“Australia officially now has a political party modelled on the far-right wing movements in Europe”. That’s the opening of an article in the Sydney Morning Herald last Sunday. The far-right in Australia, however, has a twist. There are the overt neo-Nazis, and the movement is supported by far-right groups from overseas like Greece’s Golden Dawn, but there is also a concession to multiculturalism in parts of Australia’s far right.
Australian culture is at its heart multicultural. We welcome immigrants from many countries. We have in fact been built on waves of immigration. In 1901 when Australia became a nation the largest migrant groups in Australia were the British, Germans and Chinese. Lebanese migrants have also been arriving in Australia since the mid 19th century. Following the Second World War 160,000 Greeks migrated to Australia, mostly to Victoria. By 1961 the largest number of non-British immigrants came from Italy, Germany, Greece and Poland. From the 1970s refugees began to arrive by boat. First from East Timor then after the Vietnam War many Vietnamese came to Australia. In the early 2000s the new immigrants to Australia mainly came from China, South Africa and India.
In 2015 the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that 28% of Australians are born overseas. Over 43% of the population have at least one parent who was born overseas. There is also growing acknowledgement of Indigenous rights and of the role of Indigenous culture within Australia’s national culture. Welcome to Country ceremonies are now quite common and a feature of major conferences and events in Australia. All these factors highlight that Australia’s British heritage is just one part of our multifaceted culture and history.
In Britain the far right argue to protect the “purity” of British heritage, in Australia such arguments clash with our modern Australian identity. The effort to reuse far-right propaganda from Europe in multicultural Australia appears ill fitted and is often mocked. Meme with images of the First Fleet and the slogan “Stop the Boats!” remind Australians that except for our Indigenous people, we are all in historic terms recent immigrants here. Reclaim Australia is similarly mocked when people say such a group in Australia must sure be an Indigenous Rights, highlighting that modern bigots have nothing to reclaim here.
In response the Australian far-right is adapting. The message is now is that everyone is welcome, provided they are not Muslim. This divide and conquer approach allows ordinary Australia, some themselves born overseas, to feel comfortable ganging up on what they are told is an “other” who won’t fit in. The arguments are in fact largely recycled and have been used by the far right against each new wave of immigrants. They amount in short to an emotional argument of “fear them, for they are not like us”. This allows the far right to gather support, as we saw in the UK with the English Defence League (EDL), a precursor of what we are now seeing in Australia.
It’s sad to see people from minorities involved in such movements. It’s even worse when we see people point to these groups and say “they have someone from country X involved, so they can’t be racist”. Being a member of a minority group does not make one immune to racism or bigotry. A fair amount of the racism we see in Australia in between people from different minority cultures. Statistically that makes perfect sense given the large proportion of the population who have some form of ethnic or cultural identity as part of their individual identity as an Australian.
It isn’t enough to be sad, however, we also need to be concerned. While the numbers the far right gather in rallies around the country are small, the very fact they are rallying, and now registering a political party, raises a whole new level of concern. If we go by their online numbers, even accounting for a large number of supporters who aren’t Australian and for membership by the same people in multiple groups, their numbers must give us pause.
Some of Australia’s far-right online groups
Boycott Halal in Australia
With 80,553 supporters “Boycott Halal in Australia” (ID 131315043683974) is the largest of the groups. Most of its posts show products that are Halal and encourage people to boycott them, some posts encourage people to buy products that are not Halal. The first example is a typical post of this kind. Of more interest are the posts that vary from this theme, as shown in the second and third example.
The second example says “One of our Members [TG] asks… What’s the deal with RSPCA approved? Hypocritical to say the least. Won’t be supporting the RSPCA again! We know that RSPCA Australia finally woke up to the fact that not all stunning is the same in January this year… See attached. Sadly the RSPCA continue to back HALAL SUPPLIERS!” This attack on the RSPCA is not related to a disagreement on animal welfare. The member being quoted by Boycott Halal is willing to attack a leading animal rights group if they don’t sumbit to this persons anti-Muslim ideological agenda. That seems fairly extreme.
