Should we react to the far right?

Originally published in FUSE, August 2011

It seems as though almost every week a far right activist causes a storm through saying some extremely ridiculous, or insulting, about queer people.

For example, in the United States, presidential candidate, Michelle Bachmann has made headlines for signing a pledge that implied that black children were better off under slavery because they were more like to grow up in a family with a mother and father, which was now under threat due to the rise of queer rights.
In Australia, the sister of Kevin Rudd, Loree, wrote a letter to all Federal Members of Parliament asking them to resist the ‘global gay Gestapo’ that was engaging in propaganda campaign to legislate same-sex marriage.

The response to many of these attacks is, understandingly, outrage.

One must ask the question however, does engaging with the far right simply provide them with a platform to have their voice heard? Are we better off just ignoring these loons instead of engaging with them?

Many social movement theorists will tell you that ‘fringe’ elements of social movements, whilst they can provide initial embarrassment and shame to more moderate elements, provide essential cover to these people.

For example, with an established conservative such as Michelle Bachmann saying that homosexuality is a ‘health risk’, it becomes easier for other conservatives to make claims that we should not teach about homosexuality in schools. Bachmann’s statements make these statements look reasonable, in turn bringing people on side, and taking the debate to the right.

It is a tactic that many in the left are not so great at. Whilst we campaign for same-sex marriage rights, many often condemn those who speak out against the oppression of marriage itself, not because they disagree, but because they believe that any real reform to marriage is ‘unachievable’.

This can often make it more difficult for progressive activists to achieve significant reforms to our societal systems, as the goals we set are often the easiest, and therefore sometimes the least significant, ones we can achieve.

Whilst questioning our own tactics, however, we also must question the positives of challenging the far right on their crusades.

Does engaging with the far right simply allow them to take control of the narrative and leave more ‘moderate’ conservatives space to say what they want without criticism?

It is a natural reaction to want to automatically attack the most conservative attacks we can find. When Loree Rudd says that there is a ‘gay Gestapo’, it is fair enough to be outraged and to want to have a go.

Yet, when we engage with her, we often give her, and other conservatives, breathing space to have their views herd.

This is a debate that climate activists have had to face for years as they question whether they should engage with climate change deniers or whether this simply gives them legitimacy they don’t believe.
Many in the climate movement are now beginning to engage with these deniers as they are seeing that they are receiving media time whether the movement engages with them or not and that by not engaging they are letting their arguments go unchallenged.

Yet for queer activists, we must ask whether people such as Loree Rudd would have received any media attention if we hadn’t reacted so strongly.

Sometimes it may be best for the queer movement to ignore the senseless rants of many on the far right and instead engage with the more ‘moderate’ commentators.

Next time you hear a far-right commentator say something outrageous, feel free to be outraged and say something about it – but don’t forget that we can’t let more ‘moderate’ conservatives use them as cover for their equally awful views.

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