A gallows and words of menace imported from the (dis)United States
It is easy to dismiss as mere clowns those gathering around a gallows in the streets of Melbourne. Too easy.
Who, for pity’s sake, has a ready-built gallows to tow to a protest outside the Victorian state parliament? And where does the modern idea of nooses dangling in the breeze come from?
Supporters of Donald Trump gather to overturn the presidential election result outside the US Capitol on January 6.Credit:Getty
We need only look to the Trumpist mob who stormed the US Capitol in Washington DC on January 6. The most potent symbol of what was on the minds of the most extreme of Trump’s storm troopers was a gallows, erected for the occasion.
The noose suspended from its frame and hoisted high in the hours before that mob broke down the doors of the Capitol was initially treated by media outlets as a photogenic symbol of a mood, rather than of serious intent. A throwback to the days of the Ku Klux Klan, after all, was barely out of place at a Trump rally.
The amusement stopped when hundreds of insurrectionists broke into the US legislature, hunting for vice-president Mike Pence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others they considered to be traitors. Four people were killed and a fifth – a police officer – died later of his injuries.
Mercifully, the frenzy was quelled before anyone was actually dragged to the gallows, though it was a close-run thing. Warnings had been given.
“We’ll storm offices and physically remove and even kill all the DC traitors and reclaim the country,” one pro-Trumper had trumpeted some days previously on an internet board known as TheDonald.win.
A lot of such chatter was treated as far-fetched bragging. Until it turned out not to be.
But what has this to do with what has been happening in Melbourne’s streets this week?
If you listen to those who defend the protesters milling around outside Parliament House this week, you’d believe this was nothing but a movement of everyday Victorians driven to the edge by months of lockdowns who oppose legislation giving Dan Andrews further emergency powers, bolstered by those hostile to vaccination and those against mandatory vaccination.
What then, were those “everyday Victorians” – including a clutch of state Liberal politicians and conservative commentators – to make of the Trump flags in their crowd, the appearance of nooses, or the adoring reception granted to singer Claire Woodley, who dedicated her performance of I Am Australian to the “brave victims of satanic ritual abuse”?
This was the language of the bonkers US-bred conspiracy cult QAnon, which holds that numerous political leaders are Satanists who murder and torture children.
Off-stage, out in the cybersphere, were the ranters. Consider a fellow named Riccardo Bosi, a former special forces soldier. He presents himself as leader of the AustraliaOne Party, an outfit deep into conspiracy theories, whose followers handed out pamphlets at the protests.
Vaccines, Bosi propounds, will kill your children with the willing complicity of depraved and corrupt political leaders. Oh, and the vaccine comes with a barcode that can be scanned at the injection site, apparently by “globalists”.
Declaring himself dedicated to peace, he nevertheless predicts a festival of hanging after a coming judgment by his people. Here he is on one of his recent videos: “I’m warning everybody now, we’re going to hang former prime ministers, former justices of the High Court of Australia, we are going to hang billionaires … we’re going to be hanging an example from every piece of the Australian machinery, the polity, the bureaucracy, the judiciary, the military, the media, everybody is up for the high jump. If they do deserve to hang, they will hang.”
What also might we make of a group of young men chatting on a Telegram “freedom” activist channel in the lead-up to the protests, a recording of which was obtained by The Age?
It includes one man speaking of his visit to Dan Andrews’ private home, where he was told by a neighbour the Premier “wasn’t in”; a lament about lack of access to guns (gun ownership, not vaccination, should be mandated, one of the voices says); an assertion that “they’ve got the military holed up in the Crown Casino”; and much scorn for “NPCs”.
“NPC” is a term imported from extremist America and online gaming to describe everyday people as automatons, or Non-Player Characters, “who don’t know what’s going on”.
The conversation concludes with a discussion about storming the parliament if Andrews managed to pass the pandemic legislation.
“Don’t worry Sampson, bring your steel caps mate, I’ll see you on the 16th. We will be able to tap those doors down,” says one voice.
“Something’s gonna happen; something’s gonna happen,” adds another.
“Oh yeah. A hundred per cent, a hundred per cent. Something’s gonna kick off that day. One hundred f—in’ per cent.”
It didn’t, as it happened. The pandemic legislation hadn’t been concluded by November 16, and protest numbers had dwindled to a hard core under the eyes of police. Perhaps the Telegram chat group amounted to nothing more than a bunch of blowhards.
And yet, other extremists were circulating the home addresses of Labor politicians.
Anti-terrorist police quietly charged a number of people associated with the protests, including one man who allegedly encouraged others to bring guns and execute the Premier.
“Everyday Victorians” – including politicians, who already have a voice in the parliament – might do well, you would think, to re-examine those with whom they are associating when next a gallows appears among them.
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