Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

A fascist by any other name


The emergence of the fascist groupuscle the United Patriots Front from within the larger, more amorphous Reclaim Australia movement poses a challenge to the media: namely, how should such an organisation be described?

Neo-fascists march from the corpse of NazismIn the face of controversy, journalists too often revert to the old 'he said, she said' convention. That is, when covering a contested issue, they report what both parties to the dispute say and then let the readers make their own judgements. Jay Rosen, the influential journalism academic, notes that the practice offers a solution to 'quandaries common the reporting trail':

'When, for example, a screaming fight breaks out at the city council meeting and you don't know who's right, but you have to report it, he said, she said makes the story instantly writable. Not a problem, but a solution to the reporter's (deadline!) problem.'

The practice becomes particularly handy when writing stories in which you know you'll get pushback. Think of your standard Middle Eastern correspondent quoting, with professional evenhandness, what first the Israelis and then the Palestinians say about a deadly incident in the Occupied Territories.

As that example suggests, 'he said, she said' often functions as an evasion. The Golden Mean might be a classical principle of aesthetics but reporters' loyalty should be to accuracy, which isn't necessarily about compromise between extremes. When denialists and climate scientists take diametrically opposed stances, the truth doesn't lie somewhere in the middle. Sometimes, one side's objectively right and the other's just wrong.

Blair Cotrell, the leader of the UPF, denies being a fascist.

He's lying.

Yes, 'fascism' is a term thrown around lightly, used by some as a simple insult for any politician to the right of the Greens.

Paradoxically, it's also freighted with an almost impossible heft, serving to signify the ultimate evil. For understandable reasons, after Auschwitz, fascism in general — and Nazism in particular — can seem, as manifestations of incomprehensible depravity, entirely divorced from the everyday world. Hence the popularisation of Godwin's law, in which the first party making reference to the Nazis during an online debate gets adjudged the loser.

Yet fascism was once a mass phenomenon, a political philosophy with adherents in every developed nation. Its followers did not come with devil's horns attached. They were everyday people, who just happened to agree with fascist principles.

To put it another way, fascism grew once and it can grow again. By ruling the term out of polite conversation we deny ourselves the ability to recognise the continuities between the past and present.

In most newspaper reports about the UPF, journalists quote anti-racists accusing the group of fascism and then follow with a UPF leader denying the charge. There's nothing wrong with that. But reporting others' perspectives doesn't abrogate the publications' responsibility to make its own judgements.  

The Age piece on Shortis, for instance, describes the UPF as an 'anti-Islam street movement'. Elsewhere, Fairfax calls the group 'far right'. The Herald Sun prefers the term 'hardline'. Crikey uses 'nationalist'.

These terms aren't wrong. The UPF is all of those things. But calling it 'fascist' isn't mere bluster. It's an accurate, even necessary, description of the group's core beliefs.

In an article for the Sydney Morning Herald, Michael Bachelard and Luke McMahon note UPF leader Blair Cottrell's enthusiasm for Hitler: Cottrell once responded to a Facebook image of the Nazi dictator with the words 'there should be a picture of this man in every classroom and every school, and his book should be issued to every student annually'.

Veteran anti-fascist 'Slackbastard' has compiled far more extensive screenshots of Cottrell's (since deleted) ruminations about Nazism. A sample passage: 'Please shut up and take a week off the internet to read Mein Kampf. The basis for national socialism is race, which exists, it is real and important. The basis for communism on the other hand is a set of abstract ideals hidden within a mendacious global (yes Jewish) agenda. No more bullshit please, just read the book.' 

And there's much more where that came from.

Cottrell's main lieutenant is a certain Neil Erikson. Erikson, says Slackbastard, has 'a criminal conviction for harassing a rabbi and has otherwise been active with the (now defunct) European Australian Civil Rights League and Nationalist Alternative, as well as having attended neo-Nazi gigs organised by Blood & Honour and the Southern Cross Hammerskins, met with Canadian Holocaust denialist Paul Fromm during his tour here in late 2010 and attended various anti-Muslim protests in the company of other neo-Nazis.'

