During the storming of the US Capitol Building, keen-eyed broadcast viewers were surprised to see an Australian flag hoisted high by one rioter amid a sea of US flags and Trump banners. This flag, however, is not as out of place as it may seem. Australia played a part in creating the mess in the US.
This morning’s protest-turned-riot-turned-coup attempt did not come out of nowhere.
It was made possible by a symbiotic relationship between a political movement, a media environment and an online ecosystem that has spent months spewing false claims that the election was stolen from US President Donald Trump.
These delusions laid the groundwork for people to break into the Capitol Building to try and take back an election that many of them believed — without factual basis — belonged to ‘them’.
And some in Australian media and politics are complicit.
There are sections of Australian media that have repeated lies and unproven accusations that there was widespread voter fraud in the US. This is despite Trump’s own Attorney-General admitting in December that the administration could find ‘no voter fraud that could overturn election’.
Sky News Australia is undeniably the biggest proponent of misinformation about the US election here in Australia. The channel itself is owned by the Rupert Murdoch-led News Corp. Murdoch’s Fox Corporation also runs Fox News, a major source of election misinformation and conspiracy theories in the US.
The outlet — which has cultivated a massive online, international audience through its sensationalist and misleading content — has published dozens of pieces of content claiming there was widespread voter fraud. This has been seen by millions of people worldwide.
probably a good time to note that Sky News Australia played a part in creating this fantasy that the election was stolen, laying the ground for the insurrection. pic.twitter.com/RxGrM8gBhD
— CAMERONWILSON (@cameronwilson) January 6, 2021
Former senator and Sky News host Cory Bernadi baselessly claimed that voter fraud has been “quite extensive” in one segment that’s been viewed 728,000 times.
A YouTube video of former radio shock jock and Sky News host Alan Jones falsely claimed postal votes were “magically materialis[ing]” for Joe Biden has also been viewed 759,000 times.
Beyond that, it has repeatedly published false claims from Trump and his lackeys without qualification, i.e. letting audiences know that their claims have been widely debunked.
On one occasion, former Trump campaign manager Steve Bannon was invited on to share numerous unproven allegations about Joe Biden and the upcoming election. It’s been viewed many millions of times on YouTube, Facebook and elsewhere across the internet, and syndicated to publications like news.com.au.
But it’s not just Sky News Australia. Other media played a part, too.
The very same media members who spoke about vote fraud were quick to blame anyone but Trump and his MAGA media ecosystem.
Australian columnist for the New York Post and The Daily Telegraph and Fox News contributor Miranda Devine has used her numerous Australian and international platforms to pedal (sometimes easily disproven) accusations of election fraud.
She responded to the riots by pointing the finger at Black Lives Matter protestors.
I guess we really shouldn’t be surprised at what’s happening in the Capitol after the way leftist violence was condoned most of last year. You let the genie out of the bottle, there’s no telling where it goes
— Miranda Devine (@mirandadevine) January 6, 2021
“I guess we really shouldn’t be surprised at what’s happening in the Capitol after the way leftist violence was condoned most of last year. You let the genie out of the bottle, there’s no telling where it goes,” she tweeted.
Many parts of Australian media initially promoted Trump’s electoral misinformation without qualification that it was entirely unproven.
here's the top 3 performing FB posts from a CrowdTangle list of Australian media companies in the past 2 hours. No mention of the lack of evidence of fraud, none of them just stating the fact that he hasn't won the election. pic.twitter.com/WgSRWgFN2s
— CAMERONWILSON (@cameronwilson) November 4, 2020
Similarly, Australian politicians also promoted these false beliefs.
One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts — the guy who toasted Trump’s win with champagne in front of Parliament House and lobbied Australian diplomats for tickets to Trump’s inauguration — posted that “Democrats are willing to do anything to steal the election”.
He did so literally while rioters were in the Capitol Building.
*Senator* Malcolm Roberts posting today pic.twitter.com/6LWgrMLP6A
— Ariel Bogle (@arielbogle) January 7, 2021
Similarly, George Christensen has spread US election misinformation on his professional Facebook Page. This is not to be confused with his personal account where he followed white nationalist and conspiracy content.
At the time of publishing, these posts remain live. And Christensen took to Facebook to protest Twitter suspending Trump and to share an unproven claim that Antifa infiltrated the rioters, while ignoring the violence.
very strange! Australian Parliament's biggest Trump supporter hasn't posted anything on Facebook about this. pic.twitter.com/5dmPUzahi8
— CAMERONWILSON (@cameronwilson) January 6, 2021
The internet changed the rules about how information spreads. Unlike the before times, we’re all now in the same information ecosystem. Even Down Under.
That means when Australians promote bullshit, they’re responsible when someone believes it — whether it’s here, or halfway across the world.
Meanwhile in Melbourne, Australia: Trump supporters walking down St Kilda Road to the CBD pic.twitter.com/RGgAMOKGNG
— João Pedro Kist (@jaopkist) January 6, 2021
On Thursday morning the soon-to-be former President lied to his supporters at a rally in Washington D.C.
As he had done hundreds of times before on social media, in the media and at rallies, he told supporters that the election was stolen and demanded that his vice president overturn the election.
At the end of the speech, he told his supporters to go to the Capitol.
From there one person was shot dead and more than a dozen were arrested. Property was looted, lawmakers terrified and irrevocable damage has been done to the idea of a peaceful transition of power and democratic norms.
This violent pathway to the Capitol Building was paved, in part, with the contributions of Australians.