The twelve-year jail sentence imposed upon right-wing terrorist Phillip Galea brings to a close a dramatic chapter in the recent history of the extreme right in Australia.
Convicted in December 2019 of undertaking ‘acts in preparation for, or planning, a terrorist act’ and ‘attempting to make a document likely to facilitate a terrorist act,’ Galea had elected to target ‘lefties’ rather than Muslims in his abortive campaign, seemingly on the understanding that anarchists, socialists and trade unionists are opposed to his vision of a society cleansed of racial and religious ‘undesirables’. Galea’s membership in and support for a broad range of right-wing groupuscules, from ‘Reclaim Australia’ to ‘Right Wing Resistance’, also draws attention to the variegated, principally online milieu from which Galea emerged, and the fact that this incipient social movement carries on, albeit under various forms of legal and political pressure.
In sentencing Galea, Justice Hollingworth noted that:
Although you regard yourself as a patriot who holds mainstream views, it is clear that the jury found otherwise. The jury must have accepted that your particular cause was to reduce the influence of people or groups associated, or perceived to be associated, with left-wing ideology, and/or Muslims. It is not surprising that they did so, given the views you expressed (in numerous documents, and in many hours of intercepted telephone conversations), and the types of organisations to which you belonged (such as Reclaim Australia, and The True Blue Crew).
With very few exceptions – a petition and prison letters from Galea were published online by the Queensland activist Mike Holt – the arrest, trial and now conviction have elicited little in the way of solidarity from Galea’s ostensible comrades. This is not just because he embarked upon a course of action few are prepared to publicly endorse (though it should be noted that comments on media reportage include those which reaffirm the essential righteousness of his cause). Rather, his abandonment reflects the decline of extreme- and far-right groups and organising projects, including those, such as Reclaim Australia and The True Blue Crew (TBC), referred to by Justice Hollingworth.
Only a handful of Facebook pages continue to carry on the crusade against Islam that was launched in early 2015 under the umbrella of ‘Reclaim’, and the removal of the popular United Patriots Front (UPF) page in mid-2017, along with that of the TBC, the Soldiers of Odin and propaganda outlets such as XYZ, have seriously, if perhaps only temporarily, disrupted extreme-right propaganda and recruitment. Excluded from Facebook and Twitter, many have been forced to adopt the alternative micro-blogging platforms that have emerged to cater for racist and reactionary opinion.
Galea was convicted of planning his attacks between August 2015 and August 2016 and of producing a document he titled ‘The Patriot’s Cookbook’, loosely-modelled upon William Powell’s notorious 1971 tract ‘The Anarchist Cookbook’. While anarchists have long derided Powell’s book as dangerous and politically-confused (with one North American group publishing Recipes for Disaster as an alternative source for budding revolutionary chefs), Galea’s adaption did at least provide Hollingworth an opportunity to quip that ‘given that you abhor the anarchist movement, believing them to be supporters of the left-wing and Muslims, it is somewhat ironic that you intended to use so much of their intellectual property.’
The jailing of Galea was preceded by that of Brenton Tarrant, whose atrocity appalled many but also earned him the status of blessed saint among some on the extreme-right, alongside other killers such as Dylann Roof, James Alex Fields Jr, Robert Gregory Bowers and – most recently – Kyle Rittenhouse.
The adoption of deadly violence by the extreme right, and the abandonment of legal, public political activity – perhaps most ably represented by the failed attempt to infiltrate the Young Nationals in New South Wales in 2018 and by Fraser Anning’s short-lived Conservative National Party of 2019 – has also been reflected in the emergence of various neo-Nazi groupuscules in the same period. The now-defunct website Iron March generated a number of these projects, including National Action in the UK, Atomwaffen in North America and Antipodean Resistance in Australia. They were soon after joined by networks such as ‘The Base’, the brainchild of former military contractor Rinaldo Nazzaro. A transnational organising project, The Base extended its reach to Australia, recruiting a number of individuals associated with The Lads Society and a candidate for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party in WA.
