The presence of neo-fascist thugs in the so-called “freedom protests” marks an escalation of their recruiting efforts and a threat to democratic norms, writes Dr Martin Hirst.
UNPRECEDENTED SCENES OF violence have rocked the streets of Melbourne over the last couple of months. On several occasions, anti-vaccine and anti-lockdown protestors clashed with police. On at least three days, protests were met with pepper spray and rubber bullets. What started as a protest against public health measures has now morphed into something much broader and with a more sinister edge.
Death threats have been made against Premier Daniel Andrews and other members of the Victorian Parliament.
On the 13 November, the first nooses appeared at the anti-lockdown protests which now have a focus on a piece of Victorian legislation, the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill, which is designed to give sweeping powers to the government to deal with future pandemics.
Then on the evening of the 15th of November, a full-scale hangman’s scaffold appeared at the protestors’ semi-permanent campsite outside the Victorian Parliament. The protestors have vowed to continue their actions until the legislation is scrapped.
Fortunately, a pushback is beginning. Everybody, except the Victorian Liberals, has reacted with outrage at the blasé way that “kill the bill” protestors have accepted the violence. Liberal politicians have been spooning with the Far-Right on the steps of the Victorian Parliament.
But Animal Justice Party MP Andy Reddick has come out strongly, damning recently installed Liberal leader, Matthew Guy, and calling on him to admonish his colleagues who are exchanging love hearts with the neo-Nazis.
Antifascists will also be taking to the streets on 20 November in a national mobilisation to counteract the gooses with nooses.
Rally organiser Nahui Jimenez said:
“The Far-Right is willing to use violence and threats against those whom it declares ‘enemies’. This must be unacceptable to most people, and we call on them to join our rally.”
The counter-protest has been called by the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (CARF), a broad group of progressive activists and left-wing organisations. The counter-rally has been called to draw public attention to the growth of conspiratorial and fascistic politics promoted by these groups.
“Hostility to vaccines has become a gateway to the Far-Right globally We will not allow fascist groups to propagate their bigotry and occupy our streets without resistance."
“Kill the bill”
The ostensible trigger for the Far-Right mobilisations is legislation introduced to the Victorian Parliament to streamline public health responses to future outbreaks of COVID and other pandemics. It is the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021. The Murdoch media and Liberal politicians have orchestrated a campaign of lies to undercut public support for the legislation which is more democratic and accountable than the laws in other Australian states.
On 15 November, the Andrews Government agreed to significant amendments negotiated by the crossbenchers, which all but guarantees it will pass the state upper house. Ironically, it was the three independents responsible for the amendments who have been targeted by the “kill the bill” protestors.
It seems the protestors have lost this round, but it is unlikely their protests are over. They will be returning to the streets on Saturday 20 November under the amorphous banner of the “Worldwide Rally for Freedom”. This might seem like an innocuous and supportable slogan, but the organisers of this global rally are from the far right of politics and many of them have links to shadowy or banned neo-fascist groups.
Far-Right a breeding ground for fascists
Known local Nazis have been prominent in the Melbourne protests from the outset and, while they be no means control the broader movement, they certainly have influence inside it.
Neo-nazi groups are also intent on recruiting from this milieu and to use the protests as a cover for their own violent street actions. This follows the pattern established in the United States by the Proud Boys and others, and the local protests have taken on an overt MAGA vibe, complete with QAnon sloganeering, Trump 2020 flags and excited chatter about an Australian version of the January 6 attack on the U.S. Congress building.
High profile Far-Right agitators, with clear and well-known fascist sympathies, are key organisers of the “kill the bill” protests. The main group is Reignite Democracy Australia, which serial pest Monica Smits runs like a Ponzi Scheme. Smits and others have links to Avi Yemeni, who boasts that he’s a proud Jewish Nazi.
A recently launched group called Open Australia carries messaging against the Victorian pandemic legislation that is as dramatic as it is misleading. The site contains no authorization or contact information. It is registered to a very shady virtual office at 2 Kalkofnsvegur Reykjavik, Iceland, that shares a domain server and address with black hat hackers involved in distributing ransomware, that is, holding data hostage for money.
Unfortunately, this barrage of misinformation and deliberately misleading propaganda appears to resonate with a layer of disaffected and fearful voters.
Nazis are involved in organizing the Melbourne rallies and are certainly active in the online chat groups that are supporting it. Some chats got so out of hand that moderators intervened to ask posters to tone down the praise for Hitler and the Nazis because it might spark some bad publicity.
In a recent exchange on their main Telegram channel, Melbourne Freedom Rally, “Mikey” asks “Bill” to go back through a thread and delate 'all the ones that seem dangerous'.
