Earlier today we put out a newsletter with our report on the Reclaim Australia Rally as well as the anti-Racism counter rally. Our mailing list has a diverse range of people on it. Some are researchers and government officials. Many are ordinary people opposed to all forms of racism and bigotry. A few support our work against one form of hate but are involved in groups promoting other forms of hate. A very special group are from racist or bigoted groups and are on our mailing list to “keep an eye” on what we’re doing.  Each time we release a newsletter a few people write back. This time was no exception.

The message of abuse we receive don’t normally lead to a discussion. Here’s one from earlier:

A: Fuck off champ. I’m not interested in any of your propaganda.

He can of course click the link to unsubscribe. I’m not going to spend my time doing it for him. Not with an attitude like that and no direct request to unsubscribe him. Who know’s maybe he’ll see this and find the unsubscribe link.

Less common are messages where we try to correct misconceptions and put our energy into discussion. Some time people just have the wrong end of the stick about something. The extended discussion below is from an exchange of e-mails a little earlier. The content on both sides of the conversation have been slightly altered to correct typos and improve clarity.

A conversation

B: I was at those rallies and it was the lefties anti racism fools that where violent and no the police did not seize a firearm…. stop spreading hate and fear.

 

Here’s my initial reply, linking to a source from 3AW to at least get us on the same page on the facts.

 

Hi B,I don’t think there are any doubts about the fact that a gun was seized. There is a link in the newsletter to an ABC news article about the firearm being seized. The person concerned is called John, he spoke to 3AW who reported him as saying the issue had been blown out of proportion, but admitting he may have been a bit naive. You can read that article here:http://www.3aw.com.au/news/gun-owner-defends-himself-after-police-seized-gun-ahead-of-reclaim-australia-rally-20150724-gijnbr.html

Given the threats that were made about bringing weapons by Reclaim Australia supporters, something widely reported in the media, you can understand why police were so concerned about this. Even if John has no ill intentions, with that background the incident did have an impact on how police responded on the day.

Regards,

Andre

 

The reply I received made a blanket rejection of the facts, clearly without visiting the link I provided.

 

B: NSW police are denying all of this.  According to NSW police no search was made.

 

Well, I guess it is worth providing some clarification on the facts…

 

What NSW police are denying is that the bus was searched. The ABC article points this out, there was some earlier misreporting. The fact is that the gun was seized by police prior to John getting to the bus. What we have put out in the newsletter is based on the latest information.

 

Unfortunately that just leads to a change of arguments. B writes back:

 

B: No what you fail to report is (1) John’s gun had no ammunition, (2) he has a firearms license and was on the way to the shooting range.  He did not participate in the rallies so this is all irrelevant to begin with.

 

That’s partially true, and partially not true. Here’s the reply:

 

We linked to the article which said the first part of this. From what John himself has said, he was on the bus to the rally (after the gun was taken) and it looks like he did attend the rally. I don’t believe the second part of what you said matches the facts we’ve seen – just based on the quotes from John himself. The issue is not whether John seriously intended to harm people, the issue is that simply carrying a gun while on the way to Melbourne to attend a Reclaim Australia Rally, after people associated with the rally have made threats and said weapons would be brought… is a serious escalation of the situation.

 

That pretty much ended the factual discussion, but not the exchange. Time for B to try a new approach.

 

And at those rallies especially Melbourne what side was violent?  What side where protesting peacefully? Who did the police face who did the police pepper spray?

 

Unfortunately the media did give the impression that all the problems were in the counter rally. This is really a result of numbers and logistics. The anti-Racism protesters were not clashing with themselves. Police were only involved in breaking scuffles up. Those scuffles were a result of the Reclaim Australia and UPF people trying to start trouble in the midst of the cordoned off area for the anti-Racism rally. As I explained:

 

B, there were over 5,000 people on one side and 110 on the other. It makes perfect sense that the bulk of the police were focused on the larger crowd. There certainly were some trouble makers in the anti-racism rally, but I can tell you that when Reclaim Australia people tried to start something in the middle of the anti-racism rally, the result was that they were surrounded and then had glitter poured on them. Not particularly harmful, as people on all sides noted. Even so I suspect they will be less welcome next time.

 

B now reaches for a straw-man argument:

 

So your saying every video showing the left getting violent is fake? Your saying the police turned their backs on the violent side all because of their small numbers? What kind of fool would believe that

 

She did however raise an important point, that there were people looking for a fight on both sides. This led to a far longer response.

 

Sorry? There were police facing both groups. There was an empty space between the two rows of police. Most of the police were facing the larger crowd. There weren’t any crowds which police turned their backs on, I had thought you said you were there? This was very obvious to people there and in all the photographs.

Given its size, it is entirely unsurprising that incidents happened when Reclaim Australia people tried to get in the middle of the anti-racism protest. No one from the anti-racism rally tried to get into the middle of the Reclaim Australia Rally. If they had, no doubt there would have been incidents in that rally as well.

