United Patriots Front

This Saturday’s Age contained a two page spread on “Melbourne’s Trump-land”, which is apparently located in Narre Warren North.

Instead of reviewing the economic and social situation in Narre Warren North, The Age’s Chris Johnston instead interviewed a handful of fringe right-wing figures, including Rise Up Australia’s Rosalie Crestani. The Age declared that Crestani and her fellow travelers were “disenchanted but not deplorable”. I beg to differ.

In 2012, Crestani contested Casey City Council elections on an anti-mosque platform. She won the second of two seats available in the Four Oaks Ward, despite coming fourth (with 8.09% of the primary vote) in a field of 22 candidates. She then joined Danny Nalliah’s Rise Up Australia Party (RUAP) and used her status as a Councillor to promote Rise Up’s peculiar brand of Islamophobic conspiracy theory mixed with a good dose of homophobia.

In 2014, Crestani moved to have Casey City Council ban diversity training, ban the display of materials that promote LBGTI equality, and ban the City of Casey from issuing media releases on LBGTI issues. Crestani and Rise Up Australia oppose same-sex marriage, the “normalisation of homosexuality” and “pro-homosexual propaganda”.

In Johnston’s article, a former Family First candidate claims that issues like “gay marriage … [are] a distraction from the things that really need to be done”. The mainstream political process is apparently obsessed with these ‘fringe issues’ that do not connect with the difficulties facing a community like Narre Warren North.

If anyone is obsessed with a ‘fringe issue’, then surely it is Rosalie Crestani and Rise Up Australia, with their outrageous and obsessive hate campaign directed at rolling back the rights won by LGBTI activists over the past fifty years.

Crestani is appalling when it comes to LBGTI issues, but it is in rank and borderline conspiracist Islamophobia that Crestani has made a name for herself.

In the past year Crestani has announced her support for a ban on Muslim immigration, stating she would oppose Muslim immigration “until there is a fail proof filter we have to stop all Muslims from coming in because we don’t know which ones are going to blow us up”.

Contrary to the racist conspiracy theories pedaled by the likes of Crestani, Muslim immigrants are highly unlikely to “blow us up”. Australian “terrorists” are overwhelming Australian born, tend to be comically incompetent, and despite widespread racism and anti-Muslim bigotry promoted by the likes of Crestani, there are precious few of them.

According to Crestani, on top of banning Muslim immigration, the most important issue facing “disenchanted” Narre Warren North is the threat posed by mosques! Over the past year, Crestani latched onto a racist Facebook led campaign to oppose the construction of a mosque on a vacant site in Narre Warren North.

The mosque’s development application was rejected by Casey City Council on planning grounds, but that didn’t stop Crestani announcing she would always oppose a Muslim place of worship in Narre Warren for “security reasons”. There are approximately 15,000 Muslims in the region covered by the Casey City Council, and a single nearby mosque that seats less than two hundred people.

Crestani routinely denounces mosques, halal certification and Muslim immigration. She claims that allowing a simple place of worship “risks radicalisation and terrorism”. I’ve always thought there was something darkly ironic about these claims, considering Crestani’s own links to the far-right.

Over the past eighteen months Rosalie Crestani has spoken at, endorsed, and even chaired a number of rallies called by violent far-right groups.

Crestani has chaired or spoken at the 18 July Reclaim/UPF rally at Parliament House, the June 26 True Blue Crew rally at Parliament, last year’s Cronulla riots celebration and the Reclaim Australia Rally in Melton.

Shortly before the Reclaim Australia Rally chaired by Crestani in Melton, police arrested a Reclaim Australia admin, Phillip Galea, on weapons charges. Galea has subsequently been arrested again on terrorism charges, and we’re awaiting Galea’s court date next month to learn which left wing target’s he allegedly intended to bomb.

Rosalie Crestani endorsed and promoted a violent far-right rally in Coburg earlier this year. The rally, called by the "True Blue Crew", intended to bust up a previously planned anti-racism event. At the time Blair Cottrell expressed his disappointment that Victoria Police stopped the rally "using force and violence" against their political opponents.

Rosalie Crestani endorsed and promoted a violent far-right rally in Coburg earlier this year. The rally, called by the “True Blue Crew”, intended to bust up a previously planned anti-racism rally. At the time Blair Cottrell expressed his disappointment that Victoria Police stopped the rally “using force and violence” against their political opponents.

If there was any gathering that could be said to pose a “risk of radicalisation and terrorism” in Melbourne, it is surely those far-right rallies addressed and chaired by Rosalie Crestani.

There are interesting and complex issues facing Narre Warren North, not least among them the Islamophobia and racism whipped up by the likes of Rosalie Crestani. But it is important not to overstate the depth of Crestani’s political reach in the Narre Warren community. Despite a massively increased profile in Narre Warren since 2012, Crestani only polled 17.17% of the vote in the 2016 Casey City Council elections. Her increased support is concerning, but claims she represents “Melbourne’s Trump-land” are grossly overstated.