The Lads Society (TLS) could be considered the logical culmination of the organising and propaganda efforts of Reclaim Australia and the UPF, emerging as it did from the collapse of the former. In turn, The Lads have launched the ‘National Socialist Network’ (NSN), incorporating the remnants of Antipodean Resistance and operating in much the same fashion: training for the eagerly-anticipated future race war, on the one hand, and targeting campuses, synagogues, ‘left’ and multi-cultural institutions with neo-Nazi messaging in a desperate quest for publicity on the other.
At the same time, social centres operated by The Lads in Melbourne and Sydney flourished briefly before being closed. In keeping with their broader ideology, however, the group remains dedicated to carving out whites-only social spaces in the suburbs. In this sense, TLS/NSN has been forced (or has simply elected) to reveal its ‘power level’, and any pretence at engagement with the ‘ordinary mums and dads’ of Reclaim’s mythology has been abandoned.
One of the key linkages in this chain between the mainstream and the fringe are alternative blogs such as Tim Wilms’ ‘The Unshackled’ (TU) and David Hiscox’s XYZ. While both enjoy relatively small audiences, TU has been more able to position itself as a ‘legitimate’ source of news and commentary, featuring not only the talents of neo-Nazis such as the former UPF fuehrer Blair Cottrell, but also Coalition MPs such as George Christensen and Craig Kelly, along with the usual assortment of conspiracy theorists and racist cranks.
XYZ has been removed from Facebook following a rather misguided attempt to target television personality Waleed Aly, though its antisemitic and misogynist rants continue to find a home on Gab, Twitter, YouTube and other platforms. Earlier in November, however, Hilary Sargent took note of the fact that someone in ‘Crying Nazi’ Christopher ‘Cantwell’s Radical Agenda Telegram group claims he got arrested and police seized the signed copy of Mein Kampf that Cantwell gave him.’ This would appear to be a reference to Ryan Fletcher, a frequent contributor to XYZ and one whose Gab account frequently calls for the death of Jews. Fletcher is also the author of an essay titled ‘From HEMP to Hitler’, which provides an account of his progress from an advocate for cannabis law reform to a fully-fledged neo-Nazi activist, and for which the Crying Nazi – currently awaiting sentence for ‘an incident in which he threatened to rape a rival white-supremacist’s wife’ – kindly provided an audio version.
While it’s very unlikely that Fletcher will ever be given a gig on Murdoch’s Sky News, the broadcaster is currently engaged in rehabilitating the public image of recent migrant and long-time racist propagandist Lauren Southern. Aside from working with activists belonging to Generation Identity in Europe (a group to which Brenton Tarrant made donations) in order to sabotage the rescue of asylum seekers stranded in the Mediterranean, Southern’s main claim-to-fame has been to help popularise ‘The Great Replacement’ thesis. French writer Renaud Camus’ Big Idea that white societies are being destroyed via mass, non-white immigration has become a popular extremist talking-point, and was a key motivation for the Christchurch terrorist, who titled his political manifesto after it. Apart from underscoring the political agenda of Sky News and, perhaps, confirming Australia’s status as, in Richard Cooke’s terminology, ‘a welcome mat for right-wing trolls’, Southern’s incorporation into Sky News demonstrates the highly-porous nature of the boundary between ‘fringe’ and ‘mainstream’ in much (far) right-wing commentary, media and politics. The indeterminate and contingent nature of this rather ineffectual border, along with the distinction between ‘liberal’ and ‘illiberal’ racism and its effects upon democratic practice and institutions, has recently been examined by Aurelien Mondon and Aaron Winter in Reactionary Democracy: How Racism and the Populist Far Right Became Mainstream (Verso, 2020).
As for Galea, his recent alleged embrace of Christianity and nonviolence may be a healthier response to his incarceration than might otherwise be expected, but the rampant paranoia and resentment that fuelled his actions remains widespread among his ilk on the outside. The constant platforming of racist and xenophobic propagandists, both on the fringe and in the mainstream, will only reinforce these reactionary tendencies. As such, and if US politics is anything to go by, it seems likely that there will be more Galeas in future.