Remember ‘Reclaim Australia’?
April 4, 2015, was the first in a series of rallies held in towns and cities across Australia in 2015 in order to voice opposition to Islam (alternatively: to engage in xenophobic protest to demand the criminalisation of Muslim life). The rallies attracted thousands of participants, from neo-Nazi goons to Ordinary Mum & Dad™ bigots, counter-protests, considerable media attention and much public discussion. Speakers included Queensland LNP MP George Christensen and One Nation’s Pauline Hanson, and were the most significant right-wing street mobilisation for some years. Further national rallies took place in July and November, 2015. These later protest rallies were jointly organised with and promoted by Reclaim’s mutant offspring, the ‘United Patriots Front’ (UPF). For those of you coming in late, the UPF was a coalition of neo-Nazis and Christian fundamentalists which — after emerging in April/May of 2015 as the political vanguard of Reclaim — folded two years later (at precisely the moment Facebook withdrew its sponsorship).
While there were a number of different ah … ‘personalities’ … associated with Reclaim, the most prominent was Cooma council worker Shermon Burgess, the self-proclaimed ‘Great Aussie Patriot’. Having previously spent several years agitating against Muslims with the ‘Australian Defence League’ (AKA his good chum Ralph Cerminara), Reclaim was Shermon’s moment to really shine. Using social media, the previously obscure Burgess was able to establish a relatively large following in his role as Australia’s Biggest Patriot, publishing hundreds of video selfies over the next few years, and becoming increasingly cranky, paranoid and upset. Despite once denouncing ‘nazis’, in 2020 Burgess has now fully embraced Hitler’s legacy and, after being expelled from Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, been reduced to espousing Aryan supremacy to teenage boys on TikTok.
So much for Shermon and (anti-)social media. In terms of ‘traditional’ (legacy) media, Alex Cullen fronted an investigation into Reclaim Australia for the (now-defunct) current affairs television show Sunday in October 2015, in which the NSW-based ‘Catherine Brennan’ (Liz Shepherd), Wanda Marsh, and John Oliver were presented as its founders.
Marsh and Shepherd did largely conform to stereotype: in South Australia, Marsh ran on behalf of the anti-Muslim micro-party ‘Australian Liberty Alliance’ for a seat in the Australian Senate in 2016 (with negligible results), while Shepherd was a key organiser of the final, January 2017, Reclaim rally in Sydney. Oliver, however, was a special case, as I’d noted three months earlier:
In other news, the ‘Patriots Defence League of Australia’ has been deregistered in the state of Queensland, where it had fraudulently claimed to be an organisation dedicated to upholding the rights of women.
I don’t like the PDLA very much as one of its nominal Presidents, John Oliver of Newcastle, once opined that (after a man named Robert Godino had been nominated by local meatheads as the author of my blog): “Time to go on a good old fashion hunt I reckon. Drag this piece of shit out of his house by his nuts and cut the fuckers off and sew them to his forehead. Dog prick.”
John is obviously not. a. fan. but this and other such statements — “F*** his fb page, lets find this c*** and beat him to a pulp” — as well as John’s decision to publicly declare that he had established a fund in order to obtain my d0x so that my testicles could be removed and sown to my forehead and/or I could be beaten to a pulp (etc. — there’s lots more) doesn’t really seem to be in keeping with the group’s alleged commitment to ah, feminism.
See : Anti-Islam group deregistered for masquerading as domestic violence group, Bianca Hall, The Age, July 2, 2015.
Fortunately, despite Oliver’s phantasy, I retain possession of my testicles, and the feminist fight against male violence continues without his valuable support. (Oliver also got sprung bringing a gun to town for the July 2015 Reclaim Australia rally in Melbourne.)
