Above : A protest sign in Melton featuring the neo-Nazi leader of the UPF, Blair Cotrell, and one of his quotes on skool curricula. For more see : Quotations From Chairman Blair Cottrell (July 27, 2015).
‘Reclaim Australia’ (RA) held a series of anti-Muslim rallies across the country on Sunday, November 22. These were the third series of such rallies to have taken place this year, previous rallies having been held on April 4 and July 18/19. This post contains links to reportage on the rallies (and counter-rallies) as well as a few additional notes.
In general, this third round seems to have witnessed slightly smaller numbers of Reclaimers assemble than did previously (Newcastle seems to have been the sole exception). Events in major cities — especially in Melbourne and Sydney — were heavily policed, and police adopted the basic strategy of attempting to keep the two sides widely separated via the use of mobile barriers, regular police and riot squads, and through the use of mounted police (in the cases of Adelaide and Melton). In this task they were largely successful.
Regarding Melton/Melbourne, the conviction and sentencing of Braybrook Reclaimer Phill Galea for weapons offences on Friday, while seemingly prompting the Bendigo-based groupsucule ‘The Resistance Victoria’ to abandon attendance, doesn’t seem to have had much impact on other Reclaimers in Melton, with local far-right networks organised around the ‘Patriots Defence League of Australia’ (PDLA) and racist yoof gang ‘True Blue Crew’ (TBC) being prominent.
I’ll be adding more details to the accounts below as the week progresses.
This account by Rachel Baxendale in The Australian (Reclaim Australia rallies: Two sides go to war in towns, cities, November 23, 2015) provides a general overview of events:
Hundreds of Reclaim Australia protesters and their opponents have held rallies in cities and towns across Australia, with riot police using capsicum spray to subdue violent members of both groups.
Rallies were held in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Canberra, Hobart and Alice Springs, as well as at Townsville [at which Pauline Hanson spoke] and Cairns in north Queensland, Mildura in northwestern Victoria and Esperance in Western Australia.
At Melton in Melbourne’s outer northwest, there were six arrests as hundreds of police, including members of the air-wing, mounted branch and dog squad, maintained a barrier between about 500 protesters from each group.
A 29-year-old man who punched a police horse was subdued with capsicum spray and charged with animal cruelty, while three men were charged over possession of knives and another two with riotous behaviour.
Victoria Police Acting Commander Alan Byrnes said three members of the public were hurt, but the protest was largely peaceful. “It’s always a bit disappointing to see people turn up with masks,” he said. “You wonder what their motives are for doing that.”
A coalition of socialist, anarchist and unionist groups calling themselves No Room for Racism chanted “Nazi scum off our streets”, “Always was, always will be Aboriginal land” and “Shame, shame, Victoria Police”.
On the other side of the police line, Australian flag-clad youths screamed “you are a f..kwit” at a Syrian woman addressing the No Room for Racism group.
Melton father Luke Mackie said he had joined the Reclaim Australia protest because he opposed an Islamic school being built in the area.
“How can they be calling us Nazis when they’re the ones discriminating against us?” he said. “My kids aren’t Catholic, but they go to a Catholic school. They won’t be allowed to go to this Muslim school.”
In Sydney, police arrested two people as up to 1000 packed parts of Martin Place, with police lines again separating the demonstrations. About 300 people associated with the Refugee Action Coalition and the Socialist Alliance pushed up against police along Macquarie Street. A 36-year-old man was arrested for allegedly damaging a memorial while a 16-year-old boy was issued a “move on” direction for allegedly breaching the peace.
Speaking to several hundred anti-Islam protesters, the founder of Reclaim Australia, Catherine Brennan [Liz Shepherd], said recent events in Paris had worried many Australians. “I think there were a lot more people than we were originally expecting,” she said. “Because of the Paris attacks — unfortunately.”
Additional Reporting: AAP.
See also : Ugly clashes at anti-Islam rallies in Australia, BBC, November 23, 2015 | Eight charged after Reclaim Australia rallies turn violent, SBS, November 23, 2015 | Anti-Racist Activists Drown out Reclaim Australia Rallies, El Sur TV, November 22, 2015.
