Despite Australia being a well-established multicultural society, a group of Nazi sympathisers took to the waterfront last Saturday in Melbourne, once again holding on to the idea of a pure white Anglo past that never actually existed in our country in the first place.
Spruiked on Facebook as a follow up to the 2005 Cronulla Riots, the Reclaim St Kilda rally comprised a group of alt-right demonstrators proclaiming they were reclaiming a beach that was actually stolen from Yalukit Willam people of the Kulin nation by the British colonisers.
The 150-odd attendees – some of whom were seen to be giving the Nazi salute – were organised by former United Patriots Front (UPF) members Neil Erikson and the media’s favourite far-right poster boy Blair Cottrell, to “discuss” a supposed African gang crime-wave.
The group of white nationalists were even given a smidgen of legitimacy by the attendance of independent Senator Fraser Anning, who disgraced the nation in parliament last August when he invoked the terminology “final solution” while calling for an end to Muslim immigration.
It’s true that the number of anti-fascist protesters that turned up on Saturday outnumbered the ultra-nationalists, with more than 200 in attendance. However, this latest turn-out of alt-right demonstrators suggests their support may be on the rise again, and may even be becoming acceptable to many who don’t traditionally align themselves with hate-filled groups.
Rallying over a fallacy
There was a heavy police presence at the rally, with both mounted and riot police present. Officers formed a human barrier between the rival right-wing protesters and the anti-fascists demonstrators, to prevent clashes.
Cottrell took to a loudspeaker demanding that something be done about the African gang crime-wave. This is despite the fact Victoria police has long refuted the claim that any crime perpetrated by African youths is gang-related or is at a crisis level.
Over 2017-18, one percent of crime in Victoria was attributed to people born in Sudan, compared with 71 percent perpetrated by those born in Australia. Indeed, the idea of African gangs running riot was stirred up by federal and state Liberals for political point-scoring ahead of last year’s Victorian election.
At one stage during last Saturday’s St Kilda rally, far-right protesters took to the streets to attack a utility carrying a loudspeaker which was broadcasting, “Sudanese are welcome. Racists are not.” In all, police made three arrests on the day.
A surge in support
But, what the St Kilda alt-right rally reveals is Nazi sentiment is growing in the community once again. As online activist Andy Fleming told Sydney Criminal Lawyers last October, the “mobilising capacity” of these white nationalists hasn’t been strong of late.
Fleming documents the activities of the local far-right as blogger slackbastard. He explained that white nationalist rallying numbers actually peaked in October 2015, when 1,000 Reclaim Australia and UPF members turned up to protest a mosque in Bendigo.
Yet, over the last 12 months, numbers at rallies have been slim on the ground. Fleming recalled that 30 people showed up to a free speech rally at Wiley Park in October, while the Melbourne equivalent – also attended by Anning – saw 50 attendees. And a Canberra rally barely attracted a dozen supporters.
So, the 150 or so mainly men of Anglo appearance that showed up last Saturday, and the attention they garnered, does show these fascist elements are gaining in momentum once more.
Security agencies keeping watch
However, despite the waning numbers of white nationalists on the street over recent years, ASIO director general of security Duncan Lewis told a Senate Estimates hearing last October that the security agency is monitoring this new or re-emerging “vector”, which is right-wing extremism.
Mr Lewis said that ASIO is concerned about an increase in recruiting activity, which it’s monitoring. And he also made clear that even though there’s no concern of a “foreign interference dimension” with these groups, ASIO is monitoring them “very closely” due to the risk of violence.
The Nazi at the helm
Blair Cottrell and Neil Erickson, along with another white nationalist by the name of Christopher Shortis, were convicted in 2017 of inciting serious contempt of Muslims, after the trio staged a mock beheading of an Islamic individual in protest of the building of a mosque in Bendigo.
Cottrell has become somewhat of a media darling over the last 12 months, as he appeared on Channel 7 last January being touted as an “activist” who was consider forming a vigilante group to deal with African gangs, while he was also invited onto Sky News to espouse his views in August.
A former UPF chairperson, Cottrell is now a founding member of The Lads Club, whose Sydney chapter meets for a secretive fight club on Friday nights at an undisclosed location in the inner city.
Prior to becoming a key figure in the Australian alt-right movement, Cottrell was imprisoned for stalking his ex-girlfriend’s new partner with a tomahawk, setting the man’s house on fire and trafficking in testosterone.
A fascist in parliament
Senator Fraser Anning has widely been condemned for his attendance at the St Kilda rally, for which he is charging tax payers for his flight to and from Queensland to get there. Anning has since told Channel Nine News that “there was no racist rally” and those gathered were only “decent Australian people”.
The senator who defected from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party only to be later tossed out of Katter’s Australia Party told reporters on the day of the rally that “Australia has had enough” and the “revolution will eventually start”.
Anning first grabbed headlines in August last year, when he called for a return to the White Australian Policy, as well as an end to Muslim immigration, while referencing the Nazi’s program of genocide as he did so.
Rising on different fronts
These alt-right types are also trying to infiltrate mainstream politics. A group of 25 white nationalists were found to have covertly joined the Young Nationals in May last year and were attempting to shape the party’s policies.
While an even more extreme alt-right grouping can be found in the secretive neo-Nazi Antipodean Resistance movement that formed in October 2016. Some of these self-described “Hitlers” have been linked to Cottrell’s Lads Society.
These bigots actually posted swastikas at the entrance to Emmy Monash Aged Care in Melbourne this month, which is situated in the centre of the Victorian Jewish community in Caulfield. Elderly Jewish people live at the centre, including some who survived the Holocaust.
So, while characters like Cottrell are invoking a disaffected few to “rise without fear”, it must be remembered that though they’re in the minority, alt-right politicians are rising in power around the globe at present and forces such as these should be kept in check, so history doesn’t repeat itself.
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Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.