As for its origins, just prior to the emergence of Reclaim, in December 2014 I wrote an article for New Matilda which noted that, in the immediate aftermath of the Lindt cafe siege, the far-right had not (yet) capitalised upon the incident. This suggests that, when confined to marginal cranks like Cerminara, the Australia First Party or its now-deceased Sydney-based rival the Party of Freedom and/or neo-Nazi skinhead groups like Squadron 88, the appeal of street mobilisations targeting Muslims is limited. Fortunately for them, however, rabid sections of the tabloid media had already primed Ordinary Mums & Dads™ to take action, and social media giants Facebook and Youtube provided a brilliant tool for the rapid dissemination of anti-Muslim & racist propaganda. Further, Reclaim allowed for and in fact encouraged a range of determined radical-right activists to assume leadership positions. To highlight this fact, in late 2015 I wrote an article for The Guardian, titled ‘The UPF and Reclaim Australia aren’t ‘concerned parents’ or a bad joke’ (‘Don’t get sucked in by the hijinks of far-right activists: active neo-Nazis are welcome and hold leadership positions in a movement gaining in appeal’).
I was right, of course.
See also : Far-right fringe raises profile by reclaiming immigration debate [John Lyons, The Australian], August 8, 2015.
The fun in July prompted the UPF to redirect its energies away from Melbourne to the Victorian town of Bendigo, where they organised a protest for the following month against the construction of a mosque. In fact, having constituted itself as the vanguard of Reclaim, the UPF soon left Reclaim behind, and while Reclaim continued to pump out racist, xenophobic and just plain batshit propaganda on Facebook for years, events in meatspace were rare. A rally in Perth in June 2016 and another in Sydney in January 2017 were seemingly the only events organised by Reclaim after 2015. That said, it should be noted that Reclaim was the product of and gave helped give birth to a range of more obscure and temporary political formations, including but not limited to the short-lived ‘Soldiers of Odin’, various groups intent on reclaiming or restoring Australia, the ‘True Blue Crew’ and so on and so forth.
United Patriots Front
In addition to Burgess, the main figures in the UPF — Blair Cottrell, Neil Erikson, Kris0 Richardson, Tom Sewell and Chris Shortis in Melbourne; Scott Moerland in Brisbane; Kevin Coombes and Dennis Huts in Perth — have avoided serious legal entanglements, and while the UPF has been supplanted by its successor organisation The Lads Society, it’s arguable that the organisation found its apotheosis in mass murderer Brenton Tarrant. Of which, Graham Macklin (‘The Christchurch Attacks: Livestream Terror in the Viral Video Age’, CTC Sentinel, July 2019, Vol.12, No.6) writes:
Tarrant wore many of his influences almost literally on his sleeve, and certainly on his weapons. He was, however, rather more circumspect when it came to discussing those closer to home, not least perhaps because they clashed with the account of his political awakening that he wished to present in his manifesto. Tarrant had been especially enthusiastic about two extreme-right Australian groups, the United Patriots Front (UFP) and the True Blue Crew (TBC), and in particular UFP leader Blair Cottrell who helped establish the group in May 2015 following a split within the larger anti-Muslim organization Reclaim Australia. Cottrell, who had convictions for property damage, aggravated burglary, arson, possessing a controlled weapon, failing to comply with court orders, and trafficking in testosterone, had not always been straightforwardly anti-Muslim in his political outlook. Under a photograph of Adolf Hitler on social media, he had once commented, “There should be a picture of this man in every classroom and every school, and his book should be issued to every student annually.” Tarrant donated money to the UPF, too, though Cottrell fervently denied knowing him. “And you won’t find any evidence to the contrary,” he told journalists.
UFP social media was transnational in its inspiration, engaging in a “reflexive mimicry” of European and U.S. far-right politicians, which highlighted the group’s subjective positioning and interaction with a broader field of virulent anti-Muslim politicking, far-right ideas, and eschatological narratives, particularly those espoused by the Identitarians.