Attracting relatively strong crowds on April 4 and July 18, Adelaide saw several hundred join the RA rally on November 22. Those who organised in opposition appear to have been successful in attracting the greatest support. Grace Hill writes:
In Adelaide, Reclaim had to meet at an alternate location to parliament to try and get away from us, a victory from the outset. We marched to meet them, and it was immediately apparent that we outnumbered them. Their planned march was cancelled due to us blocking the entrance to the square. Congratulations to everyone who attended the counter-rally!
See : Police separate opposing protesters at Reclaim Australia rally in Adelaide, Meagan Dillon, The Advertiser, November 23, 2015.
Sadly for Reclaimers, the Brisbane rally appears to have suffered from some serious PA problems, which have been the subject of many complaints online from the 1-200 or so who rocked up. The presence of several CFMEU flags at the counter-rally irked others.
Among those who did join the Reclaimers was an Adolf Hitler impersonator (!) and a handful of boneheads belonging to tiny neo-Nazi groupscule ‘Right Wing Resistance Australia’, the local branch of the New Zealand organisation. (See : Right Wing Resistance New Zealand.) On July 18, members of RWR, PDLA and other nazis acted as marshals at the event.
A comrade from Brisbane writes:
In total, there were maybe 250 on our side & 100 on theirs. It was scheduled to start @ Emma Miller Place @ noon. I got to the Roma Street station @ 11.30am & was kinda surprised that I had to walk past the RA area to get to where around 100 ‘Say No To Racism’ folk were already pressed against police barriers & in full voice.
Noticing a way to get past police into their area I went in & ripped out anything I could see plugged in before some RA & cops came to stop me. The cops were a wee bit unsure what to do with me as I looked like ‘commie scum’ but needed a walking stick. I made a bit of a fuss & the RA wanted me arrested but cops just took me to our side haha.
Apparently each mob ended up where they did because our mob pushed through initial police lines while they were still setting up. Highlights: their PA not working; seeing Hitler, more than a few boneheads. Swastika & SS tatts got a guernsey & we genuinely made them really fucking mad. Catching a cop tapping his foot to “FUCK OFF NAZI FUCK OFF! FUCK OFF NAZI FUCK OFF!” was great. There was one arrest when a RA supporter tried to get over the police barrier: an exercise in futility as they had a line of cops stopping them & we had PSRT (Public Safety Response Team) riot cops stopping us.
The energy this time was amazing. It was an almost celebratory mood on our side, despite their increase in numbers & increase in bonehead presence.
An hour earlier out at Logan the PDLA held an anti immigration rally, so if they’d been there there may have been even more aggression from them as they seem to have some proper psychos in their ranks. Fuck knows why they did their own thing Sunday but aside from a small group of bikies turning up to the RA rally late I don’t think many from their rally rocked up.
Kim Vuga was at the RA rally but we could hear & see fuck all as when they had speakers they were forced to huddle together in the back of their area to hear anything. PA probs apparently. As I say it was a real party atmosphere on our side.
After a few hours RA organisers started rounding up their mob & they drifted off with police protection as usual (we weren’t able to leave our area) to the sounds of “YOU’LL ALWAYS LOSE IN BRISBANE” & “FUCK OFF NAZI FUCK OFF”. Our mob, when able to leave (about 30 mins after the fash) spontaneously took to the streets & marched to King George Square where people milled around before drifting off. We should’ve done a march through the city or had a street sit-in but hey …
Finally, another highlight was a number of new faces on our side who had attended as a direct result of Paris. It was the most anarchist comrades I’ve seen in one place for a while too and it was nice to catch up with people. Ummm … the cops even seemed to be a bit more receptive to our presence & a bit put out by RA causing them to use up so many resources this time. Their whole demeanour when dealing with us was quite reasonable. Police negotiators didn’t even bother with us either, just went straight to their mob. Anyway that’s about it … aside from some positive talk among anarchists about doing stuff out my way. Yay!
See : The face-tattooed protesters and Adolf Hitler lookalikes whose appearance at a Reclaim Australia rally mocks the group’s claim that it stands for ‘ordinary’ people, Lucy Mae Beers, Daily Mail (Australia), November 23/4, 2015.
In Cairns, around 300 or so people attended the RA rally, and just a handful were present to express disagreement.
