PHOTO STORY: Counter-rallies challenge 'Reclaim Australia'

April 4, 2015

Adelaide. Photo: Welcome to Australia via Facebook.

About 2000 people joined a rally against racism in Federation Square on April 4.

The Melbourne rally was the largest counter-mobilisation against the racist, “Reclaim Australia” protests organised across Australia. The Melbourne “Reclaim Australia” event was attended by about 500 people.

The “Reclaim Australia” protests were organised by groups associated with the neo-Nazi and Christian fundamentalist far-right. A prominent spokesperson for them was Shermon Burgess, who has taken to calling himself “The Great Aussie Patriot” and is either a member or ex-member of the Australian Defence League, the Australian offshoot of English Defence Group, an outfit known for its criminality and racist violence.

Burgess is on the public record supporting killing asylum seekers and Muslims and describing Aboriginal people as “just dickheads … on metho, passed out, bludging cigarettes, and still blaming the modern generation for what happened 200 years ago”. However, New Matilda reported on April 4 that on becoming the public face of “Reclaim Australia”, Burgess made a clumsy pretense of having changed his views on Aboriginal people.

“Reclaim Australia” has claimed to support Indigenous rights. First Nations activists however, are not fooled. The Blackfulla Revolution Facebook page said: “We stand strongly opposed to 'Reclaim Australia', just another brand of the kind of racism this country was founded on through dispossession and genocide of First Nations. Every racist who posts to this page seems to support 'Reclaim Australia' and there's nothing coincidental about it.

“Muslim brothers and sisters have shown great solidarity in recent weeks and we stand with you in rejecting all forms of oppression and bigotry. Full support to all opposing the hate brigade.”

Indigenous activists were prominent in the counter-mobilisations against Reclaim Australia. Burgess's efforts to disguise his anti-Aboriginal racism are in line with the “Reclaim Australia” organisers strategy of denying their racism and framing their rallies in terms of opposition to “Islamic extremism”. This has been enabled by the increasing scaremongering around a much exaggerated threat of terrorism and scapegoating of Muslims and asylum seekers by mainstream political parties and media -- tactics used to divert attention from unpopular government policies and justify anti-democratic laws.

Their demands include stopping Sharia law being enforced in Australia, banning Halal certification, introducing “pride” in the Australian flag and the national anthem at schools, and to ban the burqa (or equivalent). All of these demands, absurd or extremist as they are, can be regularly heard in federal parliament and the opinion pages of the Murdoch press.

Despite claims that “Reclaim Australia” was not a racist or neo-Nazi event, several participants had visible SS and swastika tattoos.

The Melbourne counter-rally built on the success of the previous week's 15,000-strong rally for refugees, which the media largely ignored. In contrast, the media heavily reported “Reclaim Australia”.

Not only did the the media take the claims by “Reclaim Australia” organisersthat they were not racist at face value, media reports suggested the racists' professed concern about the threat of Sharia law being implemented was based on a genuine possibility.

The irony of quoting Catch the Fire Ministries' Danny Nalliah -- the same Danny Naliah who infamously attributed the 2008 Black Saturday bushfires to God's vengeance for the relaxation of Victoria's abortion laws -- as a spokesperson for a rally against “religious extremism” escaped the mainstream press.

The counter-protesters in Melbourne held Federation Square, despite violently being attacked by neo-Nazis at the “Reclaim Australia” event. At least one neo-Nazi attacked protesters with a knife. Victoria Police protected the racists. At least two people at Melbourne's rally against racism were also knocked unconscious by by mounted police. Horses were used repeatedly against the anti-racists.

In Sydney, heavy rain reduced numbers and police kept the racists and anti-racists separate. NSW Police had previously denied the anti-racists permission to rally in Martin Place, despite granted the racist rally permission. Police threatened legal action against counter-mobilisation organisers if they advertised their rally in Martin Place.

About 150 anti-racist protesters listened to speakers including Refugee Action Coalition and NTEU member Nick Riemer, Paul Keating from the Maritime Union of Australia, Kuranda Syiet from Forum on Australia’s Islamic Relations and rally initiator Camilo Zannoni. They then marched towards Martin Place, but were blocked by riot police.

In Canberra, there were about 30 racists and 30 anti-racists. Numbers at the anti-racism rally were low as “Reclaim Australia” pretended to cancel the event in the week before.

In Hobart, 100 anti-racists racism surrounded the 40-strong “Reclaim Australia” events.

Anti-racists also confronted “Reclaim Australia” events in Brisbane, where veteran racist Pauline Hanson was drowned out by anti-racist chants. In Adelaide, Perth, and Newcastle, police tried to bully anti-racists into not having a counter protest.

Photos by Ali Bakhtiarvandi:

Photos by Alex Bainbridge:

Photos by Peter Boyle:

Photo by Tony Iltis:

Photos by Julia Hocken:

Photos by Zebedee Parkes:

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"This is not a supremacist rally, it will simply be Patriotic Australians of all nationalities & beliefs standing united against radical extremism!" says "Reclaim Australia" website. Below, a "Reclaim Australia" supporter.

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