The ABC has uncovered a covert plot by Australia’s alt-right movement to join major political parties and influence their policy agendas from within.
Haircuts and hatred
Inside Australia’s alt-right movement. Who are its members and what does their manifesto reveal about their political ambitions?
Background Briefing has witnessed members of the NSW Young Nationals in Sydney attending a secret men’s-only fight club set up by some of the country’s most prominent alt-right nationalists.
The program has also gained access to a private Facebook group in which these same people discuss their manifesto, which includes plans to shake up mainstream politics.
The group is called The New Guard and its followers are self-described fascists.
At least three NSW Young Nationals — including Clifford Jennings, who sits on the executive of the party’s youth wing — are, or recently have been, members.
On Facebook and elsewhere online, more NSW Young Nationals are sharing alt-right talking points, racist in-jokes containing coded references to Hitler, and theories of a global Jewish conspiracy.
In response to these revelations, one member of the party has been asked to resign, while two others have been sent show-cause notices.
Branch stacking concerns
In this Young Nationals group photo Clifford Jennings stands third from the right at the back.
The first sign of an alt-right push within the NSW Young Nationals came during a dramatic state conference in May.
Ethan Gordon, who was a communications officer at the time, became suspicious after noticing a large influx of new members with city, not rural, addresses.
“We were blindsided,” he said.
“This was an infiltration by another group with a very particular ideological motivation, or seemed to have a very particular ideological motivation.”
Among the new members was Mr Jennings, who put forward a series of controversial motions.
The first motion called on the NSW Young Nationals to “endorse immigration from culturally compatible peoples and nations” while supporting “strict immigration controls for those who are not”.
Mr Jennings also introduced motions backing the offer of refugee status to white South African farmers, and the expansion of coal and nuclear power.
Mr Gordon, 23, said it looked like a classic branch stacking exercise designed to push the party’s youth wing to the right.
Those suspicions were heightened when a video of Mr Jennings was later uncovered online.
In the video, Mr Jennings says: “I created alt-right Australia.”
At the state conference, Mr Jennings was elected to the executive of the NSW Young Nationals as the Metro Regional Coordinator.
He has since sought to distance himself from the video, claiming he is no longer involved in the movement.
But Background Briefing can reveal Mr Jennings’ comments go far beyond a single video and that he was just one of many alt-right members to join the NSW Young Nationals prior to the state conference.
This is the first time the breadth of these members’ alt-right connections have been disclosed publicly.
Alt-right links to Young Nationals exposed
Blair Cottrell (L) and Oscar Tuckfield (R) at a rally organised by Cottrell’s lawyer. (ABC News: Jack Fisher)
Dr Kaz Ross has been watching these individuals for some time and has access to numerous closed Facebook groups, including The New Guard.
Her interest in alt-right politics is almost accidental — she is actually a lecturer in Asian Studies at the University of Tasmania.
“I started off tracking anti-Chinese sentiment and I got involved in looking at anti-Chinese action on Facebook generally in Australia,” she said.
“There’s a very, very short pathway from anti-Chinese sentiment to neo-Nazis,” she said.
Dr Ross said the movement has recently turned their online activity into real world action.
“The main real world goal that I could see was actually shifting political debate in Australia to the right as much as possible,” she said
Dr Ross has become familiar with the coded references used by members of these online groups.
For example, one of The New Guard’s members is Nicholas Walker, a NSW Young National who goes by the name “Niklaus Velker” online.
On April 30 this year, the anniversary of Hitler’s death, he posted to his own Facebook page “Rest in Peace 88”.
Eight represents the 8th letter of the alphabet, H, so “88” becomes “HH”, meaning “Heil Hitler”.
Another Facebook profile, registered under the name Joel Harley, lists his place of work as “Auschwitz Concentration Camp”.
A man by the same name joined the NSW Young Nationals this year and attended the state conference in May.
But when Background Briefing contacted Mr Harley, he denied the Facebook profile belonged to him. The profile was deleted soon afterwards.
Dr Ross said it can be difficult to hold people to account for what they say online.
“They’ll say, ‘It was just a joke, I was just pushing a meme, it was just for fun’,” she said.
“But where there are lots of 14, 88 jokes, Hitler’s birthday, anti-immigration, anti-black, anti-Muslim, liking some pretty extreme and objectionable material, you realise these people actually do have an ideological belief, it’s not just meme-ing and joking around.”
One of the policy areas of biggest concern to these groups is immigration.
In March last year, members of The New Guard debated which non-white cultures should be welcomed in Australia.
Mr Jennings wrote: “Nothing must be accepted.”
Another user then lamented: “Unless we genocide everyone that isn’t 100 per cent white, there is no way of pure blood. I’m just saying.”
Mr Jennings replied: “Compromise is also democratic and not what we are. We must inspire people with truth.”
On March 12, 2017, Mr Jennings answered a Facebook poll, which asked, “What is your main political opinion lads?”.
Mr Jennings selected “Ethno-nationalism (race over all)” and “Fascism”.