There are plenty of people in the outer suburbs rightly disillusioned with main-stream politics. Unemployment is high (8.1% in the City of Casey), infrastructure is poorly planned and executed, services are taxed by underfunding and a growing population, and public transport is a joke.

But Rosalie Crestani and her fascist fellow travelers are not simply “disenchanted”. Crestani is an Islam obsessed homophobe whose Rise Up Australia Party seeking to build a reactionary political movement on explicitly racist lines. Crestani really is deplorable.
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Melbourne based far-right and fascist groups the True Blue Crew and the United Patriots Front have teamed up and announced a joint rally “celebrating” the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency, this Sunday at Parliament House (Melbourne).

This rally is the latest in a series of attempts by far-right groups and politicians in Australia to hitch a ride on the Trump bandwagon.

Last Tuesday, as the US presidential election results began to indicate a possible Trump victory, Pauline Hanson jumped to be the first to “congratulate President Trump”. She cracked a bottle of champagne for the cameras outside Parliament House and announced that if Trump were an Australian, she had no doubt he would join One Nation.

Within the Liberal Party, extremist and Reclaim Australia supporter George Christensen has been parading about with Donald Trump’s books and has declared that he “likes the idea of a wall”.

South Australian bigot and Senator, Cory Bernardi, has gone further, posting pictures of himself on Twitter wearing a Trump-esque peak-cap emblazoned with the slogan “Make Australia Great Again”.

For the likes of Christensen and Bernardi, the election of Trump offers an opportunity to drive Australian politics further to the right. To their eyes, the election of Trump proves the existence of a more explicitly racist “discontented” mass; a constituency whose “discontent” who can be harnessed to advance the cause of their brand of “conservative” politics.

Yesterday. Bernardi re-tweeted a comment by Rita Panahi that doubtless reflects their point of view:

“There’s never been a better time for disaffected conservatives to take the Liberal Party back from the hopeless bedwetters who are spooked by gallery chatter and Twitter storms.”

The hard-right of the Liberal Party aren’t the only force racing to relate to the potential constituency that is supposedly represented by Trump, One Nation and Brexit abroad.

The Guardian reports that the ALP’s Jim Chalmers will today give a speech calling on his party to do more to relate to people drawn to Hansonism in Australia (which is apparently interchangeable for Trump in the US and Brexit in the UK).

Labor frontbencher Jim Chalmers will launch a plea for Australian politicians to engage with the group of voters “trampled” by the impact of globalisation and technological change – arguing Hillary Clinton may have lost the US election when she branded Trump supporters a “basket of deplorables”.

There is something darkly ironic about this when we consider that since 1983 the ALP has probably done more than any other party to bring about the impacts of “globalisation and technological change” in Australia. The ALP, more than the Liberals, gave us “free trade”, industrial relations deregulation, deindustrialization, and ongoing (and increasingly precipitous) decline in trade union density.

Militant and independent organised labour is the left’s traditional answer to the growth of right-wing populist politics, but organised labour in Australia has been rendered toothless and ineffective because of it’s ongoing and slavish subservience to the political agenda of the ALP.

The ALP is not capable of realizing that it itself is one of the big factors that has precipitated the decline in organised labour, and that it acts a barrier to an effective organised response to the rise of Hansonism.

If the ALP tries to relate to ‘this phenomenon’, it will likely do so by shifting further to the right.

In light of all of this, Left Flank’s article’s on anti-politics are worth a re-read. All manner of political forces are competing to re-incorporate a growing constituency of discontent with “politics as usual”. I see no reason that these efforts should be accommodated or supported. Also worth re-reading is London AFA’s Filling the Vacuum.

Getting back to Melbourne’s far-right, the TBC, UPF and other fascists have also recognized the opportunity that Hanson and Trump offer.

After some initial successes in 2015, these groups have recently been struggling to reach an audience outside their existing networks. A recent anti-refugee rally in Eltham was meant to drew between 70 and 100 people, with few participating from the community that was targeted.

The proposed Donald Trump celebration is already significantly more successful. The Facebook event records 1600 either interested or attending, and a review of the guest list indicates that the participants are not simply the usual fascist suspects.

The longer term challenge for anti-racists is to build an anti-racist movement capable of pushing back against the state and capital as well as specific racist manifestations. In the short term however, there is a fascist rally in Melbourne that needs to be opposed.

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Phillip Galea, a fascist arrested in ‘anti-terror’ raids back in August, planned to bomb two “left wing premises” and cause “loss of life to persons possessing leftwing ideologies” according to statements made by Victoria Police in the Melbourne Magistrates Court yesterday.

The Guardian is reporting that Phillip Galea conducted surveillance on two targets, obtained bomb making material, conducted research on improvised explosive devises, and sought to “recruit at least five other capable persons to assist with his plan”.

