These Melbourne Groups Are Opposing The 'Cronulla 2.0' Far-Right Rally
Anti-fascist groups plan to hold large counter-protests against a far-right rally at St Kilda beach on Saturday, advertised as a follow-up to 'Romper Stomper' or the Cronulla riots.
Far-right groups, including notorious activists and convicted criminals Neil Erikson and Blair Cottrell, will converge on the popular Melbourne beach for a "political meeting" to discuss what they say are "problems we are facing from APEX" and other gangs.
"Aussie pride nation wide! Rise without fear!" organisers wrote on Facebook, the slogan of the infamous United Patriots Front.
The event comes on the back of well-documented and escalating tensions between the African community and far-right groups, following claims of a crime "wave" in Melbourne.
Most notably, an encounter last weekend where Erikson and his supporters filmed a group of men playing soccer in a park led to a stand-off between the two groups, with one man arrested by police.
Erikson, who runs multiple popular conservative Facebook pages where he posts videos of political stunts, was one of those behind the racist abuse of then-senator Sam Dastyari in 2016, ambushing him in a pub and calling him a "terrorist" and a "monkey". He also recently rushed the stage at an African cultural festival and seized a microphone, yelling "it's OK to be white".
Erikson and Cottrell both have multiple serious criminal convictions, including one incident where both were charged after a mock beheading of a dummy outside the Bendigo council building, in protest of a mosque being built in the city.
Erikson has admitted to formerly being involved in neo-Nazi groups.
Cottrell, the former leader of the United Patriots Front, admitted to being a "racist" in a 2016 ABC interview, has been convicted of numerous serious offences including arson and stalking, and once allegedly said pictures of Adolf Hitler should be displayed in Australian classrooms.
Cottrell's appearance on a Sky News program in August led to contributors cancelling contracts with the network and politicians vowing to boycott the channel. Sky later apologised, with a statement speaking of deep "regret" at the incident, saying Cottrell would never appear on its air again.
The main Facebook event for Saturday's far-right meeting, hosted by a Facebook profile run by Erikson, claims it will be a "peaceful" event and notifies followers that it is "very important there is no violence".
However, other Facebook invitations to Saturday's meeting -- which appear to not be linked to Erikson or Cottrell -- claim the event will be 'Romper Stomper 2.0', referencing the Australian film depicting violence between neo-Nazi groups and Vietnamese-Australians in Melbourne.
The event has also been referred to as 'Cronulla 2.0', a nod to the infamous 2002 race riots, in Facebook posts from other supporters.
Online posters advertising the event say the meeting will "reclaim our beaches", "take back Melbourne" and "take action".
Cottrell declined to comment for this piece, telling 10 daily "I’m literally just going to the beach to be a part of it."
Erikson told 10 daily "tomorrow is a peaceful show of Australian force to let our Government know we won't stay silent. The left are looking for violence not us."
"I’m not going to St. Kilda beach on Saturday to protest Africans. That’s what the media want you to think," Cottrell tweeted on Thursday.
"I’m going to protest a media & government establishment that forces mass immigration onto us, ignores the resulting crime & terror, then calls me racist for noticing it."
"There will be a strong police presence at the rally in order to maintain public safety," Victoria Police told 10 daily in a statement, saying authorities "respects people’s right to protest peacefully, but will not tolerate those who break the law."
"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."
"Police will be closely monitoring the rally to ensure there are no breaches of the peace or crimes occurring."
Victorian Police Minister Lisa Neville said last week those who "[incite] violence or commit violence or don't follow police rules should be held to account... Racism itself does not make any of us safer."
But police will not be the only ones keenly monitoring the far-right meeting. A number of counter-demonstrations will take place in the same area, organised by left-wing anti-fascist and pro-multicultural groups, to show solidarity for the local African community.
"Our aim is purely to show support for those targeted by hatred and bigotry," Max Black, organiser of one of the counter-events, told 10 daily.
His progressive activist group, named the Smashed Avocado Movement, will host a 'community solidarity picnic party' at St Kilda.
"Saturday's event is all about showing the African community that they are valued, cared for, and that they have friends who will stand with them against bigotry," Black said.
"I plan to hug and feed as many people as I can, and make the community feel loved, play some great music, and enjoy the party. I am encouraging all of my followers to do the same."
Various other progressive groups will also join and support the Smashed Avocado event.
A group called Campaign Against Racism and Fascism is encouraging its supporters to bring "a placard or a megaphone to drown out the tears" of the far-right group.
The Sleeping Giants advocacy organisation is planning a "giant sing-a-long" at the beach.
Tom Tanuki, a Melbourne anti-fascist campaigner and commentator, hoped the various counter-demonstrations would not clash with the far-right meeting.
"The response to the meeting is a peaceful community event. Various groups are working alongside each other to show the Sudanese community, the Vietnamese community, the media and show Australia we’re not buying into the race-baiting," he told 10 daily.
"We want to show people, in person on the day and in the media later, there's a lot of people who aren't buying into it and that there's a lot of support for Sudanese community."