On the UPF Facebook page, Cottrell and the other spokespeople generally eschew the references to Hitler. But they don't hide their adherence to fascist principles. In Cottrell's video rants (some of which have been republished by the Brisbane Times), he regularly outlines his contempt for egalitarianism, his belief in natural hierarchies (including between races) and his desire to smash those he describes as 'communist traitors'.

Again, describing the UPF as 'fascist' isn't hyperbole. It's an accurate description of the philosophy it espouses.

Why does this matter?

Last Sunday, members of the UPF, led by Cottrell, made their way inside Melbourne community radio 3CR, where they filmed themselves strolling about and then uploaded the footage to Facebook.

They also went at the headquarters of the Melbourne Anarchist Club. Again, they filmed the encounter; again, they posted the clip online.

A few days later, Fairfax published a profile on a man called Chris Shortis, one of the UPF members present at the raids. It included several photos of the burly Shortis posing with a Bible and an assortment of pistols and high-powered rifles.

The University of South Australia academic Chloe Patton, an expert on the far right, told Fairfax: 'Here we have an individual who is clearly radicalised, who is brandishing firearms while preaching holy war. The intricate conspiracy theories and crusader symbolism immediately brings to mind Anders Breivik.'

Breivik, of course, murdered 77 people in Norway in 2011, as part of his campaign against Muslims and the 'cultural Marxists' who he said were enabling them.

This is not Germany in 1933 and the UPF, with its tiny band of supporters, is not on the brink of state power. But Patton's comments highlight just how intimidating the group already is. Both 3CR and the Anarchist Club have associations with anti-Nazi activists, particularly the aforementioned Slackbastard.

As the comments on the UPF Facebook site made clear, the visits were intended by the UPF to send a message to campaigners against racism: we know where you are and we can reach you if we want.

It's easy to mock the philosophical pretensions of the UPF's roided-up leader. But the UPF is not simply a joke. It's tiny, yes, but it's still dangerous and it needs urgently to be stopped. Calling it by its real name is a step in the right direction.

Jeff SparrowJeff Sparrow is a writer, editor and honorary fellow at Victoria University.

Topic tags: Jeff Sparrow, United Patriots Front, fascism



submit a comment

Existing comments

Statement by WACA on UPF Incitement of Community Violence. Last Friday, November 6th, a member of WACA was assaulted on the streets of Melbourne. A UPF supporter recognised our member via a video posted by UPF on their Facebook page https://m.facebook.com/unitedpatriotsfront/. This man screamed at our friend, stating that she was 'the bitch from the video'. He then punched her in the face fracturing her cheekbone, inflicting bruising and a significant concussion from which she is still recovering one week later. This violent incident occurred following previous episodes of intimidatory and thuggish behaviour by UPF supporters who stalked anti-racist campaigners at community radio station 3CR, Fitzroy, and at the Melbourne Anarchist Club and Anarchist Bookshop at Northcote https://m.facebook.com/story.php… UPF invaded these community safe spaces. They acted in an aggressive and offensive manner. They filmed with intent to use the material to incite hatred as evidenced by the videos they produced and posted on social media. We call on the State Attorney General, The Hon Martin Pakula MP, to order an investigation into the UPF's aggressive campaign that targets community groups and organisations. We demand an independent community investigation, that is, not conducted by the Victorian Police. This investigation must incorporate close scrutiny of the video content produced, released and promoted by members of the UPF. Such content is clearly an incitement to violence against concerned citizens in the community; people who are legitimately responding to the rise of extreme far-right, neo-nazi ideology driven violence surfacing in the streets of Melbourne. 11 November 2015 Whistleblowers, Activists & Citizens Alliance

Gaye | 14 November 2015  

Perhaps the UPF is just the tip of the iceberg. What about the huge links between Islam and fascism/nazism? Mein Kampf is a bestseller in many Islamic countries and you can buy "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" at Islamic bookshops in Australia for $8.00. Needless to say, much of the anti-Semitism in Europe today also springs from Islamic communities: you can watch youtubes of anti-semitic imams across the world. "Fascist" by any other name? Or is it islamophobic to even canvass this possibility? I'm so confused ...