Galea has history. Galea is linked to a variety of far-right groups, and has been active in far-right and neo-Nazi politics since at least 2010. In the past eighteen months, Galea has been stopped with a knife at a rally in Richmond, stopped with tasers and mercury the day before a rally in Melton, and arrested with a flare at a rally in Bendigo. Andy Fleming has published an article detailing Galea’s links with Reclaim Australia, the True Blue Crew, the United Patriots Front, and possibly local Combat 18 boneheads.

Galea is due back in court on 19 December 2016.

See also: The Saturday Paper, 13 Aug 2016, How Reclaim Australia hid a ‘terrorist’

As Andrew Zammit explains, Galea is hardly the first far-right figure to engage in political violence in Australia.

The alleged plot, if proven, would not be the first case of far-right violent extremism in Australia. To choose some recent examples, in 2010 self-described Combat 18 members fired shots at a mosque in Perth. In 2012 two Melbourne neo-Nazi skinheads were sentenced to jail for brutally assaulting a Vietnamese student. In 2013 a former soldier and self-described neo-Nazi was jailed for weapons and explosives offences.

Police have not disclosed which “left wing premises” were targeted by Galea in this alleged plot, but I suspect this might be relevant.

In November last year a group of United Patriots Front goons led by Blair Cottrell shot a bizarre video of themselves harassing staff and volunteers at 3CR community radio, and then again at the Melbourne Anarchist Club. As Jeff Sparrow pointed out, the footage was “clearly intended to be intimidating”.

But it did more than intimidate. These little video excursions by Blair Cottrell and others were a way of signalling to the UPF’s supporters who their enemies were. They were identifying targets. It seems likely that Phillip Galea took the hint.

Another matter that remains unclear is how the case against Phillip Galea might yet impact Blair Cottrell’s own legal troubles. In September three former members of the UPF were charged with religious vilification offenses for their involvement in a “mock beheading video”. Yesterday Blair Cottrell confirmed he has also received charges related to “racial vilification I think”.

As the dregs of the UPF pass through the courts, other far-right groups are calling rallies, and the anti-racist response continues.

Photo Credit: The featured image was stolen from James Ross.

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A few rough thoughts on Saturday’s counter demonstration against Reclaim Australia and the United Patriots Front.

1. A defeat for the far-right

Shermon Burgess and the United Patriots Front wagered their grouping’s credibility on a successful #July18 rally in Melbourne.

The UPF called for a total mobilization of right wing forces to converge on Melbourne. Their propaganda claimed that the rally in Melbourne was basically a matter of life and death for the far-right (and by extension in their world view, Australia). ‘The left’ had to be defeated on this day or ‘Australia’ would be destroyed.

There was talk of buses and planes bringing in ‘patriot’ support from all over Australia and even the world; every angle that could get racists out from behind their keyboards and onto the streets was pursued. Burgess went to so far as to announce he would quit ‘the movement’ if this one rally did not succeed in defeating Islam and ‘the left’.

Burgess repeatedly claimed that an awe inspiring coalition of far-right forces had been forged to support this rally. Dissent was not tolerated, when one far-right grouping dared disagree with Burgess the UPF denounced the evil splitters. Monika Evers and Julie Kendell of ‘Reclaim Australia Rally – Melbourne’ were described as “traitors” who Burgess would “kick in the c-nt”. Anyone who attended anything other than the official UPF rally was warned they would likely be bashed by ‘feral lefties’, as only the UPF had the muscle and the preparedness to use violence required for the right to rally in Melbourne.

When measured against their rhetoric and stated aims, the UPF failed on Saturday, and they failed miserably.

Despite an extra month of propaganda and organization, the UPF contingent on Saturday was smaller than their showing on May 31 in Richmond. In May they mustered approximately seventy supporters for an aborted March on Richmond Town Hall, on Saturday they mustered maybe sixty.

Burgess and friends claimed they would bring the muscle required for a fascist rally; “1pm Parliament steps, be there”. In practice, they were forced to skulk in under police escort at midday.

It is doubtful the UPF agitators believed they could smash the left on Saturday. Their real hope would have been to speak to, perform for, and hopefully recruit from the wider layer of racists that attended the April 4 rally in Melbourne. On this count also, the UPF failed miserably.

Due to the opposition of anti-racists, the UPF had to join the Reclaim Australia Rally under police escort and after a significant degree of secrecy. They result was that the few individuals who did turn out from the wider Islamophobic milieu were excluded from the UPF/Reclaim Australia rally.

Saturday’s rally also marked the effective end of the Reclaim Australia grouping’s Melbourne arm. On April 4, Reclaim Australia attracted perhaps a thousand people to its rally (even if only a few hundred made it through anti-racist lines to the rally kettle established by police).

On Saturday less than a hundred people gathered for the 11am rally announced by RAR-M’s Monika Evers. The planned bus of racist supporters from Bendigo simply did not materialize. A significant portion of the rump that did attend the RAR-M gathering were people mobilized by Danny Nalliah’s cult, rather than the Reclaim Australia grouping.

