Shocking video and images have emerged of extreme right-wing protesters giving Nazi salutes at a tense rally of so-called ‘patriots’ in Melbourne over the weekend.
Convicted criminals Blair Cottrell and Noel Erikson, who founded the United Patriots Front, called for their supporters to gather at St Kilda Beach at 1pm on Saturday to “take back the beach” from “African crime gangs”.
Hundreds of police, including officers from the mounted, riot and dog squads, descended on the area, on high alert in anticipation of clashes between attendees and anti-racism protesters.
Despite the overwhelming presence, a number of heated scuffles broke out between the two sides, with vision from the scene showing people dragged away by officers.
An 18-year-old man was arrested for allegedly possessing a weapon, with officers conducting random searches for concealed items throughout the afternoon.
Senator Frasr Anning 'accidentally' invokes "final solution", flies in to St Kilda to pose for happy snaps with these chaps. pic.twitter.com/mB2DvQdEty— Benjamin Millar (@BenjaminMillar) January 5, 2019
Cottrell and Erikson addressed their gathering, with the crowd breaking out into chants of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi, oi, oi!” but were drowned out by counter protesters.
Vision shot from the other side of a police line showed some of those at the ‘patriot’ gathering giving the Nazi salute, while another clip showed a supporter mimicking a soldier’s march.
An image shared to Twitter also shows a right-wing demonstrator flashing the Nazi salute and a man holding an SS helmet.
Cottrell, a self-employed tradesman and bodybuilder, once called for a picture of Adolf Hitler to be hung in every Australian classroom.
Facebook events set up to promote Saturday’s rally described it as “Romper Stomper 2.0”, a reference to the Australian film about neo-Nazis, prompting police to issue a warning.
Others who said they planned to attend called for a Cronulla Riots-style response, invoking the infamous week of brawling in Sydney in 2005.
[1/2] I thank Vic police for their efforts dealing with the ugly racial protests we saw in St Kilda yesterday. Intolerance does not make Australia stronger.— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) January 5, 2019
After a few hours, the rally moved out onto the streets of St Kilda, forcing police to move their line in a bid to control the masses.
Among those attending was Australian Senator Fraser Anning, who infamously referenced Hitler’s “Final Solution” in his maiden speech and was dumped by Bob Katter’s Party for his views on race.
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said Prime Minister Scott Morrison should rule out support from Mr Anning - whose Twitter account contains a litany of anti-African and anti-Islamic messages and calls for the legalisation of weapons - in the upper house.
“The Government should refuse to take Fraser Anning’s vote in the Senate after he has shown again he is unfit to be in the Parliament,” she tweeted Saturday night.
“Hanging out and supporting with neo-nazi who are inciting violence is inexcusable.”
Senator Derryn Hinch also took to social media to condemn his fellow crossbench senator.
“I have chastised Fraser Anning in the Senate for his racism, anti-abortion clinic exclusion zones and Hitler’s Final Solution,” he tweeted.
“His appearance in support of the neo-nazis in St. Kilda (Saturday) topped his calumny.”
On Sunday morning, the prime minister condemned the “ugly racial protests” on social media, saying “intolerance does not make Australia stronger”.
“Australia is the most successful migrant country in the world,” Mr Morrison wrote on Twitter.
“This has been achieved by showing respect for each other, our laws and values and maintaining sensible immigration policies. Let’s keep it that way, it makes Australia stronger.”
Dr Dvir Abramovich, Chairman of the Anti-Defamation Commission, told news.com he was “deeply outraged” by what he saw on Saturday.
“Most would have watched in horror and would have been deeply outraged to see marchers openly throw Nazi salutes and proudly display SS signs.
“It reminds us that anti-Semitism and bigotry are very much alive in Australia in 2019, and that extremists are trying to insert their dangerous ideology into our streets. Melbourne has one of the highest number of Holocaust survivors in the world, and they would be appalled and shocked to see such full-throated bigotry — a throwback to history’s darkest chapter — paraded in the streets of Melbourne.”
On Friday, Victorian Police Minister Lisa Neville called for those tempted to make trouble to stay at home.
“Let me be clear — there will be hundreds of police there, there will be specialist police, there will be the dog squad, the mounted squad, the transit teams, the public order response teams, they will be conducting weapons searches,” Ms Neville said.
“Whether you are on the ultra-right or the ultra-left, this is a family beach and Victoria Police will be there in force to keep it safe.”
A spokesperson for Victoria Police said officers would come down hard on anyone causing trouble.
“Police will be closely monitoring the rally to ensure there are no breaches of the peace or crimes occurring,” the spokesperson said.
“Anyone coming to the event looking to cause trouble can expect a firm response from police; you will be arrested and held to account if you commit a crime.
Last week, police had to be called when Erikson confronted a group of African youth who were playing football at St Kilda Beach.
He recorded the exchange and shared it to social media, which the young men said was intimidating.
In a message released on Wednesday, Cottrell launched an attack on the government and media, which he said were working together like “a Communist state”.
“I’ll be uniting with Australian workers … on St Kilda Beach and every Australian patriot I know will be there with me,” Cottrell said, adding: “Rise without fear.”
The United Patriots Front, one of a number of active extreme right-wing groups, joining the likes of True Blue Crew and Reclaim Australia, are volunteer-led and operate on donations from members, who congregate in Facebook groups and on hidden forums.
They attract a broad range of sympathisers, from Australians concerned about immigration, crime and national security, through to more fringe members with neo-Nazi and criminal links.
The planned rally on Saturday comes after the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation revealed in October that it was monitoring far-right groups.
Duncan Lewis, chief of the spy agency, told a Senate Estimates hearing that right-wing extremism in Australia pose “a threat”.
Mr Lewis warned that individuals were becoming “a little better organised than they have been in the past” and admitted that ASIO was “monitoring” their activities “very, very closely”.
However, he declined to elaborate on specific groups or the extent of their threat to national security for operational reasons.
When asked if ASIO had concerns about some far-right groups and their growing activities, Mr Lewis said: “Yes, we do, and that’s what we’re monitoring.”
“Of course, legitimate advocacy — you might not agree with it — if it is right-wing advocacy that’s afoot, and there’s no violent or foreign interference dimension to it, then that’s not ASIO’s business.
“But if there is the prospect of there being violence or there is some sort of foreign influence dimension to it, then it’s of interest to us.”