Mind wars: The extremists taking Australia to dark places

News Corp Australia Network). 

AT THE Bush Pig Inn, a rustic Aussie-themed drinking hole in bush just out of Bendigo, the inner-circle of the United Patriots Front, the public face of Australia’s most far-Right “racialists”, are holding court.

Some 40 people, mostly men decked out in black with nationalist insignia, have come from around the state and beyond to hear today’s seminar on the white genocide facing Australia.

The UPF claim to be great patriots, who feel a deeper love and concern for this country than the general population. Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” plays in the background, summing up their view of Australia.

THE MAIN PLAYERS

The main man is Blair Cottrell, 27, leader of the UPF and its so-called political wing, Fortitude. He was sentenced to four months jail in 2012 for torching a man’s garage in a jealous rage, and has convictions for burglary and trafficking testosterone.

Tall, well-built and V-shaped, bringing to mind the guy from Despicable Me. Cottrell talks with scrupulously controlled diction, to provide the impression that he is intelligent — which he is.

Even Cottrell’s most furious detractors admit he has charisma. He offers tea, because even though the bar is open and some guests have started drinking, this is not meant to be a piss-up: frivolity is frowned upon by these intense men.

At his side is Chris Shortis, 45, who like Cottrell has short, chiselled hair. Of English-Irish descent, Seventh-Day Adventist by faith, Shortis says he found an outlet for his thoughts when he finally discovered like-minded people on Facebook, in late 2014. Prior to that, he thought he was alone.

He will address the crowd on how white Australia is being overrun.

And there’s Thomas Sewell, early 20s, taciturn, watchful and mildly seething. The best guess is that he’s an adviser and tactician.

A former Australian soldier, he’s the one who decides after two minutes that enough photos have been taken. Sewell can be seen on video, brawling at a UPF rally last year.

The UPF rejects Islam, but also Christianity. They especially despise multiculturalism. “We’re modern-day heretics,” says Cottrell, who once said a portrait of Hitler should hang in every Australian classroom.

It is likely, according to a reformed white supremacist source who once planned to hit the streets of Sydney with a small army to gun down Asians, but these days assists authorities in infiltrating Right-wing extremist groups, that someone in this crowd is reporting back to federal agents.

Far-Right groups are now everywhere on social media, mostly using Facebook sites with no links to web sites or organisers. Unchecked, the fear is they could attract exactly the same sort of disaffected young man who, on the extremist scale, is no different from those they despise most: the loose-wheeled young Muslim.

SURGE IN ONLINE EXTREMISM

The concern is that the UPF, which six months ago broke away to take a harder line from the more mainstream “mums and dads” anti-Islamic group, Reclaim Australia, has begun engaging some angry young minds.

There is an unnamed young white extremist on remand for weapons charges, but News Corp understands he was plotting actions that were far more organised than anything Man Haron Monis planned for the Lindt Café.

Andre Oboler, who leads Australia’s only monitoring site for online extremism, the Online Hate Prevention Institute, says interest in patriotic groups is surging, with 200,000 Australians now actively following hate sites.

He reveals that neo-Nazis out of the US have been using pro-Islamic State forums in Australia “to incite them to attack targets within Australia”.

“We’re seeing the internet being used as a way of creating strange coalitions across borders, and through anonymity people are able to use others,” says Oboler. He will not publicly name the targets, which are now heavily guarded.

He says his organisation, in conjunction with ASIO and the AFP, monitored “the content, the conversations and the planning right through to the final tweets from ISIS”. Neither ASIO nor the AFP will comment.

“ISIS certainly would not have known they were being manipulated by neo-Nazis,” he says.

II. DIVISIONS IN THE FAR-RIGHT

UP IN Sydney, Ralph Cerminara, who encourages people to take and post video of lone Muslims to show “how out of place they look”, warns: “There will be another Cronulla II. There will be a backlash, eventually.

“The police are aiding by not arresting the violent left wing, while scores of Muslims are getting slapped on the wrist with the coward-punch law. They get good behaviour bonds.”

He says he’s currently on a court order that prevents him badmouthing Muslims after a dust-up in Lakemba. None of it slows him down. “I should be able to walk down here in a bikini and eat a bacon sandwich and not be attacked,” he says.

Cerminara has also been savaging the current UPF leadership accusing it of associating with skinheads, which he says damages the anti-Islam brand. “There is no such thing as a moderate Muslim, just as there is no such thing as a moderate neo-Nazi,” says Cerminara, 37, an IT worker.

This is a divisive distraction from the rolling battles with the far-Right’s most hated enemy, Antifa, the masked anti-fascist movement of the extreme Left.

Cerminara, who was allegedly slashed while shooting video of an anarchist bookstore in Newtown earlier this year, says anti-fascists have published his address and made home visits — where he lives with an Asian wife.

He has a machine-gun response for every question, pausing only when pressed on what his wife thinks of his 24/7 obsession: Muslims and the extreme Left.

