Image: Three hundred and fifty United Patriots Front supporters rallied in Bendigo to protest a Muslim mosque (Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Even before the Paris terrorist attacks, far-right groups in Europe were capitalising on anti-Muslim sentiment. In Australia there’s been a surge in support for extremist organisations like the United Patriots Front and Reclaim Australia. Christine El-Khoury asks how far their hate will go.
This article represents part of a larger Background Briefing investigation. Listen to the full report on Sunday at 8.05 am or use the podcast links above after broadcast.
Since the Lindt Cafe attack last year, anti-Muslim extremist groups have managed to get a head of steam, attracting hundreds to rallies in cities and regional centres across Australia.
The language is aggressive and war-like. It’s as if they see Muslims—and anyone who sympathises with them—as an enemy with whom there will be a fight to the death.
‘They will call you racists, bigots, they will put pressure on you but in order to rise above it you need to not care,’ declared Blair Cottrell of the United Patriots Front at a rally.
‘You need to put your fists up, be ready to fight, to stand up to defend the history of our great nation.
‘You will see our movement grow. You will see us blossom, you will see us advance into the greatest upheaval this country has ever known. The only way to stop us now is to kill us and good luck.’
The United Patriots Front and Reclaim Australia are among a number of new far-right groups that have emerged. Both have ties to the Australian Defence League—an ultra-right-wing group known for its racist and anti-Islamic hate speech.
Their supporters cloak themselves in Australian flags. Some are heavily tattooed with swastikas. Some have criminal histories. The groups give every appearance of being threatening and potentially violent.
Rise Up Australia president Daniel Nalliah says that is not the image he sees.
‘They are lovely young men,’ he says. ‘When I get into their hearts and start talking to them, sit down for a drink with them, have a meal with them, I see a different side to these boys. They are lovely Aussie boys who love their country.’
But these ‘lovely Aussie boys’ are extreme nationalists who want an end to Muslim migration and multiculturalism. And they’re on the police’s radar.
Neil Gaughan, the head of counter-terrorism with the Australian Federal Police, says typically those drawn to anti-Muslim extremism are ‘young white men in their mid twenties, from various backgrounds’.
‘Some do come from military backgrounds, there’s no doubt about that,’ he says.
‘It’s probably men, young men particularly, looking for a purpose in life. It’s no different to joining a motorcycle gang, or joining any type of other criminal enterprise. It’s people that need some level of direction.’
The movement also attracts fundamentalist Christians. Nineteen-year-old Matthew Grant—Father Grant to his friends—has spoken at Reclaim Australia and United Patriots Front rallies. He describes himself as ‘a bit of a Bible-thumper … a really fervent Christian man’.
Grant finished school last year, is working as a security guard and lives with his grandparents. He stands out amongst the shaved heads, tattoos and men in black. At one rally, he wears a brown suit jacket, shirt and red tie that suggest a maturity beyond his years. The crowd takes him seriously.
‘In the way I dress, it’s because I’m a cultural traditionalist,’ he tells Background Briefing.
‘I don’t agree with that the kind of decadent, morally depraved clothing a lot of people wear these days. Effectively, when I am wearing something that looks a bit more traditional or professional, I’m giving across more of a message that I thought things through.
‘I’ve got a background in philosophy. That’s what the UPF asked me to do. They wanted a more intellectual viewpoint and that’s why they brought me down because that’s what I could provide.’
For 10 years, activist Andy Fleming has been disrupting the activities of far-right groups through his blog and by organising counter-rallies. He says far-right groups have been mobilising for several years without success—until now.
‘What’s remarkable about Reclaim Australia is—especially on the April 4 demonstrations—they attracted thousands that were part of an online network of concern, and what happened is that online network is now beginning to shift into a movement that takes to the streets.’