Last week’s police raids on properties in Brisbane and Sydney, reportedly the largest “anti-terror” raids in Australian history, have given anti-Muslim activists in Australia an enormous boost. Understood as representing dramatic confirmation of the threat posed to Australia by Islam, the raids also placed Islamophobic groups in the spotlight, chief among them the Australian Defence League (ADL).
Speaking on ABC’s Q&A on Monday night, one Muslim woman reported having received death and rape threats from members of the ADL.
Her report was preceded by another, widely distributed account of a threat sent to the Auburn mosque in Sydney, also claimed on behalf of the ADL, denouncing Islam and threatening to blow up the Auburn and Lakemba mosques – and Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammad, the Grand Mufti of Australia, for good measure.
While these particular incidents have received some media attention, they are otherwise unremarkable in the sense that they conform to the more generalised pattern of abuse and intimidation which Muslims in Australia have been subjected to since the inauguration of The War on Terror in 2001 (as detailed in numerous government and non-government reports produced since that time).
Thus, while Justice Minister Michael Keenan rejects the claim that the raids are political theatre, it should not be at all surprising that the drama enacted in the nation’s media and parliament leaves some wanting to do their bit in the war – a sentiment often expressed in the crudest of terms, as this song dedicated to the ADL’s self-declared President Ralph Cerminara attests.
Cerminara has since distinguished himself by issuing open threats of violence towards Muslims, hoping and praying for a return to Cronulla in December 2005, and claiming a seemingly bogus military record along the way.
However, the designation of the ADL as ‘right-wing Nazis’ by the Muslim woman on Q&A, while understandable, is incorrect: anti-Semitism remains a touchstone for neo-Nazis in Australia and the ADL has been at some pains to distance its special brand of bigotry from its right-wing rivals.
Within the ADL, Islamophobia has entirely supplanted anti-Semitism as a focusing principle. In fact, Islamophobia has been embraced by a range of groups on the (far) right, though its centrality to their organising efforts varies.
On this front, despite sporadic and often farcical attempts to engage in public protest, the ADL has been somewhat eclipsed by a range of other Islamophobic groups and projects. These comprise elements of the Christian and secular right, and are especially determined to prevent the construction of mosques. These groups, drawn from a shifting array of anti-Muslim networks, have proven to quite successful in mobilising hundreds of objectors on the streets and thousands more in online protest.
In Maroochydore, Queensland on the weekend and in Bendigo, Victoria, in June, attempts by right-wing groups to halt mosque construction have drawn considerable support (as well as some opposition). In ‘Bendigo mosque a cause celebre for right-wing outsiders‘, Fairfax journalist Chris Johnston identified some of these groups: Restore Australia and Islam4Infidels, the Patriots Defence League (an ADL splinter), Q Society, Defence Conservative Action Network and various satellites.
In this context, it’s worth noting that the neo-Nazi groupuscule Nationalist Alternative got its start during a campaign to stop the construction of a mosque in Williamstown, Victoria.
Members have since gone on to protest against Islam at the State Library (August 2012) and been convicted of harassing a local rabbi.
Nationalist Alternative's leader serves as one of two moderators on Stormfront (Downunder), Stormfront being the world’s most popular white supremacist website whose users have a well deserved reputation for fanaticism.
The nature of the milieu from which the ADL and other groups is drawn has changed over time, and reflects a broader cultural and social shift on the far right from determined anti-Semitism to fear and loathing of Muslims as organising principles. Two examples underscore this transformation.
The first is Darrin Hodges. A Stormfront user who expressed admiration for Hitler, Hodges was initially a member of the Australia First Party but left it to help form the Australian Protectionist Party (APP) and then the Party of Freedom, explicitly modelled on Geert Wilders’ Dutch party.
The second is Martin Fletcher, the Freedom Party’s Vice Chairman. Like Hodges, Fletcher was a supporter of Australia First, then the APP. Prior to his embrace of Freedom, Fletcher published Serbian Nazi war propaganda on his website “Downunder Newslinks” (‘Australian News for White People’), as well as viciously racist material produced by Tom Metzger’s notoriously violent US-based group White Aryan Resistance.
In 2008, Fletcher published the video game ‘Muslim Massacre’. His site is now known as the ‘Australian Terrorist Database’, focusing exclusively on documenting crimes, real and alleged, committed by Muslims.
The changing political emphases of the far right and the attempt to build an Australian equivalent of the English Defence League demonstrates the flexible, syncretic nature of fascist ideology; the various conflicts, splinters, and rivalries the fractious nature of the milieu.
In one sense, the ADL has found its real home on social media, allowing for the articulation and reinforcement of Islamophobic tropes which, the ADL hopes, will someday soon be translated into real mass action against Muslims.
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