Notes from the Upside-Down II: Neo-Nazis Everywhere, or: An Inquest into 'Whataboutism', Agit-Prop, and Propaganda in Legacy Media
An essay into Austrian legacy media focusing on right-wing extremism at the Covid anti-mandate rallies (pt. 1) in comparison to Neo-Nazis in Ukraine (pt. 2, forthcoming)
So, here we are, in a very strange—and ever weirder world. In this post, I shall try do some more ‘media criticism’, albeit of a very strange way. What you shall find here are the following issues:
This is a kind of pictures-with-words essay based on two major sources from Covidistan legacy media (named below).
Both legacy media (ain’t ‘news’, I suppose) items have one over-arching theme, but they are on two ostensibly un-related issues: the theme is far right-wing extremism, and the two topics are all matters Covid-19 and the current conflict in (eastern) Ukraine.
Since I’d like to be taken seriously here, I shall be perfectly transparent of what the following little essay is going to do: there’s a brief section about my topic (hypothesis, research question, if you like), my methodological approach (how I shall go about testing my assumptions), and what kind of material I’m using to do so (my ‘sources’). As a proper little essay, I shall further include a brief concluding section below.
Introduction: Question & Hypotheses, Sources & Methods
Let’s keep the former aspect as inclusive (ecumenical) as possible, shall we? Here’s my over-arching question for the following:
what is the role of (far right-wing) extremism in current politics?
Any proper (scholarly) essay should also have a hypothesis (by which is meant one or more possible answers before you actually conduct the research), so here’s mine:
the role of (far right-wing) extremism in current affairs is that of a strawman argument, which is to say that guilt by association, presumed or factual, will be deployed at will to discredit one argument if it suits the powers that be while it won’t be applied—by the same powers that be—if it doesn’t suit them. In other words: accusations of (far right-wing) extremism are part and parcel of the political toolkit of those who wield power and their brown-nosing camp followers in ‘Western’ societies.
In terms of methodology, there are three aspects to be considered in the following:
First, I shall compare two legacy media pieces on the subject matter in terms of their content (visuals and text) and enquire into language use (discourse analysis and historical semantics).
Second, I shall endeavour to be as inclusionary as possible to placate the angry woke mob that will come after me for speaking my mind on facts, but there’s also another angle to this: the following includes one media item from a state broadcaster and one from the private news media outlet (or de facto state broadcaster).
Third, I shall first look at these two media items chronologically, i.e., I’ll look at them in the order of their (online) publication; given that their publication dates are 12 and 27 Feb. 2022, respectively, such close temporal association suggests that those who created the content can be reasonably assumed to have certain knowledge about both topics, hence it’s fair game.
In this essay, I shall compare the following two sources:
On 12 Feb. 2022, writing for Austrian left-of-centre daily Der Standard, Colette M. Schmidt published what the good people over at that de facto state media rag call ‘analysis’. Entitled ‘Corona Protests: Flying Dangerous Flags’, Ms. Schmidt and photographer Marie E. Mark present a number of far right-wing themes (or memes) at anti-mandate rallies in Vienna, Austria, from November 2021 through early February 2022, which, as of today, was quite popular as the 1,339 (moderated) postings by registered individuals attest. This is the source material from a ‘private’ legacy media outlet, which you can find here.
On 27 Feb. 2022, Christian Körber published a piece in Austrian state media ORF, which focused on Vladimir Putin’s justification of the Russian military operations in Ukraine. Entitled ‘Putin’s Nazi Tales about Ukraine’, Mr. Körber tries his hands at dis-assembling what he calls ‘selective information, disinformation, and, as it must very well be called, propaganda’. Published online on 27 Feb. 2022, the piece doesn’t have any comments, but I suppose that’s alright. This is the source material from a ‘state’ legacy media outlet, and you can find the article here.
This is a topic that’s literally wide enough to drive a tank through, hence, a few limitations must be noted:
This cannot be anything but a qualitative endeavour due to the sheer amount and incomplete nature of the source materials. Part of this limitation stems from the essay being an inquest into current affairs (but this also applies to what I usually do, i.e., research into past periods where these limitations stem from incomplete source materials, different mentalities, and the like, but I digress).
These are far from the only examples, but this is a substack essay, hence it will have to do.
Still, I shall compare these two pieces and offer a conclusion below, however tentative it may be as of this writing.
Pt. 1: Far Right-Wing Extremism vs. Covid Mandates in the Left-Liberal Legacy Media
Description: This is more of a photo essay, with only a very limited amount of text provided, most in captions. Here’s the introductory paragraph, by Ms. Schmidt (my emphases):
The Symbols of Right-Wing Extremists Among Anti-Mandate Protesters
It is no coincidence that right-wing extremists and neo-Nazis are at the forefront of protests against Covid mandates and vaccinations. They have always appeared on the scene worldwide when they see a crisis as an opportunity to destabilise democracies in order to install fascist regimes, be it refugee crises, climate change or a pandemic. The issues are secondary. For those who justify their participation in these demonstrations by saying they are only resentful of government actions but have nothing in common with Nazis, it is worth taking a closer look at the symbols under which they march.
Brief comment: this is not analysis. The introduction by Ms. Schmidt is virtue-signalling of the worst kind, by which is meant overly general statements (‘no coincidence’, ‘always appeared…worldwide’) unsupported by any specifics, details, or facts.
