Melbourne Neo-Nazi 'Race War' Group Expands To Sydney
Anti-fascist activists fear a neo-Nazi group that talks of a "race war" to "take our continent back" has expanded to Sydney.
The group, which 10 daily has decided not to name, claimed on its website it is "dedicated to disseminating the National Socialist worldview among the Australian public".
The group is small, with social media photos showing less than a dozen members, but it is understood some of the group are former members of the Lads Society -- a far-right group which grew out of the United Patriots Front organisation, and briefly established clubhouses in Sydney and Melbourne.
The group does not mention the term 'Nazi' in its online material, but its website refers to "German National Socialism" as well as the neo-Nazi code '1488'. The '14' refers to the '14 words' of a neo-Nazi slogan, while the '88' refers to 'H', the eighth letter of the alphabet, 'HH' standing for 'Heil Hitler'.
The neo-Nazi group has largely confined its work to petty graffiti in Melbourne, spray-painting swastikas and placing stickers -- bearing phrases like 'Australia for the white man' -- on mailboxes, at university campuses and outside the Channel 7 offices, or posing for photos in balaclavas while performing one-armed salutes.
One photo posted online shows two members posing on a hill overlooking Parliament House in Canberra, criticising politicians as "race traitor vermin".
The group's small social media following, with around 100 subscribers on Telegram and just over 30 on Twitter, is not large but they had also joked about using dating app Tinder "to recruit fighters for the coming race war", sharing what appeared to be an edited image purporting to be a conversation from the app.
"Despite claims to the contrary and Jewish wishes, it is not illegal to be a National Socialist or state National Socialist views in Australia," the group claimed on its website.
"We do not partake in or encourage any illegal behaviour. We hate and oppose the government; we want to see it destroyed, but we are not stupid enough to think that we can rectify things at the current time with illegal means."
In February, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) director-general Mike Burgess sounded the alarm on right-wing extremist groups.
"In Australia, the extreme right-wing threat is real and it is growing," Burgess said.
"The number of terrorism leads we are investigating right now has doubled since this time last year."
Victoria Police said it "will not comment specifically on the ongoing activities of far-right groups" but said officers "closely monitor a range of groups to ensure there is no threat to public safety."
However, a Sydney-based anti-fascist group, which has previously worked to oppose the Lads Society's clubhouse in the inner-west suburb of Ashfield, is concerned that the group's stickers have suddenly appeared in their area.
"Dozens" of stickers bearing the neo-Nazi group's branding and slogans "bearing fascist and white supremacist messages" have been found on buildings, according to the Ashfield Community Action group.
"Ashfield is known for its large Asian population. We’re concerned fascists have been emboldened by the racist discourse around Covid-19 and that they are seeking to leverage this to restart their activities in the area or elsewhere," a spokesperson for the group told 10 daily.
"We’re concerned that anti-migrant sentiment currently legitimised by mainstream politicians may provide an opening for them to renew these strategies."
The neo-Nazi group began posting on social media in early January, but its activities and online posts appeared to begin accelerating in February.
In a statement, a NSW Police spokesperson said officers "are aware of several active far-right groups in NSW, some of which have become more organised and security-conscious than they were previously."
"Further, police and partner agencies continue to monitor activities and rhetoric, particularly in the online environment, and take action as required, which is evident in recent activity by the NSW Joint Counter Terrorism Team," they said.
Dr Andre Oboler, CEO of the Online Hate Prevention Institute, said the current coronavirus pandemic had sparked activity among extreme far-right groups around the world, especially in internet groups.
"We've seen some of the formerly anti-Muslim or anti-mosque groups on Facebook now move onto anti-coronavirus posting, jumping on new targets. There's anti-Asian or anti-Chinese messaging in groups which were not set up with that in mind," he told 10 daily.
"They're jumping on what's topical. It's the same as the 'African gangs' rhetoric a few years ago. They will jump on whatever will give them energy."
The Melbourne-based neo-Nazi group has not specifically linked its activities online to coronavirus, except in making a small number of jokes about face masks or lockdowns. However, Oboler theorised the pandemic had taken an effect on the group's members.
"They've been in isolation with everybody else, and they want to get out now that restrictions are starting to be lifted. What they're doing is a social activity for them, that they can engage in as a group," he said.
The group's Twitter account has also been removed, after questions to the social media giant from 10 daily.
"We have permanently suspended the account for violation of our hateful conduct policy. There is no place on Twitter for hateful conduct, terrorist organizations or violent extremist groups," a company spokesperson said.
Twitter's policy against extremism does not allow threats of violence or messages wishing harm to a group of people, or promoting terrorism. The platform's hateful conduct policy also forbids promoting or threatening violence on the basis of race, ethnicity, sexuality, faith, age, disability, or illness.
Around 90 percent of terrorist content is removed proactively by Twitter's internal teams, even before other users submit reports of hateful conduct.
Victoria Police said it is "equipped and well-prepared" to respond to extremist groups, and "committed to responding to any acts of racism, discrimination or vilification based on religion, culture or ethnicity."
"Every Victorian has the right to feel safe and secure in the community and in pursuing their values, beliefs, and interests," police said in a statement.
The Australian Federal Police declined to comment on specific groups but urged anyone with information about extremist activity or possible threats to the community to contact the National Security Hotline on 1800 123 400.