ponging around.
What is the importance that he was playing this Bosnian music while he was doing this?
Byron Clark: Yeah so with the Bosnian music he was playing, the Remove Kebab song, part of that was part of a meme to share on 8chan, to show he was one of the world, just like how he put copypasta into his manifesto. But the way the music had become a meme on the alt-right, and among white nationalists, is that they are taking inspiration from Bosnian nationalists in the 1990s.
There’s an article that came out on in The Intercept recently by Murtaza Hussain, where he cites historian Michael A. Sells who wrote a history called The Bridge Betrayed: Religion and Genocide in Bosnia, and so in the 1990s, after the breakup of Yugoslavia, you had war break out in Bosnia and in other Baltic states, but Bosnia in particular is where we first heard the term “ethnic cleansing”, at that time a euphemism for genocide of a particular ethnic group. And in Bosnia at that time, there’s only been one massacre that’s been ruled a genocide, but if you look at the total death count it’s about 64,000 Muslims were killed by Bosnian nationalists. And this genocide was inspired by some of the same sort of conspiracy theories we were talking about, particularly talking about the danger of birth rates of a minority groups, and how because of the birth rates they’re gonna become a majority and then they’ll take over. That was one of the narratives that was used, that led to this genocide in Bosnia.
But the far right take some inspiration from this, because they see it as a European state cleansing their population of Muslims, which is evidently something that they’d like to see happen. In the absence of a state doing this, people like the Christchurch shooter decided to take [this] into his own hands, and essentially kill as many Muslims as he could. He wrote in his manifesto that he planned Not Guilty, which he has, and is awaiting another trial. And his justiification for pleading Not Guilty when he very obviously did murder these 51 people is that he’s saying that he’s Not Guilty of murder because he is a soldier a in a war. He believes that there’s this war going on between the West and Islam and he’s some sort of a soldier. This might be delusions a bit, but I think very much, he was in that alt-right echo-chamber where he really has come to believe that he’s fighting this race war that’s going on, and he’s just doing it a bit prematurely, because we don’t have a state who’s fighting it yet, because we don’t have the far right in power, although arguably we’re starting to see that in places like Hungary and-
Ani White: And that ties in I think with the Clash of Civilisations thesis, this idea of his being a soldier in this wider war. And so you’ve promoted actually in the mainstream, the War on Terror has fed into it, and now in the US we have Trump, who has a history of promoting Birtherism, global warming denial, the conspiracy theories have even touched on Soros, do you have any thoughts on why Trump-
Derek Johnson: Epstein.
Ani White: Yeah that is weird that he promoted the Epstein theory, because that implicates him.
Byron Clark: -I hadn’t heard that [he’d promoted the Epstein theory]. With the Birther thing in particular, that appealed so much to these people who believe that non-whites are in the midst of taking over the US. Because if you can say that the first Black President, he’s not really American, that really riled up a lot of people. And I think it’s no coincidence that a lot of the American far right started to grow during the term of the first Black President. It’s something that David Newark talks about a little bit in his book Alt America: The Radical Right in the Age of Trump. He looks at the growth of the far right during Obama’s term. And I think certainly Birtherism is a conspiracy [theory] to claim the president was an illegitimate foreigner in power. I think that definitely fed into a lot of that stuff.
Derek Johnson: Yeah I was just gonna add that from my perspective as a person of colour in this country, that this was all euphemistic, just a lot of dog-whistle stuff coming out of white supremacy, and [they] say “we’re white nationalists, we’re identitarians”, whatever, “racialists.” And really a lot of these people I would argue did not believe Obama was not born this country, what they were trying to vocalise but could not say completely was that because he is a Black man he is not legitimate to be the President of the United States. I’m sure we can find the people who don’t understand that Hawaii is the 50th state, and maybe some that actually believed he was born in Kenya or something, but I would say for the most part, and what was so dangerous about allowing it to have breathing space as a conspiracy theory, is that I would say a majority of people pushing it, they were kinda winking at eachother, like we know he wasn’t born in Kenya, its just because he’s Black.