As to trouble makers on the side of the anti-racism rally, I believe I already said they certainly existed and they probably won’t be as welcome next time. The only serious injuries I am aware of are a result of police action, specifically, people having a reaction to the pepper spray. We’ve spoken to very senior people in Victoria Police at length about some specific over-reactions by the police which put public safety at risk. They are looking in to this. Other action by police was entirely appropriate.

I’m certain things can be done better next time, and both groups should have a right to protest, but it needs to be better managed. Those supporting Reclaim Australia and the United Patriotic Front need to be aware of who is leading them and what these people have said and done in the past, some of it quite recent. If people still want to protest, go a head but do it without involving those who have paraded about in Nazi uniform or made statements inciting racial hatred against different groups in society. This is without even mentioning what is said about the Muslim community, the vast majority of whom are decent members of Australian society. On the other size, there needs to be a counter rally, but it can’t be led by the radical far left. There were plenty of people at their first ever protest, ordinary Australians who have seem some of what has been coming from Reclaim Australia and UPF, and weren’t willing to stand by and do nothing. These people again need to come together in a rally without those form the far left who were there looking for trouble.

We’ll have to wait for next time to see if things change.

 

At this point she does two interesting things. This first is claiming references to Nazism are “null and void” because the “main leader is a Sri Lankan”, seems like a non-sequitur to me. The second is tell me she is sharing all the communications with the UPF and Reclaim Australia.

 

B: The main leader is a Sri Lankan native who migrated here. So the Nazi bs you lot spread is null and void ….  Certain members of the UPF and Reclaim Australia are getting copies of all that has passed between us. It is pointless arguing with you so goodbye and good luck.

 

While my intention was a private conversation, B clearly had other ideas right from the start. The idea of a private conversation being lost, I offered to publish this communication myself:

 

As you have indicated you don’t wish this to be a private conversation, I’ll happily put it in the public domain. Our usual practice is to omit names, however, if you write to tell me you want your name published I would be happy to do so.

 

I don’t see the relevance of the ethnic background of one of Reclaim Australia’s leaders? One be from an ethnic background and still promote bigotry, racism etc. In fact given how diverse Australia is, it stands to reason that much of the racism we are likely to see here will be between people of different ethnic backgrounds.

 

B didn’t like this at all:

 

B: I do not give permission for my name to be used or viewed… you obviously have no issue with your name being seen etc as you do mass emails full of hate towards others point of view.  The ones who have the copies of this conversation would not put them in a public forum for trolls to have a field day with. Sadly the right side will once again show how low it will go..

 

I haven’t replied further, but in Australia we do not have a “right” of privacy. Either intended party to a correspondence and make the correspondence public, specially where there was no indication (such as a disclaimed) to suggest an intent of confidentially. Further, the forwarding of e-mails to even one person would take them out of the private domain.

 

B is however right about trolls. This is why OHPI’s policy is to not publish the names or identification details of those responsible for the hate speech we document and publish. We don’t want to be in a position where the public backlash that results may be disproportionate to the initial hate speech. It’s quite possible for a response to cyber-bullying or online hate to get out of control and itself become a form of abuse. This is our policy, and what we recommend, but others do take a different path. When there are attacks on OHPI or our staff, we reserve the right to take a different approach ourselves and we wouldn’t deny others that right so long as they stay within the law.

Hopefully others find the thoughts shared here to be of interest. Clearly many who supporting Reclaim Australia and UPF are not engaging with facts. They have been told to be distrustful of the media and of information that comes from anywhere besides their movement’s leaders. There is a lack of critical thinking and the promotion of a lot of fear. Many of the arguments are easily disproved if people only do their own fact checking. Many supporting the far-right clearly feel the appellation of Fascism or neo-Nazi is a meaningless insult directed at them. They see themselves as the persecuted few.

OHPI regularly speaks up against the misuse of Nazi comparisons, however, neo-Nazism is a real thing. Fascism is a real thing. When it comes to groups like Jobbik, the far-right party in Hungary who recently won its first by-election, or the far-right Golden Dawn party in Greece where dozens of members gave Nazi salutes, many experts are suggesting these groups are not neo-Nazis but simply Nazi groups – some of them jackboots and all. It’s amazing we see this happening in Europe again, within the life time of those that survived Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. It’s even more amazing that people will associate with Australian groups whose leaders have links to some of these far-right European groups.

Reclaim Australia for their part issues a press release claiming they are not affiliated with any other groups. this is a little misleading when you know their history as splitters from the Australian Defense League, itself an Australian outgrowth of the English Defense League. The United Patriotic Front, which itself split off from Reclaim Australia, is even worse. For it’s part, the far right are welcoming these new friends. “They’re on the right track and, with our guidance, they can be turned into hardcore Nazis,” one neo-Nazi publication wrote. We hope those who have joined these far right groups out of ignorance learn the truth about them soon. Not only do they risk the social harmony of Australia through their actions, but they put themselves in danger as well. Far right groups are known to be kind to those who get in too deep and then try to leave.
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