The rise of Australia’s activist far right

Not long ago, the activist far right comprised a motley assortment of anti-Islam groups and individuals rallying in cities across Australia railing against Islamist terrorism, Muslim immigration, and the Islamisation of Australia. Today, the activist far right scene has been sharpened and galvanised into something much bolder, more militant and potentially threatening to Australian society.

Within Australia, the far right contains a wide diversity of views, and is composed of a multitude of groups of varying sizes and aims. Many tend to be active predominantly online or within-house, rather than publicly on the streets. Out of this melange, three main political streams of thought have emerged in the contemporary activist far right in Australia. These streams may be described as civic “patriots”, nationalists and racialists.

These streams define themselves according to their own idiosyncratic ideas about identity, and about who “qualifies” as an Australian and what constitutes the ideal demographic make-up of Australian society. Notions of race and culture, multiculturalism and integration, are pivotal in these streams. There is some overlap in their beliefs, some membership exchange, and at times a great deal of hostility between them. A brief summary of the underlying ideas and modus operandi of the groups in each stream follows.

The first stream, civic patriotism, is the stream that is closest to mainstream Australian views, except that it is overtly and implacably anti-Islam. Civic patriotism emphasises allegiance to the secular state, state institutions and civic values, with the overriding belief that citizenship is the primary determinant of group identity rather than race, ethnicity or religion.

Adherents of this stream believe that non-Europeans and non-Christians may immigrate to Australia on the proviso that they assimilate into “Australian” culture. In short, civic patriots believe in culture over race, in the secular state over religion, and in citizenship. However, they consider that observant Muslims are unable to assimilate, and that they act as a fifth column (with collusion from the political Left) and aim to Islamise Australia. This is the basis of the opposition by these far Right groups to Islam and Muslims.

Civic patriots hold other related views which are likely shared by a much broader amorphous group of Australians who nevertheless do not subscribe to the civic patriots’ policies of banning Muslim immigration or overtly polemicizing against Islam, or who are repelled by the neo-Nazis who have been known to have promoted and attended rallies and other events organised by groups in this stream.

These related views include a conception of Islam as a supremacist, totalitarian and imperialist ideology, oppressive of non-Muslims, which aims at world domination, comparable to pre-modern Christianity. A corollary of this view is sympathy for Jews, who are seen as a favoured target of Islamist terrorists, and for Israel, based on the belief that Israel, a tiny non-Muslim enclave in the Islamic dominated Middle East, is the front line of freedom for western civilisation. The belief is that if Israel falls to the Muslims, then domino-style, Europe too will be swept up in the Muslim avalanche and lost to indigenous Europeans.

Civic patriots are also not alone in focusing on what they perceive as the oppressive nature of Islam towards women, homosexuals and non-Muslims, and on Islamist terrorism, female genital mutilation, child brides, alleged higher crime rates, and other negative characterisations of Muslims as a group, but they do so more publicly and stridently than others.

Examples of groups and parties falling within the civic patriotism model are Party For Freedom (led by Nick Folkes), Rise Up Australia Party (led by Pastor Danny Nalliah), and Reclaim Australia. Not all of the supporters of this stream have European backgrounds, for example, Nalliah is a Sri Lankan migrant to Australia, Folkes is married to an Asian woman, and some supporters are ethnic Chinese.

The second stream on the far right, nationalists, defines itself primarily (at least publicly) as anti-Islam, but holds Jews also to be responsible for Muslim immigration and considers Jews to be a major threat to western society. Muslims are the immediate target; Jews are marked for targeting at a later time. Nationalists prioritise race and ethnicity over citizenship as the prime determinant of identity. This view subordinates the state to the service of the nation (ie the majority racial or ethnic group), and prioritises the continued existence and self-identification of a particular race. As expressed by the group, Nationalist Alternative: “Our struggle is not to safeguard the state, but to safeguard the nation”.

Nationalists, like Civic Patriots, are actively anti-Islam/Muslim. Both groups, for example, engage in protests against development applications for mosques. Although the Nationalist focus is primarily against Muslims, Nationalist groups also oppose other minority groups, although this is less publicly visible.

The Nationalist model is exemplified by the United Patriots Front (UPF) and its leader Blair Cottrell. In a Facebook message discussion between Blair Cottrell and another Nationalist, Neil Erikson, in February 2016 on the future direction of the UPF, Erikson advised: “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.”

For the third stream, racialists, race, not culture or religion or even nationality, is seen as the primary determinant of identity. The long-discredited pseudo-science of social Darwinism is relied on to rank races (itself an ill-defined concept) in a hierarchy according to their supposed physical, moral and intellectual fitness. Racialists are hostile to all people they consider to be non-Europeans, but Jews are seen as the primary enemy.

