George Christensen has hit back at critics for appearing on an alt-right YouTube series – which later hosted far-right extremists including a former neo-Nazi and a Proud Boys leader – by declaring “you do not catch extremism”.
Nationals MP Mr Christensen last week appeared on an episode of WilmsFront, a YouTube series and podcast hosted by conservative website The Unshackled.
In his interview published on September 30, Mr Christensen asked host Tim Wilms “Are you a neo-Nazi?”, “Are you a racist?” and “Do you spread conspiracy theories?”, to which the interviewer replied “No”.
Earlier episodes of this Unshackled program have featured long interviews with prominent anti-lockdown activists who have incited large protests, as well as former United Patriots Front leader Blair Cottrell.
It comes after Australia’s domestic counter-terrorism agency ASIO warned the coronavirus pandemic has created more opportunity for right-wing extremists to recruit members through the internet.
Far-right violent extremism now accounts for up to 40 per cent of the agency’s caseload – up from 10 to 15 per cent before 2016, it was revealed during a parliamentary inquiry last month.
The day after Mr Christensen’s interview was published, Wilms hosted a two-hour interview on a related show called The Uncuckables.
The show’s five other guests included far-right agitator Neil Erikson, and a man named ‘Versace Cowboy’ who is identified as “leader of the Melbourne Chapter of the Proud Boys”.
Mr Erikson, a former member of the far-right United Patriots Front and a self-confessed former neo-Nazi, was convicted with Mr Cottrell for inciting serious contempt of Muslims over the ‘beheading’ of a dummy outside Bendigo Council in 2015, in protest over a planned mosque.
He also harassed and racially abused former senator Sam Dastyari in a Melbourne pub in 2017.
The Proud Boys are designated as a “hate group” by the American Southern Poverty Law Centre. The group has been linked to violent protests in the United States, but has a far smaller presence in Australia.
The Uncuckables is described on its website as a “super alt-media livestream” collaboration between The Unshackled and two other “alt-media” websites.
Its website said the show is “hosted every week by Tim Wilms, editor in chief of The Unshackled” and the editor of another of the websites, and is “broadcast live from The Unshackled studios in Melbourne”.
Wilms’ website said The Uncuckables is “produced by The Unshackled” and the other two “alt-media” outlets.
In 2017, Mr Christensen apologised after appearing on a separate alt-right podcast, which was produced by a white supremacist group that promoted anti-Semitic material.
The MP claimed at the time he wasn’t aware of the group’s content before appearing in that interview.
“They are extremely anti-Semitic, regularly make racial-based slurs, and they subscribe to white nationalism. If I had known that, there is no way I would have done that interview,” he told Radio National in 2017.
Senator Kristina Keneally, Labor’s shadow home affairs minister, slammed Mr Christensen for appearing in The Unshackled video.
“Right-wing extremism and white supremacist ideologies attack our values and are a danger to democracies everywhere. These views have no place in our society and no place in the Australian Parliament,” she told The New Daily.
“Parliamentarians and national leaders can send a loud and clear message about who Australia is as a community, what we value, and what we reject.”
Senator Keneally called on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to “explain why his government MP appeared on an alt-right podcast and what steps he is putting in place to ensure it never happens again”.
Mr Christensen rebuffed the Labor senator’s claims.
“You do not ‘catch’ extremism by being interviewed by someone who has also interviewed people with extreme views,” a spokesperson for the Nationals MP told TND.
“Mr Christensen does not subscribe to socialism just because he has been interviewed by The New Daily in the past who have also interviewed Ms Keneally and other Labor socialists.
“The media and Labor need to stop with the old hat and quite false ‘guilt by association’ claims.”