Nazis marching through the Ranges are only a small part of the threat

January 29, 2021 by Andre Oboler
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Over the Australia Day weekend the Grampians ranges, also known by its Indigenous name of  Gariwerd, hosted a neo-Nazi gathering complete with a KKK style cross burning and marches complete with Nazi salutes.

Andre Oboler

At a Press conference on Thursday, Premier Dan Andrews expressed his disgust saying that there was “no place for that sort of bigotry and hatred”. He warned that antisemitism was on the rise both globally and locally. He called it “an evil thing” and “wicked”.

While we should be concerned with this neo-Nazi activity, we should not be surprised, nor should we fall into the trap of give these groups the attention they want. That’s why I for one won’t be naming this new group, the latest incarnation of the far-right.

This stunt, and it was a stunt, came right from the cookie cutter. Not only did they borrow from the KKK making a display of their cross burning, but even the location was nothing new. This latest incarnation of the far-right is made of up known individuals. It is a merger of a group that described itself as a “neo-Nazi youth movement” and another non-youth focused far-right group.

That “youth group” was responsible for antisemitic posters put up around Melbourne, and indeed across Australia, over recent years. They are the ones who plastered their logo on the entrance to the Emmy Monash Aged Care facility back in 2019.

My organisation, the Online Hate Prevention Institute, was the first to monitor and report on them back in February 2017. At the time they were just a few months old and using international neo-Nazi forums to recruit members. Later that year they held a “training camp” in the Grampians triggering significant media coverage.

The stunt over the Australia Day weekend was a tried and true recipe to gain the new merged group a name in the media. The number of people involves varies from around 20 to 40, not much larger than the 2017 stunt, which is unsurprising given the merger of two groups. This is not a growing movement, nor does it want to be.

On the one hand, this is a group of far-right extremists playing dress-up and marching around with their Nazi salutes, Sieg Heils, drunken renditions of Waltzing Matilda, shouts of “white power” and clothing with white supremacist Celtic Crosses. It’s a group which in addition to their antisemitism has have described Indigenous Australians as “subhuman” and called for a “white revolution”. It is the very loud, public attention seeking face of neo-Nazism in Australia.

Like the Twitter account the Online Hate Prevention Institute recently had closed which was using an automation tool to push “It’s ok to be white” and similar white supremacist messages into the #auspol chat on a daily basis for years, the group marching through the mountains represents an extreme fringe seeking its make itself felt far beyond its numbers. It is alarming, offensive and shakes our sense of safety and our belief in the shred values of our Australian community. That’s exactly what it sets out to do. That is the harm it causes.

On the other hand, when it comes to the risk of a deadly terrorist attack, groups like this are unlikely to be involved. Their crimes are limited to defacing property, often with self-promoting stickers. The real risk is those who aren’t on the radar of the our very capable police and intelligence agencies. It is the people who are radicalized online, increasingly in fringe social media platforms, who like the attackers in Christchurch, Pittsburgh, Poway, El Paso and Halle decide to take action on their own in a lone-wolf style attack.

This is a new paradigm and one that requires new solutions. Government can’t meet this challenge alone. The investment in Holocaust education, anti-racism education, even specifically on antisemitism education, will not prevent those at the fringes form being radicalized.

The work I did for the Victorian Education Department last year on the antisemitism inquiry brought home to me just how much harm even a handful of radicalized students can do to the lives of those around them. If this could happen in a school, Brighton Secondary College, which for years has had some of the best student well-being efforts and anti-racism efforts in the state, how much more harm could it do elsewhere?

As I discussed with the ABC, Government needs to recognise that it can’t do this alone. That supporting education and academic research is not enough. Organisations like the Online Hate Prevention Institute have long been at the pointy end in monitoring the emerging trends and threats, sounding the alarm before things explode. We’ve also worked to remove the radicalization material, including antisemitic terrorist manifestos, and to disrupt their infrastructure through discussions with technology providers who are often unaware of the ways their services are being used to spread harm and endanger the public.

The Online Hate Prevention Institute ran at a 40% loss last year we tackled the spike in antisemitism, Holocaust denial and racism against other parts of the community which spiked as a result of COVID. While museums and education programs as well funded by government, and we welcome that, the critical work we do continues to receive the praise of governments, but only excuses when it comes to our requests for real support. As we told the UN late last year, this unwillingness to support civil society organisations at the pointy end of the work is putting public safety at risk. For now we’re left begging for public support to continue this vital work.

Dr Andre Oboler is the CEO of the Online Hate Prevention Institute, a member of the Australia Government’s delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, a Vice President of the IEEE Computer Society and an honorary associate in the La Trobe Law School.

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