As we head towards the anniversary of the Christchurch massacre that killed 51 people and injured dozens more at two mosques, similar lone gunman attacks are still too often regarded as acts of isolated fanaticism – the product of an unhinged, mentally unstable individual.
While this reaction can be well meaning, Jeff Sparrow’s Fascists Among Us succinctly highlights that this perception is dangerously simplistic; and that finding a solution, to what is a very modern phenomena, depends on understanding the cultural environment which has allowed a particular form of hate politics to fester. This includes recognising the extent to which anti-immigration prejudice exists in and is reinforced by mainstream society.
While the gunman entered Al Noor Mosque by himself on 15 March 2019, Sparrow reasons, ‘politically he was never alone’, and chillingly, ‘there was nothing delusional in his belief that he would encourage imitative crimes’. By examining rather than dismissing the toxic beliefs and corners of the internet with which the gunman aligned himself, Sparrow strives to understand him as ‘the next killer will be the same’. Sparrow emphasises, ‘we need to understand him, because we must stop him’.
Using the Christchurch massacre and the gunman – referred to only as Person X, in accordance with Jacinda Ardern’s pledge to never utter the name of the shooter – as a reference point, Fascists Among Us can be seen as a case-study extension of Sparrow’s 2018 book Trigger Warnings, an analysis of the rise of the right more generally. What’s more, as Person X was Australian – and active within Australian alt-right circles – the case is also an important study for contemporary fascism in our national context, alongside the global context.
From the first page, starting with the friendly ‘hello, brother’ that greeted Person X as he entered the mosque, Sparrow’s analysis is poignant and confronting, yet avoids being voyeuristic or disrespectful. The Christchurch massacre is the focus, yet Sparrow barely mentions the details of the crime itself; and while Person X’s manifesto is frequently referenced, it is done so only to trace what is unique about contemporary white supremacy and fascism that gun violence has become an indisputable pattern emerging from its fringes.
Through first outlining the history of 20th century fascism, Sparrow expands into the rise of Islamophobia specifically following September 11, and ultimately to what the US election of Trump meant and represented. This context is imperative to understanding how the recent past fits together, but also for appreciating Sparrow’s ongoing discussion of the role that growing social media influence and online spaces have had in perpetuating militant radicalism.
While Fascists Among Us is a short read, it is informative for all readers. And as the first anniversary of Christchurch approaches, Sparrow’s plea for it to be society’s ‘wake-up call’ is more crucial than ever.
5 stars out of 5 ★★★★★
Fascists Among Us by Jeff Sparrow
Categories: Non-fiction, Politics, Political Science/Terrorism, Fascism & Nazism
Release Date: 19 November 2019