Yet in contrast to followers of the other two streams, racialists are not necessarily anti-Islam or anti-Muslim. This might seem paradoxical but it reflects the World War II alliance between Nazi Germany and certain Muslim leaders, most notably the Palestinian Arab leader Haj Amin al-Husseini.

The racialist stream is on the outermost fringes of the political spectrum, and consists primarily of neo-Nazis, and others driven by ideas of white supremacy and antisemitism. Their racialism is typically accompanied by belief in antisemitic conspiracy theories. Jews as a group are portrayed as somehow controlling the mechanisms of power in the world – banking, government, media – to the utter detriment of the European races. Part of this mindset is the conviction that “the Jews,” along with other non-whites and Leftists, are plotting “White Genocide” through mass immigration of non-whites into white majority countries.

Antipodean Resistance, a neo-Nazi group, typifies this third model. Unashamedly neo-Nazi, with its antisemitic, anti-homosexual, and anti-non-white immigration stance, it is a small but highly active group. It models itself on National Action in the UK (a proscribed terrorist organisation) and the Nordic Resistance Movement in Scandinavia, some of whose members have been convicted of carrying out bombing attacks. There are quite a few other established racialist groups in Australia but these have not generally been so publicly active over the last few years.

In contrast, a plethora of civic patriot and nationalist groups have been active over the last several years. This activism is often in the form of public protests, such as the anti-Muslim Reclaim Australia protests throughout the major cities in 2015, anti-mosque protests in Bendigo and elsewhere, and other anti-Muslim events. Many of the protests in Melbourne were violent, with scuffles between supporters of the far right and far left. In Sydney, the nationalists and socialists were kept far apart by police, and hence there was virtually no violence.

Of note is the hard left response to the far right. Antifa (short for ‘anti-fascist’) is a collective term for streetwise anarchists and socialists who engage in ‘direct action’. Many of them look for inspiration to iconic anti-fascist historical events, such as the Battle of Cable Street (1936) in London and the Spanish Civil War (1936-39).

In a reversal of roles, it is now Antifa activists who promote violence through such memes as “Punch a Nazi”, and who encourage physical violence against anyone they deem to be a fascist or Nazi, whether they are or not. The Antifa socialists see themselves as mounting the barricades in glorious defence of Islam and Muslims, mosque and burqa, and against the far right bogans and bigots. Both groups typically spoil for a physical fight with each other.

Events overseas, especially the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency in November 2016, have given the far right a sense that things are turning in their direction. They are becoming increasingly emboldened, as was seen in the US in the August 2017 ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, where a conglomeration of far right groups across the US converged, marched and rallied. The far right marched to chants of “Jews will not replace us”, and held placards with the words “the Jewish media is going down” and “Jews are Satan’s children”. Armed far right militia men stood threateningly outside the Charlottesville synagogue as the praying Jews inside held their regular Sabbath morning service. And a far right activist drove his vehicle into a group of left wing protesters, killing one and injuring many others.

In Australia, these events coincided with the rise of an extreme hard core activist group, Antipodean Resistance, heralding a new stage in far right activity in Australia. Antipodean Resistance promotes and incites hatred and violence, as seen through some of its anti-Jewish and anti-homosexual posters, with graphic images of shooting Jews and homosexuals in the head. One poster called to “Legalise the execution of Jews”. Other posters urged homosexuals to commit suicide; one of these was during the same sex marriage debate.

Meanwhile, three leaders from the nationalist camp (Blair Cottrell, Christopher Shortis and Neil Erikson) were convicted and fined in September 2017 for inciting serious vilification of Muslims through their stunt of beheading a mannequin with a toy sword outside the Bendigo Council offices in 2015. The civic patriots and nationalists have somewhat quietened, for now, perhaps as they regroup or splinter further.

It remains to be seen where the far right, especially the racialists, will go in 2018. Will the racialists eclipse the patriots and nationalists, forcing them to move further to the right to maintain a public profile, street credibility and political dynamism, or will the reverse happen with the racialists being seen as too extreme, and being marginalised and rejected within the far right? Time will tell.

An emboldened and activist far right threatens Australia’s successful multicultural society. The targeting of Jews, homosexuals, Muslims and non-white immigrants, starts with vilification and demonisation, propaganda and lies. If the aspirations and plans of groups like Antipodean Resistance come to fruition, there will be blood in the streets across Australian cities.

It is time that Australian leaders in politics, media, law enforcement, and elsewhere, address the social dislocation and the ideologies that are often a spur to extremism, whether on the political right or left, or within religious communities. The time to act is now.

About the Author
Julie Nathan is the Research Director at the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the peak representative body of the Australian Jewish community, and is the author of the annual ECAJ Report on Antisemitism in Australia.
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