Elsewhere online, he cites a 14-word phrase made famous by the founder of a US white supremacist terrorist organisation called The Order.
It states: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for our white children.”
In reference to this, Mr Jennings wrote: “All I care about is the fourteen words.”
A man holds a sign at a freedom of speech rally organised by Blair Cottrell’s lawyer. (ABC News: Jack Fisher)
When contacted by Background Briefing, Mr Jennings did not deny writing the post, but said: “I don’t appreciate you taking this out of context, I was referring to ensuring Australia remains a prosperous and diverse society.”
He denied any knowledge of the connection of the phrase to The Order.
Mr Jennings has since left the New Guard Facebook group, and many other members have not been active in months.
But a telling manifesto from June last year remains.
It outlines the group’s short, medium and long-term goals, including its plans to set up university clubs, create visual propaganda, set-up a real-world headquarters, and elect people to local, state and federal parliaments.
Underneath the post, another member commented: “One of the ways to realise our goals in our lifetime is taking over an already existing party from the inside without anyone being the wiser.”
That comment has now been deleted.
Among Nicholas Walker’s posts from the time of the NSW Young Nationals state conference is a photo of a Young Nationals voting card and the words, “Time to make some changes boys”.
Another friend comments underneath, “Drain the swamp”.
The post has been liked by Mr Jennings.
Punch-ups, politicking, and protests
Canadian far-right activist Lauren Southern is seen giving the thumbs up in this image on The Lads Society’s Facebook page. (Facebook: The Lads Society)
Background Briefing has also been able to establish a series of connections between members of the NSW Young Nationals and the Sydney chapter of the men’s club, The Lads Society.
The club is the latest project for some of Australia’s highest profile white nationalists, including former leader of the United Patriots Front, Blair Cottrell.
Last year, Mr Cottrell was convicted of inciting contempt toward Muslims after staging a mock beheading at a rally in the Victorian regional town of Bendigo in 2015. He is appealing the conviction.
The Lads Society vets its members and does not disclose its location publicly so it is tough to pin down what the club stands for.
Its online presence appears innocuous enough. It claims to have been set up to provide a supportive space for men to get together and better themselves and, in turn, create a better Australia.
But the club is similar in several respects to some of the most extreme far right men’s clubs from around the world.
The nationalist messaging, the flags on the walls, and the nostalgia over so-called lost masculine values are a common thread.
The Lads Society also uses violence as a marketing tool through the weekly fight clubs and videos posted online.
Mr Cottrell denies the club is a white supremacist organisation, telling Background Briefing it is nothing more than a community group.
He also said he is a regular member of the club and, as such, is not involved in any of the decision making processes.
Mr Jennings is among those who attend the club’s fight nights every Friday.
He told Background Briefing his only reason for going there is to “buy health supplements”.
Two other NSW Young Nationals, Thomas Brasher and Oscar Tuckfield, have also been seen at the fight nights.
The pair was also at the state conference in May.
Mr Brasher is a 20-year-old law and economics student.
In June, he posted a video of himself boxing at The Lads Society clubhouse in Sydney.
In September, he posted on Instagram about having had “the honour of meeting Kevin MacDonald”, a man described by a US Law Centre as “the neo-Nazi movement’s favourite academic”.
Mr Tuckfield was recently photographed campaigning for NSW Nationals MP Paul Toole.
He also shares a registered business number with another Young Nat, Michael Heaney, and two members of The Lads Society — one of whom posted a photo of himself to Facebook wearing a neo-Nazi T-shirt a few years ago.
NSW Nationals MP slams ‘extremist views’
Deputy Prime Minister and Federal Leader of the National Party, Michael McCormack, did not respond to Background Briefing’s questions.
In a statement, he said that “individual memberships of the NSW Nationals are a matter for the party organisation”.
After sending questions about the online posts of some of the NSW Young Nationals members to both the individuals involved and to the National Party, Nicholas Walker was asked to resign his membership.
Following his resignation, Mr Walker said he was experiencing mental health issues at the time he made the ‘Heil Hitler’ post, and that he likes posting offensive things online.
A few days later, he set up a new Facebook profile, in which he is wearing a Nazi black sun pendant.
Mr Jennings sent a written response in which he said he “cannot recall the context” of the poll in which he defined himself as a fascist and said, “if you must label me then I am a Dick Smith-style pragmatist”.
He also said that he attends the Lads Society on Friday nights “to buy health supplements”.
Thomas Brasher and Oscar Tuckfield both ignored calls and texts.
Michael Heaney and Joel Harley texted back, “No comment”.
When Nationals MP Paul Toole was alerted to the connections of the Young Nationals who had recently volunteered with him, he said in a statement:
“I understand the NSW Nationals are taking decisive action on this matter and I welcome that.
“The views expressed are disgusting and abhorrent to me. Extremism is not welcome in the NSW Nationals.
“I will not accept any volunteers who hold such extremist views.”
At an emergency meeting last night, called in response to Background Briefing’s story, Mr Jennings and Lisa Sandford were removed from the NSW Young Nationals executive, pending an investigation.