Human rights Opinion

The night the cookers were handed over to neo-Nazis at the Polish Club

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Former Neighbours star Damien Richardson speaking at a meeting convened by the National Workers Alliance (Screenshot via YouTube)

A former 'Neighbours' star, a former pro wrestler and a former gym owner walk into a club in Melbourne... it's not a joke; it's a conspiracist love-in. Tom Tanuki reports.

ON 19 JUNE, at a packed Polish Club in Rowville, a former Neighbours star, a former pro wrestler and a former gym owner came together to hold a discussion about a few subjects of interest to the remnants of the post-2022 "freedom" movement.

One of the themes was familiar territory: protecting children. 

As the "movement" dwindled in recent years, its messaging drifted away from mandates and vaccines to more conventionally far-Right conspiracist moral panics about "transgenderism" and drag story time

So, the pro wrestler Craig Cole spoke to those fears, rehashing the same theories about high school "LGBTQ+ indoctrination" that he'd been repeating in speeches for a couple of years.

But the other topic of the day was novel for them. ‘STOP MASS IMMIGRATION’, read the flyer. It was footnoted by lines I’d expect to see in other places, perhaps ones further to the Right of the typical lockdown-era conspiracist event — ‘Globalism is Destroying Western Civilisation’ and ‘Diversity is not a Strength’.

The event was convened and emceed by Matt Trihey, who runs a new group called National Workers Alliance (NWA). Trihey's contribution to the dwindling weekend latter-day freedom rallies roaming Melbourne’s CBD was to provide it with a bulky mobile speaker system. His efforts earned him a speaker role at the rallies and, in time, the ability to pack out the Polish Club for this, the very first NWA meeting.

Before any of his "freedom" movement efforts, Trihey had been a physical trainer for young neo-Nazis in the Lads Society, a predecessor group to the National Socialist Network (NSN). 

But when he was focusing on the freedom movement, Trihey used to pretend that didn’t happen – when asked – or that he didn’t know who NSN leader Thomas Sewell was. Tonight would prove to be different.

The event was at capacity, with around 300 people reportedly there. They mostly pulled in mums and dads — the middle-aged folk boomers of the freedom movement’s remains. 

Some of these people are members of conspiracist, anti-government satellite community groups like My Place run by Darren Bergwerf, who was himself in attendance. Others were devoted followers of the speakers: the pro wrestler or the gym owner, perhaps, or Neighbours star Damien Richardson.

Up the back, not exactly blending in, was a large group of young men in matching black shirts with white logos.

Emcee Matt Trihey opened by saying there “is no political solution”, that he makes “no apology" for anyone he has associated with and that the night was primarily about education.

Nick Patterson spoke first — the ex-gym owner. He runs a group called Australian Peacemakers, which made its name providing amateur security for anti-lockdown rallies while challenging cops to fistfights.

During his speech, assigning responsibility for a targeted mass immigration program to a secret enemy, Patterson says:

“The people above – we’re not going to name people, specifically – they don’t want Western countries to exist.”

Patterson is clandestinely referring to Jewish people in speak that we recognise as typical of many conspiracists — they reference a global Jewish power conspiracy while alluding to the dangers of naming that enemy. Still, he won't say who "they" are.

Trihey grabs the mic again. “It’s not hateful to care for your own ingroup,” he says. He then brings up a "statistic" suggesting that a certain migrant community’s people are 67 times more likely to commit aggravated assault. It's not a real statistic.

Damien Richardson takes the mic. The former Neighbours star is the most capable speaker of the lot. 

He gets indignant that after he attended a freedom-movement protest outside the (Construction, Forestry and Maritime Employees Union) CFMEU building (Australian Council of Trade Unions), ACTU Secretary Sally McManus called him and other protesters ‘neo-Nazis’.

Richardson exclaims:

“How dare you? My grandfather fought against them.”

But then, paradoxically, he acknowledges a neo-Nazi in the room, saying:

"Everyone talks about Nigel Farage being debanked. But does everyone know Blair Cottrell? He was debanked well and truly before Nigel Farage.”

He points out Cottrell, who anyone with a half-decent memory for fringe politics in Australia will recall as a neo-Nazi figurehead in the late-2010s patriot movement.

There is applause and cheers for Cottrell. (He'd recently attended a My Place session to talk to the boomers, as it happens.)

Richardson says:

“They want a slave class of deracinated people. There's a word you're not allowed to use!"

That's a conspiracy about how Whites are being intentionally stripped of their racial purity in a coordinated fashion. There's only one kind of political persuasion that talks in earnestness about "deracination".

