Little more than a year ago, far-right activists in Australia could reasonably accurately be divided into three ideological groupings: civic patriots, nationalists and racialists. Whatever they might be said to have in common, these groups differed fundamentally in their beliefs about race, religion and citizenship. But now, something far more sinister is going on. There has been a move further to the right by the civic patriots and nationalists, and a general convergence around the racialist myth of “White Replacement.”
In 2019, the far right began its activities with a rally on St. Kilda beach in Melbourne, protesting so-called “African crime.” The “Reclaim St. Kilda” rally was organised by two well-known far-right figures, Blair Cottrell and Neil Erikson ― both Hitler-admirers and anti-Muslim campaigners. Some of those at the rally were openly neo-Nazi, displaying Hitler salutes and flaunting a Nazi SS helmet. The rally was addressed by Senator Fraser Anning, who has stated he would bar Muslims from migrating to Australia. However, the participants were not all white supremacists. In attendance were also some Vietnamese-Australians who had been violently attacked by Sudanese-Australian youth.
Such political exploitation of racism and religious bigotry is nothing new. It preys on fears about non-European immigration into Australia, and attempts to revive the old “White Australia” conviction that Australia should be almost wholly, if not fully, composed of those of European ethnicity and Christian culture. Even indigenous Australians are air-brushed out of the picture. Variants of this kind of “nativist” populism are percolating in Australia, and throughout the world.
What is new is the concept of “White Replacement” (sometimes called “White Genocide”) which claims that there is a global Jewish plot to “import” non-Europeans ― especially Africans, Asians and Arabs ― into Europe, North America and Australasia for the express purpose of “destroying” European culture, and subjugating and decimating those of European ethnicity.
Those who subscribe to the “White Replacement” myth believe that in this way, people of ethnic European background will become a minority group, outnumbered and dominated in countries where once they were a majority of the population. This is the kind of feared “replacement” that the marchers at the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, were referring to when they chanted, “Jews will not replace us!” It is the mirror opposite of the claim often made by far-left antisemites that Jews are an integral part of the “White oppressor” establishment.
The “White Replacement” myth is yet another mutation of classical antisemitism, the paranoid fantasy about a world Jewish conspiracy. The Working Definition of Antisemitism adopted by the 31-nation International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance describes it as:
“making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective ― such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.”
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One advocate of the “White Replacement” conspiracy is Shermon Burgess, former leader of the anti-Muslim groups “Reclaim Australia” and the “United Patriots Front,” and one-time campaigner with Blair Cottrell. Burgess later became openly antisemitic. He has referred to Jews as “leeches” who “control 75% of the entire world’s wealth … They run the governments of the world.” Burgess openly espouses and promotes the “White Replacement” myth: “Zionist Jews who run the Central bank/EU/UN flood White nations with hordes of Islamists to implement #WhiteGenocide”; and, “If your religion involves flooding all White Countries with mass Immigration to wipe out an entire race … You might be a Jew!”
Burgess also advocates Nazism: “Revolution then National Socialism or death is the answer”; “Race War”: “RAHOWA [Racial Holy War] is going to be a great day of racial awakening and vengeance for our people”; and racial violence: “Support your local Nationalist FIGHT CLUB. Society is decaying the Zionist globalists are robbing us blind and flooding migrants into our nation’s ― the WAR is coming, BE READY!!!”.
The neo-Nazi group Antipodean Resistance, which began in October 2016 and became inactive online in late September 2018, blamed Jews for non-white immigration in its propaganda posters, although it did not specifically espouse the “White Replacement” myth. However, from the seedbed of Antipodean Resistance a new group, calling itself Identity Australia, emerged in October 2018, intent on opposing non-European immigration and promoting the myth of “White Replacement.” An Identity Australia sticker bears the words: “Identity Australia: Reject Your Replacement.”
