Far right protest group Reclaim Australia has been humiliated, after their second round of anti-Muslim protests on 18 and 19 July flopped spectacularly.
Practically everywhere they were outnumbered by anti-racist counter-rallies, and could only draw one or two hundred people. In Melbourne, organiser Mike Holt from Restore Australia told Fairfax media, “I can’t believe how small the crowd is. It’s terrible.”
Yet the fight against Islamophobia isn’t over. Reclaim is fuelled by the political mainstream—graphically illustrated when one of Abbott’s MPs, paranoid racist George Christensen, spoke at the Reclaim rally in Mackay. The Coalition refused to condemn his participation.
It is right to rally against Reclaim Australia. Allowing organised racists to gain confidence leads directly to a rise in violent racist attacks on Muslims and immigrants.
The counter-demonstrations have helped isolate Reclaim Australia, meaning anyone who attends their events cannot escape being branded a racist.
But the focus on physical confrontation at some of the counter-rallies needs to be avoided in future if the counter-rallies are to draw substantial numbers.
The police have made it clear that they will protect the racists and help them hold rallies. A massive police presence in Sydney meant anti-racists protestors failed to take the space of Reclaim’s rally and were pushed right to the opposite end of the Martin Place mall, far away from the Reclaim rally.
In Melbourne, a group of racists from the United Patriots Front were given a police escort to allow them to join the event. The police used a new kind of pepper spray indiscriminately on the anti-racist crowd.
The most crucial part of demoralising Reclaim is to draw in much larger numbers of people and show the huge political opposition to what Reclaim stands for.
Simply attempting to shut down Reclaim undermined this, narrowing the anti-racist rallies so that they involved fewer people beyond the far left. It meant many of the rallies did not try to have organised speakers from groups like The Greens, unions or the Muslim community.
Reclaim Australia has been attempting to mobilise racist crowds, not on the basis of neo-Nazi street fighting, but by appealing to racism against Muslims. Once again they attempted to insist that they “weren’t racist” and to cover up their neo-Nazi links.
Neo-Nazi groups were clearly present at the Reclaim rallies. But there are tensions between the neo-Nazis within Reclaim and those who simply see themselves as anti-Islam.
The negative attention has already forced a split from Reclaim, with the formation of the ridiculously named “United Patriots Front”, a more hardline fascist outfit. Police found a gun on their bus travelling from Sydney to Melbourne to join the protest, but released its owner without charge.
In Queensland, too, some organisers have split to form a harder racist group, Australians against Islam.
Continuing to expose the neo-Nazi links and mobilise against Reclaim can help prevent the movement providing a breeding ground for the Nazis. Far right Dutch MP is visiting Perth to launch a new anti-Islam party in October—we will need protest to hound him wherever he tries to spread his hate.
Crucially, however, with Abbott continuing to beat up fear about Muslims and terrorism, the ideas that fuel Reclaim Australia are not going away.
Reclaim Australia is a product of the mainstream Islamophobia coming from the government. Abbott has seized on every opportunity to whip up fear about terrorism, concocting successive rounds of new anti-terror legislation and laws to strip people’s citizenship.
The Guardian reported that one Reclaim organiser, Oliver, “has taken heart from a series of moves … by the Abbott government,” referring to the citizenship laws, a senate inquiry into Halal food certification, and a massive boost of $1.2 billion to ASIO’s counter-terror program. He said the Coalition was doing a “fantastic job” and said “we’re getting everything we ask for.”
George Christensen, who backed the Senate inquiry, ranted at the Mackay rally about a supposed “culture of appeasement to radical Islam”.
To combat Abbott’s racism and stop the growth of groups like Reclaim we also need a broader campaign against Islamophobia. This should include demonstrations uniting a broad cross-section of groups including the Muslim community as well as unions, The Greens and other ethnic community groups.
Sydney will host a Communities United demonstration on September 19, supported by a range of unions and community groups.
Together we can help forge the unity among working class people needed to turn back Abbott’s racism.
By James Supple