[Update (December 16, 2023). See also : True to Form: Victoria Police Continues to Permit Nazis to March in Public Unannounced, Paul Gregoire, Sydney Criminal Lawyers, December 15, 2023 | Cops don’t fix Nazis, Tom Tanuki, December 8, 2023.]
On Sunday, December 3, Tom Sewell and about 30 members of his neo-Nazi groupuscule ‘National Socialist Network’ (NSN) — pictured above outside the local cop shop — held a march and rally in Ballarat.
December 3 was the 169th anniversary of the Eureka Rebellion, ‘one of Australia’s most significant foundation stories’ and an event celebrated by nationalists of both left and right. Indeed, as the Eureka Centre notes: ‘Many people have strong feelings about Eureka; there are differing interpretations of both its history and legacy’. (A critical examination of this political legacy may be found here.) For the NSN, the rebellion is a significant moment in the history of White Australian nationalism and, in rallying in Ballarat, they joined a long tradition of such commemorations. Many of these have revolved around their sometime rivals in the ‘Australia First Party’ (which, along with a number of unions, has adopted the Eureka symbol as their own).
That said, 2023 was the first time that an explicitly neo-Nazi group has paraded about town on this date.
Naturally, the neo-Nazi spectacle generated a lot of attention, which is precisely what it was intended to do, and reflects the desire of Sewell & Co. to manufacture images to promote his group to a national and international audience. Previous such publicity stunts have included posing at Flinders Street station in October, joining a protest march in Melbourne in opposition to The Voice referendum and an (unsuccessful) attempt to disrupt an anti-facsist benefit gig in September, staging a protest against non-White immigration outside the Victorian parliament in May and again in March when the boys joined Moira Deeming, Lady Parker & Co. to denounce ‘transgenderism’.
The reaction to the boys’ parade has been standard: shock, surprise and outrage on the one hand and calls (by both the police union and some academics) for greater police powers on the other. Some have interpreted the action as signifying an increase in antisemitic feeling and explicitly linked it to popular opposition to the Israeli war on Gaza, also construed as antisemitic. Much of the commentary, in other words, has been ill-informed, alarmist and unhelpful. In which context:
• While it may be considered distasteful, belonging to a neo-Nazi group and/or espousing neo-Nazi ideology is lawful and Australia has a long history of such activity;
• Apart from their leaders and a handful of other prominent members, the NSN always wear a uniform of masks and black clothing during the course of their public activities;
• While it may be advisable to inform police or other authorities of their occurrence, obtaining a permit to stage a political rally and/or march is not legally necessary;
• Under existing legislation, police in Victoria already have powers to compel those participating in a public assembly of some sort to remove masks. Initiated in the wake of opposition to the antics of Reclaim Australia (and one of the NSN’s predecessor grouplets, the defunct ‘United Patriots Front’), they are however required to declare a ‘designated area’ in order to do so;
• Given that police intelligence was seemingly unaware of the NSN’s intention to rally and march on December 3, police were not apparently in a position to declare a designated area and therefore did not possess the legal authority to compel the boys to unmask;
• The public display of the Nazi swastika (hakenkreuz) was recently declared unlawful, along with the use of the Nazi salute. The NSN cannily avoided this by … not displaying the symbol or making the salute;
• The first person to be charged with this offence is Sewell’s sidekick, Jacob Hersant: that case is before the courts;
• While members of the NSN in Melbourne have been convicted of various offences (some violent), others in Adelaide have been convicted of terrorist offences, and the boys worship ‘St Tarrant’ (Sewell actually tried to recruit the killer to his previous grouplet, ‘The Lads Society’), it’s possible to view their activities as conforming with the otherwise unremarkable actions of a small political group, albeit one adept at utilising both mainstream preoccupations with asylum seekers/refugees/migrants, Islam and ‘transgenderism’ and so on, on the one hand, and the affordances of anti-social media, on the other (Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter/X, for example, has seen an explosion of neo-Nazi and antisemitic activity on the platform).
In my view, rather than bemoan the Balwyn Gauleiter’s publicity stunt in Ballarat, a more productive response might be to increase the political pressure upon the NSN’s organising base at Tim Lutze’s Legacy Boxing Gym in Sunshine West. To that end, there’s a petition in circulation calling for the local council to ‘Do Something’ about it.
See : Outrage in Ballarat at white supremacist march, 15yo questioned over banned Nazi salute, Laura Mayers, Matt Neal, Stephen Martin, and Prue Bentley, ABC Ballarat, December 4, 2023 | Police union calls for ban on neo-Nazi marches after ‘hateful’ rally in Ballarat, Adeshola Ore, The Guardian, December 4, 2023 | Ballarat TLC says fascists will never co-opt Eureka Day, Kerry Smith, Green Left, December 4, 2023.