‘Armed, dangerous but shocking organisers’
Sydney Morning Herald
December 20, 2005
Cronulla and its aftermath had little to do with the neo-Nazis. John Huxley explains why.
IT SAYS much, perhaps, for the brainpower and preoccupations of Australia’s neo-Nazis and white supremacists that the Socceroos’ recent World Cup win prompted an angry analysis of the Aryan purity of the players.
“Just what are we supposed to be supporting, the victory of multiculturalism?” complained one visitor to the Stormfront White Nationalist Community’s chat room. “But their skin colour looked pretty good to me!” another replied.
A third conceded it was a good result. “Just a shame that the Jew [Football Federation Australia chairman Frank] Lowy was shown on screen several times. Could have done without him.”
For those with the time and the stomach to wade around the internet, neo-Nazis and their near neighbours, the white supremacists, are not difficult to find. They inhabit sites – sometimes linked, always anonymous – operated by groups such as Aryan Nations, Skinheads, Volksfront, Redwatch and White-Sydney.
They sell Aryan Nations wallpaper: Hail the Fourth Reich. They quote Adolf Hitler with approval: “Those who want to live, let them fight, and those who do not want to fight in this world of eternal struggle do not deserve to live.”
And in the case of the invisible White-Sydney, they pledge to cleanse inner-city suburbs, such as Parramatta, Auburn and West Ryde, that have become “safe havens for criminals”.
Prompted by reported sightings of racist flyers, inflammatory text messages, shaven heads, black boots and swastika tattoos, NSW Deputy Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione has promised to investigate neo-Nazi activity.
Fears that extreme right-wing groups may have been involved appear to have been confirmed by the revelation that white supremacists were among those subsequently arrested. Clearly, they were present and armed.
But how well organised are such groups? How significant are they in the Australian political landscape? And what part did they play in the Cronulla riots and their aftermath?
While ugly and – given their weaponry, highly dangerous – the involvement of such individuals should not be exaggerated, says Associate Professor Andrew Moore, of the University of Western Sydney, a specialist in Australian right-wing politics.
“I’m sure they’d like to take responsibility for all of the Cronulla events, but in terms of impact, of shaping the events, they would have been insignificant.
“The reality is that Prime Minister Howard probably had more to do with the riots in terms of generating racial tension than they have over the past few years.”
That does not mean they should not be taken seriously.
The danger is that, fuelled by alcohol, equipped with the latest communications and inspired by right-wing groups in Europe, they can exploit, escalate and inflame community friction. French anarchists had a word for it: situationism.
“Australian fascism may not have produced an antipodean Kristallnacht [Germany’s “night of broken glass” in 1938 when synagogues were destroyed], but neither should its force or appeal be underestimated in the ‘quiet continent’,” says Professor Moore, author of a biography of Frank de Groot. “The Sydney Harbour Bridge incident is invariably remembered as humorous, but to do that diminishes the reality of right-wing extremism in Australia.”
Although his political views are almost diametrically opposed to those of Professor Moore, Dr Jim Saleam, NSW secretary of the Australia First Party, agrees that the true number of neo-Nazis is small.
A student of the so-called “Kangarooreich”, he has identified several “criminal-political gangs”, such as White Power, Aryan Guard and the Australian National Socialist Movement.
“They absorb some of the Nazi motifs and style themselves that way, but they’re defined more by their criminality than by Nazi ideology,” says Dr Saleam, who received his doctorate at Sydney University for a thesis examining contemporary Australian extreme-right ideology, politics and organisation.
“There are people who believe in the ideology, but in Australia they probably number no more than two dozen.”
Moreover, he explains, they tend to be more interested in alcohol, and crime, than ideas. They are poor organisers. They splinter into ever smaller groups.
Members of the Australia First Party – whose NSW members probably number only in the hundreds – were in Cronulla when the fist rioting occurred, distributing flyers calling for a crackdown on “refugees, contract labour, overseas students and illegals”.
But Dr Saleam dismisses suggestions the party is in any way neo-Nazi.
He concedes that photographs of him wearing a Nazi armband exist, but points out that they date from the mid-1970s, when he was experimenting with political groups of different persuasions.
The Patriotic Youth League similarly denies any connection with neo-Nazi groups.
A spokesman, Luke Connors, said: “None of our members sympathises with Nazis. We’re just young blokes standing up for our own sort.”
Both Dr Saleam and Mr Connors point out that an “uprising” involving about 5000 people is beyond the organisation of any single political group.
Meanwhile, groups such as the PYL are enjoying the publicity. Mr Connors explains: “Mate, I’m going to get brain cancer from having the mobile phone pressed to me ear all day and all night. Answering membership and media inquiries.”
[In a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald, John Huxley said:
“Increasingly, Australians live in a society in which it is always someone else’s fault; in which perpetrators masquerade as victims; in which personal responsibility has been replaced, all too frequently, by a readiness to lie, to sue, to redirect blame or, worse, to find scapegoats.”]