The third example comes from August 4 2015 and in it Boycott Halal in Australia defames the President of the Islamic Council of Western Australia. They repeat inaccurate and misleading information from years earlier when the truth is readily available via the media.
What they say: “Let’s look at the ICWA HALAL AUTHORITY. ICWA = Islamic Council of Perth in Western Australia. ICWA President: Dr Ratab Jeneid
Arrested – Dr Ratab Jeneid was arrested with his brothers with $8 Million in Drugs $380,000 in Cash & Unlicensed Firearms… The Australian Government authorise ICWA to Halal Certify Exports of Dairy to Malaysia and Exports of RED MEAT Requiring a Halal Certificate.”
The real story, as reported by Perth Now on October 1 2014: Police “found a locked firearms cabinet which was not bolted to the floor or wall. Mr Jneid attended a police interview confirming the cabinet was his and opened the box to reveal licensed guns and ammunition.” This shows that the suggestion by the page that the guns were unlicensed is untrue and this has been known for years. The court was told that Dr Jeneid had just moved house and the welder had not yet arrived to secure the cabin when police saw it. The judge told him, “You were not ignoring your responsibility, [and] this is definitely at the lower end of the scale.” He was fined $300 and ordered to pay police costs of $150.80 and granted a spent conviction. While his brothers were charged in connection with a drug bust, and Dr Jeneid was charged on this separate matter at the same time, the message posted by the page imputes that Dr Jeneid and the Islamic Council of Western Australia Halal Authority were somehow involved in criminal activity.
Reclaim Australia Rally – Australia wide
The page “Reclaim Australia Rally – Australia wide” (ID 762398587169729) has 29,765 supporters.
Earlier today they pushed their supporters to vote in a poll run by the Bendigo Advertiser on whether VCAT got it right. This page is not local to Bendigo, and like we reported when we first looked at the Bengido Mosque issue, most of the opposition to the Mosque was from people who were not only outside Bendigo, but from outside Victoria. In fact only 3% of the supporters for the “Stop the Bendigo Mosque” Facebook page came from Bendigo.
The later posted that poll was gone.
This was actually incorrect, the article (and the poll) are still online here. Despite the efforts of this very large group to hijacking this local issue and the local media, as of the time of writing just over half of voters are in favour of the Mosque. One does have to wonder how many of those that voted each way are actually local.
The second example shows Reclaim Australia sharing content by Britain First, an English far-right group. As the Guardian explains, Britain first is largely a social media phenomena and was started by Jim Dowson, an anti-abortion firebrand preacher and former member of the British National Party (BNP). Jim Dowson wasn’t even in Britain when he setup and ran First. On the ground in Britain it was run by Paul Golding, a another former BNP personality. The Oxford Dictionary described the BNP as “An extreme right-wing political party in Britain supporting racial discrimination and strongly opposing immigration. The party arose in the 1980s as a breakaway group from the National Front”. The free dictionary is a little more direct, it describes the BNP as ” a neo-Nazi political party”.
A report on Isis training camps from a respectable media company would be fine, but Reclaim Australia betrays its far right connections and influences when it shares content from Britain First.
The third example shows the myth “Reclaimer”, as they call themselves, tell themselves. They claim they represent “free thinking” and they are disliked by the left and the media for thinking for themselves on Islam and not towing the party line. The phrase, a mind so open the brain fell out a few miles back comes to mind. They also see themselves as the saving grace of Australia. The brave view willing to state the “truth” others won’t speak. There is a hint of the traditional far right atachments to conspiracy theories in all this. The “only we know the truth” and “they are all trying to supress it and silence us!”. The problem is, more often than not, when those who are experts at investigation (such as academics and journalists) find your theories not worthy of their time, it’s not all of them who are living in a collective delusion.
The Great Aussie Patriot (Shermon Burgess)
“The Great Aussie Patriot” (ID 920332737979757) has 23,100 supporters. He’s quite a character and a lot of his content is in the form of short videos.