A small number of Reclaimers — perhaps 100 or so — attended the Canberra leg of the event. A crowd roughly similar in size counter-protested. Among those who spoke at the RA rally were Shermon Burgess (‘The Great Aussie Patriot’) and close ally Ralph Cerminara (above) of the ‘Australian Defence League’. A month or so prior to his address outside Parliament House, and in the wake of the Parramatta shooting, Cerminara called upon his 5,000 or so followers on Facebook to launch “lone wolf” attacks upon mosques and imams. His Facebook page was subsequently closed, though he remains very active on another page called ‘Left Wings Bigots & Extremists Exposed’, which identifies alleged ‘extremists’ and documents some of his encounters with them. His most recent focus has been upon Black Rose infoshop in Newtown. Joining him in his crusade is Nick Folkes of the ‘Party for Freedom’. Folkes along with Burgess are currently organising and promoting a Cronulla riot re-enactment, scheduled to take place on December 12.
Roxley Foley writes:
Unreported by any news outlet was the amazing rejection of the theatre of hate and division seen across the nation. Amongst the anti racism protesters arrived a delegation of first nations representatives from all corners of the country. The delegation had taken time out of a week long series of meetings at the tent embassy to make a unified denouncement of Reclaim Australia but also to teach the anti racism protesters that hate cannot be beaten by hate. Warriors and healers lit a sacred fire and spoke of the need to confront the wound and legacies of racism to which Reclaim are just a modern symptom and were urged not to fall into the trap of fueling the energy of the opposing side. Unfortunately the initial arrival of howling Reclaimers was too much and anti racism organisers urged the crowd to yell and scream at Reclaim. The resulting spectacle was predictable and depressing. At the peak of sides hurling abuse the warriors made the call to the crowd to turn their backs and walk away back to the circle. The change in energy was almost immediate and without a source to reflect their outrage Reclaimers taunts were pitiful and almost humorous, provoking laughter as we sat in a circle together. Within a very short amount of time Reclaim lost its steam and faces of regret, shame and humiliation amongst their side could be seen. Federal police officers approached us after Reclaim had left, amazed at how we had deescalated the situation and sincerely thanked us. Hate and anger are vicious circles that can only be beaten by compassion, understanding and a little bit of laughter. The true spirit of this land and people shined that day and the media chose to report a story of a nation tearing itself apart, but those who were there experienced something special.
See : Reclaim Australia and Canberra Anti-Racism Network members face-off outside Parliament House, ABC, November 22, 2015 | Protesters face-off in Canberra: Reclaim Australia and ‘anti-racism’ rallies at Parliament House, Christopher Knaus, The Canberra Times, November 22, 2015.
Around 50 or 60 people attended the RA rally in Hobart with well over twice as many assembling to oppose them.
An anti-fascist in Hobart writes:
On 22 November approximately 40-50 racists, bigots and assorted potatriots assembled in the car park of Franklin Square. (Franklin Square was closed for renovations so they had to make do with the car park.) Anti-racists and anti-fascists had booked Parliament lawn to hold a counter rally in the knowledge that Franklin Square was closed and to disallow the bigots use of the space.
The counter rally attracted between 200-250 people from a broad range of society and had a local band performing. Speeches were given by a local Indigenous representative, a spokesperson from Tasmania Welcomes Diversity and several refugees.
There was about 20 police in attendance and the bigots, headed by Danny Bell (former admin of UPF-Tasmania) were told to disperse from the car park. They then attempted to rally at Parliament lawns but were held back by a line of police. Rally organisers and attendees made the collective decision to continue listening to speeches and let the bigots make themselves look stupid, which they happily obliged in doing.
Yelling ‘paedophile lovers’, ‘traitors’ and ‘flag burning scum’ through a single megaphone, the UPF drew the ire of passers by and laughter from the anti-racism rally. Locals in the area were also overheard voicing their disgust at the sad spectacle.
The UPF continued their rally from behind police lines for another 20 or so minutes before dispersing and heading to one of the few local bars that will have them.
It’s worth noting that their numbers were considerably larger than at their previous event, but that is most likely owing to Reclaim Australia’s involvement and the events in Paris. Reclaim Australia had pulled out of organising the event just days prior, and the UPF had stepped up. UPF involvement caused considerable angst amongst some RA supporters, and the turn-out reflected this.
