St Kilda Beach, Melbourne rally has police on alert
Hundreds of police have descended on a Melbourne beach as a rally of extreme right-wing ‘patriots’ kicks off, with angry counter protests also planned.
Convicted criminals Blair Cottrell and Nigel Erikson, who founded the anti-Islam group United Patriots Front, called for their supporters to gather at St Kilda Beach this afternoon to “take a stand” against “African crime gangs”.
Gatherings held by the men in the past have often attracted opposing demonstrations by left-wing and anti-racism protesters, with some turning violent.
This week, several so-called ‘patriots’ called for a Cronulla Riots-style event, invoking the infamous week of brawling in Sydney in 2005.
Facebook events set up to promote today’s rally described it as “Romper Stomper 2.0”, a reference to the Australian film about neo-Nazis, prompting police to issue a warning.
Australian Senator Fraser Anning, who infamously referenced Hitler’s “Final Solution” in his maiden speech and was dumped by Bob Katter’s Party for his views on race, is among the attendees.
“Victoria Police respects people’s right to protest peacefully, but will not tolerate those who break the law,” a spokesperson told news.com.au.
“Anyone coming to the event looking to cause trouble can expect a firm response from police; you will be arrested and held to account if you commit a crime.
“Police will be closely monitoring the rally to ensure there are no breaches of the peace or crimes occurring.”
There would be a “strong police presence at the rally” to maintain public safety, the spokesperson said.
A number of right-wing groups are expected to attend, along with opponents, including from the Antifa movement, which is also notorious for violent clashes.
On Friday, Police Minister Lisa Neville called for those tempted to make trouble to stay at home.
“Let me be clear — there will be hundreds of police there, there will be specialist police, there will be the dog squad, the mounted squad, the transit teams, the public order response teams, they will be conducting weapons searches,” Ms Neville said.
“Whether you are on the ultra-right or the ultra-left, this is a family beach and Victoria Police will be there in force to keep it safe.”
Last week, police had to be called when Erikson confronted a group of African youth who were playing football at St Kilda Beach.
He recorded the exchange and shared it to social media, which the young men said was intimidating.
In a message released on Wednesday, Cottrell launched an attack on the government and media, which he said were working together like “a Communist state”.
“I’ll be uniting with Australian workers … on St Kilda Beach and every Australian patriot I know will be there with me,” Cottrell said, adding: “Rise without fear.”
The United Patriots Front, one of a number of active extreme right-wing groups, joining the likes of True Blue Crew and Reclaim Australia, are volunteer-led and operate on donations from members, who congregate in Facebook groups and on hidden forums.
They attract a broad range of sympathisers, from Australians concerned about immigration, crime and national security, through to more fringe members with neo-Nazi and criminal links.
Cottrell, a self-employed tradesman and bodybuilder, once called for a picture of Adolf Hitler to be hung in every Australian classroom.
He also founded the bizarre underground fight club Lads’ Society, which was linked to an apparent right-wing infiltration of the National Party’s youth wing late last year.
The planned rally on Saturday comes after the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation revealed in October that it was monitoring far-right groups.
Duncan Lewis, chief of the spy agency, told a Senate Estimates hearing that right-wing extremism in Australia pose “a threat”.
Mr Lewis warned that individuals were becoming “a little better organised than they have been in the past” and admitted that ASIO was “monitoring” their activities “very, very closely”.
However, he declined to elaborate on specific groups or the extent of their threat to national security for operational reasons.
When asked if ASIO had concerns about some far-right groups and their growing activities, Mr Lewis said: “Yes, we do, and that’s what we’re monitoring.”
“Of course, legitimate advocacy — you might not agree with it — if it is right-wing advocacy that’s afoot, and there’s no violent or foreign interference dimension to it, then that’s not ASIO’s business.
“But if there is the prospect of there being violence or there is some sort of foreign influence dimension to it, then it’s of interest to us.”