Pride & Prejudice : Mark White investigates the rise of Australia’s far right…

Pride & Prejudice
Mark White
madison
December 2009

It’s a cool September morning on the day of the AFL Grand Final, and in a function room of an inner-city Sydney RSL Club, a small crowd of men and women have gathered from around the country. [1] A middle-aged man in a red T-shirt is addressing them. A sign behind him reads: “Is today’s economic system serving the people of a nation?” but that’s not what he’s talking about. He’s talking about Hitler and facing some hostile questioning.

I’m at day one of the Sydney Forum, an annual weekend gathering of Australia’s Neo-Fascist and nationalist groups. Look closely and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a single skinhead here. Instead, the crowd is mostly male, middle-aged and conservatively dressed — trousers, shirts and sensible haircuts. All, that is, except for a man in front of me wearing paint-spattered camouflage trousers and a T-shirt bearing the Eureka flag and the words “Aussie patriot”.

The event’s MC suddenly takes the microphone. [2] “They [RSL club members] tried to remove us from [this] club … if you behave and don’t shout ‘Heil Hitler!’ this forum will go ahead. This forum is not for Hitlerites!”

There is a whole roster of speakers planned for the forum, including talks on 9/11, al-Qaeda and, later on, a speech by inky-haired former radio presenter Terrie-Anne Verney, who was sacked from a NSW community radio station after it was revealed she was the administrator on the racist Facebook group “Fuck Off We’re Full”. [3]

The RSL club officials wanted to cancel after finding out who precisely had booked the room, but were advised by police to let the event go ahead. [4] Outside, a small group of protesters have gathered, holding banners that read “Neo-Nazis” and are shouting at people as they enter the club. Despite the venue being kept a secret until 7am this morning, one of the protesters bought a ticket to find out where it would be.

I ask Jim Saleam, the event’s organiser and NSW director of the white-nationalist Australia First Party, why he is holding the event on the day of the final of the Aussie Rules football match. “It’s a free-speech weekend”, he says. “You’ve got to hold it some time.” [5]

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We all remember the riots on December 11, 2005, in Cronulla. [6] For a brief moment in Australian history, the southern Sydney beach suburb became a cauldron of bubbling racial tension as a crowd of mostly white Australians demonstrated against what was believed to be a racially motivated attack by Middle Eastern youth against two Caucasian lifeguards. Crude slogans filled the streets: “Wog-free zone”, “Lebs go home” and “We grew here, you flew here”. It wasn’t long before violence descended and Australia found itself in the middle of an international media firestorm.

Fast-forward to June 2009 and Australia was back in the international firing line, this time after a spate of alleged racist attacks against Indian students in Melbourne and Sydney. [7] And then, of course, there was Hey Hey It’s Saturday, and the now infamous Red Faces incident in October, in which a Jackson 5 tribute band performed in front of singer Harry Connick Jnr with their faces painted black. It hit an already overly exposed nerve and Australia was propelled to the middle of a world racism debate. Yet again. [8]

Interestingly, a decade-long survey, named Challenging Racism and released last year, found that levels of racism were actually falling in Australia, with one person in 10 thinking some races were superior to others (figures in Europe run to three in 10). Get a little closer to the action, however, and leaders of some of Australia’s notorious far-right groups will tell you that membership is on the rise. [9]

There are worrying signs. In May last year, a group of Aborigines claimed they were threatened by a man with a tomahawk wearing full-length Ku Klux Klan gear in Griffith, NSW, and days before Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generation in February last year, a video was posted on YouTube featuring an Australian man in a white hood with a burning cross. The subject line? Australia says sorry. The body copy: no way go and screw your [sic] self monkeys. [10]

More worrying still were boasts in September by Alice Springs local Denis Donohue, who was investigated for selling T-shirts emblazoned with a Nazi swastika and the words “White Power”. He told a journalist: “That was just a novelty thing because I was sick of them all breaking into my home”, adding that he had sold some T-shirts to local police officers. [11]