As a mobilizing force, the “Reclaim Australia” brand is utterly spent in Melbourne. Evers could barely muster some Facebook re-posts in the aftermath. The United Patriots Front fair little better in terms of mobilizing ability, but it seems likely their core group of agitators will continue churning out militaristic hate videos for some time yet.

2. Police violence and pepper spray

The Melbourne Street Medics Collection have released a statement about the police pepper spraying generally and the assault on their first aid triage point in particular:

Amongst those affected by the OC Spray was a casualty who began to experience respiratory distress, a not uncommon side-effect of OC spray and other such “less-than-lethal” chemical weapons. In the course of attending to this casualty and decontaminating others who had been affected, members of the Melbourne Street Medic Collective (including one pregnant woman) were attacked by police with OC Spray and kettled in a small space at the top of Little Bourke Street.

Melbourne Activist Legal Support has also released a statement on the police tactics on Saturday:

According to Legal Observers present the OC foam was not directed towards individuals who were threatening police or engaged in violence but instead was directed over and onto the entire crowd of people present. For this reason the MALS Legal Observer Team identifies the use of OC foam in this circumstance as indiscriminate and therefore unlawful.

A comrade from Anarchist Affinity has also written about the issue of police violence on Saturday:

Many people see the police through the traditional liberal lens- that they exist to protect society from crime. For the many people who copped pepper spray, saw the police pepper spray medics, took random punches to the face and received cursory “fuck offs” from the police yesterday, that notion is not going to gel particularly well with their feelings at the moment. Marxist or Anarchist theory will point out to you that the police exist to protect private property and the state, and little else.

There are a couple of remarks I want to add to the above.

It is clear that the police planned for the liberal use of pepper spray against the counter-demonstration; the Public Order Response Team personnel all used far more pressurized OC foam than they would ordinarily carry.

The police tactics were not a response to an unpredictable situation, they were a planned and prepared course of action. Somebody made the decision to have the Public Order Response Team repeatedly attack the counter demonstration, liberally distributing pepper spray in all directions. As the MALS statement points out, this is of course unlawful.

Whilst I was shocked by the brazen use of pepper spray on Saturday, the presence of police violence is never unexpected.

In the lead up to Saturday’s rally, the police made clear that it was their intention to facilitate the fascist demonstration. The UPF and Reclaim Australia were going to engage religious and racial vilification on the steps of Parliament House (the supposed home of democracy in Victoria), and the ‘job’ that he police were ‘just doing’ was ensuring that this could occur.

By counter-demonstrating we were announcing that our aims conflict with those of the police. If we’re serious about denying racists space on our streets we will have to contend with the force and violence of the police.

Yet I did not expect the level of police violence that occurred.

The state and the police have an interest in maintaining the legitimacy of their monopoly on the lawful use of violence. For this reason, I normally expect the police to use the minimum necessary violence to achieve their ends. I doubt the mass use of pepper spray was required to protect a small coterie of fascists, but the police clearly saw it differently. We could consider that a compliment.

Over the past three months counter-demonstrators at far-right rallies have developed confidence and capacity. At Federation Square on April 4 counter-demonstrators maintained a strong picket. In Richmond on May 31, counter-demonstrators pushed aside a police line in order to block a fascist march.

The police may want their violence to appear legitimate, but if it is a choice between appearing legitimate and maintaining control, the police must maintain the appearance of control. On May 31 the actions of counter-demonstrators briefly defied the police with little in the way of repercussions. I suspect that decisions around police tactics were in part informed by a desire to make a point about who runs the show.

The appearance of pepper spray at one demonstration should not dissuade people from attending these kinds of anti-racist actions.

Whilst police violence is distressing to experience, in these contexts it can be mitigated against by those prepared to contend with it, and largely avoided by those who wish to contribute to rejecting racism and fascism without copping a face full of weaponized pepper.

There are all manner of roles that people can and should play in contested street demonstrations that do not carry a risk of pepper spraying. The biggest restraint on the use of violence by police is the size of the demonstration they are contending with, the more outnumbered they are, the more restrained they will be.

3. Masked demonstrators

Blah blah blah, protestors wearing masks were violent hoodlums, blah blah blah.

I expect this kind of garbage in the mainstream press and from the police, but it is disappointing to see these remarks attributed to :

He said this allowed a small group of people, who were wearing masks and balaclavas, to take attention away from the hundreds who were there to peacefully take a stand against racism.

None of the groupings planning Saturday’s rally intended to be passive, and it’s disingenuous of Steve Jolly (assuming the quotation is accurate) to claim that his organization did not intend to defy police and attempt to block access to the far-right demonstration. I applaud them for their organizing work to that end.

There are a whole bunch of reasons people might wear masks in the context of Saturday’s counter-demonstration. The far-right seek to identify their political opponents, there are various websites and Facebook groups dedicated to “exposing” the opponents of racism in Australia.