In the first video (watch it here) he says, “We have proved a point. Now the permit for the Cronulla rally has been knocked back and they will not allow a rally in Cronulla. So this goes to show that the Muslims can hold a rally with 800 members in Lakemba which is an Islamic stronghold in Sydney, right near the frigging ANZAC memorial, with their Jihad flags sticking out of the ground, and they get approved for a permit, yet Australians want to have a rally in a predominantly Australian suburb and democracy fails us. And we do not get the equal white [sic] to free speech in this area of Sydney.”
There’s a lot that can be said about this. For a start, the fact that Muslims can be Australian is a concept he hasn’t quite come to grips with. The way he takes issue with Muslim Australians getting permission to hold a rally in a suburb where many of them live is insane. Would be prefer they hold a rally in a suburb where none of them live? Or perhaps he simply prefers to deny them their democratic right to hold any rallies at all? That would be more in keeping with traditional far right thinking.
Next is the issue of his application for a rally in Cronulla, the site of Australia’s worse race riots. An online SBS documentry describes the 2005 riots as “the day that shocked a nation”. For a group that promotes hate against sections of the community to apply for a permit for a rally there is just asking for it to be rejected. No council in their right mind would grant such a permit. The 2005 riots were between white Australians and Lebanese Australians, many of whom would have been Muslim. This was a deliberate provocation.
In the second video (see here) he promotes the idea of Muslims as a cultural threat and compares Muslims to a cancer saying “you attack it straight away, you don’t let it grow”. He says in part: “This isn’t an attack against our governments, this is an attack against us the people. This is an attack against our very way of life, our very existence and our children’s future… only 2.5 to 3% of the population is Islamic but they are already overly highly represented in crime statistics in this country, so we have to look at if this is what we are receiving now with 500,000 of them, imagine when we hit the one million mark… we cannot afford to sit here until the problem becomes uncontrollable and we cannot get on top of it. When you detect cancer you attack it straight away, you don’t let it grow.”
These sorts of messages promoting genocide are a common anti-Muslim meme online. Building on his view that Muslims can’t be Australian, and his glorification of Australia’s worst race riots, this is deeply concerning.
In the third video (see here) he targets a radio presenter, giving us a taste of what he thinks about those who disagree with him and his followers. “All right Patriots, I’ve got one name for you… now this guy is an absolute traitor, communist disgrace.” He goes on to complain how the radio host he is targeting cut off one of his supporters when he called the station. He described the person who was cut off as someone who “not only served his country in the Australian Defence Force, but has also seen first-hand what Islam can do”. More of the “us” and “them”.
As a bonus, if you want to see him going all out, have a look at this archived footage of one of his videos. In it he gives dating advice, attacks Indigenous Australians and says if he was married to someone and found they didn’t agree with his politics, if it weren’t for the police, he would just “bump the f*ckers off”. Charming.
So what now?
Even discounting the many non-Australian supporters of the various Australian far-right pages, there is still a far larger problem than we see out in the streets when Reclaim Australia hold their rallies. With the creation of a political party promoting these ideas, are situation is now getting closer to that in Europe. Many at the fringes who support these groups online may well vote for them in an election, either out of conviction, or as a protest vote against the major parties. What we are seeing is a growing acceptability of racism and anti-Muslim bigotry and vilification in Australia. We need this threat to be recognised and taken seriously now, not after another race riot.
What can you do to help? Firstly, please share this briefing.
It is important more people learn about these far-right groups. Too many people aren’t recognising fascism when it is standing in front of them. As Jeff Sparrow has written in the Guardian, “If you oppose Reclaim Australia, remember fascism wasn’t always a freakshow”. Too many point to the support these groups receive from people of different backgrounds. This is Australia, we are multicultural and diverse, and so are our fascists. It won’t stop them turning on the next group once they are done attacking the Muslim community. Some of them are already attacking other minorities.
You can also help by joining us. This movement of hate is still largely promoted online, and this our domain of expertise. We are Australia’s only national charity that focuses on the preventing the harm that can result from online hate. You can join us by liking our Facebook page and /or joining our mailing list for a monthly summary of our activities. Most improtantly though, please spread the word to others. Word of mouth is still our most effective tool in the fight against hate.