On the 1st of November, about half a dozen posters bearing the slogan ‘It’s Ok To Be White’ (IOTBW) were discovered at Flinders University’s Bedford Park Campus. Within hours of their discovery, the posters were removed by campus security, but not before South Australia Police (SAPOL) became aware of their existence. The posters at Flinders were identical to others found in North Adelaide and the CBD. White, A4 pieces of paper that contained the words ‘It’s Ok To Be White’ in black sans serif font, and nothing else.
The next morning, SAPOL issued a public warning that the IOTBW posters were a potential safety risk, following “uncorroborated social media posts which suggest razor blades are being affixed under posters”. SAPOL did not confirm if razor blades had actually been found behind the posters.
A Flinders University spokesperson told Honi that no razor blades were found in the posters placed at Bedford Park. But, following SAPOL’s warning, Flinders felt compelled to alert their campus community of the potential safety risk.
This alert came in the form of a university-wide email sent by Flinder Deputy Vice Chancellor, on November 2nd.
Dear students and staff,
Safety concern – racist posters potentially containing razor blades
A concerted campaign is underway nationally seeking to stir up racial dissention, via posters in public places carrying the phrase it’s okay to be white.
Posters have been found at our Bedford Park campus.
SAPOL has advised that in some instances razor blades may have been embedded in the posters, presumably to injure those who would remove them.
If you see these posters on campus, please don’t attempt to remove them yourself, but notify security on ext. 12880.
If you see such posters off campus, please consider your safety foremost and report them to police.
Flinders supports free speech but does not support racism, and so we will seek to remove these posters safely and as quickly as possible.
Honi searched Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit for any public posts containing the words ‘razor blades’ and ‘It’s Okay To Be White’ to find the ‘uncorroborated’ posts the police had referred to. There were none. All that appeared were posts rehashing the police’s warnings, or incorrectly stating that razor blades had been found in the discovered IOTBW posters.
It is not unusual for a rumour to spread on the internet. But it isn’t every day that the police and an established university choose to entertain these allegations. How did the rumours about razor blades being affixed under racist posters begin? And, more importantly, where did these posters even come from?
On October 15th, Pauline Hanson’s Senate motion condemning ‘anti-white racism’ was narrowly defeated in federal Parliament, by a close margin of 31-28.
The motion proposed the Senate acknowledges “the deplorable rise of anti-white racism and attacks on Western civilisation”. It most notably, proposed to have Senators affirm that “it is okay to be white.”
When the motion was voted down, Hanson jumped on the latter phrase. She gave interviews to the media, stating, “Those who did not support the motion are sending the message that it is not okay to be white.”
“I called equality for all Australians, regardless of […] the colour of your skin.”
Two weeks after the motion, Labor MP Anne Aly arrived at her electorate office in South Australia to find the glass doors covered in posters bearing the same five words: “It’s Okay To Be White”. On the same day, similar posters were found on the street outside the office of Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, a vocal opposer of Hanson’s motion. Both politicians, in cities kilometres apart, had been targeted with signs bearing the same phrase.
Although Hanson claims the phrase is meant to be interpreted literally, the origins of ‘Its Okay To Be White’, especially as a contemporary reactionary slogan, have been well documented.
After the vandalisation of her office, Anne Aly wrote on Facebook:
“It’s OK to be white’ aren’t just five words that are arbitrarily thrown together and have some kind of expressive meaning about racism. It is actually a loaded slogan with a long history within the white supremacist movement.”
A 2017 ABC article discusses how the slogan is a political trap.
‘They’re trying to wedge their political opponents. Somebody says, ‘It’s OK to be white, don’t you agree?’ If you say, ‘No I don’t agree’, oh well what — so you’re against white people?,” Dr Kaz Ross told the ABC.
“And if you say I do agree, they say, ‘Oh OK, then so basically there’s no such thing as white privilege and that white people can be treated badly like minorities.”
Media coverage around Hanson’s motion fell right into this trap. Some outlets quoting other Australian politicians appeared to condemn the motion, leading to hordes of comments on social media all following the same format. “Proud to be White”, “I’m very proud to be white we seem to have achieved a lot more than other races”, and “If you said its OK to be black people would be falling over themselves to join the bandwagon and congratulate you. They are all being racist by not agreeing it is ok to be white”.
Other media outlets made the case that it is “okay to be white”—mainly outlets that conducted interviews sympathetic to Hanson, like 2GB and 2HD—and importantly, ignored or outright denied the origins of the phrase.
ABC discussed the phrase’s US origins, noting that the IOTBW ‘movement’ sprung from a string of messages appearing on anonymous messaging site 4chan about a year ago. Contributors on the forum detailed a plan to post IOTBW posters “on trees and notice boards around high schools and universities across the United States”.
“The creators predicted that “leftist” academics and journalists would understand the slogan’s white supremacist origins and recoil in horror, while others who were unaware of its origins would see that as an over-reaction to the slogan’s sentiment,” wrote ABC.