For other people attending the rally appearing in media coverage was both likely and an unacceptable risk; medical professionals volunteering in the Street Medics Collective, for example, may mask up to avoid flak at their day jobs.

But the most obvious reason to mask up is that sometimes you need to push back. On Saturday we were seeking to picket and prevent a racist demonstration. A good segment of the people seeking to attend that rally were violent fascists, and some of those people had to be frog-marked, pushed and at times more forcibly ejected from space held by the counter demonstration. Individuals who entered the counter-demonstration space looking for a brawl had to be ejected, and many of the people who took it upon themselves to do the ejecting prefer not to be identified.

I think I should make it absolutely clear, the groupings organizing the counter-demonstration on Saturday had no intention of getting involved in individual brawls with individual fascists. The groups who gathered aimed to picket, disrupt and prevent a far-right rally.

Which is what we did.

Other / Updates

Yay! The Puf Gang!

Yay! The Puf Gang!

Comic is by Shermi and the Puf gang, with permission.

I’ve changed which Puf Gang comic appears on the post after receiving some critical feedback from comrades, feedback I accept.

To end, here is an elderly Italian priest waiving a red flag and singing Bella Ciao!

Header image credit Wardenclyffe Photography.

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There has now been extensive media coverage about Saturday’s events, almost all of it rubbish. There was stiff competition, but Andrew Jefferson’s article in the Herald Sun by takes the cake for sheer factual inaccuracy.

Jefferson faithfully reports the police line, even when (as he concedes here), he could see with his own eyes that it was untrue:

In an article full of howlers, Jefferson describes the forces arrayed against Reclaim Australia and the United Patriots Front as simply “Socialist anarchists”, and then he seemingly negotiates some kind of mega merger of the United Patriots Front, the Australian Defense League and the Patriots Defense League Australia to give us this amazing insight:

The Reclaim Australia protest was later boosted by the arrival of about 60 people from splinter group the Patriot Defence League, including many from interstate.

I expect bias, distortion, lies and propaganda from the Herald Sun, but Jefferson’s article just smacks of sheer laziness.

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In a recent post, Far Right Attempting Regroupment, I noted that fascist agitator Shermon Burgess had changed his tune about Reclaim Australia.

A month after his public and acrimonious split from Reclaim, Burgess is now desperately preaching a message of “patriot unity” in an attempt to build support for planned rallies on July 18 (in Melbourne) and July 19 (elsewhere).

I noted that the “allied groups” Burgess has been name-checking are largely ephemeral, and that in reality he was probably drawing support (for things like his bus trip) from the likes of the Australia First Party:

The people on such a bus will not be coming from some MySpace group, instead they are almost certainly going to be drawn from the milieu around Jim Saleam’s Australia First Party, and their more obviously swastika licking friends in the Hammerskins and Squadron 88.

Burgess’ public position has been moving further toward the extreme edge of the far-right, but even so it is still surprising to see something as brazen as this go up on the United Patriots Front facebook page:

Jim Saleam and Neil Erikson appear together in a video posted on the United Patriots Front's Facebook page today.

Jim Saleam and Neil Erikson appear together in a video posted on the United Patriots Front’s Facebook page today.

Jim Saleam has a forty year career on the far right in Australia dotted with numerous criminal convictions. He started as a swastika wearing “National Socialist”, spent time in prison for arranging shotgun attacks and arson directed at political opponents, and now attempts to propagate an Australian fascism grounded in the history of the White Australia Policy.

Despite his attempts to distance himself from his swastika licking past, Saleam maintains an ongoing connection to the neo-Nazi scene, evidenced in particular by his continued work with longtime neo-Nazi and Squadron 88 mascot, Ross “the Skull” May.

From top left: 1. Jim Saleam (right) and Ross May in their National Socialist Party of Australia days. 2. Media coverage from one of Jim Saleam's many encounters with the law. 3. Ross May, Jim Saleam and others at a war memorial. 4. Jim Saleam's mug shot, taken after his arrest in connection with a shotgun attack on the house of Eddie Funde (ANC representative in Australia). 5. Jim Saleam, Ross May and other boneheads attempting to drum up support at Cronulla beach, approx. a year after the Cronulla riot. 6. Jim Saleam and Golden Dawn's Australia spokesperson Iggy Gavrilidis at a 2014 rally. 7. Ross May and Jim Saleam together at a rally. 8. Jim Saleam and Ross May at an Australia First meeting in 2014.

From top left:
1. Jim Saleam (right) and Ross May in their National Socialist Party of Australia days.
2. Media coverage from one of Jim Saleam’s many encounters with the law.
3. Ross May, Jim Saleam and others at a war memorial.
4. Jim Saleam’s mug shot, taken after his arrest in connection with a shotgun attack on the house of Eddie Funde (ANC representative in Australia).
5. Jim Saleam, Ross May and other boneheads attempting to drum up support at Cronulla beach, a year after the Cronulla riot.
6. Jim Saleam and Golden Dawn’s Australia spokesperson Iggy Gavrilidis at a 2014 rally.
7. Ross May and Jim Saleam together at a rally.
8. Jim Saleam and Ross May at an Australia First meeting in 2014.