The same thing with ‘socialist’, every time they called him a socialist or a communist, that was really their way of saying the N-Word but they could not. Now they can openly say it.
Ani White: Yeah, although I do think they have a complete misunderstanding of what socialism or communism is to be fair, but I agree it was a really clear obvious dog-whistle. It was almost getting to the point where they were just coming and saying it, but not quite, and I think now with Trump they are starting to just come out and say it.
But do you have any thoughts on why Trump is promoting these theories? What purpose does it serve for Trump as a more powerful figure?
Byron Clark: Yeah I guess with some individual conspiracy theories they may have their own particular reason, like with climate change denial stuff, that was not uncommon among a lot of American politicians a few year ago, because [it] suits the business interests of a lot of powerful interests.
But I think looking at the promoting conspiracy theories as a whole, whether this is a deliberate thing that Trump is doing, or whether it’s not deliberate but it serves this purpose, I think it promotes the idea that things aren’t really the way you’re told they are, and things are going on that you don’t know about, and therefore you can’t trust the media, and you can’t trust academia, so that opens the door a little bit more for some of these more extreme far right conspiracy theories, like the Great Replacement and White Genocide-
Derek Johnson: Flat Earth.
Byron Clark: Yeah I’ve heard that that Flat Earth is being used to push Holocaust denial, which isn’t at all related, but if you can convince somebody the Earth is flat, maybe you can also convince them that the Holocaust didn’t happen, because if they’re already in that mindset where they believe that media, and government, and academia are all in on this conspiracy where they’re all lying to you, and the truth is something hidden-
Derek Johnson: -And that Australia does not exist! They believe that Australia is a hoax.
Ani White: I’m definitely an actor.
Derek Johnson: laughs
Derek Johnson: I was just gonna go on and say that Bellingcat, which is a really good investigative journalism outlet and podcast and website, for Middle East coverage, and a lot of coverage on war and everything, they did a really good expose on the connection between Flat Earth websites and Facebook pages and the alt-right, and that connection of how [Flat Earthism] is a gateway, or a funnel, or a social lubricant to Holocaust denial. It also lines up as well, brings us back to jetpacks, that the Nazi jetpack hoaxer from a couple of years ago, as exposed by io9.com and a couple of other websites, they found out that the author admitted several years ago that he pushed UFO conspiracies, and Hitler surviving in the South Pole and stuff like that, and Nazi UFOs and Flying Saucers, as a way to ease into Holocaust denial. He was pushing the idea that the Nazis had gotten as far, after having the V2 rockets, to having jetpacks. He admitted that ‘I suck people in with the UFOs, and then I give them that [Holocaust denial] stuff.’
It kinda lines up with that Errol Morris about Doctor Death, the guy who was exterminator, that did executions for I can’t remember which state, but basically he got in with Holocaust deniers, they were trying to get him as an expert to say ‘oh there’s no way given the square footage, or the size of the camps, there’s no way the Zyklon could’ve been used’, etc etc. And he just kind of went along with that because he became big and famous in those circles.
And we’ve seen how David Icke became big and turned all these Jewish conspiracy theories about Jewish conspiracies into being about lizard shape-shifters, and then Alex Jones became so big in American and was really a source of drift, of a lot of these conspiracy theories ending up on the Green Party and the left.
There’s even been studies from University of Washington State about conspiracy clusters and this whole idea of an echo-system, not just an echo-chamber, where they show how these different websites and conspiracy sites have a kind of a connection, or a flow, and how the conspiracy theories just kinda flow along the sites and they stop along the way at different nodes, until they end up at certain places. And Facebook was really helpful in spreading a lot of that.
What do you think about this danger with Facebook and social media in spreading this?
Byron Clark: Yeah, well it’s definitely through social media that so much of this stuff is spreading, and then it’s moving from there into what you might call mainstream media. But social media is definitely where it’s getting the most oxygen. And I think the way that content moderation is set up on Facebook in particular, and on youtube and twitter to some degree as well, is that a lot of this stuff can spread without violating any community standards or rules that Facebook has. Because if somebody [uses] a racial slur they can have the comment reported and removed, but if you’re not making outright racial slurs, but you’re sharing an article claiming that the population is being replaced, that’s not gonna violate any standards, and that’s gonna stay up there, and that’s gonna spread.
