Guest review of John Safran, ‘Depends What You Mean by Extremist’, 304 pages released by Hamish Hamilton, May 2017.

I got very irritated reading John Safran’s latest book Depends What You Mean by Extremist. As someone who had been to most of the anti-fascist rallies in and around Melbourne in the last few years; watched in horror as Pauline Hanson clawed her way back to power; and scrolled through my Twitter account with interest as Phil Gallea as well as Blair Cottrell, Neil Erikson & Co faced criminal charges for trying to blow up the Melbourne Anarchist Club (the former) and staging some cringe worthy and offensive public theatre (the latter) – I picked up Safran’s book with interest.

And my interest quickly turned to frustration.

Safran’s book fails on two counts. It fails firstly to identify, critique or explain the deeply held political ideas of people on all sides; instead relying on amusing caricatures and Safran’s interest in religion as both the organizing principle and fuel to progress the story.

Secondly, whilst attempting to be a cross between Louis Theroux and Hunter S Thompson, Safran fails to become truly immersed, or really understand, any of the people he surrounds himself with.

I also found I had concerns about some of the ways Safran conducted himself, or at the very least the way he has expressed himself.

Safran offers up curiosity and caricature, without understanding, interrogating or attempting to explore the deeply held political views by the people on all sides of this story. After reading all 304 pages, the reader is left with no clear idea on anyone’s ideology. There is no attempt to unravel the far-right’s seeming preoccupation with Muslims from their wider ideologies, any more than there is any evidence of understanding that for “the left” anti-fascist activism is just one part of broader political work.

This is not only a failing of Safran’s book, but a disappointment. While there is one Chapter The Hustings that talks about the broader political situation of the time (Trump, Brexit, One Nation etc), there is no real discussion of how the characters are, or could have been, influenced by the current political climate. The cast of characters appear with no context, or even any musing about how they have come to their beliefs. It is as if they have appeared with no history, no story, no ideology – just kooky characters for Safran to examine as curiosities. Almost as if he is collecting them like Pokémon– the Neo-Nazi, the garden variety racist, the socialist, the anarchist, the ISIS supporter.

Without interrogating people’s core beliefs and finding what drives them to action, every character comes across as either a weirdo or entirely irrational. Safran milks this for all it’s worth. He presents himself as the only rational actor; the only one looking at both sides of arguments; the only one not blinded by ideology, dogma or religion. It is sensible, moderate Safran against a world of not only flawed, but contradictory characters.

Safran spends much of the book examining these contradictions. “I like looking at tangles,” he says to the unkindly nicknamed Mr Snort and Mrs Sneer (seemingly if you won’t go on the record, but you are a good plot point you get an unkind nickname). Whether it is a Sri Lankan Christian associating with Nazis; Muslim converts who also happen to be Monty Python fans or racists having Asian girlfriends – Safran is there to savour the juxtaposition. He seems incapable of comprehending these very human contradictions. As he divorces his subjects from their broader politics he also robs them of their lived experiences. It is these experiences that not only influence someone’s politics, but also form their individual quirks and foibles. The resulting contradictions seem to leave Safran’s mind spinning. It is as if he expected only two-dimensional stereotypes. And as he comes face to face with living, breathing, and contradictory humans – he is shocked.

The result of not examining individuals’ politics is, obviously, a very unpolitical book. It makes no attempt to understand or explain the politics involved. Safran instead roundly focuses on religion. While religion does have a part to play in this story, I don’t believe it is at the centre of what is happening amongst “Australian Deplorables.” Everyone has bigger agendas to push than religion – whether that be a return to White Australia, or fighting back against capitalism. Those who profess to have strong religious beliefs, are not content with simply practicing their religion- there is an element of a crusade about it, and at least some political dimension. Not a single sentence in his book is dedicated to the discussion that filled column inches, placards, and the shouts across police lines: is the current wave of Islamophobia in Australian society racist? There is no discussion about the intersection of Islamaphobia and racism. Those who are involved in anti-Muslim politics are described as racists, but there is no discussion around how this particular strain of racism is a product of current global politics.

Safran’s failure to examine both the broader political landscape and people’s individual politics makes the characters on all sides of this story less relatable than they most likely are in real life. It is easy to laugh at a character study of Jim Saleam or the anarchist “ninjas”. As Safran depoliticizes them, they are as two dimensional and stereotypical as the Channel 9 news would like us to believe. This is a disservice to everyone involved. How can we combat racism and Islamaphobia without understanding where it comes from? And similarly, how can the ideas of anti-fascism, socialism or anarchism be shared and understood when the only representation of these people are hokey stereotypes, devoid of motivations and ideology.

To be kind, one may excuse Safran for failing to interact with the political side of this story by arguing that he wasn’t trying to write a political book; that this was an exercise in gonzo journalism. That Safran was merely “going along for the ride” and reporting on what he saw and experienced. But on this count, Safran fails as well.