‘IOTBW Day’ garnered significant media attention in the US, culminating in an infamous Tucker Carlson segment. It had been timed to coincide with Halloween, so that participants could disguise themselves and not be caught putting up the posters. It caused a tide in the US, but the waves have also been felt here, in Australia.
An Honi investigation can reveal Hanson’s motion fuelled a period of increased activity on the anonymous message board, 4chan. Australian users noted that “the timing couldn’t be more perfect for us.”
“I’ve already got my plans laid out”, said one person on the day after Hanson’s motion, “Get yours ready too. But don’t tell anyone what they are.”
Gradually, a movement for an Australian IOTBW day grew. Users agreed to use the same date to bring the campaign to Australia one year after it had occurred in the US. Users discussed who the targets should be:
“Local MPs, Left wing media outlets, Higher education institutions – They tell us time and time again that “black lives matter” and “refugees welcome”” said one poster.
“It’s time to let them know that “It’s okay to be white” too.
An image emerged, which began to be frequently re-posted, of the contact details of all Senators who voted down Hanson’s motion. In one thread, users discuss the best way to anonymously target these Senators, considering fax or e-fax, before deciding on visiting the Senators in person: “putting them up in person also provides a degree of anonymity just wear a black hoodie and jeans and incognito shoes”.
On October 31, two global threads emerged. The first thread told 4chan users to be as disruptive as possible. It suggested placing razor blades behind posters to make them harder, and dangerous, to take down, resulting in bigger news stories.
The second thread warned that any additions or changes to the printed poster would make supporters of IOTBW the subject of media attention, rather than the phrase itself, which was the aim of the coordinated move.
These two large threads and smaller break-off threads are the only connection between the Australian posters and the threat of razor blades, indicating that SAPOL had been informed of or was aware of the discussions occurring on 4chan.
Flinders was a clear target, being mentioned by name on the day by an unprepared participant:
“BAD NEWS BOYS
i havent been able to organise any flyers or trasnportation, was gonna head out to flinders and post flyers, can someone post at flinders uni SA?”
RMIT was also mentioned as a target, and users complained the next day that only posters in Adelaide had attracted national media attention: “>tfw your IOTBW poster doesn’t make the news”, “feelsbadman”.
A particularly interesting thread occurred the day after the motion. In between complaining about the effects of Hanson’s motion and the media coverage that it prompted, two users, supporters of IOTBW, began discussing police recruitment tactics in Victoria. A, the originator of the thread, used anti-semitic and racist slurs, while also discussing that they were attempting to join Victoria Police. “Not delusional to think I will make any sort of difference”, wrote A, “just want a good paying job”.
A wrote: “I’m up to the fitness stage, passed exam, basic background checks, video interview”
“They won’t do detailed background checks till before panel interview (for vic). They will only check FB I think”
Another user, B, enters the thread and begins asking questions about the recruitment process. “In the application process it says that they look into your social media and stuff like that…Do they check that shit? Or look into your internet usage in general? … they’d probably tell me to fuck off since they’re supposedly all PC now.” B also uses anti-semitic language, and is paranoid that their political beliefs will be discovered during the vetting process.
“yeah prob just being paranoid. but from what i’ve heard from mates who have joined and just general word of mouth is they’re really clamping down on “anti social” behavior and things that don’t align with their super liberal values. got a feeling that if they ask some question like “do you believe in countries having borders?” and i don’t say something that some lefty would then i’m fucked. going to have to hide my power level hard i think”
A reassures B that they were able to do the same, posting a comprehensive description of the recruitment process: “Assuming all that’s good as gold, you will move onto the video interview, I had to sound super left wing here and I thought I fucked everything up, I did however mention how I’ve been overseas and have had contact with different cultures and shit and I think that’s what got me a pass.”
Victoria Police told Honi that they are “unable to comment on specific applicants and unverified reports.” A spokesperson said that “all Victoria Police applicants are subject to background checking which includes character, criminal and traffic history and associations”, but that “for operational reasons, we cannot comment on the tactics used to conduct the vetting process and background checks.”
“At any stage during the process, additional information may be found on which an applicant may be rejected.”
They stressed that “the vetting process is non-discriminatory” and “is designed to provide a level of assurance as to the honesty, trustworthiness, maturity, tolerance and loyalty of individuals joining Victoria Police.”
“It is not a pass or fail test, or a moral judgement on a person’s lifestyle, beliefs or ideas.”
Despite garnering media attention on select Australian university campuses, the attempt to bring the IOTBW movement to Australia revealed many things about the online alt-right community. It seems the popularity of 4chan is dwindling, comparing last year’s IOTBW efforts to this year’s, and that it’s Australian user-base is severely limited, or at least unwilling to commit to any direct action to further their cause.
What is perhaps the most significant to note, is that the individuals who do remain on these sites are becoming deeper and deeper within a growing international alt-right and white nationalist discourse. A thread seeking to uncover the identity of a popular user, who may be A, indicated that they have links to the ‘Lads Society’, an emerging group of Australian white nationalists. To have individuals in these communities attempting to garner media attention, succeeding in having white nationalist slogans read aloud in Parliament, and in some instances, hide their politics from police recruiters to gain positions of power in society, can not be ignored.