Large numbers of police, including the riot squad and mounted police, have formed a barrier better far-right nationalist and anti-racism protesters at St. Kilda beach today.
The far-right nationalists
The far-right nationalists include the usual self appointed leaders, some of whom already have criminal convictions for serious racial vilification. In the past their focus has been the Muslim community, now it’s shifted to the African community. They used to try hide their racism, claiming attacking Muslims wasn’t racist (though a recent definition of Islamophobia disagrees), now they just don’t care.
Dr Andre Oboler, CEO of the Online Hate Prevention Institute and a Senior Lecturer in the Law School at La Trobe University explains:
Not only are we seeing a pattern, but these carefully choreographed activities are designed to incite racial hatred and violence in our community. They are designed to capture headlines, rebuilt the far-right base, re-establish the profile of personalities that have all but vanished from the headlines, put pressure on mainstream right of center political parties, and ultimately influence the Federal election later this year.
After their conviction for serious racial vilification, the leadership of the United Patriots Front largely broke up and vanished from the headlines. Now, however, they are back. Or at least trying to come back. As SBS reported, both Blair Cottrell and Neil Erikson were involved with today’s far-right rally.
In their article SBS plainly and accurately labels these far right actors as nationalists. Not patriots, nationalists – there’s a difference. Nationalism and patriotism both express a love of ones country, but nationalism has an extra element of superiority that was most strong expressed in the National Socialism of Nazi Germany. As they shift their focus to attacking the Sudanese community and “African Youth” that more overt element of racism is taking center stage and efforts to appeal to a broader base are being left behind. As we’ve previously demonstrated, this shift in focus / additional overtly racist focus for these Australian patriot (really nationalist) groups started online around a year ago.
While it’s true leaders like Blair Cottrell have denied they support Nazism, it’s also true that Cottrell said he wants schools to display images of Hitler and issue children with copies of Hitler’s book Mein Kampf . Despite his fascist views and criminal conviction for inciting serious religious vilification against Muslims, last year Cottrell managed to get airtime with Sky News to discuss his views against immigration. Sky News later apologised for giving him this platform. Neil Erikson meantime, in addition to his conviction for serious religious vilification along side Cottrell, also has an earlier conviction for antisemitic harassment of a Rabbi.
The fascist phoenix
A few years ago, together with others like Sherman Burgess, Erikson and Cottrell had a strong online presence and ready access to the media. Their “United Patriots Front”, and each of them personally, were celebrities. They spoke of launching a political party called “Fortitude”. They wanted to be seen as right wing, but legitimate. A voice of people who felt let down by mainstream politics, those who were doing it tough. Like other racist groups before them, they encouraged people to blame someone else for their misfortune. To make a section of the community “outsiders” and a scapegoat problems could be blamed on. Back then it was Muslims.
When they were convicted, their influence was seriously damaged. Their relationships broke down. Their social media pretense was taken offline as part of global efforts to by Facebook and Twitter to finally tackle the far-right after the deadly “United the Right” rally in Charlottesville (Virginia, USA). The destruction of this infrastructure seriously reduced their capacity.
Our CEO again:
What we’re seeing in St Kilda in nothing less than an effort by these far-right nationalist activists to re-establish themselves. The timing and nature of their activities is carefully chosen. First they use a rally to grab media headlines, as they have done many times in the past. They use the media interest to grow their online presence so they can both influence more people and look more influential. This leads to further media interest and opportunities, a spiral that further increases their influence. Starting now, they have time to build up their capacity in the lead-up to Australia Day when the flags come out and those more overt in their patriotism can be more easily identified and influenced to cross over into racist nationalism. That isn’t the end game. The end game will be the Federal election, which will likely be in May. With seemingly growing support for far right views, either the right of centre mainstream political parties shift further to the right, or the people these far-right nationalists have recruited give their votes to minor far-right parties. Either would be considered a win for the far right nationalists.
In his book The Nature of Fascism Roger Griffin explains fascism’s “mobilizing vision” as the idea of “the national community rising phoenix—like after a period of encroaching decadence which all but destroyed it” (page 38). It is an idea of a new society emerging from the ashes after the old society is first purged. We can see this ideology at work in statements from the far-right attacking the systems that make our society society. We can see it in their use of incitement. We can also see it in their own willingness to continually re-emerge from their own past ashes and try again.