The online output and street activity of Identity Australia bears a close resemblance to that of Antipodean Resistance, but Identity Australia appears to have learned the lesson that open support for Nazism and for the extermination of Jews and homosexuals, as espoused by Antipodean Resistance, is a turn-off for most people. Identity Australia instead seeks to appeal more broadly to the ordinary “white Aussie.” Its discourse is shorn of Nazi ideology and imagery, and aims to appeal simply to “white” xenophobic nationalism, all the while concealing the antisemitism at its core.
If Identity Australia represents a retreat from crude Nazism to a more generic white nationalism, Cottrell and Erikson have evolved in the opposite direction. Initially, they downplayed their antisemitism, describing their strategy as “Muslims now and Jews later.” In one online exchange, first publicly exposed in February 2016, Erikson said to Cottrell: “My personal opinion is stick to the Muslim shit and Cultural Marxism for max support do Jews later you don’t need to show your full hand.” Cottrell responded: “Yeah good advice and that’s my current attitude as well. It will take years to prepare people for the Jewish problem. If any of us came out with it now we would be slaughtered by public opinion.”
Cottrell is now less cautious. His leadership of the Lads Society has demonstrated how difficult it is for the groups he is associated with to paper over their Nazi core. The Lads Society was formed in Melbourne in September 2017, and seems to be little more than a front for Antipodean Resistance. The leader of the Lads Society in Sydney, formed in April 2018, is Mark McDonald, former leader of the Nazi group Squadron 88, which in 2014 and 2015 was responsible for letterboxing antisemitic leaflets in Sydney suburbs with large concentrations of Jewish residents. Nevertheless, Cottrell uses a slightly more nuanced term for “White Replacement”; he calls it “Ethnic Replacement.”
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Online there has been a notable increase in articles on websites and posts on social media espousing and promoting the “White Replacement” myth, in Australia and overseas. David Hilton (a.k.a. Moses Apostaticus) often promotes the “White Replacement” conspiracy in his articles published on the far-right XYZ website. Hilton also organised antisemitic posters in Brisbane and Sydney in November 2017.
The potential for violence which such online posts portend was graphically demonstrated in the United States in October 2018 by Robert Bowers, who wrote on Gab, a Twitter-like platform which is a haven for extremists and racists, “Screw your optics, I’m going in.” Shortly afterwards, he entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and murdered eleven Jews. Afterwards, Bowers told police that he was motivated by his belief that “the Jews” were “committing genocide to my people.”
Chillingly, these words were echoed by another Gab user, an Australian named Ryan Fletcher, who wrote, “I think its about time to say ‘fuck your optics I’m going in’.” Fletcher has a dark history of calling for the murder of Jews in Australia and worldwide, and of posting images of Jews being killed, on his Gab account. Fletcher subscribes to the myth: “#White gentiles are waking up to the agenda of #ZOG (which is #WhiteGenocide).” “ZOG” stands for “Zionist Occupied Government,” a term used to insinuate that “the Jews” control the United States and other Western governments. Fletcher also writes articles for XYZ.
The activist far right, in its opposition to “non-white” immigration and multiculturalism, originally focussed their venom at Muslims and then at Africans. With the open adoption of the “White Replacement” myth, it is likely that the far right will continue to target those two communities while increasing the rhetoric that it is “the Jews” who stand “behind it all.” Their message will be ― and, indeed, already is ― that since this is being orchestrated by “the Jews” as part of a “Jewish plot” to destroy the West, the Jews need to be eliminated, one way or another. Doubtless, then, any problem with Muslims or Africans or any other non-European group, will be considered either manageable or at an end.
Ominously, many in the far right are claiming that 2019 will be the year that Australia is “taken back” are openly talking about sparking a “Race War.” It is unlikely that calls for a “Race War” will be taken up by masses of people. Australians in general have traditionally been too sceptical of zealots on a mission of any kind, to be receptive to extremist calls for violence from any quarter. However, the scope for a lone, indoctrinated fanatic like Bowers, or a conspiratorial group of people like him, to wreak murder and mayhem in Australia should not be underestimated. Will political and civil society leaders adhere to the standards of zero-tolerance for racism, and incitement to violence, in actions as well as words? Time will tell.