Comic And Terrifying In Equal Measure: What We Learned From The Reclaim Australia Rallies


The history of racism, a new enemy, and a dancing vegemite man. They all featured at what is fast becoming the world’s weirdest racist movement, writes Max Chalmers.

Once again the Reclaim Australia movement has convened around the country, hosting a series of anti-Islamic protests this weekend. Reports so far have focused heavily on the violent clashes that broke out at some of the events.

But what else aside from the skirmishes went down?

We checked in with the rallies, had a gander at the signs, and listened in on the speakers. Here’s what we learned about history, race, and the state of the Reclaim movement.

Communists Invented The Term ‘Racism’ And Used It To Kill 300 Million People

Leon Trotsky
Leon Trotsky talks at a demonstration. (IMAGE: rosaluxemburg, Flickr)

That’s according to one of the speakers at the highly underrated Mildura Reclaim rally. The number of attendees may have been low (it looked from videos to be a couple of dozen or so) but the claims were big. The speaker in question – ‘Kelly’ – was encouraging the crowd not to back down in the face of accusations of racism when he said this:

“That word [racism]was invented by Trotsky, a communist, in 1927 in the Soviet Union.”

Kelly linked racism to Bolshevik Leon Trotsky, whom he linked to forced labour camps (gulags) in the Soviet Union, which he linked to global communism, which he decided was responsible for killing 300 million worldwide in the last century.

Let’s ignore the bad history for a second and reflect on the fact Kelly obviously didn’t do too much googling before giving the talk. If he had, he might have seen stories like this one by NPR which point out the term ‘racism’ was recorded in English language dictionaries as early as 1902.

A small group of counter-Reclaim protesters watched on as Kelly delivered his alternative history.

“When they call you racists, why?” Kelly asked the crowd.

As he began to respond to his own question – “because you’re white” was the answer suggested – Kelly was interrupted by the counter-Reclaim protesters who had gathered.

“Because you’re racist,” one yelled.

“What does that even mean,” Kelly retorted.

“It means you’re a fucking idiot, dumb ass,” the man in the crowd concluded.

All Signs Are Bad

At New Matilda we try not to make fun of the spelling or grammar of others, given our propensity to publish in haste and lack of funds for subs.

But if you’re going to start a nationalist movement you probably need to be a bit more on the ball than Reclaim, especially when calling for cultural integration.

Clearly some external proofing is needed. If you have three years experience in English language teaching and a niggling sense of racial anxiety please apply within. What’s far worse than the subbing of the signs, however, is what they’re trying to say. A viral image of a sign from Mildura that said “No Islamisation. Legalalised Paedophobia” appears to be a fake. The actual sign is slightly more coherent but no less deranged.

A Reclaim Australia Advertising Board From Mildura Rally
A Reclaim Australia Advertising Board From The Mildura Rally


Reclaim Australia Can Be Extremely Terrifying And Just Plain Weird At The Same Time

Consider, first, the Reclaim Adelaide Rally. A hip-hop artist who goes by the name of Aussie Digger plays a track for the crowd. The lyrics are concerned mostly with child brides and Aussie pride but include lines like this: “Our Aussie hangover cure is – wait for it Egg and bacon sandwiches I don’t think there’s any chance of changing it So believe it mate you can love it or leave it.”

Reclaim Australia's Vegemite Man, At The Adelaide Rally
Reclaim Australia’s Vegemite Man, At The Adelaide Rally

If the rhyme scheme and metre read as a little confused it’s because they are. As these disses are delivered a young man dressed in a vegemite costume (it’s halal certified) bops from side to side, occasionally raising his hand in appreciation, while waving a large Australian flag. It’s comic. There’s no other word for it. The low-fi recordings. The old people in the crowd trying not to look too perplexed. The growing distance between the rapper and his beat. You can’t help but giggle. And then you watch the video from the Cessnock rally where 300 people marched behind a police car to protest a new mosque. What they’re singing is not so easy to laugh off. In a booming, male-dominated chorus they chanted: “No more mosques. No more mosques.” The video strips back Reclaim’s thin talking points, which have tried to frame the movement as opposed to radical Islam, as distinct from Muslims and immigrants in general. There’s hatred in the voices and it’s nothing short of frightening.

