On 5 January, around 150 fascists and far-right sympathisers gathered in an anti-African migrant rally in St Kilda. The event was organised by well-known extremists Neil Erikson and Blair Cottrell and was also attended by Senator for Queensland Fraser Anning. Much of the discourse on social media about the event addressed the language that was used publicly to describe those involved in the rally. The ABC was criticised for using the term ‘far-right activist’ in the lead up to the event, with others suggesting that ‘extremist’ was a more suitable term. There has since been debate over whether those who attended should be described as ‘Nazis’.
Cottrell himself has praised Hitler, and the crowd included several self-identifying neo-Nazis. There were Nazi salutes made on the day, and Nazi/SS regalia was brandished by some in the crowd. Those who have baulked at the use of the term ‘Nazi’ have opted for phrasing the actions as ‘Nazi-style salutes’. Some have argued that calling these people ‘Nazis’ attributes a certain ideological and organisational framework that was not apparent at the rally.
In fact, the terminology that should be used to describe the far right in Australia has been hotly debated by both anti-fascist/anti-racist activists and scholars throughout the entire post-1945 period – Nazis, neo-Nazis, fascists, neo-fascists, far right populists, white supremacists, the extreme/radical right. Words and context matter. In the English-speaking world, the terms ‘fascist’ and ‘far right’ (often used together) have become widely adopted since the 1980s, as they recognise that to many people, the term ‘Nazi’ gives the impression of someone transplanted from 1930s Germany.
The term Nazi, however, has been used in both Australia and internationally for purposes of political mobilisation. For example, in Britain, the Anti-Nazi League was established in 1977 to fight the National Front, and it deliberately used the term ‘Nazi’ to push its message to the general public. Tony Cliff, writing in A World to Win: The Life of a Revolutionary, described the thinking behind this name:
‘Anti-Racist’ – too soft! ‘Anti-fascist’ – not tough enough! ‘Anti-Nazi’ – yes! After all, Hitler went much further in his bestiality than Mussolini.
For the most part, the term ‘fascist’ has been used because it more broadly characterises a number of different groups and movements. Neo-Nazi has also been a preferred term, but it does conjure in many people’s minds the image of the racist skinhead popularised in the 1980s and 1990s.
A number of media outlets refused to call those who gathered at St Kilda ‘Nazis’, even though there were several self-identified Nazi sympathisers actively involved in the day, likely because they did not seem to be explicit National Socialists espousing explicit National Socialist ideology (they just happened to performing Nazi salutes and displaying the symbols of Nazism).
But it should be remembered that explicit Hitler-worshipping National Socialists have only made up part of the Australian far right in its long history. In the 1930s and 1940s, there were fascist groups, such as the New Guard, the Centre Party and the Australia First Party, as well as the Australian Union of Fascists and National Socialists (based explicitly on Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, which was very short-lived).
In the mid-1960s, the Australian National Socialist Party (ANSP) formed – an overtly Nazi group that used references to Hitler and Nazi Germany in their publications, and their members dressed in Nazi uniforms in public. A more ‘moderate’ group broke away to form the National Socialist Party of Australia (NSPA) shortly after, but after a further split, a number of ANSP members merged with the NSPA. David Harcourt’s book, Everyone Wants to be Fuehrer, covers this period of the Australian far right in detail, and shows that the schisms in the far right at the time were just as much about personality clashes as they were about ideology.
The NSPA’s publications were rife with celebrations of Hitler and the Nazis throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s. The NSPA joined the World Union of National Socialists, which had been formed by the American Nazi Party leader George Lincoln Rockwell and by Colin Jordan, of Britain’s National Socialist Movement. The American and British groups had a strong influence on the NSPA, as much as it revered the original National Socialist movement in Germany. But the NSPA also attempted to incorporate Australia’s historical myths into their narratives. The Eureka Stockade, Henry Lawson and Australia’s war with Japan in World War II were all used to localise the Nazism of the NSPA. This use of Australia’s past by the far right is a recurrent feature of Australian Nazism.
