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Politicians on both sides have called for Australia’s largest neo-Nazi group to be banned as a terrorist organisation after secret video and audio emerged of its violent inner workings and hopes to provoke a race war.
Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said on Monday that the National Socialist Network’s activities were disturbing and warned the threat posed by “extremist nationalist and racist individuals and groups is real and growing”.
Graffiti in suburban Melbourne painted by members of the National Socialist Network. Credit:
Liberal senator James Paterson, the chair of Federal Parliament’s security and intelligence committee, which is examining whether the government should make it easier to ban or proscribe extremist groups, said the government should consider banning the NSN, and Labor home affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally agreed, adding: “Australia is way behind its allies in recognising the terrorist threat posed by right-wing extremism.”
The tapes also reveal the group discussing how to infiltrate Australian politics by having candidates elected and lobbying conservative politicians to drive them to the far right. There is no indication the discussions had any success.
The calls to ban the group come after The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and 60 Minutes published on Sunday the first part of an eight-month investigation, including an undercover operation to infiltrate the NSN. It revealed the identities of the group’s senior members, their support for the Christchurch terrorist and terror suspects facing trial in NSW and South Australia.
Victoria Police’s Counter Terrorism Command sought the many hours of covertly recorded vision made by an infiltrator in the organisation, which captures senior neo-Nazis engaged in alleged criminal acts including destroying evidence to thwart police raids and criminal damage. Police have been provided with the footage. Police in NSW, South Australia, Queensland and the ACT, where the NSN has cells, had also been briefed, official sources said.
In a statement, Victoria Police said it took “any group that demonstrates support for violence seriously and where we see commentary cross into the potential for violent acts to be committed, police will act”.
Crown Resorts, which employs as a security manager a long-term NSN member caught on hidden camera denigrating Crown’s non-white staff, said it was “deeply concerned to hear the media allegations and unauthorised comments attributed to a Crown employee”. It launched an urgent investigation into the staff member, Daniel Todisco. Other companies also stood down employees identified as neo-Nazis, and the NSN is being evicted from its rented suburban Melbourne headquarters.
The secretly recorded tapes revealed one discussion in April, in which the group’s leadership cell talked about using family connections in the Liberal Party to lobby Senator Paterson.
“My dad’s friends are going to try and organise a meeting with him soon,” said the group’s leader, Tom Sewell. “Watch this space … Paterson becomes the poster child of conservatism and pushing all these pretty moderately tough subjects that nobody else will touch.”
Mr Sewell was remanded over an alleged armed robbery incident in May before attempting to organise the planned meeting with Senator Paterson. He has denied the charge and the matter remains before the courts.
Senator Paterson said he had “nothing but contempt” for the NSN and that anyone who shared the group’s views “was not welcome in the Liberal Party or anywhere else in mainstream politics”. He stressed the NSN had not sought a meeting with him. It is also not suggested that Mr Sewell’s father ever agreed to assist his son’s activity.
The undercover operation also captured the neo-Nazi network’s senior figures discussing how to propel into Parliament more politicians in the mould of right-wing former senator Fraser Anning.
“We are creating a space for these Fraser Anning types and another will pop up. It is never over,” Mr Sewell said in a private meeting in April.
“The Liberal Party has already worked out … in America they saw that, like, Donald Trump was ‘build the wall, deport the people,’ and he was winning elections. And even when he ‘lost’ the election, everyone knows that he either won it or it was pretty f—ing close. And so the Liberal Party is not going to deny that Australians aren’t as racist as Americans.”
Senator Paterson said the government should “closely examine whether the disturbing new evidence revealed in these media reports meets the legal threshold for listing the NSN as a terrorist organisation. If not, the Parliament will have to think very carefully about making it easier to outlaw and dismantle these dangerous groups.”
The deputy chair of the security committee, Labor’s Anthony Byrne, also called for an urgent review of “the evidence aired … to determine if the NSN meets the threshold to be proscribed”. Mr Byrne said new laws were needed if the existing regime fell short and the NSN could not be quickly banned.
Minister Andrews said she “eagerly awaited” the committee’s report.
The federal government is yet to proscribe a domestic far-right group, but has banned several Islamic extremist groups and a UK neo-Nazi organisation.
If the NSN is proscribed as a terror group, it is likely to immediately splinter. Mr Sewell and fellow NSN leader Jacob Hersant were recorded by the infiltrator instructing their followers to mimic neo-Nazis in Germany, who have resisted proscription by splintering.
“They divide things based on what activities are going on, whether it is a hooligan group, a music group, you know a bikie group,” Mr Sewell said.
In an exclusive interview, Australia’s counter-terror intelligence chief, Mike Burgess, said proscription was a useful tool but neo-Nazi groups “absolutely know how the laws work and they’re prepared”.
Extremist “Dave”, who organises weekly anti-lockdown protests and is circulating an app to allow people to bypass COVID-19 check-in scans.
“If they were listed, they’ll splinter and form other groups,” Mr Burgess said.
In his interview, he also revealed that half of ASIO’s most important domestic counter-terrorism cases now involve neo-Nazi cells and other ideologically motivated groups and that their recruiting was being fuelled and enabled by COVID-19 disinformation. He urged greater public awareness and understanding of the threat, labelling neo-Nazi groups a whole-of-society problem.
The undercover infiltration of the National Socialist Network provides strong evidence of this, including group leaders railing against lockdowns and vaccination and members attending rallies. Video depicts one of its members, Brendan Maher, disguised under a mask at a recent anti-lockdown protest in Melbourne, screaming anti-Semitic abuse.
The Age and the Herald have also uncovered an extremist calling himself “Dave”, whose image has appeared in raw television news footage, who organises weekly anti-lockdown protests. This man is circulating an app to allow people to bypass COVID-19 check-in scans across Australia. He has also boasted in encrypted chat rooms that he is creating fake vaccination certificates.
Another anti-lockdown promoter has been unmasked as Alice McNamara, a musician who runs a children’s music business, KiddyRock. Ms McNamara, who has been posting neo-Nazi and anti-lockdown propaganda under an online alias, hung up the phone when contacted.
The tactic of white supremacists using the coronavirus pandemic and other highly charged issues such as the Black Lives Matter movement and support for former US president Donald Trump to recruit and seed more extremist views into mainstream politics is increasingly evident on social media, but it is extremely rare to capture neo-Nazi leaders discussing their political tactics.
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