In May this year, US Klan leader Thomas Robb admitted Ku Klux Klan members were indeed across Australia, a claim backed by leading anti-Klan crusader Johnny Lee Clary, himself a former Klan leader who, having discovered God, now campaigns against the group. Far-right political party Australia First has registered as a national party and will contest federal elections, while One Nation is back from the grave with an outspoken redhead as its new poster girl. [12] Could Australia be heading back into its dark past? “I do think there’s certainly an anxiety within all minority communities that multiculturalism and tolerance can decline when people are feeling threatened, jobs are in short supply and money is tight”, says Deborah Stone of the Anti-Defamation Commission.

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The voice on the phone is female, middle-aged, jolly and with a slight Kiwi inflection. She’s called Maxine Grey and lives “somewhere” in Victoria. “We thrive on giving back to the community that’s been good to us”, Grey tells madison. “We look after our own and look after the community.”

Grey is the leader of the Church of the National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan Australia and New Zealand Realms. She has just been telling me about the charity work the Klan carried out in Victoria after the Black Saturday disaster, donating $50 here, $100 there, mixed in with food packages. The parcels of food and envelopes of money were left anonymously, most under doors, and perhaps unsurprisingly, all of them were given to white families. “It was a nice feeling knowing at least some families had a hot meal that night”, she says.

Grey won’t tell me exactly how many Klan members there are in Australia, but says there are members in all capital cities and that numbers are rising. What she will tell me, however, is that they receive between 10 and 12 enquiries a day. “With the economic crisis … people are trying to go back to traditional values”, she says. “People are wanting some sort of crutch or group they feel at home with”.

She describes the Klan as being “like a big family unit”. “We have a few on pensions, no unemployed people at this time, not that we discriminate, but we just don’t.”

All members are white and drawn from across society, from “the medical field, law enforcement, military, we also have clergy. We are a 100 per cent-based Christian group. We have a youth corps for everyone under 25.”

Are there any burning crosses? “We’re in a fire ban country!” she chortles. “We’re going to be arrested for being terrorists!”

While Grey takes pains to explain that the Klan is not a political group, they do share beliefs with some of the far-right wing political parties, including a wish to restrict immigration.

“Bring in tradesmen, medical people, researchers, not Somalis that have been running around with a little stick in a village that couldn’t support themselves”, says Grey. “There’s a place for charity, it begins at home.”

Does she understand why the Klan has a bad reputation? “Like every group, you get a few people that go off the rails, like a mob mentality”, she says. But the lynchings? “There’s some Klan that [lynched blacks]. A lot of people that dressed up in Klan robes that pretended to be [Klan] too. [David] Palmer is a great example of people trying to be Klan but not.” [13]

David Palmer has been in and out of the media for decades. The self-proclaimed Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan in Australia, a group he founded in 1999, claimed in July of this year that several of his Klan members had infiltrated Australia First.

He told a Sydney Morning Herald journalist: “Our main idea was we would move in and take back what we consider our Aryan parties. [The Klan] is a white pressure group, a white social group for white families. But also a reserve in case the ethnics get out of hand and they need sorting out.”

When he made similar allegations a decade ago about One Nation, two members were expelled.

But Australia First’s Jim Saleam tells madison: “There’s no substance of any description to any of Palmer’s claims.” [14]

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The Klan’s presence in Australia goes back to 1978 when a KKK-affiliated Northern Territory policeman David Jennings chained together nine Aboriginal teenagers to form a “work gang”. A further three Aboriginal people were injured when Jennings fired a shotgun, aimed at bottles of wine. Threats by the KKK, abusive letters and the odd abduction followed, but it wasn’t until 1999 and One Nation’s heyday that media reports suggested a strong Klan presence.

“There have always been views of far-right racism in Australia”, says Deborah Stone. “It’s always been a minority activity, but it does surge from time to time. It tends to surge at times of economic difficulty and crisis so we have reason to be a little more concerned than usual at the moment, though I don’t think there’s any reason to panic.” [15]

Former US Klan boss-turned-anti-Klan-activist Johnny Lee Clary tells madison that NSW police have told him there is Klan activity in “just about every area there is”. (Superintendent Ken Finch of NSW police in turn told madison that individuals are investigated if allegations of criminal activity have been made and would not comment on specific examples.)

