This morning’s Australianreports that Eric Butler, founder and former head of the Australian League of Rights,
has died in Melbourne at the age of 90. No cause of death is given, but
he had apparently been ill for some time; in 2000 a League spokesman
was quoted saying “I don’t think Eric is long for this world, he really is far too ill to take any active part in the organisation.”

he had largely faded from public view, Butler was an almost mythical
figure for a previous generation in Australian politics. But while the
League of Rights has been described as “the most influential extremist right wing movement in Australia”, its influence is hard to pinpoint.

the sometimes byzantine world of the extreme right, the League has been
distinctive not for its influence but for its extremism, and especially
its explicit anti-Semitism: it is the one organisation from which even other
extremist groups, such as the National Civic Council and Pauline
Hanson’s One Nation, felt obliged to dissociate themselves.

the associations continued under the surface. The National Party seems
to have been particularly compromised, with senior Nationals expressing
sympathy for the League as late as the 1980s. But it was not alone;
then Liberal leader Alexander Downer was embarrassed in 1994 by
revelations that he had spoken at a League of Rights seminar in 1987.
And former Labor MP for Kalgoorlie Graeme Campbell was widely reported
to have close links to the League. Even Butler’s paranoia about the
Jews resonated elsewhere; the NCC’s repeated outbursts against the
international financial conspiracy cannot be understood without
appreciating their anti-Semitic subtext.

In more recent years,
the League’s position on the lunatic fringe has been partly usurped by
the followers of American fraudster Lyndon LaRouche, the Citizens Electoral Council.
Butler’s view that the Nazi Party was serving the interests of
international Jewry have their loopy counterpart in the LaRouchite
claim that the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh are masterminds of the
international drug trade.

Let’s hope some of Butler’s ideas can be interred with him.

Peter Fray

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