A ‘national organiser’ and key promoter of this weekend’s anti-Muslim Reclaim Australia rallies has been forced to issue an apology after a video surfaced of him saying good Aboriginal people were “few and far between” and that “so many of them are just dickheads”.
The video was posted by Shermon Burgess, who runs the popular anti-Islam facebook page the Great Aussie Patriot.
In it, Burgess counsels viewers on how to deal with “left-wing idiots in the workplace”, but goes off on a tangent, complaining about critics who “bring up the Aboriginal card”.
“Just know, I’ve met some nice Aboriginal people, I really have, but they’re few and far between, really, so many of them are just dickheads man. You see ‘em on metho, passed out, bludging cigarettes, and still blaming the modern generation for what happened 200 years ago, which wasn’t even this modern generation that did anything to them,” Burgess said.
Behind him an Australian flag hangs from the wall.
Burgess is understood to be a former member of far-right group the Australian Defence League.
Though deleted, the video was saved and reposted by ‘Reclaim What’, a website dedicated to monitoring the activities of far-right and anti-Islamic groups.
It’s also available on the New Matilda Youtube channel.
John Oliver, an organiser of the Reclaim Australia rallies, confirmed to New Matilda that Burgess was a member of the event’s national organisers’ group.
Rallies are planned across the country today and have been widely promoted on social media.
In a bizarre apology video posted from The Great Aussie Patriot facebook page, Burgess said he was sorry for making the comments, but reiterated his belief that contemporary white Australians are not responsible for earlier mistreatment of Aboriginal people, and admitted he used to dislike Aboriginal people.
Explaining his change of heart, Burgess said his father had asked him to imagine how he would feel if Muslims took over Australia, and that this was how Aboriginal people felt about the British invasion.
To put that another way, Burgess used racism to overcome his racism.
In an equally strange turn, Burgess was moved after an Aboriginal person stood up for his right to ignore another Aboriginal person.
“I had one Aboriginal girl, she was at me, blaming me for stuff that happened, that my ancestors did, that I didn’t do, and it was really frustrating because I was trying to ignore it and she was at me, and at me, and at me, and her Aboriginal friend actually stuck up for me and said ‘hey, just leave him alone, he hasn’t done anything wrong’,” he said.
“Once I got to know some Aboriginal people, they were some of the nicest people I’ve met,” Burgess said.
The video made a special mention of another popular facebook page ‘Blackfulla Revolution’ and the Tent Embassy.
It didn’t seem to bring them round to his point of view, however.
Since the Burgess clip came to light, Reclaim Australia promoters have posted pro-Aboriginal videos and spoken out against the closure of remote First Nations communities in Western Australia.
Oliver told New Matilda Aboriginal people had been involved in organising the Reclaim rallies, and had seen the video.
“Oh yeah, yeah, yeah they’re not happy with those at all,” he said.
“We have to live with that, he made a mistake, the video you’re talking about happened about a year and a half before the rallies and he’s apologised and we’ve just got to move on.”
Reclaim organisers have worked hard to convince the broader public that the rallies are not fuelled by racial hatred.
Oliver told New Matilda he was concerned about ‘extremist’ Muslims and that “we’re suspect of anyone who questions us for questioning extremists”.
Having said that, Oliver admitted his own event was attracting extremists.
“I’ll be the first one to say we have a lot of people on board who have extremist views as well. Now I know that’s a fact that we can’t do anything about. Some people are trying to hijack it for their own gains.”
An oft-quoted refrain of Reclaim supporters is that they can not be considered racists as Islam is a religion, not a race.
Dr Ghena Krayem, a University of Sydney academic whose research interests include multiculturalism and legal pluralism, told New Matilda this reasoning was misleading.
“It doesn’t matter what you call it, the thing that’s bad about racism is not its name, it’s the underlying process behind it. You are ostracising a group for no reason other than the basis of their race, an aspect of identity that is so important to them,” Krayem said.
“You’re just lumping all these people in the one group and effectively discriminating against them.”
Krayem said the objections of Reclaim Australia, for instance in relation to halal certification and Sharia law, were not well informed.
“They need to be sure their position is an informed position. It doesn’t mean they need to agree with Muslims, but they need to be more informed than the current level of public discourse,” she said.
When pushed to explain his positions, Oliver admitted he was not an expert.
“I’ve spoken to my local mosque. I wanted to know exactly what I was dealing with,” he said.
New Matilda was not able to reach Shermon Burgess for comment.
* NOTE: You can read our breaking news report of yesterday’s circus here.
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