He then adds:
'Please remember we need to have good optics.'
In other words, you can be a Nazi, but be careful how you talk about it.
It has been an open secret for months that Far-Right figures sympathetic to Nazi ideas are heavily involved in the freedom rally movement. Individuals like Harrison McLean was a moderator of the freedom rally Telegram account; at the same time, he was also running more explicit anti-Semitic and pro-fascist groups. McLean has been working hard to clean up the public facing Telegram threads by reminding his supporters that many “normies” were 'not ready for the JQ [Jewish Question] yet'.
McLean made the strategy behind the growing Far-Right protest movement as 'We start at "Dan Bad" and… No Coercive Vaccines'.
In one post McLean continues:
'And [then] Pedo suppression orders and NOW [New World Order] agenda and One World Government as a concept to be opposed.'
Monica Smits’ outfit has now teamed up with the United Australia Party (UAP) which also gives the neo-fascists the cloak of electoral respectability. That is, at least until you realise that UAP chief clown has Australian neo-Nazis as his security detail.
The endless lies, myths and conspiracy theories
One of the problems with these so-called freedom protests is that many participants are dissociated from reality and are descending into a QAnon rabbit warren of conspiracy theories.
For example, one speaker at the 13 November rally claimed to be a nurse and argued that vaccines are “the most insane concept”, and another repeated the lie that Melbourne was the “most locked-down city on the face of the Earth”.
A woman who says she is a teacher claimed that children are gagging on their own carbon dioxide because of masks and that she is on a “God-given mission” to fight against the COVID vaccine. A speaker claiming to be a nurse told the crowd that there are secret ingredients in the vaccine that she cannot tell people about because the AHPRA will deregister her.
The conspiracy theories don’t stop with the vaccines and lockdowns. The latest Far-Right import from the United States, that "Big Bird" from Sesame Street is a Communist plot to mind-control children, also got a run on 13 November; so too did the QAnon chant heard in Washington on 6 January, “Where we go one we go all".
This movement is spilling over from being just about opposition to vaccines and other public health measures into being a full-blown MAGA-style Far-Right Mulligan's stew of conservative talking points, complete with a broad anti-left ethos.
The real politics are to be found in the COVID-adjacent issues. One speaker on 13 November claimed that the problems began with the Victorian Safe Schools program and the left’s culture war against the traditional family.
The hodgepodge of lies and conspiracies is given credibility by the presence of well-known Far-Right politicians at the Melbourne rallies. The keynote speaker on 13 November was United Australia Party leader, Craig Kelly who calls the COVID vaccine rollout a “medical experiment”. Kelly’s speech also fed into the anti-Dan Andrews sentiment: he said that the UAP would “bring him to his knees” if it wins enough seats at the 2022 Federal Election.
It is this kind of inflammatory talk that seems to make it okay for the violent rhetoric to escalate to the point of bringing a gallows to the Victorian State Parliament where it was cheered by the deluded mob.
One big concern is the willingness of many, if not most, of the participants in these rallies to believe what they are told by opportunistic politicians and the movement’s loose leadership groups rather than read the actual legislation and sensible commentary.
We also cannot discount the role played by the Murdoch media which has conducted open ideological warfare against the Andrews government and encouraged the violent charades we’ve seen in recent weeks. Herald Sun columnist and Sky News “personality” Peta Credlin was also in attendance on 13 November. She was conveniently available to be interviewed by Sky News.
Several state Liberal politicians have also taken advantage of the protestors’ self-imposed ignorance to spread disinformation about the legislation to amplify fear and stoke anger amongst the protestors. United Australia Party leader and COVID-denier Craig Kelly has been a prominent speaker at the Melbourne events where he has fanned the flames with blatant lies about the scope, intent and content of the Victorian legislation.
For example, the protestors have jumped on a dubious legal opinion prepared by Liberal Party lawyers that wrongly suggests that the Victorian Premier would have “indefinite dictatorial powers” over the state.
Instead of understanding the legislation, which is almost identical to, and in some cases more democratic than the equivalent in NSW, for example, the protestors have clung to the duplicitous words of politicians who have no actual concern at all about democracy or freedom.
Any reasonable assessment of the Victorian pandemic legislation shows it is about more accountability, not some wild scheme for “Dictator Dan” to turn the state into his personal gulag. This detail is lost on the gooses with nooses.
Never let the facts get in the way of a good hanging, right?
These protests do not yet represent an out and out fascist mobilisation. The loosely organised movement is more of a MAGA and QAnon cult of misinformation and wild conspiracy theories.
However, there are fascist elements lurking within the crowds and their intention is to train their members in street agitation, brawling and rampaging. This is a clear and present danger.
Support independent journalism Subscribe to IA.