On Klan talk of being a “community organisation”, Clary says, “It’s all rhetoric. I wrote the book on it. I was a national leader in the stupid thing. Every leader says the same thing. When it’s behind closed doors it’s a whole different ball game. ‘We just promote the white race, we don’t hate anyone’, that’s what I would say. And then … ‘Those niggers are going to have to go, those Jews are going to have to go’.”

Though the Klan and other far-right groups are not known for their strong female presence, there are women within their walls, too. Take “GI Jane” as she calls herself, an articulate Australia First member who posts on Stormfront, the white nationalist web forum. In an email interview she says she’s “old enough to know a few things” and wants to keep national and cultural identity for all nations rather than the slow trickle into Coca-Colonisation that globalisation has brought. The forces of multiculturalism, she says, are “guaranteed to destroy all the wonderful and unique cultures on this planet”.

She attributes her views to a mix of influences, including 9/11 and the events leading up to the Iraq invasion, pressure to conform to cultural trends as well as a suicide and drugs epidemic among Australian youths. Many of GI Jane’s beliefs are anti-elite populism rather than specifically right-wing. She’d like to see mainstream politicians restrict immigration, bring back tariff protection, support local manufacturing and re-nationalise all privatised assets. GI Jane believes people should have their own homelands, so neither Lebanese nor Indians should be in Australia, just people of European descent. So should Australia return to the Aborigines? She hedges her answer, saying in “an ideal world” they would be able to manage the country in a global society, but that would be unlikely. GI Jane is not anti-Muslim, she claims, just anti-religion. “I believe that the major religions are simply attempts at social control and breed dependant [sic] mentalities and reactive, extremist views and behaviour.”

Smaller still than Australia First is the Australian Protectionist Party, with Darrin Hodges as its NSW chairman. Formed when Hodges and a few mates split from Australia First in 2007, and despite an offer of free memberships since Australia Day 2009, the party has still not reached the 500 necessary for federal registration.

“There’s a certain level of support but we won’t be able to test it until we contest the next elections”, Hodges says. “We thought it would be easier, but the difference with One Nation was it had the advantage of lots of media attention. It helped that Pauline Hanson was a disendorsed Liberal candidate. They got lots of media coverage.” [16]

On the mildest end of the nationalist spectrum is One Nation’s latest redhead, Camden mum Kate McCulloch, who made headlines in 2008 after the kerfuffle over the rejected Muslim school in her Sydney suburb. She’s raw with the media with an instinctive approach one paper called “redneck”.

“My feeling is little kids must meet at school”, she says. “There’s no way of learning about our education, our way of life and our freedoms and our bars and football and everything else that goes with living in Australia. Those that do go to our school do have friendships and not problems like they do in Bankstown.”

She argues that Islamic faith schools divide Muslim kids from the mainstream, but doesn’t support Christian schools closing down as “this is at base a Christian country”. “The [Muslim] kids haven’t had a chance to know and befriend our kids”, she says, “There’s no problem with [them joining Christian schools]; that would be a good baseline for them [to integrate]. The religions are very different.”

She claims there are 125 verses in the Koran about burning in hell. And the Bible? “There are bad things in the Bible”, she replies. “I’m willing to say it. [But] why can’t the [Islamic] leaders that live here start admitting the atrocities?” As both Stone and Grey will attest, when people get frightened, they look for someone to blame or someone to reach out to, and the extremes always offer just that. The hardcore right already exists, and they seem to be looking for a catalyst. But unlike in European nations like Austria and Switzerland, where nationalist parties regularly poll up to 30 per cent in elections, their numbers in Australia remain small, and the lack of real economic damage from the global financial crisis — so far — could keep it that way. [17]

Andy Fleming, who runs the Slackbastard anarchist/anti-fascist blog chronicling the nationalist scene, says “In general, the scene is tiny. There is a lot of chatter on the net, but not a lot else … there is real-world violence, but it is usually rare, sporadic and disorganised.” [18]

Gi Jane, on the other hand, sees a growth in numbers. “People are disillusioned with the mainstream and are seeking the truth.”