Cerminara says she has received death threats and became dismayed when Nathan Abela, once a Cerminara lieutenant, had his home in Sydney sprayed with bullets in 2014. Abela has since then kept a very low profile.

“My wife saw that and she got upset,” says Cerminara. “She wants me to stop it. She knows it’s right, but she wants someone else to do it.”

On the UPF Facebook page, inviting people to the Bush Pig Inn, someone has urged Cerminara be attacked if he shows, due to his criticisms of the UPF’s skinhead element (Cerminara did not attend, and says he did not see the post).

‘IT’S APPEALING TO JOIN SOMETHING LIKE THAT’

Melbourne man Neil Erikson, 31, was one of the founders of UPF who has since left the organisation for what he sees as a shift towards neo-Nazism.

Talking on the steps of Federation Square in Melbourne, he tells how his mother-in-law recently received a cut-up photo of a foetus in the mail, which he thinks was meant to represent his young son.

That letter came from within the far-Right, he guesses, but two weeks earlier he’d been bashed by Antifa activists who’d spotted him while attending a meeting of the Australian Liberty Alliance, which is fielding anti-Islam candidates in the federal election. Erikson, whose facial scars are only starting to fade, doesn’t feel too comfortable in public spaces.

It’s tough out there being anti-Muslim.

“I originally started out in the neo-Nazi movement when I was about 16, until about four years ago,” says Erikson, who in 2014 was sentenced to a community work order, and a visit to the psychologist, for phone threats to a rabbi. “If you wanted to show pride in Australia, there was no other place to go.

“In hindsight, it’s appealing to join something like that. But there are darker sides to neo-Nazis — lost kids, lost people. Until this patriotic rise of Reclaim last year, there was no one to hang out with apart from neo-Nazis.”

The neo-Nazis Erikson associated with were “in and out of prison all the time, for bashing some random Asian on the street.” Like the 21-year-old Vietnamese student from Pascoe Vale, severely beaten in an unprovoked attack by skinheads while walking home from work, in Moonee Ponds, in 2012.

“I was there that night, just before,” says Erikson, who saw young neo-Nazis shaving their heads earlier in the day in anticipation of a random attack.

“That’s when I started turning off that Nazi stuff. It’s not his fault he’s here,” says Erikson of the Vietnamese man. “He’s come here for a better life. It’s our government’s fault for letting him in.”

He wants the public to march against Islam, but people are too scared after the first Reclaim Australia rally at Federation Square, in April last year, fell to violence, with a grandma — among others — getting hurt.

Scenes of screaming, masked anarchists — whose contribution to the federal election campaign is street posters of party leaders dangling from nooses — and skinheads marching on the frontlines with the UPF has seen the public retreating from rallies, but not from its views.

The Reclaim movement “woke everyone up and got them out of their houses,” says Erikson.

“It’s now lost support. The neo-Nazi movement has scared people away. If Reclaim were to hold a rally now, they’d be lucky to get 20 people. It’s all gone online. They’re safer at home.”

III. UNPLEASANT TRUTHS

WORLDWIDE, says Andre Oboler, Australia ranks third or fourth for supporters of anti-Islam, anti-Semitic and pro-white sites.

“When we consider the size of Australia’s population we see that a far larger portion of Australian Facebook users are actively joining such hate groups online than occurs in other countries,” he says.

As a Jewish organisation, OHPI, which attracts no federal funding, has not been able ignore what has happened in the last 18 months: anti-Semitism has been replaced with anti-Islam. They are bound to report hate, whatever its flavour.

“There’s an element of bigotry and racism that has brought into the political sphere in the last few years at a much higher level than we’ve seen since World War II,” says Oboler.

In Australia, online bigotry “has risen steeply over the past year”, and especially in the last six months with “a shift with more Australians starting to engage in a small number of significant Australian specific (hate/patriotic) groups.”

Oboler tracks the rise of hate in Australia to the English Defence League, which began in 2009 with football supporters fighting anti-war Islamists on the streets of Luton. It eventually became controlled by white supremacists.

The EDL’s argument was original and appealed to many: they weren’t racists because Islam is a religion, not a race.

Oboler says the distinction is not legitimate. “No. It’s like saying, ‘I’m not racist, I’m just homophobic.’ Well, you’re still a bigot.”

It was nonetheless a powerful argument that took the far Right a lot further than it had under the founding anti-Islam matriarch, Pauline Hanson, who first appeared in 1996 with her anti-multicultural agenda.

It caught on with the Australian Defence League, “Fuck Off We’re Full” bumper stickers, anti-Halal and anti-Sharia movements, and then Reclaim Australia — formed partly in response a belief that the Lindt siege was created by favourable immigration policies to Muslims.

Then came the extremist groups and the street clashes.

There are up to 50 anti-Islam Senate candidates standing on July 2, but most — possibly with the exception of Hanson, who is running in Queensland — will have trouble under the new ballot system gaining preferences.

Daniel Nalliah’s Rise-Up Australia has 11 Senate candidates. The Sri Lankan-born Victorian developed his antipathy for Islam while living with his Asian wife in Saudi Arabia, before coming to Australia as a migrant in 1997.

