They say they aren’t racist. The images tell a different story.
White nationalism has been gathering momentum in recent years. Nowhere more so than in Trump-led USA where the president has helped the discourse come out of the margins and into the mainstream. Worldwide, followers are becoming increasingly emboldened.
Murders committed by white supremacists more than doubled in the US last year, making up the majority of extremist killings, according to the Anti Defamation League. The ADL also found that white supremacist recruitment efforts at universities spiked more than 200 per cent in 2017 in the US.
There is no ignoring the fact that white supremacists are roused to take action and New Zealanders are not immune.
Reports are emerging of a growing alt-right movement in the country supported by predominately young, disenfranchised men who converge in spaces like 4Chan. Last year a University of Auckland club was accused of promoting white supremacy with its imagery and slogans. Only a few months ago a white nationalist political party, The National Front, clashed with protesters outside Parliament.
This month a group aiming to recruit young men to join a “youth-oriented brotherhood of nationalists” launched a website called the Dominion Movement and put up posters in Wellington.
Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy says while white supremacist groups exist, they only garner limited interest. “Being proud of your heritage is fine but not when it limits the rights of anyone else,” she told The Wireless.
It’s true that the white supremacist movement doesn't appear to have gained mainstream support in New Zealand but, if the United States is anything to go by, it’s hard to tell how much support is really out there.
While these groups represent the extreme end of fascism, their ideas can seep into common rhetoric without us even noticing. It’s tempting to want to shut the conversation down, hoping that less publicity of racist ideas means less harm, but understanding the motivations of these groups is key to dampening their influence.
The groups often publicly say they aren’t racist but their imagery and language tell a different story. Learning the signs is a good start.
EXAMPLE: THE DOMINION MOVEMENT
“I regret to inform you that our local fascists are recruiting,” writes a user on Reddit. The link leads to the website of the Dominion Movement, a Wellington group who say they are committed to “the revitalisation of European culture and identity in New Zealand.”
Thinly veiled as "traditionalism", the page spouts inane ideas of white supremacy, white nationalism and male superiority.
“We recognise the European as the essential, indispensable, and defining people of this nation,” it says.
SIGNS OF WHITE SUPREMACY
Nearly every image on the Dominion Movement website has ties to white supremacy ideologies.
On the homepage, the stylised image of an eagle with its wings spread open seems to be an adaption of the Reichsadler, or 'Imperial Eagle', of Nazi Germany. The image of an eagle looking over its shoulder was used during the height of Nazi rule and is still used in Neo-Nazi rallies.
Eagles are often used in white supremacist imagery although the Dominion Movement writes that it’s an image of a Haast eagle - an extinct species that once lived on the South Island.
“The Haast's Eagle represents the spirit of strength, struggle and power … As our symbol, the Haast's Eagle inspires us to achieve and develop these qualities in ourselves and in our nation,” says the website.
Another image which depicts an eagle swooping downwards within a circle border is strikingly similar to the flag of Vanguard American - a white supremacist group that opposes multiculturalism and believes America is an exclusively white nation.
In one of the photos of the Dominion Movement website, two boys in balaclavas are seen holding a flag with the Sonnenrad, or sun wheel.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, the symbol was adopted by Nazis and the swastika is actually one of many variants of the sonnenrad.
It's worth noting that many cultures use the sonnenrad so it doesn’t necessarily denote racism. The image has recently been taken down.
The Dominion Movement may have found the inspiration for their name from “dominionism”; a term sometimes applied to conservative Christians seeking political and social power.
The idea derives from the Book of Genesis, in which God tells Adam and Eve to have “dominion” over the Earth and its animals. This verse is taken by Dominionists as a proof to their claim of control over everything.
Posters seen on Willis Street reads “Revolt Against the Modern World”. That’s the title of a book published in 1934 by Julius Evola, a man who was referred to by a historian as “one of the most influential fascist racists in Italian history.” Evola spent World War II working for the Sicherheitsdienst - the intelligence agency of the Nazi party - and was central to Italy's terrorist radical right after World War II. His work still influenced contemporary neo-fascist movements.
Another poster carries the words “We Will Not Be Replaced”. It’s a slogan disturbingly similar to one chanted at a white supremacist rally in the US last October in which an anti-racism protest was killed.
‘LIFT UP THE ROCK AND EXPOSE WHAT’S THERE’
It’s tempting to want to silence people who promote dangerous opinions but it’s completely legal for anyone to hold and share ideas and protecting everyone's right to free speech is necessary for a functioning democracy. Demanding racist be silent could also push them underground and may inadvertently strengthen their resolve.
But there are limits; it’s unlawful to incite hostility towards a group of people based on race or ethnicity and people can be prosecuted for doing so. However, it’s an extreme step that could end up giving them more power.
University of Auckland law professor Dr Bill Hodge that was the case when a New Zealand Nazi was taken to court.
“My view is that unless it meets the very high standard of something that is going to cause imminent harm - like to an Islamic mosque or Jewish temple - I would say that it’s always a bad idea to flaunt the Human Rights Act and prosecute,” he says.
“My experience with the so-called National Socialist Party - the Nazis of New Zealand - is that when they published an anti-semitic pamphlet and were prosecuted under a predecessor, they got tons of publicity, far more than they deserved. Their membership increased because they appeared to be martyrs when they went through the court system.”
But Dr Hodge certainly doesn't advocate ignoring these groups either. Bringing them to light and talking about it is much more effective, he says.
“Lift up the rock and expose what’s there. Identify it, understand it and answer it. That, to me, is a far more healthy society rather than close it down which will cause it to bubble along under that rock and possibly grow.”
The answer to hate speech, is starting positive counter-conversations, says Dr Hodge.
“If someone wants to boycott or bring an action against Lorde because she doesn't want to go to Israel, for example, then the answer is to explain both sides so that we’re all educated.”