Before he's done talking, the Neighbours actor has even named Jewish people as the cause of this great, coordinated detriment to White people.

A Q&A begins. Blair Cottrell takes the mic and asks: If the collective movement agrees that it has one goal and one enemy, what is that goal and who is that enemy?

For a meeting that is clearly, by this stage, intended as an introduction to White supremacist thought, Matt Trihey doesn't appear comfortable answering questions.

He talks in circles:

“Well, people know I’m a nationalist... I'd be happy to say it's the globalist enemy, for sure. And we all have our opinions of where that comes from… but, ah…”

Richardson is more forthright:

“We have to secure a homeland for our people.” 

How to do that?

Richardson says, “I'm not prepared to fedpost on a live stream".  (He means he's not allowed to say using violence.)

The next question is from another neo-Nazi... and now the gloves are off.

The young man says that Australia was founded on racism, that our first 15 prime ministers were White nationalists and that the White Australia policy was about deporting non-Whites. He's a supporter of racism: what about the panel? That's the question.

The man asking is a member of the National Socialist Network. The militant Hitlerite neo-Nazi group. It isn't just Cottrell in attendance. They all are. The group of young men in black shirts conspicuously hanging around up the back account for about half of Melbourne’s core NSN group.

Again, Matt Trihey squirms:

“It's easy to reserve our hatred for outgroups. My anger and hatred is really reserved for White men who allowed this to happen.”

Craig Cole takes the mic and squirms as well:

“I won't answer your question directly, but…”

before leading into a vague monologue about talking to vaccinated people.  

Richardson says:

“You can't unbake the soufflé .”

He's saying we already have lots of non-Whites here, so it's hard to "go back" to the White Australia policy. 

The former Neighbours star wonders if perhaps Whites can take Western Australia.

“Is that possible?"

The NSN wouldn't say it's hard to "unbake the soufflé" — its members simply advocate for mass deportations. Easy. Theirs is a genocidal political model.

Why, I wonder, are the panellists uncomfortable with this subject matter? They've arranged a meeting that discusses Nazi topics and they have Nazis in the group asking Nazi questions. But when pressed, they won't simply finish their own half-uttered Nazi-like sentences. It's like they're hesitating to go through the doorway they themselves opened.

There is obviously a sense of majority support for this from the cooker audience — cheers, applause and approving noises make for most of the responses throughout the evening. But it is also true that conspiracist love-ins are not known for dissent and debate. So, I feel the presence of any dissent is striking at moments like these. And there was dissent.

A woman argues with the Nazi who asked about racism. 

“It’s not the colour, it's the culture." 

She'd rather have a light Islamophobic chat than have a deep racial separatism talk. 

The Nazi disagrees by offering up some sham race science pseudoscience:

“What your race is is the entire human being that you are.”

Another man breaks ranks, saying he doesn't understand the harshness against Aboriginal people, who have been mocked and abused along with many other races by the speakers:

“The enemy is the government... It's not this race shit."

Trihey interrupts him:

"I haven't heard anybody say anything negative about any other race."

A celebratory livestream between Blair Cottrell, NSN leader Tom Sewell and another neo-Nazi called Joel Davis came out the next day. They revealed more dissent.

Davis admitted that “a few people there who were mixed-race couples didn't look too happy and left early":

“There was also a few other older ladies who seemed a bit offended by some of the rhetoric."

Perhaps they were intimidated. 

After the event, another unhappy attendee man challenged Matt Trihey over the anti-Aboriginal sentiment expressed throughout the evening. Sewell intervened and, after some argument, challenged the man to fight outside.

I imagine many people would have been scared to watch this all unfold.

Since that night, a My Place organiser banned any talk of a "White Australia" in one of its online spaces. 

There have also been other former figureheads in the freedom movement, such as Leila Melki, who have spoken up and rejected what Melki describes as the “infiltration of White supremacists” into their scene.

But neo-Nazis just enjoyed a productive beer hall event, comfortably mingling with 300 enthusiastic conspiracists who appear to have been groomed by their freedom-movement leaders to come with open arms to a roundtable about a White Australia. 

And as a conspiracist researcher observed of the My Place cohort on the last episode of 3CR's Yeah Nah Pasaran!, in an excellent discussion of this very same event: more than anything“they just do what they're told".

So Nazis are elated. It's on their radar. They have every right to be happy. The remnants of the anti-lockdown movement, for whatever they're worth, are being handed over to them.

Tom Tanuki is a writer, satirist and anti-fascist activist. Tom does weekly videos on YouTube commenting on the Australian political fringe. You can follow Tom on Twitter @tom_tanuki.

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