The decision by counter protesters not to physically or verbally engage with the UPF was a tactical one, and done in the knowledge that the Tasmanian UPF and RA have very little capacity for organisation or ability to have a broad impact. In this circumstance, the tactic worked well, and the UPF showed themselves to be a small group of sad, incoherent fools with very little support in the broader Tasmanian community. That said, we stand firmly in solidarity with all anti-fascist and anti-racist groups who mobilised around Australia on the day and do so with an appreciation that fighting fascism requires a number of tactics across many fronts.
See : Police keep the peace between United Patriot Front, Reclaim Australia and rival protesters in Hobart, Lucy Shannon, ABC, November 23, 2015.
Farmer John, from United Patriots [Front], spoke to the crowd while it chanted “No Muslims in Melton”, and threatened more violent action.
“We’re going to burn every mosque down if they build them … Let’s stick it up them,” he said.
~ Anti-Islam, anti-racism protesters clash at violent Melton rallies, Cassie Zervos, Andrew Jefferson, Kara Irving, Herald Sun, November 23, 2015.
The RA rally in Melton — ostensibly called in order to protest the construction of a mosque and an Islamic skool in the area — witnessed a number of scuffles between Reclaimers and counter-protesters, and a handful of arrests. Media scrutiny was intensive and the conflicts occupied center-stage in media reportage, though there were no serious injuries.
It’s widely estimated that around 3-500 people attended both the rally and counter-rally (though some reportage claims up to 1,000 attended the counter-rally, which I think is an over-estimation). A handful of boneheads — including James Lawrence (see below) — attended the event, as did naughty boys Zane Chapman and Corey Hadow.
Speakers at the RA event included John Bolton of Adelaide and ‘Aunty Marj’, the UPF’s ‘Farma john’ and ‘Hugh Pearson’/’John Sobieski’/’Koala732’ — real name: Julian De Ross — while ‘Rise Up Australia Party’ (RUAP) deputy leader and Casey councillor Rosalie Crestani acted as MC. Another RUAP candidate, Jonathan Willy Eli, sang the national anthem at the rally. Reclaim rally ends in racist scuffles, Lachlan Moorhead, Berwick Star, November 24, 2015:
Cr Crestani said she was a member of Reclaim Australia and not a member of the far-right group United Patriots Act [sic], whose members also attended Sunday’s rally, but she said the UPF had a “pure motive”.
“We can all criticise different parts of their approach … but they have a pure motive,” she said.
“It doesn’t come across as pleasant to some, sometimes it’s a cold-hard truth.
“It’s something we have to be careful of but I meet many of these men and women and they have Australia’s best interests at heart.”
The open embrace of neo-Nazis and fascists belonging to the UPF by Christian fundamentalists such as Crestani and RUAP suggests that my initial feeling — that a coalition of fundamentalist Christians and fascists may prove untenable — was possibly mistaken: fear, hatred and contempt for Muslims — combined with both group’s marginal political status — appears able to trump any wider political disagreements.
The presence of one particular group of anti-fascists, ‘Brigada Anti-Fascista’, has caused a good deal of consternation on the part of ‘patriots’/fascists. Here they are spreading love and good cheer:
An anti-fascist writes:
So this is the Antifascist Fighting Brigade. They were awesome. They had our backs all day and helped protect the triage area from frequent attempts by hatriots to harass and perpetrate violence against medical staff — thank you guys!
It was another tense day but not nearly as tense or threatening as Bendigo. A few people did dumb things like not just getting out of the way of police horses but overall it was pretty sensible. The antifa guys (and one girl — yay!) were pretty focused on just keeping people safe and ejecting the hatriots who tried to get among the counter protesters. There was one incident where the riot squad pepper sprayed their way into our counter protest and dragged out some guy I’ve not seen before … I have no idea what that was about but a dozen people just standing peacefully paid the price and were treated by the legendary angels from Melbourne Street Medics.
