Johanna Leggatt reviews 'Depends What You Mean By Extremist: Going rogue with Australian deplorables' by John Safran

David Marr’s Quarterly Essay, The White Queen: One Nation and the politics of race (2017) is a comprehensive and scholarly look at Pauline Hanson’s appeal, and what her revival, tepid as it may be in an international context, says about the way race has been exploited in the bread and circuses of politics. John Safran is equally interested in race, and says he has been following the far right out of the corner of his eye since high school, but his approach to examining racial politics is very different. While Marr’s is one of observation and disquisition through the impeccably researched essay, Safran’s is one of immersion, a Gonzo approach to decoding extremist elements by throwing himself into the heartland of the fringe groups. Safran is a character in his own work, and in Depends What You Mean By Extremist he becomes close, dangerously so at times, to his star radicals. His subjects don’t exactly trust him, but he is tolerated and some clearly see him as a meal ticket to wider recognition; this gives him unparalleled access. The book opens in mid-2015 at the height of the United Patriots Front (UPF) anti-Islam protests in Melbourne and takes the reader up to the 2016 federal election, and Hanson’s surprise resurgence. A tacked-on final chapter on Trump’s US election win is subtitled ‘Plot Twist II’.

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