Not everything being shared is fake news, sometimes it’s a piece of real news that will fit into the narrative if you look at it in isolation, not with other information. Or there’s also things like, a lot of these groups will do things like share every news article about a crime being committed by a Muslim immigrant. And there’s no shortage of articles like that, because a certain percentage of any ethnic group is going to commit crime, and because crime is a bit higher among lower income groups, often recent migrants do have slightly higher crime rates – when you adjust for income it’s usually the same as the native population – but you can find these articles, so if you’re somebody who follows these Facebook groups, and that’s your main source of news, you’re gonna be inundated with these news articles of migrants committing crime, which aren’t necessarily gonna be fake news, in and of themselves, but they paint a picture of a situation that’s not really the reality. Because you can then believe that there’s this crime wave going on. People talk about Sweden being full of this Muslim crime wave, which is really not the case, but you can find articles about individual crimes and paint that narrative.
I don’t know if they still have it, but I know that Breitbart had their Black Crime section, where they just shared all the news about crime if it was committed by a Black person, it’s the same sort of thing, it paints this picture that-
Derek Johnson: That’s exactly what Der Stürmer did back in the day. It used to be Jewish crime.
Ani White: And how can we counter these conspiracy theories do you think, and this racism as well?
Byron Clark: Yeah, it’s a difficult question. I used to be quite naïve and thought that if someone believed a conspiracy theory, they just had the wrong information, and once they had the right information they’ll come right. But of course it’s not that simple. What I’ve found is, whether or not someone will trust you to give them the right information doesn’t depend on how much of an authoritative source they think you are, or the sources you provide are, it really depends on the strength of your relationship with that person. So I try and avoid getting into arguments with strangers who may be getting into this stuff, particularly as a lot of them won’t be interested in a good-faith discussion anyway, but when it comes to friends or relatives who might be sharing one of these articles on Facebook or something like that, then I’ll make the effort to say ‘I don’t know if this is right, this doesn’t match with this other thing I read, oh and here’s this other thing’, and hoping to bring people around that way.
I’ve described myself as being a leak in the echo-chamber for a few people… I’ve got one friend on Facebook who’s gotten involved in the alt-right, I did have more, I had about three or four, but the others have – usually they unfriend me before I unfriend them – but I’ve got one, and I notice in following these pages and groups, I’ll see that same name appear as the mutual friend I have with everyone. So people can very quickly get themselves into these echo-chambers where they’re all talking to each other, all sharing the same stuff. So I try not to get too off-side with those people, given that I might have a chance to convince them. But yeah it’s an uphill struggle doing that.
Ani White: Yeah. I think we need a diversity of tactics around this, cause you have someone like ContraPoints (Natalie Wynn), who’s doing a very good job of de-radicalising people on the alt-right, particularly on youtube where so much of the alt-right is on youtube. And people will criticise her for engaging with those ideas, but I think you need people who will do that, and you also need – when it gets to the level of organised fascist violence – you do need people who will directly shut that down, as well, people who will be more militant and shut down any fascist mobilisations. But yeah I think you need different tactics, and your work is obviously putting out alternatives.
But just moving on, the Christchurch attacker linked population growth with environmentalism, he actually explicitly used an eco-fascist framing, he used the term eco-fascist I believe, but also some on the left will also blame population for ecological devastation, so what’s your take on these populationist explanations of climate change, which maybe tie in to other forms of populationism and demographic panic?
Derek Johnson: And the Marvel Avengers movies as well.
Ani White: Yeah, Thanos.
