Over the weekend Reclaim Australia held a bunch of rallies around the nation to "reclaim" the country from the "Muslim Oppressors" who secretly run the place. Or something.
Not to be outdone, counter-demonstrators turned up to make sure Australia's far right wouldn't get to parade itself unopposed. Five people were arrested in clashes in Sydney, one in Adelaide, and protesters were maced by police in Melbourne.
But what the weekend's events showed us wasn't that Australia's homebrew far-right movement was on the rise. Instead, we learned that a fractured assembly of agitated individuals can struggle to communicate a coherent message, let alone the same message.
This was highlighted in a very public split in Brisbane where organizers announced they would be breaking off to form Australians Against Islam, which isn't the first schism to hit the movement. Back in May, a new group calling itself the United Patriots Front (UFP) appeared after a spat between Reclaim Australia organizers Sherman Burgess and Monika Evers, the Bendigo-based businesswoman behind the campaign to ban the Bendigo mosque.
As this seems to be an ongoing problem, let's take a look at how the split between the two Reclaim leaders undermined the latest protest in Melbourne.
As mentioned, Burgess was the former leader of Reclaim Australia and has a somewhat colorful background. His résumé as an organizer for the far right extends back before his time with Reclaim. A council worker from New South Wales, he has been a long-time member of the Australian Defence League and the Australian neo-Nazi metal band Eureka Brigade.
Earlier this year, he made an effort at rebranding himself as the "Great Aussie Patriot" to great effect. To anyone who asked, he promised he was not racist, even though there are videos online where Burgess calls Aboriginal people "mostly dickheads" and says he'd like to "bump off" lefties.
After splitting from Reclaim in May, Burgess gathered himself a merry band of race warriors, including personalities such as Blair Cottrell, who once served 19-months for arson, wants Mein Kempf taught in schools, and dislikes women in leadership roles because they do their job. If you're a little puzzled by what that means, read the thread below.
Cottrell's social media profile has grown since joining the UPF, and in one YouTube series he can be seen using a whiteboard to rail against public schools, effeminate men, and the one-world government, essentially making him the Dark Malcolm Turnbull.
Another wildcard Burgess recruited for the UPF is Neil Erikson, who in February last year was convicted for stalking and threatening a rabbi with the Melbourne City Synagogue. Only last week, he appeared again in newsprint when a video surfaced with the audio of his laughter at the stabbing murder of a 16-year-old protester on a Spanish train. Erikson denied authorship of the video and claimed he had been hacked, the video doctored, and insisted it showed a good "patriot" taking on "left-wing filth." The murder, he said, was "obviously self-defense."
Since then, Erikson has effortlessly made the transition from harassing Jewish people to bullying Muslims. This also reflects a broader realization among the far-right about how targeting Muslims means they can evade the "racist" tag by pointing out how Islam isn't a race. Which is mighty convenient, because the face of Islam so often happens to have a brown complexion.
In the weeks leading up to last weekend's rallies, Erikson, Cottrell, and other UPF grunts were busy churning out videos where they talked tough and told the world how they were ready for a fight. Erikson can be seen in one talking about how mosques are secret staging posts for a coming invasion of Muslim terrorists.
The catch is, the majority of terrorist attacks across the Western world are not committed by Muslims. The New America Foundation has been tracking the number of those killed by terrorism in the US since September 11. By their count, killings by far-right extremists outnumber those killed by jihadists almost two to one.
It's a similar story in Europe, where in 2013 only two out of 158 terrorist attacks were "religiously" motivated. The rest were committed by various nationalist and left-wing groups trying to make a point. Worldwide, terrorism has an equally well-documented history among Sikhs, Buddhists, Hindus, and Christians.
In the weeks leading up to the weekend Melbourne protest, Monika Evers, the woman behind the anti-mosque push in Bendigo, switched the time of the Reclaim Australia rally to earlier that day as part of her ongoing spat with Burgess. Burgess called her a traitor, but the effect wasn't clear until the UPF turned up at 1 PM, after which Reclaim had already been at it since 11 AM. With their allegedly different message lost in all the noise and media attention on Reclaim, the UPF reportedly left after 12 minutes.
In the aftermath, the group tried to stay positive. A message posted to their Facebook page applauded the turnout, even as their own members pointed out that only a fraction of those they expected to turn out actually did.
Which is a happy close to a sad story about a group who genuinely believe they are valiant heroes who, alone, are standing against a sinister cabal of vaguely defined Muslims threatening to take over the continent using food classification to deliver Sharia law to Australia.
Outside, in the real world, Australia isn't holding its breath.
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