SYDNEY - Campaigners are calling for a white supremacist group that allegedly burned a cross in the Australian state of Victoria to be prescribed as a terrorist organization. Campers have described seeing a group of 30 masked men displaying swastikas and chanting racist slogans.
Images online show a group of bare-chested men wearing balaclavas standing next to a burning cross. The pictures are believed to have been taken during the Australia Day public holiday earlier this month.
The men are thought to belong to the National Socialist Network, a small white supremacist neo-Nazi organization with members in most major Australian cities.
They were allegedly performing Nazi salutes and shouting offensive slogans in the Grampians National Park, 250 kilometers northwest of Melbourne.
“They were chanting ‘Ku Klux Klan’ over and over,” said local resident Luke Baker. “So, that went for quite a while and then it was repeated and then ‘White power’ and then there was sort of these Heil Hitlers.”
Experts say that such provocative behavior could be an attempt to generate media attention to attract new members and spread messages of bigotry.
Victorian state Premier Daniel Andrews has warned that “evil” and “wicked” anti-Semitism was on the rise in Australia and overseas.
“The right-wing space in Australia’s been heavily influenced by Trumpism, by conspiracy theory,” said Lise Waldek of Macquarie University, who’s researched ways to counter violent extremism. “Their aim is anti-democracy. They are against participation of all in our democracy, and so while they appropriate conservative politics they are actually against conservative politicians, conservative narratives and we should take that threat very seriously.”
Police investigating complaints about the activities of alleged neo-Nazis in the state of Victoria have said no laws were broken. In a statement, Victoria police said it was “equipped and well-prepared” to intervene where needed.
In September, the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, the domestic spy agency, said far-right violent extremist groups made up 40% of its counterterrorism workload, up from 10% a few years ago.
Legislation that allows authorities to outlaw far-right groups considered to be terrorist organizations has never been used in Australia.