There are growing calls to ban the swastika and other hate symbols after a white power cell was seen in regional Victoria over the weekend.
About 20 far-right extremists descended on the Cathedral Range over the weekend, hoping to film a promotional video for their group, the National Socialist Network.
Fascist experts say the stunts are becoming more frequent, as the groups grow in size, with thousands of online followers.
After a reported increase in hate symbol sightings, Dvir Abramovich, chairman of the Anti-Defamation Commission, said it was time for state and territory leaders across Australia to “stop talking” and ban the insignia.
“We are seeing white supremacists and neo-Nazis take their online activities into the real world,” Dr Abramovich told The New Daily.
“The beating of the drums has become louder and louder and the Nazis used the swastika as a rallying cry.”
The New South Wales and Victorian governments have flagged the possibility of banning the hate symbol, but are yet to make serious moves.
Broad support for a ban
On Tuesday, a survey found most Australia agreed strongly with the idea of outlawing the swastika.
When asked if they agreed with the statement, “To protect Jewish people from antisemitism, the Nazi symbol should be banned in Australia”, 62 per cent said they strongly agreed or agreed.
Only 12 per cent disagreed, and 25 per cent said they had no strong opinion. The survey encompassed 3459 respondents from across the country.
Dr Abramovich said it was clear there was wide public support for a ban on the symbol.
The argument that banning the swastika might limit free speech was “superfluous”, he said, as it only represented hate.
“A swastika represents genocide and extermination, it has no place in Australian society,” Dr Abramovich said.
“This is about people who want to conduct a war of annihilation. Not just against the Jewish, but anyone who doesn’t fit with their Arian world view.”
Four neo-Nazi groups banned in Europe and North America are operating in Australia, with a recent report warning the country is “fertile” ground for white extremism.
The report, prepared jointly by the UK’s Centre for the Analysis of the Radical Right and UAE-based violent extremism research centre, Hedayah, found that after the Christchurch massacre, Australian white supremacists had become increasingly emboldened.
“Australia has become fertile ground for radical right extremist activism and violence,” it read.
Director-general of ASIO Mike Burgess recently warned right-wing extremism had increased to 40 per cent of the agency’s onshore terror-related workload over the past three years.
He told a parliamentary inquiry that a terrorist attack, from either right-wing or Islamic extremists, was imminent in the next 12 months.
“Given the growth we’ve seen in nationalist and racist violent extremism, we anticipate there will be a terrorist attack in this country in the next 12 months,” he said.
Anti-fascist activist Tom Tanuki said the groups had been working relentlessly to recruit more members.
Recent media coverage that sensationalised the National Socialist Network on a hiking trip in the Grampians helped them increase in size, he said.
“They are performing stunts because it gets the media coverage and the media coverage gets them a handful of new recruits,” Mr Tanuki said.
“They come out and do outrageous stunts and they know they’ll be talked about.”
Mr Tanuki said although it’s unclear how many people have signed up, any increase is concerning.
“These are small groups. They’re not huge, but they had a huge boost in numbers. They’ve got a huge amount of interest,” he said.
“It’s a small number of very dangerous people and we need to treat it accordingly.”
Over an encrypted messaging app Australian Nazi leaders share their ideology with thousands of followers from across the world and recruit new members within Australia.
The Grampians camping trip is celebrated as a roaring success – in one recent post, the group wrote: “The Grampians for the White man! Hail victory.”
They also discuss the inquiry into extremism and share photos of members throwing white power salutes.
“The Lord gave us Adolf Hitler. Woe to those who are too scared to hail him,” one post reads.
It is going to take more than banning swastikas to deal with this growing tide of white supremacy, Mr Tanuki said.
“A ban on swastikas would limit their imagery, but the National Socialists group icon is not a swastika. It’s not going to solve the problem,” he said.
The community needs to understand who these people are and what they stand for, what it means when their sons sign up, or they realise they’re neighbours with them, he said.
“If you know they’re living down the road, you speak to your local council, to community groups. You band together,” Mr Tanuki said.