Galea’s conviction is welcome but not enough

December 6, 2019
Socialist Alliance councillor in Moreland City Sue Bolton, centre, at a campaign launch in 2016.

Far-right extremist Phillip Galea was convicted on December 5 of carrying out acts in preparation for, or planning, a terrorist act, as well as attempting to make a document to facilitate a terrorist act.

I met Galea in late September 2015, when he walked into the Resistance Bookshop in Melbourne. Back then I did not know who he was, but I did think his behaviour was very odd: he wasn’t interested in left-wing ideas, only whether we stocked The Anarchist Cookbook and a book on the military tactics of the Irish Republican Army.

Later, I learned he had filmed the whole interaction from underneath his overcoat and drawn up a floor plan of the Resistance Centre and Bookshop.

Galea’s targets between August 2015 and 2016 were the Resistance Centre, Victorian Trades Hall, the Melbourne Anarchist Club and the Muslim community. He had maps and photos of the locations and was preparing a “Patriot’s Cookbook”, ostensibly to inspire others to commit violent acts against Muslims and leftists.

Galea’s trial lasted for seven weeks. We learned that he was involved in Reclaim Australia and the United Patriots Front, although the UPF distanced itself from him after he was arrested.

Galea was initially arrested on November 19, 2015, after police discovered five tasers and 362.1 grams of mercury at his Braybrook home.

Galea had expressed his intention to take weapons to an anti-immigration/anti-Muslim protest on November 22, organised by Reclaim Australia, in Melton, an outer suburb of Melbourne.

He intended to use the weapons against anti-racism activists who were planning a counter-protest against the fascists. His Facebook page was full of hatred for Muslims.

In the lead-up to the Melton rally, Victoria Police announced they had discovered that an armed person intended to join the protest. In a blatant attempt to impugn anti-racist activists, the police did not confirm whether the person under suspicion supported the fascists or the anti-racists. This is despite knowing that Galea was connected to the far-right.

Galea was arrested on new charges in August 2016, and has been in custody since then.

Anti-racist activist Zane Alcorn commented on the mainstream media’s downplaying of Galea’s crimes, asking on social media on December 5: “After nearly two decades of anti-terror hysteria, does the media coverage of Galea’s case reflect the fact that, after all the fear mongering, it was in fact a neo Nazi, not a Muslim, who had the most advanced preparations for an actual bombing?”

Since the war on terror, the media coverage given to arrests of Muslim people in high profile “anti-terror raids” has been extensive, Alcorn said. But their “crimes” have been possessing batteries, plastic swords, meat grinders and sim cards.

“As far as I’m aware, none of these raids caught people in possession of precursor chemicals that could be used to make explosives”, Alcorn continued.

“The 362.1 grams of mercury that Phil Galea possessed was qualitatively and quantitatively far closer to being able to produce an actual bomb than any Muslim terror suspect in this country has ever been.

“Properly prepared and detonated, 362.1 grams of fulminated mercury could completely destroy the Resistance Centre or the old Melbourne Anarchist Club building, or could wipe out a big chunk of Trades Hall.

“It could destroy a mosque full of worshippers … This guy could have killed large numbers … if his plans had come to fruition.”

The December 6 Herald Sun ran a small piece on Galea’s conviction, without a photo and on page 11 — a far cry from its standard front page treatment with screaming headlines and photos of “Muslim terrorists”.

The political and media establishment do not have an interest in taking the far-right’s threat of violence against the left seriously. That’s because the whipped up Islamophobia against Muslim and some migrant communities serves as a convenient distraction from pressing problems: employment; housing affordability; and cut-backs to social services.

In Melbourne, the far-right escalated its targeting of left-wing activists and Muslims in 2015. After a counter-rally against an anti-Muslim protest by Reclaim Australia on April 4, 2015, the far-right website “Ban Islam Party” produced a Facebook page called “Left Watch”, which carried photos of the anti-racist rally participants. It said “these are the most active/violent LeftWing [sic] Terrorists who attacked Patriots on April 4th 2015 — if you recognise any be sure to let us know.”

On November 1, 2015, a group of United Patriots Front members, with leader Blair Cottrell, gained access to Community Radio station 3CR. They filmed inside the building without permission, and took a particular interest in the photos of 3CR volunteers. They then posted the video on their Facebook page. On the same day, they tried to get into the Melbourne Anarchist Club.

In May 2016, I and other organisers of a “Moreland City says No to Racism” rally stared down efforts by the far-right True Blue Crew to shut down our community event. The racists organised a counter-rally, and while they failed to disrupt ours, they did launch a campaign of threats directed at me, including on the Moreland Council Facebook page.

The state needs to take these threats of violence a lot more seriously. We can breathe a sigh of relief that one local fascist has been held to account, but there is a lot more that needs to be done.

Galea and other such extremists are influenced by those who have big platforms, peddling Islamophobic fear campaigns: some sit in parliament and some dominate the air waves and mainstream media outlets. Former and current prime ministers and MPs, including John Howard, Tony Abbot, Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton, also need to be brought to account because their vile racism helped create an environment in which it is becoming normalised.

[Sue Bolton is the Socialist Alliance councillor in Moreland City Council and a member of the SA national executive.]

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