There were some funny chants, I had a long exchange with some demented ranter across the line who didn’t take to kindly to being told I was having trouble understanding him ‘cos I don’t speak bogan. He was even more feral when I asked if his Mum knew he was at a bigot protest and he mortally wounded me by calling me a “fairy” (WTF?) when I told him he could tell his Mum when he got home to the basement tonight. It was funny but I guess you had to be there.
So we had some speeches, a bit of chanting at bigots, Ezekiel Ox beat-boxing for everyone and then doing a pretty fair John Farnham rendition (if you’re into that sort of thing). Then we waved goodbye to the hatriots as they packed up and wandered off to a local park to presumably smear themselves in pig fat and eat some non-halal babies or something. Sadly, Sparkles The Unicorn couldn’t come and Anarcho-Panda didn’t feel she was safe enough to attend either, but we blew them away with energy wit, and compassion, so until next time antifascista siempre!
Another account, paying particular attention to the police deployment of chemical weaponry on the counter-protest:
I attended the Melton counter-protest and my observations were that the police were way too eager to deploy cap spray every chance they got, so much so that they inadvertently sprayed their own horses. It was secondary mist but the horses were distressed and it was fucking disgusting. All instances of capsicum spray were due to flagwits infiltrating the counter-protest and becoming violent … The suffering I witnessed at the hands of the police was awful. One woman was capsicum sprayed in the face for no apparent reason and spent around an hour at the triage area in unrelenting agony. There was a man who was affected so badly by the capsicum spray that he was shaking uncontrollably. Another woman was taken away in a wheelchair with a broken foot. There was much disappointment to say the least but we at least succeeded in countering the proto-Nazi nationalist dickheads and we will do it again and again.
At their BBQ picnic — conducted in a local park following a march after the end of the hate rally — some Reclaimers squabbled among themselves (see : Police separate Reclaim Australia protesters during infighting at barbecue, Jason Young, Herald Sun, November 23, 2015).
Finally, upon leaving the counter-protest in Melton, a number of anti-fascists/anti-racists were escorted by police to a bus station. They were followed and harassed at the station by Reclaimers/local racists. Among those who assembled were bonehead James Lawrence (also prominent at the May 31 UPF anti-socialist demonstration in Richmond) and Damian Kourevellis — friend of Phill Galea and ‘President’ of the ‘Patriots Defence League of Australia’ Eastern Victoria chapter.
Allegedly, one Reclaimer was arrested, but on being called out Damian and James preferred to hide behind riot police.
At Melton station, anti-fascists/anti-racists were greeted by a contingent of fascists emerging from their cars. One sported WP and Nazi tattoos (including swastikas on his shoulder blades). He did a “sieg heil!” salute in response to being called out.
Local racists were happy to roll with the nazis on both occasions (just like the Diggers did in WWII).
See : Melton: A Firsthand Account, angryrecluse, November 24, 2015 | Mixed Agendas and Dumb Fights: Reclaim Australia Held a Classic Protest in Melton, Julian Morgans, VICE, November 23, 2015 | Reclaim Australia, No Room For Racism rallies clash in Melton, ABC, November 22, 2015 | At least seven arrested in anti-Islam and anti-racism protests, 9 News, November 22, 2015 | Arrests as violent clashes break out at Reclaim Australia rallies, Michael Safi, The Guardian, November 22, 2015.
A small RA rally consisting of about 70 people was held in Mildura on Sunday, at which local members of the Australia First Party were prominent. See : Rally takes to streets: Reclaim Australia protesters voice concerns, Toni Brient, November 22, 2015.
Newcastle witnessed a large contingent of many hundreds of Reclaimers take to the streets, including sometime PDLA leader John Oliver (above, holding megaphone). You may remember John from when he posed as a ‘Concerned Dad’ on the 7 Network’s Sunday program, or perhaps as the man who attempted to bring a gun to the July 18 joint RA/UPF rally in Melbourne — or as I do, which is as the man responsible for establishing a fund to d0x me and who opined that I should be hunted down and beaten and further that I should have my testicles removed and attached to my forehead(!). Oliver spoke alongside a nazi from the Australia First Party.
See : Nathan Paterson, the man behind the Cessnock Reclaim Australia photo, Michael McGowan, The Newcastle Herald, November 24, 2015.
