Neo-Nazis are targeting anti-lockdown rallies and using covert tactics to indoctrinate frustrated Australians into their hate-filled and violent ideology.
At least two leaders of the far-right National Socialist Network were at Melbourne’s anti-lockdown protest on the weekend, trying to recruit new members to their group, The New Daily can reveal.
It comes as Anti Defamation Commission chairman Dvir Abramovich, warned extremist groups are using the COVID crisis to “fan the flames” of hatred, resulting in increased anger towards the Jewish community.
Before the weekend rally, the two neo-Nazi leaders, who TND has chosen not to name, appeared on a far-right anti-semitic YouTube show watched by almost 1000 people.
They discussed tactics neo-Nazis attending the anti-lockdown rally should use to recruit members.
“Breadcrumbs is the way to go guys,” one of the men said.
“If you go about, like, just openly, y’know, ‘it’s the penguins [code for Jews], it’s the Jews’, you kind of come across as loony to these people.”
Using lockdown protests to spread hate
The neo-Nazi leader told followers to use ambiguous messaging, specifically ‘Qui?’, which means ‘who?’ in French, which has emerged as the far-right’s latest anti-semitic slogan of choice, and is used to engage people in conversation.
Then he instructed members to push people they conversed with at anti-lockdown rallies towards anti-semitic conspiracy theories with a link to more information.
“Get inventive, be creative. Yeah you want to entice people, maybe not necessarily give them the answer outright,” he said.
At least one of the neo-Nazi leaders were seen at Melbourne’s anti-lockdown rally holding a “‘Qui?” sign.
Extremism expert Tom Tanuki said the National Socialist Network had been using the anti-lockdown movement to spread their beliefs and recruit members for months.
Conspiracy theories and ‘red-pilling’
“Neo-Nazis’ have been trying to ‘red pill’ people in anti-lockdown groups since the start of the pandemic,” Mr Tanuki said.
Among neo-Nazi and fascist activists ‘red-pilling’ means indoctrinating someone to their extreme beliefs.
“The anti-lockdown movement is fundamentally an umbrella conspiracy melting pot,” Mr Tanuki said.
“Once you’re in the melting pot, you are more predisposed to hearing different conspiracies and the greatest one of all time is that the people who are in control are the Jewish elite.”
The anti-lockdown movement is made up of a huge cross section of political ideologies coupled with conspiracy theories – from anti-vaxxers to sovereign citizens and people who believe in QAnon.
Neo-Nazis employ techniques to win over these people, and will often work one on one to build rapport, gently question their beliefs, and point them towards neo-Nazi ideology.
“It’s about taking everyone else’s idea, and responding to it,” Mr Tanuki said.
“One person might go, ‘yeah Bill Gates’ [wants to microchip people with the vaccine], and they’ll go, ‘but you know who is really responsible?’
“They’ll ‘reason’ with them, ‘educate’ them and spend time with them.”
Neo-Nazis are “dosing” their anti-lockdown protest marks “little by little”, Mr Tanuki explained.
“If someone spends that time on you, if you’re in a vulnerable and anxious space, which we are in a pandemic, they may well overcome your discomfort with their ideas about race,” he said.
A recent investigation by Nine Entertainment revealed the identities of the National Socialist Network’s senior members, and their strong anti-lockdown and anti-vaccine beliefs.
‘Explosive wave’ of anti-semitism
Dr Abramovich said the the Anti Defamation Commission had seen an “explosive wave” of anti-semitism over social media in the past few weeks.
“We have to be prepared for the possibility that this kind of dangerous rhetoric will take on a life of its own and end in tragedy,” he said.
Dr Abramovich pointed to the recent massacres in Christchurch, San Diego, Pittsburgh and El Paso as clear warnings of what happens when far-right extremists move from online rhetoric to real-life terror.
“The worst thing we could do is to downplay the threat of deadly violence that such hardcore and angry white supremacists pose because where such individuals gather and communicate, physical assaults and murder are usually not far behind,” he said.
But how you monitor and mitigate the serious danger that neo-Nazis pose is not easy.
In a statement to TND, Victoria Police stressed they were tracking these groups to ensure there was no threat to public safety.
“Responding to these groups and associated events and protests is part of what police do on a daily basis,” a police spokesperson said.
“We are equipped and well prepared to deploy resources and to respond and intervene where needed.”
Neo-Nazis have become emboldened
Neo-Nazi groups have become emboldened in the public display of their beliefs and symbology, said Christine Agius, an associate professor in politics from Swinburne University.
“You’ve got these groups gathering together, training. When you look at the figures in these groups they are openly wearing neo-Nazi symbols,” Dr Agius said.
“There’s less hiding.”
It has only been since 2016 that ASIO has identified the far right as a serious terrorist threat, and Australia has been slow to respond, she said.
Simply banning these groups won’t necessarily solve the problem.
If the NSN is listed as a terror group, it may splinter, a popular tactic used by groups to avoid proscription, Dr Agius said.
“I think the bigger problem here is that we’re seeing a bit of backlash around multiculturalism, gender equality, immigration in mainstream politics,” she said.
“We need to look at that and how we talk about inclusion.
“We don’t have a populist party in Australia, but we’re not immune to the throes of it.”