Facebook deleted the UPF page in May 2017 at which point it had over 120,000 supporters. A subsequent investigation by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in the aftermath of the Christchurch shootings retrieved the metadata, enabling it to reconstruct and verify the erased messages, thereby revealing Tarrant to have been an active user of the UFP and TBC pages. He made some 30 comments over a 10-month period from as early as April 2016. “Knocked it out the park tonight Blair,” Tarrant enthused after watching Cottrell on television. “Your retorts had me smiling, nodding, cheering and often laughing. Never believed we would have a true leader of the nationalist movement in Australia, and especially not so early in the game.” After viewing a live stream of Cottrell and a colleague celebrating the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency in November 2016, Tarrant gushed, “Simply one of the most important events in modern history. Globalists and Marxists on suicide watch, patriots and nationalists triumphant— looking forward to Emperor Blair Cottrell coming soon.” While clearly viewing Cottrell as the ‘great white hope,’ Tarrant’s posts were also supportive of UFP violence. “Communists will get what communists get, I would love to be there holding one end of the rope when you gets yours traitor,” he commented following a clash between the UFP and anti-fascists in Coburg, Melbourne, in 2016.
Tarrant clearly identified with the UPF, posting a menacing Facebook message to a Melbourne man who had criticized the group in August 2016. “The UPF is the leading ethno-nationalist group within Australia … When you speak against the UPF you speak against my right to a home for my people and my culture. This marks you,” Tarrant told the man. He concluded by advising him to “chose your words carefully” and “think of who you insult” before stating, “If you are a nationalist I hope you one day see the light and if you are a Marxist I hope you one day meet the rope.” The recipient reported the threat to the police the following month but did not make a formal statement, telling ABC that police advised him simply to block the threat maker on social media.
Tarrant last commented on the UFP page in January 2017, expressing support for Cottrell’s impending court appearance. Cottrell and two other former UFP members were at the time on trial after staging and filming a mock beheading video outside Bendigo’s council offices in October 2015 to protest the construction of a mosque, a sign of what they argued was the increasing “Islamization of Australia.” A judge subsequently found Cottrell and the two other UFP activists guilty of inciting hatred, contempt, and ridicule of Muslims. Cottrell is currently appealing his conviction.[*] Tarrant was not the only violently inclined figure to have gravitated toward the UFP. In 2016, another activist, Phillip Galea, became the first far-right figure in Australia ever to be charged with a terrorism-related offense after police recovered a bomb-making manual, a proscribed chemical (361 grams of mercury), and a prohibited weapon as well as evidence that he had reconnoitred anarchist and left-wing properties, during a search of his house the previous year.
Tarrant’s contacts with anti-Muslim groups in his native Australia did not end there. Lads Society president Tom Sewell, a former UFP activist, stated after the Christchurch attack that he had previously tried to recruit Tarrant online to join a project to create a “parallel society” for whites only. Within hours of the attack, Sewell had written on Facebook “this is not a false flag … take my word for it” and that Tarrant “had been in the scene for a while.” Although they had never met, Sewell said that he had approached Tarrant online about possible membership of his society, though Tarrant had declined citing his imminent relocation to New Zealand as the reason. Furthermore, Sewell claimed to have inferred from Tarrant’s comments contemporaneously that Tarrant “didn’t believe there was a peaceful solution to European people being genocided.”
There’s a lot more that could be said about Tarrant, the UPF and of course The Lads, and no doubt — some day — it will be. In the meantime, see : Right-wing terrorism on the rise in Australia (Drew Rooke, The Saturday Paper, March 21, 2020), and bear in mind that mainstream reportage typically trails behind anti-fascist researchers. Finally, if the racist cloud that was Reclaim had a silver lining, it was to prompt the always-outrageous Briggs and Trials (AKA A B Original) to release the album ‘Reclaim Australia’:
PS. Among the UPF leadership, Scott Moerland was the person most closely associated with Reclaim Australia. An ah, very passionate man, ‘Potty Mouth’ was also driven by his religion. A Christian Soldier, Moerland was a candidate for Danny Nalliah’s (now deregistered) Rise Up Australia Party in the federal seat of seat of Oxley in 2013. As such, Moerland was a useful bridge-builder between the fringe evangelical and Pentecostal communities and the White supremacist and ultra-nationalist milieu that constituted the core of the UPF. In 2019, Moerland again attempted to wrest control of Oxley from the United Nations and Agenda 21, only this time on behalf of Fraser Anning’s Conservative National Party. Moerland’s hopes of contributing to a Final Solution to The Muslim Problem from a parliamentary seat (instead of, say, from behind a keyboard) were dashed however, as just 1.63% of the electorate rallied to the cause. (As for Anning, he fled to the United States following his party’s collapse, and has since been declared financially as well as morally bankrupt.)