But the lack of mainstream success could explain the change in tactics with the Klan stressing its involvement in community work, and the far-right political parties broadening to economic and environmental agendas such as ending free trade, supporting Australia-based industries and capping population numbers to prevent lasting environmental damage. Saleam even suggests he’d like to work with the Greens on issues of overpopulation.

There’s not many outside the top end of town that wouldn’t support Australian industries or question how working people benefit when jobs are shipped offshore — look at the outcry when Bonds announced it was moving to cheaper labour markets overseas. But for most, that’s the extent of it, and white nationalist views remain on the fringes — at least for now.

Notes

1) The ‘Sydney Forum’ was held at the Petersham RSL Club on September 26; on September 27, it was held at ‘The Bunker’ (725 Princes Highway, Tempe): Dr James Saleam‘s residence and current ‘Australia First Party’ headquarters.

Prior to Saleam’s jailing for his involvement in a shotgun assault upon the home of Eddie Funde (the ANC’s representative to Australasia) in 1989 — for which Saleam was jailed in 1991 — ‘The Bunker’ served as the HQ for another party, ‘National Action’, for which Saleam was also leader. Also in 1991, ‘The Bunker’ was the scene of a murder, when NA member Perry Whitehouse shot dead fellow member Wayne “Bovver” Smith:

“I’ll show ya what I got to say,” Whitehouse yelled as he came downstairs. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. “That’s what I’ve got to f…’in say.” Smith’s last gasps could be heard on the [ASIO] bug as Whitehouse danced around, mocking him. Smith was wearing a T-shirt that stated, “Say no to the new gun control laws.”

Note that other, arguably ‘forgetful’ RSLs — Eastwood (2007) and Bexley (2004) — have hosted the Sydney Forum.

2) The event’s MC, since the Forum’s inception in 2001, has been Sydney resident and German-born neo-Nazi activist Welf Herfurth. A former member of the German NPD, Herfurth is currently organising as a “national anarchist”, a member of the ‘New Right’, and the neo-Nazi skinhead network ‘Volksfront’.

3) I am uncertain if Verney spoke — certainly, it was announced by Forum organisers that she had agreed to. Verney lost her job at Griffith FM community radio station 2MIA in July, 2009.

4) This is a fairly standard response by police when racist or fascist groups are exposed as having booked rooms under false pretences. The underlying rationale appears to be operational. That is, it’s easier for police to monitor such events if the location is confirmed and those to be subjected to monitoring — which includes any real or potential opposition — may be found in the one place.

5) And he calls himself a fair dinkum Aussie — pffft.

6) We also might remember that the squawking talk-back hack Alan Jones boasted that he “led the charge”. See : Communists on Cronulla (December 3, 2006).

7) See : Australia, India, racism, students (June 2, 2009).

EIGHT) See : Hey Hey It’s Saturday (c. October 7, 1979) (October 9, 2009). Blackface is also used to superb effect in the YouTube video ‘Flubba Bubba Out Da Front’.

9) See : Australia is racist / Australia is not racist. (June 28, 2009). The subject of the extent to which ‘racism’ — understood as being both the conscious or unconscious projection by individuals and groups of attitudes, values and behaviours onto the broader society, as well its embodiment in social structures and institutions — is obviously of much ongoing debate.

10) In addition to the muppet on YouTube, KRudd’s apology also prompted other dingbats to enter once again into email circulation the ponderings of the BNP’s Arthur Kemp on ungrateful, uppity blacks.

Arthur Kemp (1962/3–) is a white supremacist, and a former member of the South African secret police. In 1993 (or 1996, according to the sauce), Kemp re-located to (Really) Great Britain, from which vantage point he praises the virtues of the British National Party (BNP).