Byron Clark: Yeah, so the shooter describing himself as an eco-fascist. There’s a couple of things with that, one is that a number of [conspiracy theorists] are leaping on that to [argue] the shooter was actually a leftist of some sort, and one of the ways they do that is by saying ‘oh eco-fascist because it’s about the environment that’s actually left wing’, which is pretty ridiculous. But yeah he-
Derek Johnson: They don’t know Nazi history, of course.
Byron Clark: Yeah, yeah.
The idea that environmental devastation is happening because there’s too many people is something that does appear on the left, as well as among actual eco-fascists. The Green Party here in New Zealand a few years ago, their co-leader came out and said they’d like to cut immigration by 10,000, and they did backtrack on that, after a lot of pushback within the party, particularly from the Pasefika Greens and Greens of Colour caucuses in there. But there was definitely, you could tell from watching from outside that there was a debate going on within the Green Party between those more pro-migration people, and people who really believed that population was the problem.
Ani White: What do you think is a better approach to climate change than this populationism, also what’s the problem with populationist approaches?
Byron Clark: Yeah so the big problem is just that it’s not accurate, in terms of looking at environmental destruction. For example there was a study done by Oxfam a few years ago looking at C02 emissions by world population, and they found that the richest 10% of the world is responsible for almost half of all lifestyle consumption emissions. The next richest 10% were responsible for a further 19%, and the entire bottom 50% of the world, the poorest 50% of the world, were responsible for about 10% of greenhouse gas emissions.
So when you say environmentalists, be they eco-fascists or Green Party politicians or whatever, they’re not saying that people in wealthy developed countries are having too many children, because often in those countries the birth rate is below replacement anyway, what they’re always saying is that ‘it’s those other people in Asia and Africa, they’re having too many children and the population’s exploding’, but if you look at it, the people in these countries are producing far less greenhouse gas emissions than those in developed countries. So yeah it doesn’t really hold up.
Derek Johnson: Also, people point to resources being finite, and say if the population’s too big we’re gonna run out of resources, and that just actually is not the case, can you speak to how that kind of Malthusian or neo-Malthusian rhetoric actually doesn’t match up with reality or capitalism?
Byron Clark: Yeah so theoretically, there’s some kind of carrying capacity for how much life the planet could sustain, but the reality is we’re not anywhere near that, and there’s no resources that we’ve really ran out of, because the market will adjust to that in some ways. Like when the price of oil was very high, that’s when we started to get oil from these unconventional sources, like tar sands and shale-gas and so on, which are very environmentally destructive, but people used to talk about peak oil as a thing that was coming, that we’d run out of oil, when really depending on the price of oil, I think if the price of oil got high enough we’d see more of a push to mine in like the Arctic and maybe even Antarctica and that sort of thing. So the resources are there, it’s just that the price of them means that they’re left there, rather than mined and things.
Ani White: Yeah and I guess the other thing is like you were touching on earlier, that actually it’s a minority that is consuming so much of the resources. So, for example, war is a major source of environmental devastation, and that’s production, but it’s not actually consumption on the part of the global majority. It’s largely the prosperous world and the West, which is a global minority, which is churning through a lot of the resources. So there’s this misconception that it’s, again ever-growing poor and brown that are responsible for the problem, when it’s actually the opposite, it’s a global minority that is churning up so much of the resources.
Derek Johnson: And also this idea that there’s not enough food to go around, when really there is enough food to feed everybody it’s just political choices, political economy, the choices under the capitalist system, makes for enforced scarcity, and choices on who gets to eat, and what kind of crops are grown where, and we’re seeing how even just the focus on ethanol, and certain other plants and crops, have actually hurt world food prices, and caused starvation in places like Africa, and other things like that.
Ani White: What do you think is a better approach to addressing climate change than this populationist approach?
Byron Clark: I would say we need to move more to a production-side environmentalism,
[whereas a lot of]
environmentalism that’s promoted these days is very much consumption-side, it’s often encouraging people to consume less in one way or another, when really we need to change the way we do production, so that the goods that are being produced are made, not just as a commodity, something to be bought and sold. And particularly with things like planned obsolescence, where a good is sold with the idea that it might only last a year, and then the buyer has to go on and purchase another one, so you can keep making a profit by selling these same sorts of disposable goods. I think we need to look at redoing production in such a way that things aren’t disposed of relatively quickly after being used, so we are consuming less but the reason we’re consuming less is because we don’t need to keep replacing things, keep buying new things. And we can be producing less as well, which is where a lot of the environmental destruction, whether that’s emissions or whether that’s waste, a lot of it comes at the point of production rather than the point of consumption.