What happened online…
Senator Fraser Anning (Qld) yesterday posted in support of the far-right rally. His post refers to “black Africans” calling them “grubs” who “only hunt in packs like stalking jackals”. He (and elected Senator!) claims “the police and government are seemingly doing nothing” and calls on “everyday Aussies to take back our country!” The initial comments are outright racist. The claim that the system is broken and should be destroyed and replaced is a fascist line of argument. It’s amazing to see such comments, which almost look treasonous, from some elected to Parliament. Note also the huge number of likes (3,400) and shared (2,188).
Then we have the comments from Blair Cottrell and Neil Erikson with commentary from the “Australian Protectionist Party” to “Take back Melbourne” – another call for vigilante action and the replacement of the current system. Cottrell, with Erkison’s approval, says their action is not to “protest Africans” but rather “mass immigration” which he claims is resulting in “crime and terror”, and just in case you missed it, he highlights that he is called racist for pointing it out – emphasising that he isn;t really talking about immigration in general, but rather immigration of those “Africans” he claims he isn’t protesting about has in a back handed fashion now accused of being responsible for “crime and terror”.
Blair is making up alternative facts here. Recent data shows that last year immigration fell to its lowest level since 2007. There is absolutely no factual basis for concerns in Australia about “mass immigration”. In fact, employers are concerns about the drop in immigration and the impact this could have on the economy.
The allegations Blair makes about people he calls Africans? Yes, they are racist. This protest is clearly aimed at inciting racism. It’s too overt to even call dog whistling. This is just hate 2,0 which explicitly denies it is racist even as it is explicitly being racist.
How did people respond?
One person responded to Senator Anning saying “Good on you for supporting the incitement of violence. Disappointing.” The reply from another poster was “how is supporting a rally to call on the government to take action against a group of savages that are causing the violence , inciting violence ? How retarded are you”. Note the way this reply uses racism to refer to people from Africa as “savages” and promotes a stereotype that they are “promoting violence”.
Another person replied “Stop the violence, and start deporting” which gets 366 likes, as in a reply to that comments someone write “yes. On Cattle transport ships back to africa”.
And then we moving into the incitement to violence with a reply that says “please don’t deport them – shoot them fcuking dead otherwise they come back this side”.
On looking into this person it appears that while they are responding to an Australian Senator’s posts and inviting potential violence in Australia, they are in South Africa don’t appear to have any connection to Australia. Australian Police would be hard pressed to do anything about this, however, both Facebook and Senator Anning can remove this comment. We reported it to Facebook and messaged Senator Anning’s page.
Another person comment (and this person is from Australia), “Well maybe time to do our own hunt”.
Stopping the spiral of hate
To counter the spiral of hate as it again starts to spin, the Online Hate Prevention Institute is running a campaign in the lead up to January 26th when the flags come out and the nationalists efforts will reach their annual peak. Our campaign will have four elements:
- Adding an online reporting tool configured to collect reports of online racism lodged by the public (see this one we setup to tackle Holocaust denial and antisemitism)
- Promoting anti-racist messages and positive messages of Australian values that unite us (see e.g. these images from some of our past campaigns)
- Monitoring the activity of online nationalist groups on the day and adding examples to our archive. Our data collection and resulting reports have had an impact locally and internationally.
- Publishing articles about the racism in online nationalist groups to raise awareness of the problem and push back against it (see e.g. this article showing content in the lead up to 26th of January 2018)
We are currently fund-raising to support this work. In the last 5 days we have raised a quarter of the budget we need for this campaign. The budget will support additional staff time contributing to the above 4 elements, as well as increased moderation on our own page as we inevitably get hit with the racist back-lash, as well as covering the cost of advertising so our work reaches a larger audience.
If you haven’t donated, please join us. Every donation, regardless of size, brings us a little close to our goal. Just as importantly, it shows that people are willing to take real action to combat racism. Likes and shares are very welcome (click the floating button to share), but even a small donation makes a far more powerful statement. Visit the campaign page to donate.
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