Burqa Face Coverings Bad. Aussie Flag Face Coverings Good

Forms of dress associated with Islam always get a shout-out, and references to Burqas are particularly popular on signs at the events. Politicians pushing the Burqa ban have long argued they do so for security reasons, and that it has nothing to do with marginalising Muslims. Looks like they’re going to have to start arguing for the Australian flag to be banned too then.

They’re Still Confused About The Difference Between Islam And Muslims

Speakers and protesters around the country were openly confused about who or what they were denouncing.

Here’s an example, from an interview The Age conducted with a Reclaimer in Melton, grandmother Marlene Williams.

“Everyone should work together for peace,” the Melton grandmother said. “But Islam people don’t want to work with us. They just want to take over.”

‘Islam people’. That’s a grammatical error worth paying more attention to than the typos on the signs.

Islam is a religion. Muslims are the people who practice it. In videos from the events you see speakers stumble on the same distinction. The defence put by even the most extreme Reclaim followers, including the United Patriots Front, is that Islam as a religion is open to critique and that such criticism cannot be labelled racist. ‘Islam is not a race’ could easily be the movement’s official motto.

But most of its adherents continue to treat it as one. Muslims are reduced from an internally heterogeneous, racially diverse section of the global population to an undifferentiated group with an intrinsic set of characteristics. The problem is not practicing a certain kind of Islam, or following a certain ideology. It’s simply being Muslim.

That’s the kind of essentialism that defines racism, and why it’s appropriate to continue to brand the movement as such.

Reclaim Australia Melton protest
Reclaim Australia members at Melton. (IMAGE: Wardenclyffe Photography)

Reclaim Is Becoming Obsessed With A New Enemy

There was a telling moment at the Adelaide rally. A man who said he had formerly been a socialist told the crowd he had swapped sides. “We’ve got him now,” one of the rally organisers jeered towards the counter-demonstrators.

Anti-leftist rhetoric is playing a bigger role in the movement, and speakers around the country returned to the theme regularly. They’re starting to sound a lot more like Blair Cottrell and other openly fascist segments of the Australian right.

Failed Australian Politicians Live Here

One of the most interesting dynamics in the Reclaim movement is the tension between the way it tries to project an outsider status while also claiming to speak for a silent majority. Speakers are often sceptical of politicians as well as the mainstream media, and there are plenty of references to “them”, and “they” without any specification about who they may be.

Pauline Hanson speaks to media at a Reclaim rally.
Pauline Hanson speaks to media at a Reclaim rally.

Despite that, fallen elites are trying to use the movement to bolster their standing and return to the spotlight. That includes Pauline Hanson, whose ongoing bid to return to Parliament has seen her appear and give speeches at the rallies. Danny Nalliah, from the Rise Up Australia Party, has been another fixture. And then there’s Mark Cory, who delivered a widely shared speech at one of the weekend’s rallies. Cory scored an impressive 0.8 per cent of the vote running as an Independent in the seat of Mildura at the last Victorian state election. There were nine candidates running for the seat. He finished ninth.

Australia Is More Freaked Out By A Horse Getting Punched Than Racist Politics

Have your racist protest, sure. It’s your right. But leave the animals out of it.

The presence of hundreds of people in numerous cities demonising a minority group is a great Aussie tradition but when it comes to violence against horses Australia says no.

Reports since the weekend’s protests regularly focused on the allegation a protester hit a police horse. The incident seems to have drawn one of the strongest reactions on social media. People were simply outraged this could happen in Australia.

Perhaps everyone is feeling a little tender after yet another animal died as a result of Australia’s national day of binge drinking and gambling. Either way, don’t hold your breath to see a similarly uniform denunciation of violence against Muslims or racist politics.

Max Chalmers is a former New Matilda journalist and editorial staff member. His main areas of interest are asylum seekers, higher education and politics.