Ani White: Leaping around a bit but, obviously a lot of xenophobic conspiracy theories talk about open borders, and the threat of open borders, which I don’t see actually happening anytime soon, but what’s your view on open borders, is it such a terrible thing?
Byron Clark: No laughs I don’t think so. Much of the world had open borders up until relatively recently in human history, it’s only the last two centuries or so that we have had closed borders. I guess the difference today is how easily people can move quickly around the world, and the inequality that exists between the Global North and the Global South. But I don’t think that there’d be that massive a disruption if we were to suddenly bring about open borders. But I do think the status quo, where we have closed borders, leads to a situation where the only way you can stop people crossing the border is with the use of violence.
So with the Detention Centres that Australia has in Manus Island and Nauru, with the detention camps on the US border, or even just the neglect that sees people drowning in the Mediterranean as rescue ships are turned away from ports and things, that’s all a result of having closed borders.
So I think whatever logistical issues come about with moving to open borders, I think it’s worth doing that because the status quo that we have now is not a viable alternative, when we are allowing people to drown in the Mediterranean or the Torres Strait, and dying the desert as they try and avoid checkpoints and that sort of thing. So opening borders from a moral standpoint is something to move towards.
But I think the logistical issues that might come are probably overblown as well. I don’t think if you were suddenly gonna open borders tomorrow, you would suddenly see all of the Global South migrate to the Global North, you’d probably see an upturn in migration but I don’t actually think it would be that impossible to manage. If the right policies were in place, in the countries that people were moving to.
Ani White: Yeah, the other thing is we have open borders for capital but not for workers, and there’s this misconception that workers moving around is what’s driving down wages, when actually part of the problem with the driving down wages thing, is that if workers don’t have rights in the country they move to, then that can allow wages being driven down, so it’s actually in that sense the border restrictions that allow capitalists to drive down wages. Whereas if workers can move more freely, they can raise issues and not worry about being deported.
So I think we need to potentially close borders for capital, and gain more control of capital, but open borders for workers.
Derek Johnson: Yeah, we see liberals and conservatives and centrists triangulating against this, as if it was Pie in the Sky. And like you said, we’ve had [open borders] up until the last 200 years…
What else do you think is a good way of making a hard positive case for open borders against these xenophobic arguments of the nationalists?
Byron Clark: Yeah, so I’ll have to think a little bit more about making the argument against the xenophobics [sic] specifically, but one other thing that came to mind, in terms of capital and labour and borders, is the case of Bangladesh which is a very low-wage country where a lot of the garment industry has moved to. Part of the reason it’s such a low-wage country is it’s actually very hard for people to leave, and seek better wages elsewhere. Some of the most militarised borders we have are actually the borders between India and Bangladesh, and again between Bangladesh and Myanmar. So it’s not just the undocumented workers who don’t have the same legal rights who can be used to drive down wages, because they don’t have access to the legal resources that documented workers might have, but also that people who can’t leave a low-wage country means that that country stays a low-wage country, in the absence of things like a significant labour movement and so forth. So with capital being able to move freely, we do see production move to the lowest wage country, but those tend to be the countries where people can’t seek a higher wage by moving across a border.
Getting back to xenophobia and so forth, that’s a more difficult one than just making the argument with people who might be sympathetic towards migrants but feel that open borders would bring about lower wages and that sort of thing, there’s enough data there to show people that’s not the case. But when it’s with people who have a real prejudice against people of a different nationality or of a different ethnicity, convincing them on open borders is going to be a harder task, and I think it maybe comes back to something we were talking about before, with de-radicalising people. Although I don’t think a movement for open borders needs to be centring the native population of a country, it can centre the migrants themselves to start with, but obviously convincing the native population will need to happen. But I think it’s a harder thing to do than convincing people who aren’t actually prejudiced or racist or xenophobic.