In the video, Saleam expounds on a couple of his pet conspiracy theories, in particular his claim that the government funds anarchists in Australia. He is then joined in front of the camera by Neil Erikson to announce that:

On July 18 and July 19 Australia First Party throughout the country will be supporting the Reclaim Australia rallies. We want to see all patriotically minded Australians there to stop the intimidation at street level of the extreme left against patriotic freedom of expression.

For those unfamiliar with the career of Jim Saleam, I recommend checking out The Audacity of Hate by Greg Bearup, a 2009 profile originally published in SMH’s Good Weekend magazine.

Shermon Burgess and the United Patriots Front are now publicly and overtly aligned with a man who:

spent three and a half years in the 1990s in prison, for supplying a gun to two skinheads who shot up the home of an African National Congress representative while his young family was inside. He was jailed for a further two years for insurance fraud. In the 1970s, he was involved with Australia’s Nazi Party – the Nationalist Socialist Party of Australia – and has been photographed on several occasions wearing swastika armbands. He also had links to the Patriotic Youth League at the time of the 2005 Cronulla riots.

So what does this mean?

It is simply inconceivable that Shermon Burgess, Neil Erikson and the others grouped in the so-called United Patriots Front could be unaware of Jim Saleam’s status as Australia’s premier fascist ideologue. Neil Erikson’s appearance in this video with Jim Saleam was not some kind of mistake or misunderstanding.

This video is yet more evidence that Burgess and the UPF do not simply hate Muslims; they are embarked on a deliberate project to build a fascist political formation.

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Shermon Burgess at the Richmond UPF rally on May 31. Photography by Kenji Wardenclyffe.

The far-right milieu broadly grouped around “Reclaim Australia” intends to rally on July 18 and 19. The 18th will see one rally in Melbourne, with rallies in other cities to follow on the 19th.

The date chosen was doubtless intended to maximize offense, it coincides with this year’s Eid-al-Fitr (the celebrations marking the end of Ramadan).

The two day rally structure was announced by the self-described Great Aussie Patriot and Cooma based garbage collector (Correction/Apology), Shermon Burgess (before his public split with other Reclaim Australia organizers back in May). Burgess intends to buttress the Melbourne rally with support of fascists based in Sydney.

It remains difficult to assess the mobilizing power of a far-right milieu whose organization is largely informal and online, however it is clear that last months far-right split has weakened their appeal to the broader “Reclaim Australia” layer of Islamophobic racists.

When Shermon Burgess and a handful of other far-right activists announced they were departing the Reclaim Australia camp to form the United Patriots Front, they clearly believed that the wider layer of racists would follow them. The events in Richmond on May 31 demonstrated that this was not the case.

Shermon Burgess has now recognized his mistake. In video after video he now proclaims that “all the patriot groups are united” for the rally on July 18.

From a video earlier this evening:

“On July 18th, at Melbourne Parliament House at 1pm, we are having a rally against radical Islam. Australian’s are fed up, terrorism will only spread if we do not get on top of it. All patriot groups have put their differences aside because we all have to fight this.

Now it took me a long time to get groups to put their differences aside but now we are all allied. And I would like to thank the groups I have written down here who have decided to put their differences aside and all ally as one.

The following groups are: Reclaim Australia, United Patriots Front, Full Blooded Skips, Southern Cross Soldiers, Australian Defense League, Australian Republican Army, Aussie Brotherhood, Rise Up Australia and Australian Patriots Defense Movement.”

Burgess’ remarks about ‘unity’ are interesting in several respects.

Most obviously, there is irony is a call for unity coming from a man who has done more than most to prosecute splits on the far right. Burgess has been quick to denounce as “traitors” all manner of right-wing actors who were insufficiently far-right for his tastes, or who had the temerity to criticize his actions in any way whatsoever.

One early target of Burgess’ wrath was Catholic crazy and admin of the Reclaim Australia Rally – Melbourne Facebook page, Monica Evers. It was a decision I suspect Burgess came to regret; when Burgess first announced that the July 18 rally in Melbourne would be at Parliament house Evers responded with appropriately snarky remarks on the Reclaim Australia pages to the effect “We’ll announce our own rally locations THANK YOU VERY MUCH!”.

The posts have since been removed. Some kind of marriage of necessity has now been stitched up between Evers and Burgess, evidenced by the fact that the Facebook pages run by Evers now appear conciliatory towards Burgess and the fascist UPF. The “Reclaim” pages now promote Burgess’ bus trip from Sydney, and Burgess is now promoting a Facebook event registered to the “Reclaim Australia Rally – Melbourne” page.

