Blair Cottrell

This is part two of a two-part series on Australia’s fringe-dwelling far right. Read part one here.

United Patriots Front (2015 — present)

The UPF are the hard-right group du jour thanks in part to Channel Seven’s recent portrayal of their current leader, Blair Cottrell, as a concerned citizen leading a neighborhood watch group in response to African gang crime. He is in fact a serial offender. He’s been convicted of arson, stalking, making threats to kill and breaching intervention orders and has served time. He has said Adolf Hitler’s picture should be hung in every classroom and Mein Kampf issued to every student. He has bragged of using  “violence and terror” to manipulate women and said Jews are “as small physically as they are degenerate in character… the white races are coming for you.”

The UPF splintered off from Reclaim Australia, a far-right anti-Islam group for being … uh, too left wing and not hard enough on Islam. UPF fought hard to gain notoriety over 2015, with a series of gimmicky, at times bizarrely vague, protests. These efforts were eventually rewarded when Cottrell, Neil Erikson and Chris Shortis beheaded a dummy outside a mosque in Bendigo. Cottrell took over leadership of the UPF from Shermon Burgess shortly after this, after Burgess — lion of the patriotic movement that he is — quit because people on the internet were being mean to him.

The UPF has formed a political party — Fortitude Australia — but failed to register for the 2016 federal election. Under Cottrell, the UPF stunts continued. They have unfurled “stop the mosques” banners at various sporting events, and disrupted Yarra City Council meetings over its decision to move citizenship ceremonies from January 26. Cottrell, Erikson and Shortis were charged with “serious racial vilification” over the beheading stunt, and fined $2000 each. 

How scared should we be? The UPF is one of the more difficult groups to measure in terms of actual threat. The combination of adolescent stunts and tough guy rhetoric screams of a desperation for attention and notoriety that one should be wary of providing — indeed it’s hard to overstate the intellectual pull of an anti-Islam group whose leadership can’t tell the bible from the Koran. However, there is the unmistakable stench of violence and intimidation wafting about their stunts — as well the online activity of their followers — whether it’s the mock beheading or Erikson and his friends sneeringly surrounding Sam Dastyari* and calling him a terrorist. Weapons have been seized belonging to UPF members on their way to rallies, and the UPF leadership have done nothing to denounce violence as a tactic.

Australian Nationalist Movement (1984 — 2007)

Led by Jack van Tongeren, the ANM operated as an anti-Asian terrorist network in Western Australia. Himself half-Indonesian, van Tongeren reportedly suffered a great deal of racism in his early years before serving in the Vietnam War. He returned “abnormal”, according to his father, now believing in a vast dual Asian-Jewish criminal network operating in Australia.

Along with a tight group of extremists, van Tongeren began an arson and graffiti campaign against Chinese restaurants in Western Australia, which he believed were fronts for an opium ring. He tried to leverage the growing notoriety into a Senate campaign, which he would fund through robberies and sales of his book, The ANM Story.

Van Tongeren was eventually sentenced to two years’ jail in 2007 for his part in the conspiracy to firebomb a number of Chinese restaurants. He was the final member of his “movement” to be convicted for the plot — the end of the ANM was commemorated in these pages as the lancing of a “particularly putrid boil on the pockmarked arse of Australian politics”. 

How scared should we be? Thankfully, the ANM seems to be completely defunct.

Rise Up Australia Party (2010 — present)

Formed and led by Sri Lankan-born pastor Daniel Nalliah, president of evangelical Christian group Catch the Fire ministries, who previously ran in the Senate for Family First. RUAP central policy plank is fighting the perceived creep of sharia law in Australian society as well as opposing multiculturalism and closing Australian borders to “illegal asylum seekers” (among the many claims Nalliah makes for himself is that he successfully lobbied Tony Abbott to change the name of the Department for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection), and a profound disbelief in climate change.

The party has a strong evangelical Christian bent, with its founding document describing its commitment “to maintain and promote our Christian heritage, culture and institutions as the foundations of a free, socially cohesive and democratic Australia — Keep Australia Australian.” The evangelical Christian angle may help explain the broad ethnic diversity of the group; a diversity John Safran wryly notes in Depends What You Mean By Extremist that liberal Melbourne institutions would kill for.

Nalliah has expressed a belief in homosexual conversion theories and RUAP has managed the rare feat receiving a short ban on Facebook for hate speech.

How scared should we be? The group tries the common religious intolerance of claiming to love the sinner and hate the sin. The Christianity at RUAP’s heart means they never explicitly call for violence, but Nalliah has aligned himself with UPF leader Blair Cottrell, and it’s hard to judge the impact their conspiratorial take on Islam, or “love it or leave” rhetoric will end up having.

*This was done under the imprimatur of Patriot Blue, because the far right has more name and line-up changes than Spinal Tap.

Peter Fray

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