Derek Johnson: It’s so weird that it’s an easy case to make, just to show economically how crime doesn’t go up, and how immigrant labour doesn’t really steal jobs from Americans, it’s very troubling that mainstream media can’t do the basic due diligence of just kinda, doing some bullet points on a couple of these things. They just let these sit there for all sides to use to make their xenophobic arguments.
And that’s something I’ve always had a problem with someone like Senator Bernie Sanders, he has long in his career scapegoated immigrants to unionised workers. And he’s always used that as a cudgel. It was interesting that he was the one who brought up open borders, but condemning it as something that only libertarians like the Koch Brothers believe in. And that was just exposing that he’s no kind of socialist. Cause we first have an internationalist movement, this is a key part of it.
It was very good to see that the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) actually adopted an open borders policy at the recent convention, and all the centrists and liberals and other people are acting like this is gonna give the right all the ammunition, and propaganda to say ‘see, the left wants to open borders’, and the Democrats have tried to use that to say ‘oh we want better immigration law, but we don’t want open borders, we’re not crazy.’ But I find it very interesting that not only was the DSA able to be moved by a caucus to push for open borders, against people who were not for that within the party, but also even the Democratic Party was making an argument for people who come over the border illegally just not to be charged with anything. And that’s barely a step removed from when it was just a civil matter.
People on the right act like it’s this big criminal act. They look at things from a military standpoint, and where they hear borders, they think of that in a military standpoint, and think ‘oh my god we’re being invaded.’ It’s so ridiculous, and ignores the fact that when people are refugees, they have a right to just walk up to the border, and come in, and turn themselves in, and avail themselves of the right to apply for coming in as a refugee.
Things have moved so far backwards that we’re at the point of concentration camps in this country, and it does seem like Trump got the idea from Australia. Has New Zealand been a part of that, any? As far as sending people over to the islands?
Ani White: Not the Mandatory Detention. But we don’t have a very high refugee quota. And part of the thing there is we don’t really share a border with any country, we’re surrounded by massive amounts of sea, even more so than Australia in terms of proximity, so it’s actually very hard for people to migrate except through official channels. So what we’ve had is a low refugee quota, that’s just recently been raised as a result of a big campaign. But we haven’t had the extremes of Mandatory Detention that a place like Australia has.
I just thought I’d mention, you talked about the DSA, and I thought I’d clarify for listeners who don’t know, what the deal is with the DSA, because this isn’t an insignificant tiny group that’s adopting that policy. It’s a group that has been involved in the Sanders campaign, in the Cortez campaign, and they’ve got tens of thousands of members, I heard 40,000 members a little while back. So the fact that they’ve adopted this open borders policy is a very positive thing for the left, for any differences I might have with the DSA’s strategy, I think it’s very much a good thing.
Derek Johnson: Ditto. This policy, and the sex worker policy, was really hard to fight for, and it was great that both were successful. I’ll read the part of the platform here:
“DSA supports the uninhibited transnational free movement of people, demilitarization of the US-Mexico, abolition of the agencies of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection, decriminalization of immigration, and a pathway to citizenship for all non-citizen residents. We will not allow Trump to scapegoat immigrants for the results of neoliberal austerity, nor use ICE to bust our unions.”
Very good, and they also talk an anti-prison standpoint too.
Ani White: So Byron you’ve been contesting these ideas obviously on your youtube, with some success in terms of views and that, why did you start that channel and why do you think youtube is an important place for the left to engage and contest these ideas?
Byron Clark: Yeah, so I started the channel basically after the shooting here in Christchurch. I’d been following the alt-right, the local alt-right before then, realising that the movement was growing overseas, and wanting to keep an eye on what was happening here. And as I alluded to earlier, the shooting happening here really showed that New Zealand’s not immune from this growth of the far right. So I was already aware of this campaign against the Migration Compact, and then when I found out the shooter had written ‘Here’s your Migration Compact’ on his gun, that was when I decided I need to get this information out there.
