A group of black-clad white men were searched by NSW police officers at North Sydney station on 26 January, a day when thousands marched on Sydney for First Nations rights, as it was clear to all and sundry that these National Socialist Network members were going to be up to something divisive.
To its credit, NSW police shut down the young pale neo-Nazis, known to chant “white man”, as if it made a serious political statement, before the boys went on to parade in public, which is in stark contrast to Victorian colleagues, who, over the last year, have protected or ignored their protests.
The NSN formed in 2020, as an umbrella group to capture all far-right white supremacist suburbanite actors, who started mobilising circa 2015, as Reclaim Australia. And these, for the most part, men still warm themselves next to the glow of some fake idea of a purely white Australian past.
Sixty-odd Nazi-identifying individuals were issued a police order, via their leader, on Friday, which prohibited their attendance at any type of event being held in the city on 26 January and that was later extended to cover the entire long weekend. So, the men mobilised elsewhere twice more.
Yet, no matter how comical their rallies may appear, the 26 January incident did see the NSN march down a North Sydney street brandishing a banner reading, “Australia for the White Man”. And this is their fourth march in 12 months, which does mark a distinct and ongoing reason for concern.
“Even while the NSN remains relatively tiny, it’s reached sufficient size and organisational cohesion to be able to openly proclaim its views as a Hitlerite organisation dedicated to white revolution: a political vanguard, in other words,” said independent researcher Andy Fleming in May last year.
This was after members of the neo-Nazi network had mobilised twice in the Melbourne CBD in early 2023. And these first ever appearances of fascists marching in aid of their cause, which are beginning to seem like just the tip of the iceberg, were due to a culmination of factors over the last decade.
Almost ten years ago, far right groups, like Reclaim Australia and the United Patriots Front, fuelled by the support of certain politicians, like One Nation’s Pauline Hanson and the Liberal National’s George Christensen, rallied with larger groups of civilian racists protesting mosques.
A small contingent of Nazis had been common in every capital city’s suburban spread since the 1980s. However, the advent of the internet has given them the means to connect, and this really went into overdrive during the quietude of the long months of the 2020-2021 COVID-19 lockdowns.
“These broader political concerns are to some extent domestic but are also, arguably, primarily driven by US political culture – Trumpism and various manufactured culture wars – ably assisted by Murdoch’s local propaganda networks,” Fleming told Sydney Criminal Lawyers last year.
A rising threat
The NSN are led by 30-year-old Thomas Sewell, who is also the founder of The Lad’s Society. And as testament to the networking that’s gone on over social media during recent years, the NZ-born Nazi also fronts the fairly recently established Nazi-group the European Australian Movement.
Sewell attempted to recruit the Australian perpetrator of the 2019 Christchurch massacre in 2017. And the Melbourne-based Nazi also punched a security guard multiple times in 2021, when he couldn’t access Nine Network offices, and he was convicted of affray and recklessly causing injury.
Types like Sewell have had an aggressive focus on Muslims over the last decade. However, going back to late last century, their preoccupation, as was Hanson’s, was with the local Asian population. Yet, these groups further continue to harbour antisemitic hatred dating back to 1930s Germany.
This is underscored by the fact that both the NSW and the Victorian governments banned the display of Nazi insignia or making the Nazi salute in public two years ago. And this was way before major party politicians began falsely charging pro-Palestinian protesters with antisemitism of late.
Both ASIO and the AFP have reported that they’ve found the pandemic period served to strengthen the network of far-right extremists, who usually escape the label of terrorist, right across the continent, and this also served to bolster their networking with far-right actors overseas.
Indeed, recent years have seen ASIO boss Mike Burgess warning that his agencies’ terrorism workload has increasingly been taken up by far-right extremists. He cited this as 30 percent of all cases in 2020, which has since risen to 50 percent of the domestic spying agency’s caseload.
Australia for the deluded
That neo-Nazis can garner a modicum of political support and, at times, are subject to what might be described as signs of solidarity from police, can be put down squarely to the fact that the nation was founded on the White Australia Policy: that nonwhite people couldn’t immigrate here.
NSN rallied before Victorian parliament last March, when it turned up to support UK anti-trans activist Kellie-Jay Keen. And it attempted a solo rally in the CBD in May. On both these occasions, Victoria police were seen to protect the Nazis, due to the presence of Antifa counterprotesters.
But the clincher came in early December when a couple of dozen NSN members marched down a street in Ballarat, chanting “white man” and Victoria police did absolutely nothing about the procession. There were even photographs of NSN members standing outside the local police station.
And whilst the NSW police didn’t use force on the Nazis parading unannounced in North Sydney, as they would with climate defenders, the fact that they did issue them with a public safety order, a counterterrorism measure enacted in 2016, shows a clear difference in state policing approaches.
The public safety order scheme allows senior police officers to ban individuals from a certain place or event for up to 72 hours. The protocols regarding these orders are set out in part 6B of the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 (NSW), also known as the LEPRA.
Captured on footage, NSW police can be seen to issue Sewell with an order in North Sydney, banning him from entering the city, which was a direction that was later extended to cover the whole weekend.
Sewell told Nine, after the NSN group had been individually searched one-by-one at North Sydney train station and then allowed to walk, that the majority of those mobilising over the weekend were members who reside in this town.
The young white men went on to gather in North Turramurra Scout Hall, after one of the group booked the premises, stating he was hosting a community event. And police were present and warning people to stay away from an Artarmon park where the group were rallying on Sunday.
Fleming, who reports on the Australian far-right under the pseudonym slackbastard, explained in a piece on Sunday that NSW police stopped the NSN members on the train last Friday, as they were heading for the city, whilst the Saturday event coincided with International Holocaust Memorial Day.
“Some have asked why it appears that police in NSW appear to be rather less keen on Nazi parades than their fellows in Victoria,” said Fleming, adding that reasons may be that Nazis rallying on a day that marks British colonisation might be a bad look, as well as the extensive powers in the LEPRA.