HH | 16 November 2015  

"Chris Shortis, one of the UPF members [was described by] ... Chloe Patton, an expert on the far right, [as] clearly radicalised, who is brandishing firearms while preaching holy war." With so much attention committed to identifying and responding to radicalisation among young Australian Muslims, do our Federal and State governments and police forces pay any attention to the radicalisation of Australian nationalists? If so, how do they react to organisations like the UPF and their influence in the Reclaim Australia movement?

Ian Fraser | 16 November 2015  

I think HH knows full well the examples in his comment are Islamist extremist positions that are contrary to the values in any progressive society. But it's not these extremist views that the UPF are targeting. They are targeting all Muslims and especially any attempt by moderate Muslims to be accepted and integrated into a tolerant multicultural Australian society. The UPF probably have more in common with the extremist Islamist anti-Jewish and anti-western rhetoric, and it seems you are disingenuously suggesting there's something "Islamophobic" about also branding Muslim extremist as fascists. I also must point out that this extremist anti-Jewish rhetoric is not "anti-semitic", as you described, since arabs are also semitic.

AURELIUS | 16 November 2015  

Balance this with "How to confront this Islamo Fascist plague" by Bruce Heard Mackinnon (Age 16/11/2015, p16).

Louise | 17 November 2015  

We need to be careful here. Words quickly become burnished or tarnished glosses. Rather than reveal, they come to conceal; they become de-valued/de-meaning. This is as true for the word `fascism` as it is for `nazism`. What are we talking about in our twenty first century Australia? Not just the image or what presents. What lies behind? As we invoke a kind of shorthand, we risk losing sight of what is really going on. Worse, we risk becoming what we do not want to become - as blinkered and as irrational as those we `gloss` over. Chloe Patten`s comment `...immediately brings to mind Anders Breivik.` is a case in point. We are immediately side-tracked into other territory. Chris Shortis is not Anders Breivik. We need to take Shortis and his supporters seriously, very seriously. But we must do so in our context and situation. Perhaps the first person to call `fascist` loses the argument?

Fiona Winn | 17 November 2015  

This is an excellent piece of writing Jeff. Thank you. I will spread it far and wide and hope that others will better understand the situation. I have worried about the terms used and you have assisted me through this article

paula kelly | 17 November 2015  

1.Aurelius, do keep up: "Antisemitism ... is prejudice against, hatred of, or discrimination against Jews as an ethnic, religious, or racial group. ... the term was popularized in Germany in 1873 as an alternative to the term Judenhass (Jew-hatred) although it had been used for at least two decades prior, and that has been its common use since then." (Wikipedia). 2. "It seems you are disingenuously suggesting there's something "Islamophobic" about also branding Muslim extremist as fascists." Quite the contrary, I don't think it's at all Islamophobic - in the spirit of Sparrow's piece, it's calling a spade a spade: rather, I'm wondering why Sparrow angsts so as to why reporters eschew the term "fascist" when describing a small band of white Australians (and he may well be right on this), when, on his own criteria as to what constitutes fascism, they are much more energetically avoiding it in respect of many adherents of Islam in Australia and around the world. So my point is: does Sparrow HIMSELF believe it's "Islamophobic" to so describe many Muslims, even if the cap fits? Is he thus hoist on his own petard? [Consider the - justified - outrage if "Mein Kampf" and "Protocols" were hot ticket items at Catholic piety stalls and bookshops throughout Australia, priests brandishing knives in Catholic churches were stridently urging attacks on Jews in their sermons, and their congregations were not raising a peep of protest in response.]