I did contribute to an article that was published on Fightback, that contained a lot of that same material that made its way into my youtube video. But the reason for using youtube was that it’s a very crowded media landscape, and it’s difficult to get people to read articles, when on Facebook and twitter you’re gonna be inundated with articles. Whereas a video is maybe gonna get a bit more attention, particularly if you can make it entertaining as well as informative, as people like ContraPoints are doing.
And also of course, because youtube is probably the main social media platform where a lot of far right misinformation is spreading, if you’re in that same space, there is a chance of reaching that same audience. I don’t think de-radicalisation is the primary goal of the content I’m making, but it is something I keep in mind as what would be a good added bonus, if my content is seen by people who may be going down that alt-right pathway, and then just from being exposed to an alternative viewpoint and a bit of fact-checking, that might stop them in their tracks and prevent them from becoming part of the alt-right. Yeah, so that’s essentially what I’ve decided, is youtube is the medium for this stuff.
Ani White: Do you have any thoughts about the wider youtube left ecosystem, or ‘BreadTube’ as people say that’s started to develop now?
Derek Johnson: BreadTube!
Byron Clark: From Kropotkin’s-
Derek Johnson: Conquest of Bread.
Ani White: So yeah do you have any thoughts about that, about ContraPoints, H Bomberguy, Philosophy Tube and all that sort of thing?
Byron Clark: Yeah well I think it’s been really positive, I think for a long time the left kind of ignored the internet. There was this attitude of like, what we do in real life is more important. Which was kind of a bad take, because the internet is part of real life, it’s a communications medium, it’s not like we’re all logging into some fantasy role-playing game every time we do something online. Something online is just as real as something offline, so if you can post an article on your website and get 100 people to read it, that’s not actually less significant than when you’re selling a newspaper on a street corner, as socialist organisations were still doing up until just a few years ago.
Derek Johnson: Yeah it’s supplementing our real-life activities, we shouldn’t have seen that as a dichotomy, we should’ve seen it as a mix.
Byron Clark: Yeah, exactly. And I think while the left was not paying a lot of attention to the internet, the far right was growing in these spaces like 4chan and later 8chan. And youtube has become a real platform for some of these people, like someone like Stefan Molyneux, he would never get a platform on television to spread the kind of stuff he’s spreading, but he’s been able to get there on youtube. And likewise many of the people in BreadTube probably wouldn’t be given a platform on television to spread the kind of leftist content that people are making. And I think the fact that we’ve got a few people doing it now is reaching people that our older forms of media perhaps weren’t reaching. I guess maybe bringing more people into the fold, and spreading leftist ideas wider than they have been spread until quite recently.
Ani White: Yeah, and I think the bar has been raised.
Derek Johnson: I think what you said is a really good form of harm reduction, if you can’t bring people over to left ideas completely, or change them away completely from other horrible ideas, at least you can keep people from going even worse, and maybe give them the chance to find better information.
Byron Clark: Yeah exactly. And with the videos I’ve made, most people who’ve watched my videos aren’t gonna then become socialists, and likewise if they’re already on that alt-right pathway and they watch some of my videos, they might then reconsider and start taking a different path, but for those who are already committed they’re not gonna change my mind by just watching my videos.
Ani White: Yeah I also think for people who are on the left, these videos can be quite informative. So we can learn about the alt-right, and someone like ContraPoints is quite useful in maybe introducing people to more theoretical perspectives, so it doesn’t just have to be about de-radicalising, it can also be about getting us on the same page, and learning.
So what do you plan to cover in upcoming episodes of that channel?
Byron Clark: Yeah I’m working on an essay at the moment that should hopefully be out early October, and I’m looking at Australia’s Offshore Detention policy, with the detention centres on Manus Island in particular. I’m drawing a lot on a book by Behrouz Boochani, who’s a Kurdish journalist who’s been imprisoned on Manus Island for the past six years, after fleeing Iran and seeking asylum in Australia. He published a book called No Friend But the Mountains, and I’ve adapted a little bit from that to use in that essay. So that should be out in a few weeks.