Two other things stand out about Burgess’ remarks. One, he is no longer making any attempt to hide his association with obviously violent and fascist projects. In the lead up to April 4 Burgess attempted to conceal his past association with the Australian Defense League project, and attempted to remove the more obscene videos he had released as “Eureka Brigade”.

Now that this deception has been thoroughly blown open by left critics, Burgess is openly boasting ADL and is spruiking his Eureka Brigade work.

It is unclear to what extent this open return to the far-right edge has harmed his ability to communicate to the wider layer of casual Islamophobes. His primary Facebook page has stopped growing, it’s likes have plateaued at around 22,000 and his posts no longer receive the same frenetic interaction they did in the lead up to April 4. At least one individual Burgess had previously touted as part of his “United Patriots Front”, the F’N Aussie, has publicly fallen out with Burgess as a result of his increasingly neo-Nazi stance.

The other fact that is particularly interesting about Burgess’ patriot alliance are the number of participating groups that simply no longer exist.

The Southern Cross Soldiers were a MySpace group which has been defunct since at least 2010. The Australian Defense League has never really existed, despite the antics of self-proclaimed ADL President and military imposter Ralph Ceminara. The Australian Republican Army is a youtube channel with 72 subscribers, and the existence of the Full Blooded Skips is even more ephemeral.

Conversely, there are some notable absences from Burgess’ most recent video. Burgess is organizing a supporters bus that is intended to bring additional hard support from the far-right scene in Sydney to the Melbourne rally on July 18.

The people on such a bus will not be coming from some MySpace group, instead they are almost certainly going to be drawn from the milieu around Jim Saleam’s Australia First Party, and their more obviously swastika licking friends in the Hammerskins and Squadron 88. Burgess might be ready to own the ADL clown Ralph Ceminara, he still has the brains to avoid public association with this lot.

The far-right split in early May was certainly good for a laugh, and it gutted the ability of the UPF to mobilize forces for Richmond on May 31. Fascist agitators like Burgess do not yet have strength to issue a call-out on their own authority. The papered unity that Burgess has repeatedly announced is an attempt to undo the damage of the past two months, he is seeking to convince the wider layer of racists that came out on April 4 to return.

It is not yet clear how successful Burgess has been with his regroupment propaganda. I sincerely doubt he can totally reverse the ill-will generated by a public and acrimonious split with a few youtube videos. The far-right gathering that assembles in Melbourne on July 18 will likely be smaller than the April 4 assemblage, but on the flip side the apparent cooperation with other far-right actors could result in a more coherent gathering that is more capable of organized violence.

The Response

The wider Reclaim milieu is fixated on the Muslim community, if they come out on July 18 they will have Australian Muslims squarely in their sites.

The fascist activists gathered around Shermon Burgess in the UPF have a wider plan in which Muslim’s are merely the first target. The UPF and friends are just as fixated on ‘the left’:

Why are we focusing on Melbourne in particular for July 18? Because we need to win Melbourne. And why do we need to win Melbourne. For starters it is a strong hold, it is a left wing strong hold. Because the movement has been built up and no one has tried to stop it. No one. … Together we can break them.

Look at the Reclaim Australia rally back on April the 4th. We outnumbered the left wing in Sydney. We outnumbered the left wing in Brisbane. We outnumbered the left wing in Perth. Completely. Totally. They didn’t have a chance in hell.

We owned them. But they still have one small pocket of the country in Melbourne. And we are going to take that pocket of the country. Because we got more numbers than them.

So I’ve talked to my boys in the UPF. And we’ve decided what we’re going to do. Not only are we going to get all the patriot groups in Melbourne to the July 18th rally where all patriot groups will be united. But we’re also organising charter buses to get patriots from Canberra, and Sydney, and other places like that.

If we win Melbourne, we win the country. Because that’s where all the left wing propaganda comes out of.

The streets down there are communist red. Soon they will be patriotic red white and blue.

To the fascists of the UPF the traitorous enemy extends (in no particular order) to include those unions defending the rights of migrant workers, sex and gender diverse communities, the student movement, the environment movement, refugees, and anyone who differs from or disagrees with their vision of a violently “patriotic” misogynist flag waving ANZAC worshiping Australia. A quote from Martin Niemöller springs to mind.

A response to Reclaim, the UPF, and any other fascists dumb enough to show their faces in public is being prepared. I am the first to acknowledge that this response is far from complete, the fact that this response has been limited to a few “usual suspect” (and overwhelmingly white) left groupings is a significant weakness, and “a good shirt-fronting” is only ever a reactive strategy to a particular expression of far-right political organization.

None the less, I challenge anyone to make the case for “leaving this to the police”. If the far-right are able to openly organize, recruit and cohere, we will all reap the results.

Further Reading

Sam Oldham, ‘Reclaiming history from the angry white male’.

Anarchist Affinity, ‘A quick guide to staying safe and being effective: all out against ‘Reclaim Australia!’.

Planned Counter Rallies
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In Melbourne you can text ‘subscribe’ to 0422 726 843 for updates.