Note, further, that the use of similarly general pronouns (they, those) is in fact de-humanising, for it makes ‘them’ a rather amorphous number of individuals. In addition, this is a textbook example of what in the humanities and social sciences is called ‘othering’ (note that this is a Wikipedia link, for very scholarly guide, do start with the entry ‘Phenomenological Approaches to Self-Consciousness’ by Shaun Gallagher and Dan Zahavi at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’), by which is meant
the reductive action of labelling and defining a person as a subaltern native, as someone who belongs to the socially subordinate category…[which] excludes persons who do not fit the norm of the social group
This is really a textbook example, even if we use ‘only’ the definition offered by Wikipedia (which, I’d argue relatedly, should at least embarrass the masters of discourse who designed Wikipedia as a control tool, as Helen Buyniski has argued).
Moving on to the third major theme in Ms. Schmidt’s introduction, we note the conflation of legitimate grievances (‘those…[who] are only resentful of government’]) with what the self-declared juste milieu deems off the reservations, that is, non-discrimination against fellow protesters.
Now, I’m not saying I share extremist views espoused by some of the individuals appearing at such protests, but unless every kind of protest is carefully vetted at every time to ensure no-one deviates from the ore-approved ways and means of expressing oneself, such a setting is simply impossible to find outside a Leni Riefenstahl choreography, such as the Nazi Party Rallies in 1930s Nuremberg.
That said, what Ms. Schmidt is calling for is a kind of ‘safe space’ for dissent, which, by its very definitions as both noun and verb (via OED), literally impossible. (Also, I’m not going to address a plethora of comparable illogicalities and cognitive non-sequiturs, such as comparable allegations thrown at, say, ‘Russiagate’ (e.g., here and here, the ‘Jan. 6 Insurrection’, or the Canadian Freedom Convey of last month (no need to link to that one, right?)
So, here’s a selection of (three) pictures and their captions from Ms. Schmidt’s piece; do check it out for the rest, but they are telling in and of themselves.
Caption: At first glance, many may simply recognise the Austrian flag. The fact that [the flag] is flown upside down by participants of the anti-mandate protests is not coincidental, but it is a common code among anti-state activists. [So-called] state rejecters came into being already years before the Covid-19 Pandemic, and they are part of an anti-democratic, often right-wing extremist movement that does not recognise the existence, or legitimacy, of the [Austrian] state. After several trials against supporters in Austria, it had become quieter around them in recent years, but now they are reappearing, sometimes at protests against the Covid-19 mandates and the injection mandate.
Caption: Often, a faction with banners of the ‘Querfront’ [lit. Cross-Section] leads the protest. Behind the name is one of Austria’s best-known right-wing radicals, Gottfried Küssel. A self-described Neo-Nazi with multiple bespoke convictions [based on the anti-Nazi legislation enacted after WW2], regularly participates in the rallies. His influence also extends over ‘fluid milieus’ of the Tanzbrigade [dance brigade], the martial arts association Noricum [the name of a de facto paramilitary group named after a Roman province] or football hooligans of the big Viennese clubs, according to journalist and extremism expert Michael Bonvalot. Some of them continue to operate under the name ‘Alpen Donau’ [Alps Danube]—like Küssel’s Neo-Nazi website, which was taken offline. They [presumably all] recruit followers at the demonstrations.
Note that there’s a lot of other images, which features ultra-conservative catholic factions in combination with allusions of the ‘Identitarian’ movement, iconography from US discourse (of the ‘don’t tread on my’ and ‘Q-Anon’ garden varieties), and the like, but the third example I’d like to share is the below image and caption of ‘anti-mandate leftists’, which differs considerably from the pictorial and verbal ‘analysis’ offered by Ms. Schmidt:
Caption: Often, there’s also a handful of men and women calling themselves ‘Free Left’ who have been spotted at anti-mandate protests. They first appeared at the ‘Querdenker’ [lit. Cross-Thinker] protests in Germany, and now they also exist in Austria. What exactly about them—apart from their self-referential name—is supposedly left-wing remains a mystery, because nobody in the left-wing scene knows them, and they are not working together with them either. Also, they first appeared at anti-mandate protests after allegations surfaced that Neo-Nazis were leading and organising them, the group’s name could be a misleading false flag operation.
Note what’s going on here: anyone who marches against the Covid mandates is presumed to be a right-wing extremist, at least by associative implication of being in the same crowd of protesters a least 40,000 strong each week, as admitted to by government advisors recently.
Furthermore, for the self-identifying juste milieu over at Der Standard it is apparently inconceivable that there could be new left-of-centre groups that exist beyond the already established ‘left-wing’ formations that so prominently figure in virtually all ‘acceptable’ protests, be it against the World Trade Organisation (e.g., at Genoa or Seattle), the Antifa and/or Black Bloc hooligans that ransack cities, smash windows, and set cars on fire around 1 May every year, and the like.
Note, briefly, that the ‘righ/left-wing’ protesters are pixelled, as opposed to the pictures showing ‘notorious right-wingers’, whose faces aren’t obscured (other than by face masks), but this isn’t done consistently. I don’t know why, but it’s certainly something that is intersting, at least in my reading.
Finally, there’s the—of course unsubstantiated—allegation of Neo-Nazis behind these ‘Free Left’ groups, with the additional less-than-subtle ‘hint’ of their presumed participation in a ‘misleading false flag operation’, by which is (presumably) meant that any kind of ‘extremism’ that positions itself against the mandates in public might ultimately be connected to Neo-Nazis and right-wing extremism.
End of Pt. 1
Do click on the sourced article and check out the other pictures and captions, even if you don’t read German, GoogleTranslate or DeepL (my favourite) does a fairly good job of providing a readable translation. If you’d do that and need/wish further context on these translations, please let me know via the comments.
That’s it for now, in Pt. 2 I shall explore the ORF piece on Neo Nazis in Ukraine, Mr. Putin’s statements, and how far legacy media admits that he’s correct.