The Nazi boogeyman
The Left are trying to show that anybody who opposes their views is a Nazi-sympathizer. There certanly are in Australia people with antisemitic views. I have good friends with such views, even though I myself am a firm supporter of Israel.
But it has yet to be shown that people with such views have any political influence. They may be among those who support various conservative causes but political causes commonly gain support from a variety of people. What is implied but not shown below is that antisemites influence others to their views.
My intensive studies of neo-Nazis years ago showed them to be thoroughly marginal and I can see no change since. See:
Melbourne’s far-right are agile and adaptive at spreading their message of hate
Though small, they practise a nimble strategy to develop support, concealing their activities in encrypted channels, leapfrogging from issue to issue as they attempt to insert their antisemitism and white supremacist view into conservative movements.
First it was multiculturalism, then the pandemic and vaccine mandates, now trans rights.
Deakin University extremism expert Dr Josh Roose explains it’s a process called “breadcrumbing” – where a person drops nibbles of interest with the aim of engaging with someone else – and it’s effective in both polarising the debate and growing the far-right movement.
On Thursday, Roose joined a confidential meeting of more than 100 council representatives and police, all of them desperate to understand how to manage the hate manifesting at their meetings and drag queen story times.
The briefing was convened to cope with “threatening and unpredictable” behaviour that mayors across Melbourne had seen in the past few months, and Roose was up in the middle of the night on a work trip to Denmark to provide advice and skills to protect democratic norms now under siege.
For the last few years, most prominently since the Reclaim Australia movement emerged in 2015, far-right activists have targeted particular issues in an attempt to surreptitiously introduce their beliefs into public discourse.
These conversations, buried deep in encrypted Telegram channels, happen every day – some explicit, others implicit – and attempt to draw people already in thralls of conspiracy into a community of violence.
Inside the Melbourne boxing gym with a neo-Nazi underbelly
Roose says the far-right members participate in online debates about hot topics and slowly attempt to introduce extreme ideas with the aim of eventually shaping the debate and “increasing the pool of potential recruits”.
“They continue to have a base due to their presence on social media and encrypted messaging apps: skilful tactics to gain media notoriety and anger and alienation amongst at least some of the community,” he says.
Almost 24 hours before the meeting, on Wednesday afternoon, a demonstration petered out against a drag story time celebration at Eltham Library, in Melbourne’s north-east.
Far-right activist Jimeone Roberts posted a message in a Telegram channel called MyPlace, warning people about “medical experiments”, deriding vaccine mandates, and making comments pejorative of rainbow activists campaigning for trans rights, according to screenshots collected by researchers from the White Rose Society, which tracks neo-Nazis online.
MyPlace, a fast-growing anti-government group targeting councils across Victoria, is a forum of mixed purpose.
There are some who use it to sell organic meat and vegetables; others complain about vaccine mandates and plug holistic medicine retreats; and several share their political aspirations, discussing ways to animate and organise voters in Victoria they believe share their views.
There are now more than 100 MyPlace groups throughout Australia, 49 of them in Victoria. Not all MyPlace groups or members are from the far-right or neo-Nazis.
But the rise in the number of MyPlace groups is an example of what researchers and police have been observing for years, the tendency for far-right activists to target groups with strong views on conservative subjects.
Entertainer Dean Arcuri, who dons his alter ego drag queen Frock Hudson for story time at suburban libraries, has been a target of demonstrators this week.
“It’s insane to think that this harassment is happening. And then someone says the word Nazi, and you just think … what? It is absolutely surreal,” Arcuri says.
Felicity Marlowe, the Rainbow Families manager at LGBTQI+ support service Switchboard Victoria, says the group’s Zoom meeting last week was gatecrashed by protesters who posted vulgar comments in the chat.
Roberts, who has a swastika Hakenkreuz tattooed on his chest, wasn’t the first National Socialist Network (NSN) member attempting to steer the conversation inside the MyPlace network. In early April, Stefanos Eracleous, a former Young Liberal and also a member of the NSN, more pointedly asked members to begin exploring the encrypted channels popular among neo-Nazis and the group’s leader, Thomas Sewell.
“Add yourself to an active Aussie chat for Australian patriotic discussion and freedom rally updates,” said a message on April 4. It was forwarded from a group called “Australian Meditations 51?, the 51 being a figure celebrated by the group because it is the number of people killed in the Christchurch massacre.
More recently, the actions of a group of neo-Nazis spilled onto Melbourne’s streets. They gatecrashed a Let Women Speak rally in March and two members were arrested during an anti-immigration protest in the CBD last Saturday, when police used capsicum spray. On both occasions, the group members wore all black and most concealed their identities while doing the Nazi salute.
The topics the far-right use to steer their message has varied depending on the political issue of the day, says Dr Mario Peucker, an associate professor at Victoria University, and depends on what they believe is strategically useful.
Peucker says that during the moral panic around Islam in mid-2010, the far-right organised around anti-Islam messaging. A few years later, it was the “African gang” panic. Then, for a short time, they organised around bushfires and climate crises before the pandemic emerged as their dominant theme.
“Now that this has been exhausted, neo-Nazi groups, probably inspired by white supremacy groups in the US, saw a new opportunity in targeting LGBTIQ+ friendly events,” Peucker says, “and most recently they seem to have moved to the issue of housing crisis in combination with relatively high levels of immigration.”
The Andrews government has announced it will ban the Nazi salute but is unsure how far away the legislation is. Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes said this week it was not a straightforward process as it collides with free speech issues.
Other countries, including Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland – all of whom have far-right movements – have banned the salute.
In the meantime, though, it means police have limited powers to act. Assistant Commissioner David Clayton, who attended the online forum with councillors on behalf of Victoria Police, summarised the dilemma succinctly: “Some of this stuff is awful, but it’s not unlawful.”
Police confirmed they monitor the activities of the far-right but couldn’t comment on operations specifically, except to say that they were appalled by recent events.
“Everyone has the right to feel safe in our community regardless of who they are – hate and prejudice have no place in our society.”
Flanked by two security guards on Wednesday, Arcuri was invited to Parliament House for a short reading with Premier Daniel Andrews before being ferried out to Eltham.
It was a nervous arrival. He didn’t know, of the people attending, who was there in support, or to disrupt. “People were making jokes on Wednesday going, it’s like a Beyonce moment. And I’m like, well, that sounds more fun than the experience I had,” he says.