Among his many other accomplishments, Kemp has authored ‘An Apology To The Black Man From The White Race’, an hilarious text which has circulated for years among the far right, Australian versions of which became especially popular in February 2008, shortly after KRudd issued an apology to the ‘Stolen Generations’ on behalf of the Federal Government (see : Love means never having to say you’re sorry // “It’s only a joke”, February 18, 2008).

In any case, YouTube hosts thousands upon thousands of neo-Nazi videos.

11) Denis Donohue was not only investigated, but prosecuted. See : Oh Noes! Denis Donohue goes to court // Blood, Honour & Metal (September 14, 2009). See also : Noble Front vs. ZOG (June 11, 2008).

12) AF initially claimed it was on the verge of registration in July, 2009. As of November 9, it is still not registered. One Nation remains registered at a Federal level, as does Pauline’s United Australia Party. See : Move over One Nation, here comes Australia First! (October 13, 2009).

13) ‘Maxine Grey’ is also known as ‘Tina Greco’. Only one other person has publicly identified themselves as belonging to her Klan: they recently announced their resignation on the Stormfront website. Prior to this, the middle-aged male in question attended the ‘Australia Day’ gathering organised by members of the ‘Southern Cross Soldiers’ in Melbourne in 2009. See : nutzis are W E I R D : Tina Greco / CNKKKK (August 26, 2009).

14) It should be noted that Palmer is not only a neo-Nazi and an arch-rival of Saleam’s, but a qualified chef de cuisine, and one of the most charmingly batshit of the older generation of Australian neo-Nazis, having earned the nickname ‘The Space Wizard’ for his efforts in this regard. He is also most welcome at Humanist House in Chippendale.

15) Stone is correct to note that “There have always been views of far-right racism in Australia” — or at least since the 1920s, at which time anti-Fascist Italian migrant workers made the streets unsafe for Italian Fascists from Melbourne to the cane-fields of northern Queensland. Being anarchists as well as wogs, their stories are relatively unknown — as is the case of Francesco Fantin, murdered by Fascists in Loveday internment camp in 1942. See : Gianfranco Cresciani, ‘The Proletarian Migrants: Fascism and Italian Anarchists in Australia’, The Australian Quarterly (March, 1979).

On the other hand, given the nature in which the modern nation-state of Australia was established — first as a repository for individuals regarded by the English ruling and middle classes as constituting, quite literally, the shit of (British) Empire, then as a White outpost in Asia — and the doctrine of ‘White Australia’ — which for a period of 60–70 years enjoyed bi-partisan political and popular support — I think Stone under-estimates the extent to which ‘racism’ informs contemporary debates, or forms part of the popular culture.

Which is another story…

16) Like ‘GI Jane’, Hodges is a former member of Stormfront. While a member, Hodges offered fellow racists access to his collection of Hitler videos, as well as confessing an attraction to the “purer” form of Fascism on offer by dead foreign dicktator Benito Mussolini. In the intervening period, and especially after departing AF, Hodges has renounced the crude anti-Semitism of his politikal yoof, and transferred his fear and loathing of Jews to Muslims. He is now denounced by AF as being a ‘Christian-Zionist’.

17) The other difficulty facing racist right-wing parties when it comes election time is the preferential voting system, a plight which afflicts all minor parties. Notwithstanding this structural issue, the only electoral success either AF or the APP have experienced is the election of Bruce Preece to local council in Adelaide. Otherwise, their capacity to attract votes has been negligible to this point.

