COMMENT:

Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux have met controversy at every stop of their speaking tour.

During a recent visit to the Sydney suburb of Lakemba, Lauren accused Australia of cowering to sharia law. Their Melbourne event was crashed by over 100 protesters, one of whom managed to storm the stage.

I went to Lauren and Stefan's Sydney event to see what all the fuss was about.

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When I arrived, I counted at least 30 police officers. Last year, I reviewed Milo Yiannopoulos' event. Not since then had I seen such a large gathering of cops.

In hindsight, they probably didn't need to be there. No protesters showed up. The design of the building made it very difficult to protest. And the location was kept a secret until the day before. Even ticket holders were in the dark.

The 750-person audience enjoyed a safe passage into the event.

Before it started, there was a $200 meet-and-greet, a $500 VIP meet-and-greet, a $750 dinner and a screening of Lauren's documentary about the plight of white farmers in South Africa.

There was also a merchandise stall selling a number of T-shirts with different slogans on them: "Feminism is cancer", "There are only two genders", "Turn back the boats", "It's OK to be white" and "The West is the best".

The event started at 8pm. Stefan spoke first, then Lauren, followed by a Q&A.

Neither speaker shied away from the touchy subjects we all avoid at dinner parties. The whole thing felt like a two-hour ode to Western civilisation.

Lauren and Stefan are on the front line of what's called the "culture war" — a series of disagreements over the West's acceptance of political correctness, immigration, feminism, gender theory and multiculturalism.

Lauren believes the left has won this culture war. So she's fighting back with an army behind her — a growing online movement of people who, like her, are sceptical of the entrenched conventional wisdom surrounding these cultural issues.

"The first rule of multiculturalism is that you can't talk about multiculturalism," she said.

Everyone likes to think they're speaking truth to power nowadays. Lauren and her audience believe their voices have been marginalised by a left-wing political and media establishment that prioritises what "isn't offensive" over what's "true".

To automatically dismiss this online movement as an epidemic-level revival of racism seems careless and overly simplistic. Lauren and Stefan are echoing the concerns of potentially millions of Australians. Censoring them from democratic debate could be devastating.

Feminism, Islam and multiculturalism aren't beyond criticism. Most polls suggest that the majority of women don't even identify as feminists. Are we not allowed to question why? Or is that yet another topic that's off limits?

There's a fundamentalist brand of social justice out there that takes values like equality, diversity and acceptance to their perverted extreme. Lauren's $67,000 security bill is evidence of it.

But I'd like to warn Lauren against adopting the tactics of her adversaries.

It takes years of study to fully understand Islam, political philosophy, feminism and immigration. Yet somehow, a 23-year old college dropout seems to have figured them all out?

Lauren is entitled to her opinions, but to pretend she's some kind of intellectual authority is ridiculous. She might not claim to be an expert, but she is certainly treated like one. I hope her audience doesn't blindly accept everything she says.

Her critiques of multiculturalism were interesting and not completely outrageous. But for Lauren to be treated like an expert by more than her own fans, she first must understand the arts of expertise: nuance, balance and compromise.

Lauren spares no time for discussing the ugly side of Western civilisation, or the beautiful side of multiculturalism. Everything is either completely bad, or completely good.

The followers of this online right-wing movement have an astounding level of certainty in their ideology. Certainty is comforting for people who desperately want to understand the world.

Like her radical left-wing enemies, Lauren understands half the story of whatever she talks about (Islam, feminism, multiculturalism), and thinks it's the whole story.

Nevertheless, Lauren represents a large number of Australians who feel they have no voice. There was a genuine feeling of persecution emanating from her audience.

Several audience members wore "Make America Great Again" hats that looked brand new. I'm guessing it was one the few times they'd been worn in public.

Lauren's event showed me the blind and unrelenting faith the followers of this online right-wing movement have in its leaders: a cabal of academics, journalists and commentators that includes Lauren, Stefan, Milo, Ben Shapiro and Jordan Peterson, among others.

Their fame and charisma have turned them into gods whose gospel can't be challenged.

Lauren, Stefan and their crew of right-wing internet commentators may not realise it, but they hold considerable power over a generation of young conservative contrarians.

They criticise the left for being intolerant towards differing opinions and yet, I saw that same intolerance in their own audience; the same dogmatism, anger and stubbornness displayed by Lauren's supposed arch-enemies: the social justice warriors.

During the Q&A, a man disputed something Stefan had said. Stefan gave a genuine response but the questioner remained unconvinced and went back to his seat. The next questioner mocked him for challenging Stefan, as if he had violated some blasphemy law.

Lauren herself has engaged in as many protests and political stunts as her enemies.

She did manage to convince me about one thing: the Australian media is wrong to describe Lauren as "alt-right" — a mistake I myself have made.

Lauren has some very controversial opinions and she has engaged in some very provocative antics. But she simply doesn't meet the criteria of alt-right. Associating Lauren with the alt-right makes a good headline, but it's just not true.

The alt-right is a white nationalist movement with links to Neo-Nazism. The term "alt-right" was coined by a man named Richard Spencer, who is considered the movement's leader.

Spencer supports the creation of a country exclusively for white people. He's opposed to interracial relationships. And he supports abortion rights, partly because of their capacity to reduce the African population.

To lump Lauren in with Spencer is lazy and uncharitable. Whereas Spencer believes different races can't coexist, Lauren believes different cultures can't coexist. Spencer takes pride in the white race; Lauren takes pride in Western culture.

You might disagree with both of them. It doesn't change the fact that they're different and that one is clearly worse than the other. Race-based pride is one of history's ugliest forces.

If you care about defeating the alt-right, don't use the label as a cudgel to describe every right-winger on the internet. We should reserve the label for whom it actually applies.

Do we want to become the boy who cried alt-right?

Don't underestimate the appeal of Lauren's ideas. She's one of the many representatives of a formidable cultural uprising. Her supporters aren't going to just disappear.

For Australia to avoid the polarisation that the American political system is suffering from, either one side of this culture war will have to concede defeat, or we'll have to come to a compromise.

I know which option I prefer, but honestly, I can only see deadlock on the horizon as these two ideologically stubborn and arrogant political tribes continue to fight for our future.

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