In brief: several weeks ago, self-described “transcendental fascist” and filmmaker Richard Wolstencroft commenced legal action against a blogger named Shane Lyons. Richard has accused Shane of stalking and defaming him. On January 11, Richard applied for an intervention order against Shane preventing him from publishing online any material critical of Richard. The (interim) order was not granted, and further hearings are scheduled to take place later in the year.
For the benefit of those of you arriving late, Shane has a blog titled ‘Richard Wolstencroft’s Freedom Ride’ which has republished various comments, mostly regarding politics, Richard has made on his Facebook account. Here Richard, inter alia, has expressed the view that apart from engaging in a few excesses–which may now, in hindsight, be forgiven–the Nazi regime was a basically benign force, committed to establishing order in Europe. Further, that WWII was the result of British arrogance and that Hitler, if he had been allowed to rule Europe, would have protected the British Empire from its enemies.
Hitler’s failure to enact his vision has now resulted, sadly, in parts of London resembling Afghanistan.
Apart from expressing distaste for demographic change in Londinium, in his other commentary Richard expresses the fears and anxieties common to thousands of other Australians regarding refugees, immigration, deracination, cultural and political decadence: the kinds of views which Theantibogan (or perhaps pwsnt) and a handful of other blogs spend some time examining (albeit, in Richard’s case, with better spelling and grammar than is typical).
Unlike most of the so-called ‘bogans’ who express admiration for Hitler or hatred and contempt for refugees, however, Richard has a public profile, derived in large part from his role as Director of the Melbourne Underground Film Festival (MUFF). The Festival, which Richard inaugurated in 2000 after one of his films was rejected by the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF), will this year be celebrating its 11th birthday.
Over time, MUFF has managed to attract some small following (the exact size of which varies considerably according to the source) and a degree of support from the business and corporate sector. In 2010, the major sponsor was Canon. To the extent that Richard’s apparent embrace of fascism and xenophobia reflects badly on MUFF, it mitigates against the possibility of the Festival attracting wider support, especially from businesses wary of associating themselves with the propagation of racism and fascism. The Facebook comments Shane has republished on his blog, then, would appear to have embarrassed Richard, and as noted he is now using legal means to have them removed, and to apply for a gag to to be placed on Shane to prevent him from further criticising Richard’s politics. Note also that prior to this latest court action, Richard successfully lobbied WordPress.com to have ‘Richard Wolstencroft’s Unconcealedness’, Shane’s previous blog, closed down. This was agreed to on the grounds that Shane’s blog was engaged in copyright violation (viz, Richard had copyright over his Facebook commentary, and in republishing this commentary without Richard’s permission, Shane was violating Richard’s intellectual property rights).
Or something like that. Crikey‘s Luke Buckmaster reviewed some of the issues raised in a post on his blog in September last year (*UPDATED** – Ferocious film politics: ex-MUFF volunteer launches smear campaign against festival director, September 7, 2010); Richard has a few choice words for “[t]hat ratbag stalker and total tool Shane Lyons” here.
The issues raised by Richard’s legal action are interesting ones, especially those which relate to copyright but also, moreover, in light of Richard’s public reputation as an advocate of ‘freedom of speech’. After all, it was partly on this basis that Richard was invited to launch the Australian Sex Party’s state election campaign in Melbourne last year. According to Richard, however, ‘freedom of speech’ is one thing, defamation another, and in re-publishing Richard’s Facebook commentary without his permission Shane is guilty of both stalking and defamation. In either case, on January 22 Shane published the following announcement on his blog. I republish it here because I think it deserves a wider audience.
In Support of Richard Wolstencroft
January 22, 2011
You might have heard by now that Richard Wolstencroft, director of the Melbourne Underground Film Festival, has finally been charged over the illegal screening of LA Zombie back in August. He’s been offered a slap on the wrist – a diversion notice, which would require him to pay a “donation” to a charity. His mates at Beat magazine were the first with the news [here].
Australia’s classification/censorship laws are ridiculous, with tighter – and more inconsistent – restrictions on what adults are allowed to watch than most Western countries, completely banning films like LA Zombie and Ken Park; video games that would get an “R” rating if one existed; and videos about graffiti “vandals”, giving them the same legal status as bomb-making instructions. For these reasons I support MUFF’s protest screening of LA Zombie.*
But Richard Wolstencroft is currently embroiled in another court case – concerning someone else’s freedom to expose and criticise Richard’s racist and neo-fascist political views, and instigated by the man himself.
Two days before the new year I was served with a Summons and Application for an Intervention Order, in relation to this website [link].
At the initial hearing on January 11 I declined to make formal undertakings to stop monitoring Richard’s Facebook page and publicly criticising him. I said I would defend the case, and the full hearing is likely to be in May or June.
The magistrate refused to grant Richard an interim order against me, on the grounds that there was no indication of danger to person or property. This was even before I pointed out that he felt so threatened he waited four months before applying for the order, and sent his girlfriend around to knock on my door and talk to me, pretending she was looking for someone else.**
There’s not much more I want to say about this publicly just yet, but because Wolstencroft has continued to spray his “stalking” accusations around I have to make a couple of basic points, which will also be part of my defence in the court case.
• Richard treats his Facebook page as primarily a blog for speaking to an audience, accepting “friend” requests no questions asked, including from my pseudonymous account. He has over 1300 Facebook “friends”, including Travis Bickle and Blackbeard the Pirate.
• My focus has always been on his politics, his use of MUFF as a platform for promoting his politics, and his use of this supposedly non-profit film festival for his personal gain. I have never taken any interest in his personal life.
• His far-right politics are extreme, appalling and a poisonous presence in the Australian film community, and they need to be criticised in the strongest possible terms. Should someone who writes things like this have the right to stifle criticism?
“…the Nazis only wanted a united Europe like the EU, anyway, in essence. They were a little excesses [sic]. But that can be forgiven now given some historical distance. WW2 was a pointless civil war brought on by British arrogance. Hitler would have protected the British Empire and it would exist in a greater glory to this day if he had been allowed to. In the end England has lost everything and parts of London now resemble Afghanistan. Some Victory!”
* Mind you, Richard said at the time that he would screen something else if the police showed up. Margaret Pomeranz, when she tried to screen Ken Park in 2003, at least had the guts to still hit the play button with the police already there and waiting to pounce [link].
** This was apparently to verify my address. It was another 17 days before he applied for the order.