An image of Ben Roberts-Smith with crusader patch showing, and a piece of art commemorating Australian World War I soldiers (Images: Australian War Memorial; ADF)
An image of Ben Roberts-Smith with crusader patch showing, and a piece of art commemorating Australian World War I soldiers (Images: Australian War Memorial; ADF)

For an alleged war criminal fighting to clear his reputation in the Federal Court, we certainly keep hearing a lot of very unsavoury things about former special forces officer Ben Roberts-Smith. The latest detail, reported in the Nine papers, was that Roberts-Smith wore a patch with crusader insignia while fighting in Afghanistan. The Department of Defence later doctored the image to remove the patch before sending it to the Australian War Memorial.

Defence won't respond to questions about why the image was edited, instead telling Crikey it "does not condone or permit the use, display or adoption of symbols, emblems and iconography that are at odds with Defence values".

But any embarrassment Defence might have about the image makes sense. Crusader crosses and other medieval iconography have a long history in far-right circles. White supremacists fetishise the Middle Ages, and see the crusades as a glorious race war. For Australian soldiers to wear them while deployed in a Muslim country sends a startling message.