Australian Convention Under Fire After Vendor Sells Fascist Merchandise

Australian Convention Under Fire After Vendor Sells Fascist Merchandise
Image: Supplied

Fans are threatening to boycott the Supanova pop-culture convention, where a vendor openly displayed fascist flags and merchandise at Supanova’s most recent Sydney show.

This story originally appeared on Kotaku Australia.

Multiple attendees posted on Supanova’s own Facebook page, and confirmed to Kotaku Australia separately, that they had reported the booth’s merchandise to Supanova staff from Friday, when vendors began setting up for the following day’s opening. The material included flags and T-shirts featuring swastikas and ultra-nationalist iconography, including one flag sporting the text “Pink Fascism” and a bloody knuckle with a swastika in the fingernail.

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The term “pink fascism” is rooted in a debunked conspiracy theory that homosexuals were a prominent factor in, or identified with, the Nazi party. It has gained prominence in recent years among arch-conservative movements worldwide, despite the clear and established history of Nazi Germany’s prosecution of homosexuals and associated organisations.

Other shirts and merchandise at the stand included a shirt saying “Just Hunting Bolsheviks”, another reading “Christian, Australian, Heterosexual, Pro Gun, Conservative, Any Questions,” and flags with the Japanese rising sun. A Eureka flag was also prominently displayed, which has been recently co-opted as the logo of the anti-immigration Australia First Party, although it has also been historically used by unions and other Australian protest groups in the past.

Another shirt promoted a comic called Captain Kelly: Sky Commando, an Australian comic featuring a Ned Kelly-like figure who fights “Zombie Nazis for Allah”.

The booth, operating under the name Celtic Panzer according to reports and the official Supanova exhibitor list, has exhibited at Supanova Sydney before. The official Supanova schedule for 2018 and 2019 shows Celtic Panzer had a spot in the show’s Indie Press Zone both years, although Kotaku Australia makes no claims or assertions about what the vendor displayed in either of those years.

Photos and reports of the booth began circulating late Friday night, both on Supanova’s own page and other social media channels. Supanova responded to criticism by Saturday, and by Sunday morning announced on Facebook that the exhibitor had been “ejected” from the event. “This is in progress now with security present, and we are aiming for this to be completed prior to opening; though it is possible that this will still be underway after 10am,” Supanova wrote.

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Supanova did not respond to questions from attendees asking why the exhibitors were not removed sooner. Posts on social media show that Supanova publicly responded on Saturday to investigate “as soon as possible”, but more than 10 hours later the booth had not been ejected.

One attendee also told Kotaku Australia that Supanova staff asked the booth to remove the Rising Sun flag and material featuring swastikas on the Saturday, but the booth was permitted to continue operating. One user on social media reported being told by Supanova staff on Friday — the day before the convention opened to the public — that the vendor had “been banned already,” even though the booth remained throughout the Saturday.

Kotaku Australia has contacted Supanova for comment multiple times asking for a clarification on what background checks are done on vendors; what Supanova staff did upon receiving complaints on the Friday; why the vendor was allowed to continue exhibiting throughout Saturday despite displaying material featuring swastikas; whether the vendor received a refund on their booth fee and if they would be allowed to exhibit in the future; and how a Supanova vendor is able to display such merchandise at a family-friendly show. Supanova’s social media team responded on Sunday afternoon saying “this is a very busy time” and that they would “reply in full as soon as we are physically able”. The organisers, however, did not respond to a request for comment on Monday, nor Tuesday morning.

It’s not the first time Supanova has found itself in controversy. A few years ago Daniel Zachariou, the founder and event director of Supanova, was heavily criticised for posting a petition on their Facebook page calling for the cancellation of transgender education in schools. It immediately sparked a backlash among Australia’s pop culture and cosplay communities — which are traditionally openly LGBTQIA+ friendly — and former high profile guests of Supanova called for a boycott.

“As much as I want to support events for gamers throughout Australia, there’s no way I’m going to do that when those running it post transphobic asshattery,” Liam Esler, one of the co-founders of the former queer-friendly gaming and pop culture convention GX Australia, said at the time.

Zachariou posted an apology afterwards, saying a new diversity panel would be introduced to Supanova shows and that he did not intend to promote any offensive views. “Both I and the team of Supanova are committed to ensuring it remains a welcoming, enjoyable and inclusive environment for all just as it’s always been,” Zachariou wrote.

Separately to this, Supanova also announced that their upcoming Perth show — originally scheduled across June 26 and 27 — has been postponed. The decision was forced upon the organisers, after the West Australian government closed their borders in response to the growing COVID-19 cluster in NSW. With Supanova’s staff currently in NSW after this weekend’s event, the timing meant there was no way for staff, or many of the scheduled guests, to get back into West Australia in time for the show.

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