And after that I’ve got a three-part series on New Zealand’s alt-right, I’m hoping to get out probably one before the end of the year, and then maybe the next couple early next year.
Beyond that I’ve got a few more ideas as well, but that’s what I’m working on at the moment.
Ani White: And where can we find your work?
Byron Clark: If you just search my name on youtube it should bring it up, or otherwise you can go to youtube.com/lossenelin.
Ani White: I’ve wondered about that, what does that mean? Because you have that alias in a couple of places.
Byron Clark: I have that alias almost everywhere on the internet, it’s from a What is Your Elvish Name generator from a 2001 Lord of the Rings fansite, so when I first got on the internet-
Derek Johnson: Ahhhh.
Byron Clark: I got this and it’s just kinda stuck.
Derek Johnson: laughs
Ani White: Old internet.
Byron Clark: Yeah old internet, where you’d go online to find out what your name in the Tolkien universe is.
Derek Johnson: Nice deep cut to New Zealand there.
Ani White: Yeah true, true. So Byron, what other channels can you find your work on?
Byron Clark: If you’re interested in the Oral History that I did on Occupy, that’s all online at occupychristchurch.nz, and that’s essentially a series of interviews with people who participated in the Occupy movement here. The transcripts and the audio is all on there.
And yeah I also often contribute to contribute to Fightback, so you can find some of my stuff on there as well.
Ani White: Yep, that’s fightback.org.nz, I’m also involved in that. And we have quite an extensive article on the Christchurch attack, where we each wrote a section: so Byron contributed on the incubating of the alt-right online, I wrote a piece on Labour and Labour’s fence-sitting and complicity with some of these issues, it also included some stuff on the history of the fascist movement in New Zealand, as well as actually the complicity of sections of the left with these issues. So if people want to learn a bit about the background of the Christchurch attacks, that’s available on fightback.org.nz.
But yeah, I guess people can find you on twitter as well if they want to?
Byron Clark: Yeah, @byroncclark on twitter. I tweet pretty frequently, and often because I’m researching the alt-right quite a lot, twitter’s the place to follow if you want to see some of the screenshots of some of these things I’ve found. Like one just recently, after the shooting there was some discussion about whether the local rugby team should change its name, because the local rugby team is called the Canterbury Crusaders, which felt very cringe right after the shooting, and a Facebook page that started called Keep The Crusaders have just rebranded the page as an Action Zealandia page, and Action Zealandia is a small white-supremacist group here, that’s trying to start up on a similar model to the Proud Boys and some of the Australian groups: only fit young white men can join. So they’ve been revealed to have been behind part of that campaign to keep the name. Which was used as a way to get the discourse after the shooting away from the initial outpouring of support and solidarity, and back to the usual ‘PC Gone Mad! Now we’re changing the rugby team name just because it might offend Muslims!’ so it was another way that the far right has tried to influence the discourse, was through participating in that campaign. And they’ve just kind of outed themselves as who’s behind it.
So stuff like that is what you’ll find on my twitter, so particularly if you’re a New Zealander and you’re listening, and you wanna see what the local alt-right is up to, that’s stuff I tweet about quite a bit.
Ani White: And you’ve also got a patreon which people can contribute to.
Byron Clark: Yeah, so if people wanna help support the work I do, you can do like a $1 a month, or $5 if you want your name in the credits. I’ve said I’m happy to do this work for free because it’s activism, but because I have to work a day job it means that there’s 40 hours a week that I’m not working on videos, and I’m only getting one out every couple of months, and I’d love to be able to get to a point where I’m getting them out more frequently. So if anyone wants to support that then yeah, check out the patreon and give what you can.
Derek Johnson: Alright it was great talking with you Byron, and appreciate the job you’re doing.
Ani White: Thank you for coming on, and cheers.
Byron Clark: Yeah, thanks for having me. Cheers.