18) Funnily enough, this blogger was threatened by Melbourne tattooist Justin O’Brien — owner and manager of ‘Hold Fast Body Art’ in Burwood (13 Burwood Hwy / (03) 9888 8668) — and three of his neo-Nazi kameraden when, on the afternoon of September 28, 2009, the awesome foursome paid an unscheduled visit to the ‘Melbourne Anarchist Resource Centre’. There the boys, one armed with mace, knocked over some bookshelves, threw some pamphlets on the floor, and ranted and raved at the six or seven individuals who had gathered there — to attend a meeting of a group campaigning against sexual violence — that they, myself, and all other (presumed) ‘anti-fascist’ activists in Melbourne would be subjected to violent assault by Justin and other members of ‘Blood & Honour Australia’ and the ‘Southern Cross Hammerskins’ if they did not immediately cease all ‘anti-fascist’ activity. (See also : Anarchists claim Northcote Neo-Nazi attack, October 16, 2009.)

All of which makes me wonder exactly what small businessmen like Justin are being advised by their accountants: threatening complete strangers with violence and antagonising every ‘anti-fascist’ in Melbourne in the name of neo-Nazism seems to be an extremely odd way of promoting one’s business interests. On the other hand, given that the incident occurred the day after the conclusion of the Sydney Forum — at which Saleam was proud to announce ‘Blood & Honour’ were guests — perhaps the thinking was that, given that all anti-fascist activity in Melbourne (and Australia) is under my personal control, threatening me with violence was a sure-fire way of ending their many troubles. (And if Justin’s business had to sacrificed in order to secure this outcome, so be it. Note that Justin is also the Victorian state representative for B&H.)

Apart from being based on a slightly unrealistic understanding of who and what constitutes an ‘anti-fascist’, the flaw in this plan is that, while members of B&H are seemingly unaware of this fact, most members of the general public regard neo-Nazis with about as much sympathy as they do paedophiles. B&H also fail to understand that, as far as ‘anti-fascists’ are concerned, I’m actually one of the nice ones…

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2015 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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10 Responses to Pride & Prejudice : Mark White investigates the rise of Australia’s far right…

  1. Sam da Communist says:

    May Lenin bless our comrades because the Anti-Nazis that participated in the protest are on youtube.

    The nazis seem to have a very sophisticated way of mocking anti-fascists and the left using the the Internet. @ndy you should get a cam and make a motion picture about nazis and counter the anti-antifa material on cyberspace.

  2. @ndy says:

    Sam,

    Leaving aside Vlad the Impaler:

    “…the Anti-Nazis that participated in the protest are on youtube”?

    Really?

    Where?

    “The nazis seem to have a very sophisticated way of mocking anti-fascists and the left using the the Internet”?

    Really?

    Huh.

    As for my future career as a filmmaker… um, I think others are better equipped than I am to perform that task.

  3. KinkyBoy says:

    So how does the BnaiBrith categorise this Brendon O’Connell fella @ndy? Is he a “Nazi”, a “Hater”, an “Anti-Semite”, Prejudiced, Bigoted?

    Perhaps a “Fascist”… that’s a nasty sounding word.

  4. @ndy says:

    About half past four.

  5. KinkyBoy says:

    NchdLwfrGntlss”nrchy”frth”Jws”?

    Isthtwhyy’rKshrnrchstndpprntlyfllycnvrsntwththnrrtvndthsnstvtsfthwrld’smstspclnd”vlbl”b-pdlnttts.

    Thbrstclstmybgf”Jdsm”, thrlgsppndgfptrnsnt”Jdsscrt”hssplttrdthwrldwthtscntntsfrfrtlng.

  6. Dr. Cam says:

    Disturbingly, I think I can read that.

  7. Smithy says:

    I find it strange, that you would go to all this trouble trying to get rid of free speech! Don’t you know how a democracy works? Life for the “Nazis” that is you Andy and all of the “Communist Cult” leaders, are just silly little “Far Leftie nutters”, who enjoy living the western lifestyle, without paying any price for it. We are going to start a blog to send Nazi Andy, a one way ticket to Afghanistan, never to return to a western lifestyle again! It is time for Andy to be a man, instead of a spiteful little boy, who enjoys being a puppet for you know who.

  8. @ndy says:

    Bathtub full of power tools.

  9. James the Troll says:

    Troll!

    Is fail!

  10. Pingback: Sydney Forum 2012 : October 20/21 | slackbastard

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