Photo credit for featured image: Wardenclyffe Photography.

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Far-right agitator Shermon Burgess and his assorted fascist friends have announced their intention to rally at Richmond Town Hall this Sunday. The stated target of this rally is “the left”, in the person of Yarra City Councillor and Socialist Party member Steve Jolly.

The rally in Richmond is intended to build for the far-rights’ planned rally at Flagstaff Gardens on July 18; a rally which is ultimately intended to reverse the failure of the far-right Reclaim Australia rally in Melbourne on April 4. It is a reversal that Burgess and friends blame on the “traitors” known as “the left”.

Richmond Town Hall will be empty on Sunday, council staff have been told to stay home, and Steve Jolly is hosting a public forum on responding to the Reclaim Australia types in Carlton.

Actual promotional material put out by Shermon Burgess and the 'United Patriots Front', describes their intended rally as "Burgess vs Jolly the Commie".

Actual promotional material put out by Shermon Burgess and the ‘United Patriots Front’, describes their intended rally as “Burgess vs Jolly the Commie”.

United Patriots Front?

For those that missed the hilarity on Facebook, the Reclaim Australia grouping recently performed the splits. Shermon Burgess fell out with other Reclaim Australia types in a dispute that seems to have centered on whether “patriots” were doing enough to push Burgess’ ‘Reclaim Australia’ branded clothing. As a result, Burgess and friends are now calling themselves the United Patriots Front.

According to their Facebook page;

The United Patriots Front is a nation wide movement, opposing the spread of Left Wing treason and spread of Islamism.

In practice UPF is a small handful of fascist activists organized online grouped around Shermon Burgess. Slackbastard has a rundown on who these clowns are, but in brief the key players are:

  • Shermon Burgess, reputed Cronulla rioter and former Australian Defense League member, I have previously described Burgess at more length here;
  • Neil Erikson, former Nationalist Alternative, currently calling himself Nationalist Republican Guard online, also described here;
  • Blair Cottrell, neo-Nazi responsible for so-called National Democratic Party of Australia.

How to respond?

The so-called United Patriots Front represents the far-right of the far-right Reclaim Australia milleu; they are the most clearly fascist elements operating in Australia today. It is difficult to know what mobilizing force they retain, but at present point 145 people have clicked “attending” on the UPF Facebook event for the Richmond protest and 3,744 people have ‘liked’ their Facebook page.

When reflecting on April 4 I wrote that “fascism has a public space agenda”:

Public rallies by racists and fascists are attempts to control or change who feels safe and comfortable in public space. At present (thankfully) it is socially unacceptable (mostly) to make overt statements of outright racism publicly; the public expression of racism often results in some form of social sanction. The far right is attempting to reverse this situation. By rallying in public they are seeking to embolden racists, and bring racism directly into public space. The results of this will be reaped in a increased harvest of racist abuse and attacks directed at Muslims.

It is interesting to note how after holding successful rallies in most Australian cities, the far right activists behind Reclaim Australia have obsessed over the fact they were disrupted and opposed in Melbourne. I wonder if history has anything to do with it.

Fascism in Melbourne has been effectively subterranean since the failure of two rallies called by the ADL in 2011. The same far-right elements that were defeated in 2011 are trying to end their subterranean exile and establish a public movement. When they stick their heads up in public, they need to be opposed, disrupted, and sent packing. For this reason I’ll be joining others from the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism at Richmond Town Hall on Sunday.

I intend to participate in this and further counter-demonstrations, however it is important to note that counter-demonstrating is neither a complete nor sufficient strategy. The UK network Anti-Fascist Action wrote in 1995:

the working class is the natural constituency of socialism, not fascism. Racism and socialism are incompatible. One only exists at the expense of the other. The success of the Far-Right is due to the fact that the Left are not seen as a credible option

While the initial aim must be to root out the organised racists/fascists ­the motive force behind the attacks – and throw down a challenge to those that provide them with facilities, the long-term solution must be to create communities of resistance. By creating some space, perhaps in time a real working class alternative to the lying bullshit that now passes for politics in this country can emerge. The entire Left has failed the working class, black and white alike, though many prefer to believe that the working class has failed the Left.

The leaflet is called Filling the Vacuum and I’d heartily recommend it to anyone who is serious about opposing attempts by the far-right to organize in Australia.

With that in mind, it is also important that the public forum that Steve Jolly and others have called is supported.

Some Useful Resources

Know Your Nazi!, a spotters guide. List names and photos of people worth avoiding/looking out for.

A quick guide to staying safe and being effective: All out against Reclaim Australia, a guide prepared by Anarchist Affinity for the last ‘Reclaim Australia’ counter rally.

Activist Rights Handbook, Fitzroy Legal Service, essential reading for anyone engaged in public protest in Victoria.

Melbourne Street Medics Collective, tons of useful information for staying safe at a public protest.

Bonus!

Related:

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