As neo-Nazis are named as one of Australia’s most serious security threats, there’s concern the secretive groups have gone underground and may be more difficult to track.
In his first annual threat assessment from the nation’s capital, ASIO director-general Mike Burgess took aim at the “hateful ideology” of right-wing extremists.
“In suburbs around Australia, small cells regularly meet to salute Nazi flags, inspect weapons, train in combat and share their hateful ideology,” he said.
In Victoria, a shop in Melbourne’s north-west has recently closed down after it was exposed for selling Nazi memorabilia.
Before it closed The Herald Sun spoke to owner Gary McDonald, who wore an SS ring and said most of his sales were linked to the Third Reich.
“If I’ve upset one person, what do they want me to do about it? They’ve upset me by whingeing about it,” he said.
When asked about his ring, he said: “That is my business what I wear. It’s my prerogative”.
Mr McDonalds’s store was just one in a long line of controversies relating to the sale of Nazi memorabilia in Australia amid growing anti-semitism across the globe.
But experts are warning the people with the most dangerous views may not be so obvious that they would actually display signs and symbols.
Australia’s alt right groups are diverse but it’s rare they publicly self-describe as Nazi and even rarer they buy memorabilia, said research director for the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Julie Nathan.
“Some of the neo-Nazis will buy memorabilia. They’ll want to have genuine articles from the Third Reich, but often it can be military collectors,” Ms Nathan said.
“I would put it on a lower level of connection. In extreme right-wing circles, it’s not common for them to be talking about memorabilia.”
Although the groups share similar values, they can be very different, she said.
“The extreme right within Australia are quite diverse and there’s different leaders and different streams,” Ms Nathan said.
“You can’t say the extreme right believe this, this and this. It’s a conglomerate. That’s the best way to describe it.”
There are some key groups, and many of them overlap.
But the only one that proudly claims the title ‘Nazi’ are the Antipodean Resistance.
The Antipodean Resistance don’t mince words. They describe themselves as ‘the Hitlers you’ve been waiting for’.
To join the men’s chapter, you need to be white, straight, young, monogamous and date only other white people.
The group rose to fame by putting up swastika stickers in places like Fitzroy, and on the Monash University campus.
“Antipodean Resistance, which was very active for about two years, put up posters and stickers,” said Ms Nathan.
“They’ve gone quiet, at least online, but they’re still around. Part of the people belong to Antipodean Resistance became part of The Lads Society, which is a front organisation.”
The Lads Society, run by Blair Cottrell and Tom Sewell, brand themselves as a fitness group but have radical racial undertones and want to create “Anglo-European” enclaves in Australian cities.
In a YouTube clip, one member described it as: “The purpose of this organisation was to build a community of young Australian men to provide job networking, mental and physical health as well as an open space for communication.”
“As we know Australia might not be going in the direction we want it to and there is very little we can do at a political level.
“Our idea is solving problems with community by making sure we’re all self-improving, with good physical fitness, mental health, job security. The whole idea of this is reinvigorating Australian culture.”
The rhetoric doesn’t sound that bad – almost positive.
But the idea is to cast a wide net, said Charles Sturt University lecturer of terrorism studies Dr Kristy Campion.
“Because it’s not overtly Nazi at the start, it’s easy for a wide range of people to see appeal,” Dr Campion said.
“They use whiteness, heritage, the natural order, narratives around threats through immigration and invasion, and that’s when they start to attack Jews, Muslims, occasionally Christians.
“So what they’re able to do is create these narratives that appeal to a wide group in Australian society.
“If one element of it doesn’t draw you in, there’s a chance another will.”
There isn’t a set profile, and we need to stay clear of tropes, she said.
“There’s not a specific profile. There are a couple of tropes – there’s the idea these people are underemployed or facing financial uncertainty, the memberships of the groups are just male. They’re untrue.
“In Australia from what I’ve observed, they’re generally white and they have rigid ideas around sexual morality, so they do tend to be quite homophobic.”
Although many groups have been silent recently, she said their ideologies have only hardened.
“Particularly since Christchurch, a lot of the ideas have not gone away. We knew the attack re-energised the extreme right. It has awakened certain ideas.”
At their active, at least publicly, right-wing extremists have managed to infiltrate the Young Nationals, commit murder and arson, hold Reclaim Australia rallies, and according to ASIO, recruit members as young as 13.
Although it’s not clear what secretive work ASIO is doing about the threat these groups pose, the fact they’re calling them out is reassuring, said associate professor of law at Monash University, Patrick Emerton.
“It’s good to see them taking it seriously, because in the past they haven’t,” he said.
“All the discourse was focused on Islamic groups, and when one reviewed ministerial statements and ASIO documents that was the emphasis.”
It is likely ASIO is monitoring their online activity and even sending in spies, he said.
“Some of the techniques include phone tapping, intercepting mail. They can be authorised to break into properties,” Professor Emerton said.
“They have reasonably extensive powers to use online infiltration, online spying, intercepting people’s emails and their social media accounts.
“ASIO also use internal techniques of infiltration. So spies and informants have been used against Al Qaeda, so we can guess some of that will happen with these movements.”