Far right attempts to hijack internet censorship rally

Stop the Filter banner at the rally. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

One feature of the otherwise successful Perth rally against internet censorship on March 6 was an attempt by a far-right political group to hijack the event.

About 300 people participated in the rally and march. Speakers included internet studies lecturer Mike Kent, Greens Senator Scott Ludlam and an Iranian refugee, who talked about the draconian nature of Iran's internet censorship.

Other speakers included Socialist Alliance Senate candidate Ben Peterson and Mike Walmsley from the Liberal Democratic Party.

There was a rally in Melbourne the same day and smaller actions in Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide.

The rally was mostly organised through Facebook and other social networking sites.

Shortly after Ludlam began speaking, a neo-fascist outfit called Nationalist Alternative hung an anti-immigration banner directly above the speakers' platform. Organisers insisted that the banner be removed because its message was hostile to the aims of the rally. After it was removed, a "Stop the Filter" banner was hung in its place.

During the incident, a spontaneous chant of "no room for racism" won wide support among the crowd.

In post-rally commentary, the Nationalist Alternative claimed its views were "censored" and that the organisers were therefore guilty of "hypocrisy". It claimed that it loyally promoted the rally and that its banner was no different to a Resistance banner that was also displayed on the day.

In fact, its efforts at "promotion" of the rally seem to consist entirely of a single post on its blog less than 24 hours before the rally began. This token effort at "promotion" was merely to lend credence to the notion that the organisation was "censored".

The Resistance banner was held by rally participants in the crowd. By contrast, placing the Nationalist Alternative banner directly behind the speakers' platform was an attempt to create the impression it had endorsement from the rally organisers.

Peterson, a member of Resistance and one of the rally organisers, told Green Left Weekly: "These kinds of racist groups cannot openly win popular support for their ideas. Therefore, they try to win public sympathy by claiming to be victims of censorship.

"Far from being supporters of the rally, from this standpoint, their whole action can be seen as a set-up — a hostile attempt to discredit the movement against the filter. However, it is not censorship for rally organisers to set the limits as to how the rally will be perceived by the public.

"Stop the Filter is not a group to push racism and it is not censorship to ensure that our rally is not associated with that."

Echoing this view, Ludlam told the March 13 Perth Voice, "I certainly didn't read that as censorship".

"I'm certainly against hate speech", he said. "If they're running up anti-immigration banners at a rally for free speech, especially behind the speaker, it's completely out of line. It was a grab for attention, in extremely bad taste."

According to Peterson, "suppressing far-right ideas is not an effective way to combat fascist groups because it diverts attention away from their obnoxious ideas into a pointless debate about whether or not these groups deserve 'free speech'. But that is not what we're talking about in this case.

"Just as we would not tolerate someone storming the rally platform and taking over the microphone, we have a right to determine which banner is displayed behind the speakers' platform."