Australian far-right extremists
Neil Erikson and Blair Cottrell on St Kilda foreshore at the January 5 rally. (Image: AAP/David Crosling)

Early last year, Crikey began a series of pocket guides to the far-right in Australia. Unfortunately recent events including a January 5 rally in St Kilda — where more than 150 people, including some who performed Nazi salutes and carried SS helmets, expressed racist rhetoric against Africans — have rendered the series depressingly out of date.

Now, with the help of some of Australia’s preeminent fascist-watchers, we have honed in on groups affiliated with the rally in St Kilda to find out who they are, where they’ve come from and where they might be going. 

Squadron 88

The now defunct Squadron 88’s biggest claim to fame was a 2014 series of leaflet campaigns, spreading racist propaganda through the mailboxes of Sydney. The small “white pride” group targeted “non-white migrants” and Jews. It was chiefly organised by Mark McDonald, who is now the co-organiser of the Sydney branch of the Lads Society (see below) with Alex Annenkov. McDonald and another former member, Ross “the Skull” May, were for a time allied with perpetual far-right candidate and convicted criminal Jim Saleam but have since fallen out. 

How worried should we be? While the group is defunct, the influence of its members continues to echo through Australia’s hard-right groups.

Lads Society

Headed by previous United Patriot Front member Tom Sewell and former president of Firearm Owners United James Buckle, Lads Society has been hired to provide security for Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern during their July tour and were unofficial security for the organisers of the anti-choice “March for Babies”

Starting as a men’s only fight club, the groups describes itself as a nationalist and fraternal society. It runs gyms and bars, and it offers “community building” for white men. Spokesmen for the group have said, in various alt-media outlets, that they plan to form a parallel society.

“Sewell and other prominent members have talked about taking over a suburb and forming a white enthno-suburb,” University of Tasmania lecturer Kaz Ross, who researches online hate speech, told Crikey.

A researcher from anti-fascist group The White Rose Society tells Crikey that Lads Society aimed to create employment networks, particularly through their links in the security industry. “It’s a community building thing, but it also protects their members from the threat of doxxing,” they said. 

They claim over 300 members, some of whom they share with Antipodean Resistance. Former United Patriots Front and Squadron 88 members are closely involved in Lads Society, including former leader and bulging fascist Blair Cottrell. 

How worried should we be? In October of last year, 22 members of the Young Nationals were forced to quit when their hard-right nationalist affiliations where revealed. Many of these were or are leading members of Lads Society such as Tom Brasher, Clifford Jennings and Oscar Tuckfield. 

Members of Lads Society are frequently confident, well spoken and articulate in interviews. And, while attempts to stack the Young Nationals were largely foiled, the White Rose Society researcher said it wouldn’t be surprising if Lads Society had infiltrated political parties.

Proud Boys

Formed in 2016 by Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes, the Proud Boys describe themselves as “proud western chauvinists who refuse to apologise for the creation of the modern world”.

They believe western culture in general and white men in particular are under siege from political correctness, Islam and feminism. As such, the group’s rhetoric touches on men’s rights activism, libertarianism, the “white genocide” conspiracy theory and the twin hard-right sugar highs of anti-Islam and antisemitism. 

To join, one must go through a four-part process — first, pledging loyalty; second, reciting breakfast cereal names while getting punched (I promise we’re not making this up); third, getting a tattoo and agreeing to not masturbate. All of this would be very funny, if not for step four. Per the Southern Poverty Law Centre

… in early 2017, the Proud Boys added another degree to their membership hierarchy: in order to enter the fourth degree, a member needs to ‘get involved in a major fight for the cause’.

They have been involved in violent brawls across North America, they wear slogan T-shirts glorifying violence against leftists (“Pinochet did nothing wrong”) and McInnes has been been quoted advocating for violence several times. In 2017, they formed a “paramilitary wing” called the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights (FOAK). 

How worried should we be? “To the best of my knowledge, they do operate in multiple cities, on some level, including Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth,” Australia’s most assiduous fascist cataloguer, Andy Fleming, told Crikey.

McInnes was planning to visit Australia late last year, and the group’s numbers were expected to grow. However, after a protracted campaign, his visa was finally cancelled.

“If he’d been allowed to tour, that would have been very dangerous — it would have emboldened some of the nastier elements in the group, as well as being a huge recruitment drive, so that was a relief,” the researcher for The White Rose Society told Crikey. “But I think the real thing that’s killed their momentum has been the deplatforming on Facebook.” 

Following violence in New York, Facebook purged the majority of Proud Boy pages, including Proud Boys Australia. Further, the Proud Boys Australia website is now more or less blank.

According to Fleming, there was a handful of members at the St Kilda protest. Kaz Ross told Crikey the small size of the contingent could be significant.

“I expected to see a lot more there,” she said. “The fourth degree is getting into a biff with a leftie, and there were a lot of lefties there to get into a biff with.” However, Crikey understands the various groups continue to operate and meet regularly. 

Peter Fray

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