As soon as Trump supporters violently stormed the US Capitol building, their online allies began promoting a conspiracy theory that the whole riot was a false flag operation. And when some Australian politicians started to promote this, Prime Minister Scott Morrison failed to condemn it, taking the same approach to misinformation from his party room members as he has done many times before.
On Thursday, the Prime Minister refused to condemn US President Donald Trump’s incitement of violence through his lies about electoral fraud.
But he also refused to comment on the conduct of someone closer to home — his LNP backbencher George Christensen.
Earlier that day, the Trump-supporting Christensen posted a link to a debunked news article falsely claiming that a facial recognition company believed that Trump opponents had ‘infiltrated’ the rioters who stormed Capitol.
Really disheartening looking at the comments underneath George Christensen's ridiculous post today suggesting antifa infiltrated the Trump mob. A good reason for the PM to call out misinformation, you'd think. pic.twitter.com/vWHIDDM0vr
— Luke Henriques-Gomes (@lukehgomes) January 7, 2021
The firm in question put out a statement saying that the article was false, and that they had actually identified two Neo-Nazis and a QAnon supporter.
At the press conference, Morrison refused to answer a question from Guardian Reporter Paul Karp about Christensen’s promotion of a conspiracy theory.
“Australia is a free country, there is such a thing as freedom of speech in this country and that will continue,” he said and ended the press conference.
Scalding hot take pic.twitter.com/nOaKuk48kb
— Matt Bevan ???? (@MatthewBevan) January 7, 2021
Late on Thursday evening, another government MP shared a similar conspiracy theory on Facebook.
Frequent misinformation sharer and the Liberal Party Member for Hughes, Craig Kelly, downplayed yesterday’s invasion that left five dead, calling it a “small group of protestors over-doing it, and invading parliament for a short period of time”, before pivoting into a more extreme version of Christensen’s theory.
He claimed that “Neo-fascists and Marxists” who were trying to get the world’s media to blame and discredit Trump supporters were to blame.
The Prime Minister’s office has been contacted for comment.
In the past, however, Morrison has refused to condemn Kelly for denying climate change, for claiming a medical drug that was abandoned by the medical community could cure COVID-19 and for claiming that masks don’t stop the coronavirus.
Morrison, notably, intervened to save Kelly from being dumped at preselection before the last election and keep him in Parliament.
Likewise, the Prime Minister’s office didn’t comment on Christensen’s Facebook account following racist and conspiracy pages.
As far as Gizmodo can tell, he’s done nothing about his backbenchers using their offices, titles and platforms to promote misinformation. Kelly in particular has one of the biggest audiences on social media of any Australian politicians, which he almost exclusively uses to promote his baseless theories.
By failing to reign in his MPs or public condemn them, Morrison is letting his own party room members foment fear, distrust and hatred in the Australian community.