The RA rally in Perth was significant if for no other reason than that RA splinter group the ‘United Patriots Front’ had declared it would be travelling to Perth to join with the rally (previously, the focus of the UPF was in Bendigo, where they organised rallies on August 29 and October 10). Among those UPF members who travelled to the event were UPF fuehrer Blair Cottrell, convicted anti-Semite Neil Erikson and Christian fundamentalist Chris Shortis. They were joined by local boy Dennis Huts, now the UPF’s spokesperson in Perth.
Cottrell gave his usual Hitleresque performance, which was very warmly received by the small crowd of around 300 who gathered to see him perform. The UPF also took the opportunity of their Perth visit to announce that they would be forming a political party to contest elections. See : Far-right United Patriots Front to form political party ahead of federal election, Michael Safi, The Guardian, November 24, 2015 | United Patriots Front to start political party called Fortitude, Joseph Young, Rebekah Cavanagh, Herald Sun, November 24, 2015.
An anti-fascist reports:
It was very good. We had a crankin’ PA system. Didn’t quite outnumber them by my count, but looked fairly equal. I went down to the RA/UPF side, and the PA was completely drowning them out, Victoria’s voice thundering out across the oval. Blair Cottrell ended up having to give his Hitleresque speech to the backing of ‘it’s like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder how I keep from going under.’ I’m not sure if he meant it, but to me it sounded like he was talking to the beat. Quite a surreal sound, and made his entire rant seem [even more] absurd.
Another anti-fascist writes:
The Reclaimers advertised their rally as starting at 12 noon, at Parliament Place, where all prior rallies had taken place. The began assembling very early, as did the police.
Indeed, one of the most striking things at this event was the extensive police presence. They cordoned off not just the park where RA assembled, but the adjoining street was closed off to traffic – and to all of us passing through. With the exception of those attending the RA rally. Effectively (and unsurprisingly), the cops shielded and protected the Reclaimers.
By noon, their presence had grown to about 400, as people continued to arrive. I would estimate their crowd at 4-500.
We assembled on the hill overlooking the park – about 200 of us. This is Perth, and it is unlikely that we will ever outnumber the RA. But we were loud and better-looking.
Their rally opened with the national anthem, and of course, no welcome to country (unlike us). Blair spoke several times, and on one occasion (the only one I wished I had earplugs) read his ‘poetry’. His followers had prominent presence with several UPF flags flying, AND a ‘Blair Cottrell’ flag that has now become a bit of a joke in the anti-RA crowd …
See : Perth’s Anti-Islam Protest Was Really Weird, Royce Kurmelovs, VICE, November 23, 2015 | Large police presence at Reclaim Australia rally near Perth Parliament, Briana Shepherd, ABC, November 22, 2015 | Heavy police presence at Reclaim Australia rally at Parliament House in Perth, Brendan Foster, WA Today, November 22, 2015 | Hundreds at WA Reclaim Australia rally, SKY News (AAP), November 22, 2015.
The Sydney rally attracted relatively fewer participants than previously, and appears to have been easily outnumbered by opponents. The event ended in some controversy, however, one account of which appears in this ‘Open letter to the organising committee of [the] Sydney rally against Reclaim Australia on November 22’.
On Sunday, Radio National’s ‘Background Briefing’ broadcast an episode on the anti-Muslim movement in Australia. Anti-Muslim extremists: how far will they go? by Christine El-Khoury (ABC’s The Drum, November 24, 2015) further reflects on the development of the movement and argues that it should be viewed with some concern. Max Chalmers in New Matilda writes Comic And Terrifying In Equal Measure: What We Learned From The Reclaim Australia Rallies, November 23, 2015. Previously, Jeff Sparrow wrote Members Of The Far Right Are Threatening Political Violence. Whatever Happened To Those Anti-Terror Laws? (New Matilda, November 21, 2015). See also : Reclaim Australia: Government accused of failing to condemn violence from anti-Islam extremists, Stephanie Anderson, ABC, November 23, 2015 | Melbourne rally violence: Is the worst yet to come?, news.com.au, November 24, 2015.
See also : Believe in Bendigo : Businesswoman Margot Spalding leads campaign to fight anti-mosque ‘hate’, Janine Cohen, Australian Story (ABC), November 23, 2015.