As for the rest of the UPF:
On a personal level, Blair Cottrell probably gained the most from his involvement in the UPF, with the puny ranks of his supporters in Nationalist Alternative supplemented by a liquorice all-sorts of reactionaries and racists by way of this far more prominent if much more short-lived groupuscule. That said, the decision by first Facebook and then Twitter (if not YouTube) to remove him from their platforms has meant he’s now had to resort to Twitter-for-nazis, Telegram, and other, more obscure channels of online communication to keep his fanboys happy. Losing his appeal against a criminal conviction for being-a-racist-dickhead-very-much-in-public was not unexpected, but did at least confirm John Bolton’s status as ‘Most Likeable’ barrister for the far-right. Currently, the budding fuehrer from Frankston is apparently busy fenceposting, shitposting, and trying to keep his Lads onside.
Along with Burgess and Cottrell, Neil Erikson was the most energetically self-promoting of the UPF, and in doing so traded under many names, including but not limited to Cooks Convicts, Patriot Blue, Nationalist Uprising, Australian Settlers Rebellion, Aussie Patriot Army, Ban Islam Party, European Australian Civil Rights League, Generation Identity Australia, Nationalist Republican Guard, Neil Erikson Media, NRG Media, OzConspiracy, Pauline Hanson’s Guardian Angels, Reclaim Australia, United Patriots Front, United Patriots Front — Originals and more besides. And while he’s lead a charmed life with regards the law so far, the attention his 2020 Invasion Day stunt provided him (and that delighted reactionary parliamentarians like Craig Kelly and commentators such as Miranda Devine) was short-lived, and he’s still to face charges of disrupting three religious services (with mentions on April 21). Regarded by some within the patriotik milieu as a police stooge, there’s no reason to believe Erikson won’t Carry One LARPing until he cannot.
I dunno what Kris0 Richardson is up to these days. Designated ‘Prime Organiser and Head of Operations’ by his fascist lvl boss, Richardson was also described as being involved in Australian politics since 2010, from Sydney but now based in Melbourne, as having been described by other members as ‘ruthlessly efficient’ and entrusted with all major communications and tasks involving equipment and resources; Cottrell gave him a scratch behind the ears and even a medal for his efforts on behalf of his superior. In August 2016 I noted that Richardson established something called the ‘United Australian Front’: The UAF was established in late 2014, ie, prior to the emergence of both Reclaim Australia and the UPF. While men wearing UAF merch made their debut at the anti-leftist rally in Richmond in May, 2015, it is now known as Order 15/UAF, and is open about its commitment to white nationalist and fascist doctrines. One variant of ‘Order 15’ was later linked to another YUGE fan of Cottrell: the Christchurch killer.
Tom Sewell has flowered in the last five years, developing from a mere sidekick into a genuwine leader of men (AKA ‘The Lads Society’). Despite having experienced a few hiccups along the way (in Cheltenham and then Ashfield), Sewell’s latest groupuscule is actively organising from a new space in Melbourne’s south-east, and gaining political experience through the allied ‘National Socialist Network’. While initially a very enthusiastic promoter of and investor in the UPF, Chris Shortis later wandered into the white nationalist ‘Australia First’ party, where as far as I know he remains. Finally, while Kevin Coombes is still presumably busy lifting heavy things and throwing his considerable weight around, Dennis Huts periodically does what he can to stop communisms from exploding in Perth. (On joining the UPF, Huts stated: For most of my adult life I have felt a deep sense of disillusionment with Australian culture’s continual slide into Marxist oblivion. When I found the UPF and their passion for restoring that which we have lost I knew I had to be a part of it. The UPF platform speaks directly to the nation’s heart and shakes the foundations of the establishment to its core. Everyday I wake up excited about the inroads we’re making. Most recently, Huts has taken to throwing meat at vegans. Take that, Engels!)