Three people have been arrested and several others detained during duelling protests at Melbourne’s St Kilda beach involving right-wing extremists and anti-fascists.
One person was arrested for possessing drugs, another for breaching bail and a third for carrying weapons – large fishing sinkers – according to Victoria Police’s Superintendent Tony Silva.
Hundreds of police battled to contain the right-wing ‘patriot’ protestors, many of whom wore Australian flags and made Hitler salutes in their stated aim to “take back the beach” from “gangs”.
Officers also detained several people who were then released to try and prevent them causing trouble at the tightly controlled rallies on the foreshore.
— Abbie O'Brien (@AOBrien_news) January 5, 2019
Hundreds of police took to the air, sea and land to control the event, including the dog, mounted and riot squads, from Saturday morning until 4.30pm.
“I certainly felt we had it under control,” Supt Silva told reporters.
Convicted criminals Blair Cottrell and Nigel Erikson, who founded the United Patriots Front, had called for “war” and warned of their “biggest stunt yet” in a private Facebook group post before the gathering at the popular Melbourne beach.
Several hundred people came for the rallies, the first held at 12pm by anti-racism campaigners ahead of a right-wing event at 1pm organised by convicted criminals Blair Cottrell and Neil Erikson.
Queensland Senator Fraser Anning, who used the Nazi-associated phrase “final solution” in his maiden speech in the Senate, stood with Mr Cottrell at the rally.
Senator Anning, who now sits as an independent after being sacked from the Katter Australia Party following his defection from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, uploaded several videos to his Facebook page from the rally.
In the videos, Senator Anning stands with Mr Cottrell, poses for photos and makes inflammatory remarks about migration.
The far-right group chanted “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi, oi, oi” while the counter protesters yelled “Migrants welcome, racists are not”.
— Melbourne News (@MelbourneBrk) January 5, 2019
After speeches from both sides, the opposing groups dispersed onto nearby streets and to the front of Luna Park, with minor scuffles breaking out.
At least one person was pepper-sprayed.
Anti-racist activists drove past the event with loud speakers on the tray of a ute, shouting slogans, but when it stopped because of the crowd it was set upon by the opposition.
Mr Cottrell and Mr Erikson in 2017 were convicted and fined in the Magistrates Court for inciting contempt and ridicule of Muslims by making a video in which they beheaded a dummy with a toy sword in a protest against the building of the Bendigo mosque. Cottrell is appealing his conviction.
The pair claims the rally is a response to recent incidents in which youths have mugged people along the bay.
However, Mr Erikson also last week confronted a group of young men of African background who were playing soccer at St Kilda, prompting police intervention.
Nearby Caulfield, an area with a high Jewish population, has also experienced a blitz of anti-semitic vandalism.
The Emmy Monash Jewish aged-care centre in Caulfield was plastered with a swastika by neo-Nazi group Antipodean Resistance, while a theatre was also graffitied in recent days.
“We are appalled by this latest attack, made all the more despicable as there are Holocaust survivors living in this aged-care home who lost family relatives and suffered under Hitler’s regime,” Anti-Defamation Commission chairman Dvir Abramovich said.
Police will also focus their attention this weekend on the St Albans Lunar New Year Festival on Sunday after concerns over potential anti-social action following violence between Vietnamese and African-Australian residents.