HH | 17 November 2015  

I agree completely with Jeff Sparrow's general argument. He may be correct in stating that Middle Eastern journalists are more even handed in reporting on Palestinian/Israel issue but we do not receive even-handed reports. The USA, despite whatever Obama privately feels, remains strongly committed to Israel and this sets the trend for Australia and other allied states.

Anna | 17 November 2015  

HH, do keep up: the scenario of outrage has already occurred - the Inquisition. And it was official church policy, not some extremist fringe terrorism group. But yes, we've all learned from history to tolerate, accept, embrace other religious faiths, right?

AURELIUS | 17 November 2015  

HH is 'so confused'? Could it be that Sparrow is what HH might call a 'lefty'? As Aurelius points out clearly, UPF are targeting an easily identifiable group of people, just because they are 'different' from us. If it walks like a fascist, talks like a fascist, and acts like a fascist, why not call it for what it is?

Ginger Meggs | 17 November 2015  

1. Thanks, GM, you've cleared up my confusion by reminding me that Sparrow is a lefty. So it's the side, not the principle that counts. Hence the micro-focus on a tiny group of Western fascists while ignoring the same affiliations (Hitler, Mein Kampf, Protocols, anti-semitism) that beset huge numbers in Islamic communities across the globe. 2. Aurelius, Blessed John Henry Newman once wrote: "To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant." ie, become a Catholic, which he famously did. I certainly haven't learned from history to embrace other faiths. And in particular, I'm never going to embrace a faith which stones alleged adulterers to death and throws homosexuals from high towers, grave though these transgressions of the natural law may be. As a Catholic and inspired by saints like the great Francis of Assisi, I seek to liberate all Muslims from the darkness which oppresses them (especially their women folk), not leave them in their wretched state.

HH | 19 November 2015  

Ok, HH, at least we agree that UPF is a fascist organisation and ought to be called thus. As to the 'huge numbers' in 'Islamic' communities, I think we need to remember that Christendom has had more than its fair share too, and that organised Christianity has not always kept a respectable distance from the likes of Franco, Mussolini, Hitler, the Ustashi, the Greek generals, and sundry Latin American dictators.

Ginger Meggs | 19 November 2015  

GM: I guess I can only speak strictly for the Catholic Church. I’m not aware even from the most anti-Catholic of authors that in the heyday of Hitler, "Mein Kampf" and "Protocols" were selling briskly in Catholic church bookstalls, while a fair smattering of priests and Christian pastors – some brandishing knives or swords – were calling for the extinction of all Jews, and textbooks in Catholic run schools spouting the same anti-semitic drivel. If you can convincingly make that case, then full credit to you and yes, it’s to be condemned as fascism in no uncertain terms. But precisely this would seem damn much of contemporary Islam, except if you’re a Sparrow, or some other common or garden bird of the leftist genus. And, moreover, speaking of history, you're surely aware of the close relationship between Muslims and Hitler, especially vis a vis the "problem" of the Jews as they both saw it? So why your reluctance here, even from a historical perspective, to go one step further than Sparrow and call every spade a spade?

HH | 20 November 2015  

Fascist is a word that has been so misused that there is no point in describing ISIS as Fascist. It is better to use the word Islamo Fascist which is both descriptive and accurate. As for the right wing anti Islamic thugs it is best to describe then as neo Fascist. They are both tiny splinter groups. The main group on either side reject them

DAVID GOSS | 23 November 2015  

Similar Articles

My trip down the grubby tabloid rabbit hole

  • Catherine Marshall
  • 20 November 2015

The best thing I ever did was give up reading the Mail Online. I'd log on at the end of a long day for a dose of what I thought was harmless, digestible fun. But it wasn't long before this mental junk food started to bloat my mind. When Jennifer Garner and Halle Berry appeared before a committee at Sacramento's state assembly to press for the introduction of laws aimed at protecting children from the paparazzi, I realised I was engaging in a despicable act: the consumption of other people's private stories.