Tight-shirted rage

The interesting part is the condemnation. Sky News describes the video as “disturbing”. It says it was made by “a neo-Nazi group”. The Australian calls it “racially charged” and a “Nazi horror”. Peter Dutton denounced it as “quite horrific” and “unhinged”.

In the video, a man stands in front of a burning drum. His face is hidden by a balaclava and his voice is twisted by a vocoder. “This is a message from the loyalists of the Warriors of the Convict Resistance,” he says, “to the Australian government and Senator Lidia Thorpe.”

The man makes a series of impotent threats and endorses “white Australia”. He burns an Aboriginal flag and gives the Nazi salute. In an earlier video from the same group, the flag is again burnt. There is the same tight-shirted rage, the same backyard showmanship.

“Our forefathers did invade this land. In fact, they conquered it. The prize was the big red country and our enemy is the Aboriginal,” one of the three men in that video says, continuing: “We will restake our claim as the rightful owners of this land, fuelled by the eternal and inevitable victory. When we burn the Aboriginal flag, we aim to offend the cultural sensitivities of the Aboriginals and their supporters, in order to make you feel the same pain and anger we feel when we see our flag being burnt.”

For the right-wing press, the shock of these videos is the shock of a person hearing their voice on an answering machine. No one believes they sound like that. The lack of bone conduction boosts the upper frequencies.

Yet this is the argument of the “No” campaign, given a pair of black sunglasses and a hoodie and a spot under someone’s fold-down clothesline. It is the argument of the perpetual victim. The language has the rococo din of internet message boards, but it is not so different to the case that has been made in the past few months: this land may have been taken, but that was in the past and it is settled now and we have nothing to say except that we won.

Some among the “No” camp argue the Voice will have unintended consequences. They claim it will forever change the Constitution, a document as fragile and unforgiving as tissue paper.

This offers an illusion of dignity. It says the “No” voter carries with him the wisdom of the law. He is defending a special, complicated part of the country, a sheaf of prudence on which we wrote down the binding truths about ourselves.

Of course, in reality he is defending only himself. He is defending a mean-spirited conception of Australia. When he argues, all he is arguing is that he is better than the people who lived here before him, whose country was taken. He is arguing that he won and he doesn’t see the point of talking any further.

With the flames died down and his balaclava taken off, he is saying, as politely as he can: “Our forefathers did invade this land. In fact, they conquered it … We will restake our claim as the rightful owners of this land, fuelled by the eternal and inevitable victory.”

As outraged as anyone might claim to be, this is the message a “No” vote will carry. It is the message the “No” campaign has already licensed and driven across the country. The only difference is what it is wearing and that no referral will be made to the police.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on October 7, 2023 as "Tight-shirted rage".

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