Citizen journalism on the rise in Australian marginal politics
The anti-containment movement has given a platform to “citizen journalists” seeking glory and determined to incite hatred and disturb the peace, writes Tom tanuki.
I TALKED on a Triple R show, Spin cyclethe other week. The topic was “citizen journalists”, which was topical after anti-union, anti-containment rallies had just happened. People were beginning to understand how at least one “citizen journalist” was a determining factor in the growth of the protests. As I began to take notes, I realized that my experiences with this particular brand of shape-shifting pseudo-media character could fill a book. I have dealt with parasites using the title for years.
At an anti-racist rally in 2018, a man with an old soft leather jacket and servo sunglasses was filming the faces of left-handers. I detected the smell of “citizen journalist” on him. It’s the smell of a loner with a ruined social life, one YouTube viewing story too many Ben shapiro videos and a pervasive guilt that threatens certain skeletons in his closet. They are still the same kind of man. I have a pronounced sensitivity to detect this aroma; in 2018, I was already an attack beagle of “citizen journalist”.
So I did what I had done best in a long time – I started to be rude and weird to him. I put my thumb a little bit on his stupid big camera for iPad. (This trick works best if they have a really good camera; pretend you’re going to lick the lens to “clean” it and they run for the hills.) I was standing next to him, in front of him, around him. him, circling him like a nutcase. I told him weird stuff. Finally, he left, sweaty.
I found him online and of course he had created an interchangeable “citizen journalist” page called No Safe Spaces. Ben Shapiro overconsumption – check. Then a friend texted me to tell me that they had dated years ago and that he was violent with her. Skeletons in the closet – check it out. These guys are coming off a production line.
If you don’t kill these men in the bud early on, they will become much worse “citizen journalists”. The term has always meant something different but since around 2017 in the activist context it usually refers to a man filming rallies. And in keeping with the usual culture war popularized in America by people like New rebels, the content is generally created at the expense of Lefties.
Avi Yemini started attending rallies for content in late 2017. He filmed attendees, asked them trick-style questions, and organized the footage to broadcast what made him beautiful. He was so relentless in his quest for subscribers that he became Australia’s first “citizen journalist” and won the support of Rebel News.
Its content is entertainment for a strongly partisan audience that is hyper-obsessed with a caricature of “the left”. We are talking about the “Schrödinger“The Leftist” is featured as in the old meme: both a terrifying elitist force of societal decay and a crying blue-haired college student. Avi Yemini doesn’t really care about politics and it helps him fill his market niche because he can, and does, just say whatever is popular. Ethics do not prevent him from working. It’s not a smart thing; you just have to be there and do it, over and over.
I helped create the non-violent and fun anti-fascist group / strategy Yelling at racist dogs (COURT) in 2017. It was at a time when Reclaim Australiaanti-Islamist and nationalist rallies had weakened; rock star alt-Right figures like Milo Yiannopoulos and Lauren South were appearing in its place, touring internationally, selling bestselling books and moving the arena of populist nationalism from the rally to the event venue.
The alt-Right machine was fully monetized and Australia was a strong paying market for it. YARD was thoughtful in its goals and intentions, but stupid in its delivery. We would go out and yell stupid name-calling at racists wielding tickets as they lined up to see Milo, for example. Usually, the person being yelled at at the camera looks like a sitting duck. We filmed it all and made funny screaming compilations out of it.
Senator Janet Rice discusses YARD in Parliament
YARD changed the career of “citizen journalist” Avi Yemini in two ways. First, he immediately stopped the live broadcast once he realized that our shouted contributions weren’t exactly helping his broadcasts. Second, and this came later, we formed a network. People from different progressive militant movements came to expect Avi to appear at their rallies to undermine them because that was Avi’s source of income. They started texting us to find out what to say to interrupt it.
Eventually, Avi began to meet an overwhelming new wave of interest in his domestic violence guilty plea, for example. Because he didn’t want to include this stuff in his heavily curated videos, we made his job that much harder.
What was it for? On the one hand, I do not accept the idea that we should turn around when the opportunistic parasites make real progressive militant movements look like fools for money. Take, for example, climate justice activists who are rallying as the world begins to burn. Their militant struggle is more important to defend than the income of Avi Yemini earned at their expense.
In addition, his videos have led to specific threats against leftists. Avi posted a series of videos mocking and harassing a particular activist he continued to hunt down at left-wing rallies in 2019. Avi once visited the home of a Jewish professor who criticized him, posting a video he filmed outside, essentially doxing this man. It was Avi’s hallmark of “citizen journalism” when it was allowed to flourish without interruption. It was safer for everyone if we kept interrupting him.
By emphasizing non-violent confrontation with these “citizen journalists”, we have also provided a productive outlet for activists’ frustrations. To see what happens when this outlet does not exist, watch Andy Ngo, a figure of American “citizen journalist”. Ngo was targeted and hunted down at an anti-fascist rally in Portland in 2019; activists saw a man who had targeted and doxed many of them, standing among them filming. They rocked. One of them hit him. He was pictured bleeding. For that, Andy received a GoFundMe of over $ 100,000 and a kick-off to a prestigious journalism career.
It wasn’t an incident that you would imagine people would want to replicate, but maybe you don’t know “citizen journalists” that well. The worst that happened to Avi at a rally was having a bottle of water poured over him, but he even described it as a “violent assault”, posted several videos about it and pleaded with subscribers. and support accordingly. So our goal with “citizen journalists” has always been to deny them a repeat result to Andy Ngo. Let go of understandable frustrations with them, and in doing so, avoid getting physical. Avi should be thanking us, really, for keeping him safe.
Victoria Police (VicPol) started labeling some personalities as arsonists and provocateurs to rally tensions in 2019. That was not a broad designation – it only seemed to target a small handful of personalities, including Avi Yemini and the racist condemned. Neil Erikson. Suddenly, these parasites were handled in a unique way, in which VicPol would warn them to leave immediately or risk being accused of “breach of the peace”. If they didn’t comply, VicPol would handcuff them and escort them a few blocks away.
VicPol was trying to reduce the opportunities for tensions at the rallies. This approach, combined with YARD’s interventions, made typical Avi content much more difficult. At this point, therefore, Avi began to portray himself as a real journalist, taking with him a fake press pass and various papers to be produced for VicPol. Its goal has become to promote legal action against VicPol to get them to change their strategy. It was clear that it hit him where it hurt.
We haven’t stopped Avi’s success. It is not possible. The market is too big for their entertainment, and someone willing to sacrifice their entire personal life for fame will eventually get it. But we strongly interfered with its business side which is a danger for real militant movements and I am proud of our work.
This story shows that “citizen journalism” is constantly evolving and changing and fundamentally driven by self-interest. It also demonstrates why the promise of legitimacy that accompanies the title of “journalist” is so appealing to pests of the alternative right who try to escape scrutiny (or arrest). But it looks like there is life now. It predates the coronavirus pandemic, and the anti-lockdown movement has provided an incredible boost not only to Avi, but to a whole slew of other so-called “citizen journalists.”
Join me next week to cover recent developments across anti-containment activism, look at a new figure in “citizen journalism” and discuss how I think they should actually be described.
Tom tanuki is an online satirist, social justice commentator, writer and comedian. He has worked in anti-racist political comedy, notably through his satirical group the Million Flag Patriots and his anti-racist group. Yelling at racist dogs (COURT). You can follow Tom on Twitter @tom_tanuki.