Melbourne’s Nazis highlight a bigger problem

On the steps of the Victorian Parliament a group of neo-Nazis dressing in black stood in a line, each with an arm outstretched in a Nazi salute. This is Melbourne, 18 of March 2023. In Brazil, Nazi salutes were made at rallies opposing election results in November 2022. In Strasbourg on February 17th 2022 a Member of the European Parliament stood in the chamber and made a Nazi salute. In Brazil Nazi incitement is a crime and police began an investigation to refer people to prosecutors. In the European Parliament the MEP was fined. In Victoria, the use of the Nazi Swastika has been made unlawful, but other promotions of Nazism remain within the law. As a result, the neo-Nazis stood on the steps of parliament, throwing their salutes for the cameras, as a police line kept opposing protestors away, protecting the neo-Nazis as they claimed the steps of the parliament for themselves. These are the same neo-Nazis who just a few months ago were performing their Nazi salutes at Elwood beach.

The 30 or so members of the neo-Nazi group were part of a broader anti-transgender rights rally. The way these neo-Nazi’s have jumped onto this cause is similar to the way they engaged in Islamophobia around 2015. There is a difference, however, last time they toned down the Nazi symbolism in an effort to broaden their appeal and recruit, this time they are increasing the Nazi rhetoric, focusing recruitment on those at the far right of mainstream conservativism who they hope to radicalised into extremism. At the same time they are also seeking to normalise neo-Nazism, presenting it as something other than extremism. They did this through their engagement with the anti-lockdown movement as well.

Victoria Police keep opposing protestors away as neo-Nazis march outside Parliament throwing Nazi salutes

The involvement of neo-Nazis in the anti-transgender rights rally has shocked many, but should come as no surprise. If anything it is lacks the subtlety seen oversees. The Anti-Trans Movement is an international movement centred in the United States, and within the Christian Right, but which has also spread to the UK and here in Australia. It is a movement whose development mirrors that of radicalisation towards domestic terrorism. Part of this has been normalising the idea in the media and in public discussion that removing human rights from some people, transgender people, should be considered acceptable. It is part of a move to reinstate a traditional gender stereotype about women, which in the United States also includes the attack on reproductive rights. The dehumanisation of groups of people, their designation as “undesirable”, and efforts to eliminate them from society are exactly the sort of policies neo-Nazis are attracted to. There is also an overlap between the push for so these called “traditional Christian values” (a misnomer) and the far-right / neo-Nazis in the Christian Identity ideology that is radicalising people on platforms like Gab.

This is about more than symbols. The threat is fascism and an undermining of human rights. We need a non-partisan response, not just on the Nazi salutes, but on the underlying threat of extremism. Below are our suggestions, shared with the Victorian Government last year, on tackling the neo-Nazis. We have also provided submissions on anti-vilification laws and support their expansion. We continue to work internationally, including as part of Australia’s delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, and with the Inter-Parliamentary Taskforce on Online Antisemitism. When it comes to the global spread of hate and extremism, it is the online world that puts us at risk. We really need governments to recognise that and start supporting the important work of civil society, rather than being taken by surprise time and time again.

On tackling Nazism

The Online Hate Prevention Institute was consulted by the Department of Justice and Community Safety in January 2022 about the moved to ban the Swastika. We recommended focusing on the underlying problem, the glorification of Nazism, rather than the designation of specific symbols.

This legislation recognises the serious harm that is causes with the public display of Nazi symbols outside of appropriate and genuine educational, academic, artistic, cultural or scientific purposes. The public glorification of Nazi symbols promotes antisemitism, racism and white supremacy. Such hate is at odds with the values of Victoria and is not welcome in this state.

Recommended by the Online Hate Prevention Institute for a pre-amble to legislation banning Nazi symbols.

In our submission we recommended that the legislation prohibit both Nazi and neo-Nazi symbols. We noted that the Victorian Parliament’s Inquiry into Anti-Vilification Protections (page 179) had already noted the German Parliament’s detailed list of proscribed symbols. We noted that Nazi symbols included: the Nazi salute, the Black sun (“Schwarze Sonne” or more generally “Sonnenrad”), the twin lightning bolts of the Sig rune, the number 88 (H being the either letter of the alphabet, so 88 standing for HH or Heil Hitler), the number 14 as a neo-Nazi symbol for the “14 words”, the combination of the two previous symbols as “14/88”, the Nazi eagle, the Celtic cross, the SS Deaths head, images of Hitler, Pepe the Frog, and a particular cartoon meme of a Nazi soldier. There are also symbols related to specific Nazi / neo-Nazi groups, including local groups. We noted in our recommendation that:

It is likely groups will be able to rapidly change their symbols and repurpose everyday symbols and emojis so any scheme needs to be readily adaptable and needs to have an element of context related to the glorification of Nazism / neo-Nazism.

Recommendation from the Online Hate Prevention Institute’s submission to the Department of Justice and Community Safety

We welcome multiple statements in response to the events at the Victorian Parliament including those urging law reform. We repeat our call for laws that prevent glorification or promotion of Nazism and neo-Nazism, rather than playing wack-a-mole banning the symbols and actions that have already been used. Banning the Nazi salute will simply see a shift to the quenelle, an inverted Nazi salute that gained currency in France. Or they will make up something new, or adopt something else old. The law needs to be flexible enough to allow common sense to prevail. It is the intent to promote Nazism or neo-Nazism that needs to be banned. Do that, and it doesn’t matter how they try to disguise it.