Nalliah wants a 10-year moratorium on all Islamic migration to Australia.

He says the concept of multiculturalism should be replaced by “multi-ethnicity”, meaning people retain their culture while complying and integrating with Australian life and law. Which is how it already is for the Muslim majority who reject militant Islam.

“They can’t call me a racist because I’m black,” says Nalliah. “People laugh. It’s taken a blackfella to stand up for Australian culture.”

At a Saturday morning Rise-up election campaign in Bendigo, the town that has become the nation’s unwanted anti-Islam focal point for its no-mosque campaign, Nalliah’s group are shooed away from the Bendigo Marketplace, as they hand out leaflets.

The security guard is at a loss when asked whether she would also order Malcolm Turnbull or Bill Shorten to leave. The Rise-Up people then congregate downtown outside a cafe, where the owner tells them to get lost or she’ll call the cops. They move, again.

Oboler says anti-Islam political groups should be allowed their voice. Australia has limited constitutional free-speech rights, but the High Court says we have the right to open political communication to enable the democratic process.

“There should be leeway for political parties,” says Oboler. “If you force them to code what they’re saying, people might vote for them accidentally.”

The Bendigo mosque was last week cleared to be built, but Cerminara tells me plans are afoot to block it: “It will not be built. The Greens tie themselves to trees. We will do it as well.”

IV. THE LANGUAGE OF HATE

THE UPF leadership group sticks close to each other at the Bush Pig Inn, scanning faces, not sure of who is who among those who have arrived in response to its open Facebook invitation.

They won’t let us take crowd photos, because “some of these people have jobs”.

They nevertheless extend politeness to two members of News Corp. The UPF expects bad press, so doesn’t have much to lose.

Asked to explain core beliefs, Cottrell says: “It is essentially racialism, but it’s not what you think it is. It’s not supremacist. We actually advocate for an exclusive existence for all the races of the world — not this blending, multiculturalism, egalitarianism nonsense.

“We want to encourage different cultures to stay who they are to remain as they have always been. Every culture, every race, must have exclusive existence. Anyone who tries to take that away is an enemy.”

Cottrell’s language sounds like one of white supremacy. He proposes that one race — the white one — controls Australia.

The problem, says the former neo-Nazi source, is that UPF leadership — even if they are not themselves advocating terror — will attract kids, just as ISIS does.

“If you’re an ISIS guy, the majority are not even believers in Islam,” he says. “Most of it is attachment problems, being bullied at school and mental illness. They get disaffected and have got to find somewhere where they belong.

“It’s the same with white extremists. They don’t really believe in racial segregation, but they go along with it because they need something.”

This man, himself a master indoctrinator, building a far-Right army of 150 people to attack Asians (whom he later went back to and tried to de-radicalise), explains how it works.

“You say to the guy, ‘Come here, we’re your mates. Who was it who bashed you? We’ll get them.’” Then they’re hooked. But the real threat comes from those who are too unmanageable even for the white extremists.

“The danger is the people on the fringes who might get rejected,” he says. “They’re going to be your lone wolves.”

He says of the far-Right groups: “They want chaos in order to rebuild the nation. And they’re inviting everyone to join them. If Muslim kids look at this, how will they feel?”

He says that the feds and state police are watching closely.

‘OUR FREEDOMS HAVE DIMINISHED’

When the UPF are asked if they can channel patriotism into love of sport, they sneer. Asked about the first Australians, they trip up, because they are outranked. Questions become futile, because they have it all figured out.

Shortis makes the extraordinary claim that Australia’s constitution is a “nationalist” document, which sets out a formula for a nation to be ruled on separatist lines. This is news. The Australian constitution does not use the words “nation”, “national” and especially not “nationalist”.

The constitution creates a federation. Nothing in the document mentions race or exclusion. That is why Aborigines are fighting to get a brief mention in the preamble.

“Israel has laws to preserve Israel as a Jewish state,” says Shortis. “Because they want to preserve their racial and cultural identity. I ask the question to the far-Left: why are we called white supremacists?

“It’s far from the case. If anything, the white race is the most disgusting, self-loathing race on the face of the earth. How long does the white man have to pay for the perceived evils of our colonial history?”

There is nostalgia here for a time before they were born. “Our freedoms have diminished in the last 40 years,” says Shortis. But do you diminish the freedoms of others? “This lie that we go out looking for Muslims to seek them out, I don’t know who invented that.”

We take our leave. There’s a game on back in Melbourne at Etihad I’d like to see. Shortis says something about my “poor priorities”. But I’m not so sure.

Later that day, departing the stadium with 28,000 people, mostly white but a whole lot more, you can’t help look at the little Asian and Indian kids at the game with mum and dad.

Do they want to hear bad things about who they are, or where they come from? Do we want to make them feel hated? We do not. That is why most of us refuse to do it.

Most who leave this stadium wear the tribal insignia of their teams. But all who leave the stadium pass untroubled, in peace.

News Corp Australia Network), 19 June 2016.

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