Australian judges are failing to protect society from violent extremism

Nov 6, 2023
Melbourne, Australia, March 18th 2023. Thomas Sewell and fellow neo-nazis saluting at counter-protesters at a Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist (TERF) rally, where feminists discredit diverse gender identities, specifically transgender women. Credit: Jay Kogler/Alamy Live News

Victoria’s leading Neo Nazi left the County Court in Melbourne on Friday with the judge’s message, “Good luck with the future, Gentlemen” ringing in his ears, laughing at the judge’s assertion that he and his co-offender have good prospects for rehabilitation. They greeted reporters outside the court with the observation that they were innocent, followed by “homophobic and antisemitic slurs.” They departed with another Roman Salute and “Heil Hitler.”

The Judicial College of Victoria and similar bodies around the nation have some serious educating of judges to institute. It seems likely that judges give latitude to White young men who appear in a suit and with short hair that they would never give to young men of other ethnicities. It is also possible that judges do not understand the context of these cases before them.

The changes to Victorian laws to prevent the use of key Nazi symbols are a first step to address the threat of Neo Nazis to our community. Laws in place already address their violence and hate-speech.

These don’t work, however, if judges do not grasp the threat that violent White Supremacists pose to the country. Police are not the solution to Nazis in our midst, but they are one suppressive strategy, and their rare arrests (and the DPP’s “high bar” before taking action) make little difference if those on the bench do not treat the perpetrators with sufficient seriousness.

That same leading Neo Nazi was saved a jail term in January this year after a brutal bashing of a Black Channel 9 security guard in 2021. The co-offender was let off with a fine earlier in October after distributing white ethnostate stickers. The fact he was charged with a summary offence meant his stickers even had to be returned to him. (Herald Sun 18/10) Every such failure by our judges emboldens these violent bigots, enabling them to recruit disaffected youth with the knowledge that society winks at their crimes.

In the wake of the attack on the US Capitol on the 6th of January 2021, the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Three Percenters and similar White Supremacist militias have been put under pressure by arrests, court cases and sentences of up to 22 years. They had been emboldened by President Trump’s command to “Stand back and stand by.” In 2023, the system that had begun to act after the horror of the Charlottesville White Supremacist rally is finally having an impact.

While these sentences have not solved the problem of America’s violent, hate-filled militia, they have damaged them and their ability to recruit.

It has taken violent acts emerging out of – apparently – nowhere to trigger this stronger action in America, where free speech and weapon possession are sacrosanct no matter the risk to fellow citizens. Antifascist researchers and domestic terrorism experts had long known what was brewing, but their voices were kept out of the discussion and the government system by Republicans who characterised focus on these bigoted groups as an attack on American conservatives.

In Australia, we are in that moment where Neo Nazi action seems to occur out of nowhere: there was shock to see the salute executed on Victoria’s Parliament steps in March in support of an anti-LGBTQIA+ gathering, for example. If we are coherent in our responses now, we have a better chance of preventing them from recruiting and terrorising minority communities in the destructive ways seen in America.

It is important for judges to understand the context. Neo Nazi groups are an international phenomenon communicating on social media but more often on apps like Telegram where their communications are hidden from the mainstream. Together they are working for the elimination of Jewish people from our societies, exiled to Israel. They are working for all non-White and non-Christian people to be excluded from our nation, whether by bloodshed or deportation. They are working for all feminists and LGBTQIA+ people to be beaten or killed. The goal is the breakdown of society, known as accelerationism. This is to be followed by a reconstruction of the perfect White patriarchy.

These goals abut the extremist Christian movements in mainstream “conservative” politics. They are an escalation of the Orbanism that some Liberal Party grandees and operatives have been networking into the Australian debate. Nazis integrated with the “freedom” movement that opposed health measures over the pandemic’s worst. Victorian Liberal Party figures appeared in Victoria with such protests where gallows were erected, intended for Premier Dan Andrews. News Corp and the Coalition government encouraged their protests for political aims.

The Coalition’s decision to fight the Voice to Parliament referendum shows they are determined to stoke culture war passions rather than devising electable policy platforms. Combined with the fear and challenges that the climate catastrophe is already causing, the scope for expanding radicalisation exists.

The failure of the system to recognise the real threat posed by such figures and groups, in five or twenty years, leaves antifascist groups in the community working to impose a price for Neo Nazi activity.

The White Rose Society surveils, publicises and coordinates reports to the police when necessary. It was White Rose that led the police to the Melbourne Neo Nazis responsible for the grotesque threats to Senator Lydia Thorpe. Andy Fleming, Tom Tanuki and AltMediaWatch amongst others report and explain domestic Nazi activities. These include reports on White Supremacists in Australia’s armed forces.

Local anti-fascist groups place posters around Neo Nazi individuals’ suburbs alerting their neighbourhood to their appearance and the threat posed. They spend hours monitoring Telegram channels for trouble and patterns.

Other groups decide to lift the cost to such figures by pursuing vigilante action – bashing them – when the Neo Nazis emerge for public activity. If civil society doesn’t want the street violence of small groups acting to intimidate Nazis from our streets, we need to remove the necessity.

White supremacist groups have a tradition of falling apart in hilariously bathetic internecine tantrums. When that doesn’t happen, however, the risk to community can elevate, particularly in chaotic times.

Once these groups are large and strong, they are very difficult to end. The time to act is while they are small and weak.

We need our judges educated to see their role in protecting society from violent bigots whose goal is to break everything we value.

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