Since the demise of the NSPA in the mid-1970s, the Australian far right in most of its guises has attempted to eschew the explicit Nazi imagery and portray themselves as radical nationalists, patriots, or the extreme right. As David Greason wrote in his book, I Was a Teenage Fascist, the outlook of the Australian far right by the late 1970s was that:
wearing a swastika armband and raving about Hitler was the kiss of death. National Socialism was dead: it had died in a Berlin bunker in 1945, and there was no point in trying to resurrect it; not that those who paraded around in uniform had any relationship to real politics. Yes, we had to be nationalists, and yes, we needed an understanding of the role of Zionism in undermining White Christian culture, but Hitler-worshipping was silly.
The National Front of Australia (NFA) formed in 1978. This group consciously tried to distance itself from its Nazi origins, even though former NSPA members joined the group. Like its sister organisation in Britain, the NFA emphasised its anti-immigrationism, the celebration of British imperialism and its support for the white-settler colonies in southern Africa, rather than anti-Semitism. It was an Anglophile organisation, with links to similar groups in Britain, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and Rhodesia, while celebrating Australia’s violent settler colonial history. After the British NF split in the early 1980s, the NFA maintained links with John Tyndall’s British National Party until the mid-1980s.
The NFA’s rival organisation, the National Resistance (later National Alliance), disagreed with the Anglophilia of the NFA and emphasised itself as a resolutely Australian radical nationalist outfit – although former NSPA personnel were, once again, involved (primarily Jim Saleam). While promoting its distinct Australianess, it also took influences from the United States, but also from the Strasserite/Third Positionist groups in continental Europe.
The eventual successor organisation to the National Alliance (via the Progressive Nationalist Party) was National Action, probably the most well-known far right group of the 1980s-90s in Australia. Its anti-Asianism and support for apartheid (including attacking the representative of the ANC in Australia) revealed its violent and radical nationalism. National Action emphasised its Australianess in its publications, rejecting ‘American imperialism’, as well as Soviet/Chinese communism. Although it underplayed its Nazi sympathies it indulged in Holocaust denial. Jack van Tongeren’s breakaway group in Perth, the Australian Nationalist Movement, had similar politics, leading an arson campaign against Asian businesses in Western Australia.
Inspired by the Blood and Honour network and Combat 18 in Britain, the neo-Nazi skinhead music scene in Australia was, and remains, more overtly antisemitic than the political organisations, with heavy use of Nazi imagery and ideology.
The Australia First Party (AFP), currently run by Jim Saleam, campaigned heavily against Asian immigration in the 1990s and threw its support behind Pauline Hanson and One Nation in the late 1990s. Like other far-right groups around the world, the ‘War on Terror’ after 9/11 led to the AFP shifting towards an explicitly Islamophobic agenda, and the AFP has aligned itself with the Front National in France, the National Democratic Party in Germany, Golden Dawn in Greece and the Ku Klux Klan in the United States. But while many of the European parties have made overtures towards Israel due to its positioning as anti-Islam, the AFP has maintained an ‘anti-Zionist’ position.
While the AFP operates primarily as a political organisation (such as engaging in elections and publishing party material), loosely based groups, such as Reclaim Australia, the United Patriots Front, the True Blue Crew and the Lads Society, have, at different times, seized the political initiative and, inspired by similar movements in Europe (such as the English Defence League and Pegida), used political stunts and public rallies to publicise their message. These groups have been predominantly anti-Islamic since their inception, but as the recent St Kilda rally shows, the targets of their hate are nebulous and there has been a shift to campaigning against ‘African crime gangs’. At the same time, these groups have had a propensity to split due to personality and ideological clashes.
The alt-right in the United States has become more overtly antisemitic in recent years, culminating in the recent murders of a number of American Jews. This is filtering to the far right in Europe and Australia. As evidenced at the events in St Kilda, clear gestures of Nazism and Hitler fandom are being made by far right in Australia. Groups like Sydney’s Squadron 88 (88 = HH = Heil Hitler) also clearly demonstrate this.
Are those who attended the St Kilda rally Nazis? While there is no National Socialist Party currently in Australia, and other groups might not strictly adhere to the programme of the NSDAP, they share an ideological affinity with the inter-war fascist regimes and their post-war successors, albeit altered for temporal, political and geographical context.
We should not feel uncomfortable about calling them Nazis. Those with a sense of history should remind the commentariat that these groups do not have to be goose-stepping down Fitzroy Street to be considered Nazis. The far right in Australia have long attempted to dress themselves up as radical nationalists or patriots, rather than Nazis, but their message and their actions are just as dangerous.