While Safran attempts to immerse himself in both the far-right and “the left” – it feels obvious throughout the book that neither side trusts him; and he never “lets go”. The book feels less like a wild ride on the fringes, and more like covertly observing from the corner. By trying to play all sides of the issue, Safran is neither trusted or respected by anyone. It feels like both sides are keen to capitalize on his platform to promote their causes, but constantly weighing up the risks of having him along. Safran “participates” – whether that is smoking a cigarette with Ralph Ceminara, or showing up to a community day at the Melbourne Anarchist Club, but it is obvious through his writing that he views himself as separate to proceedings. Unfortunately for Safran it takes more than a joint with the fascists or a beer with the anarchists to really get amongst these people and understand them. Safran’s reluctance to “pick a side” results in almost everyone treating him with extreme caution; and this prevents him from doing what the book’s subtitle would have us believe happened: “Going Rogue with Australian Deplorables.”

Throughout the book, the reader is conscious that Safran is trying to write a book. It is not just out of interest or curiosity that Safran is hauling himself around the country attending rallies, interviewing people and following leads. It feels that he is single mindedly chasing moments, experiences and people that would translate well into his narrative. Safran is at his most delighted one the sole occasion he has the opportunity to change the narrative. When the UPF decide to shift a rally from the Melbourne CBD to Melton, but to do so at the last minute to stop counter protesters from effectively organizing; Safran vacillates on whether to tell No Room For Racism this information. When his personal trainer tells him to tell the anti-racists what is going on, Safran reflects:

“I first think he’s being moral, but it’s not that. My trainer also does graphic design so he has a creative bent. He thinks my duplicity will be better for the book, because it will change events. “You’ve become the puppetmaster,” he tells me.

..I’m like, My God, the conspiracy theorists were right! It’s exactly what they say: beware of the Jews, they play both sides – the communists and the capitalists. I am the devious Jew.”

I think this attitude, while understandable, is deeply concerning. No one would argue that it is the worst thing in the world to want to write a successful book. However Safran presents himself as someone with an interest in what is going on and possibly led people involved to expect him to eventually choose a side and use his platform for good. Anti-racist activists care so much about the work they do that it seems inconceivable that someone who is viewed as “progressive” would ever do anything to assist Neo-Nazis. Yet it was only through self interest that Safran tipped off No Room for Racism about this crucial piece of information. At the end of the day, it all comes down to the book for Safran. “Mr Snort” at the Melbourne Anarchist Club challenges Safran about his role – “Are you part of building an anti-racist movement or are you just about books and selling and career and profile?” Safran never answers the question. At one point Safran says “I would love, for the sake of this book, to be mildly beaten up.” He is lucky enough that this never comes to pass; unlike many who put their bodies on the line to resist against racist organizing and sustained injuries from both racists and the police.

It is notable that Safran hardly mentions the police. As he sketches out rallies he mentions the numbers of police. Anyone who has been to any demonstrations in Melbourne over the last 5 years will have noticed an increase in police presence and the intensifying nature of what a police response looks like. He does not at any point mention the violence perpetrated by police – both with physical violence and pepper spray. So out of touch with police attitudes at these rallies John Safran obviously felt safe enough to bring a knife with him to the Melton rally.

I have a number of concerns about Safran’s behavior and conduct, and the biggest of them is his carrying of a weapon. In a moment fuelled by whiskey and reading about the Warsaw Ghetto, Safran in what can most kindly be described as a severe case of Hemingway stumbles into a camping supply shop and buys a pocket knife. He mentions this in a somewhat offhand way, and the reader (well at least this reader) forgets about it until Safran upon seeing an act of violence unfold in Melton writes: “I feel the knife in my pocket.”

To be clear, Safran doesn’t do anything with the knife, but I don’t think that is the point. To carry a knife, or any weapon, into a high stress, high emotions situation like the rally in Melton is a plain and stupid dumb idea. It’s not jut dumb. It’s highly disrespectful. It puts in danger every single person in your vicinity. It made me absolutely furious that at this rally people were put at risk for the sake of Safran’s ego. To bring a knife to the rally, but not have the foresight to pack a bottle of water and some sunscreen – that, as far as I’m concerns, bumps up your charge from stupid to moronic.

Police were checking bags at the Melton Rally. The bag checks were very targeted. Wearing a balaclava – bag check; carrying a flag – bag check; punk – bag check. As an unassuming white girl in sensible shoes and no balaclava, my bag wasn’t checked. It would seem D Grade celebrities are similarly exempt from police suspicions.

Mr Snort and Mrs Sneer at the Anarchist Club are entirely suspicious of Safran, which after reading the book – I think they were right to be so. The way Safran characterizes some of the “radicals” he meets is, as “the left” are want to say, highly problematic. Halfway through the chapter entitled “Left-wing pinkoes and right wing death beasts” starts the section dedicated to Comrade Snort and Comrade Sneer (seriously, how did Safran not think to call them that!) with “There are more hot anarchists than I expected here. Don’t get me wrong, there are also flabby radicals who wouldn’t be able to throw a Molotov cocktail without breaking into a wheeze, but still.” How this is relevant to anything that is happening in the book is not clear to me. Having recently had the UPF turn up on its doorstep, the Melbourne Anarchist Club had opened its doors on a Sunday afternoon to bring the community together. Not to perform traditional, socially acceptable levels of beauty for John Safran. This sentence started to make me feel uneasy about the way Safran was viewing, and then writing, about women.

The reader doesn’t see the backstory between Mrs Sneer and Safran, but it seems tense from the start. He describes her first sentence as a snap. Other words used to describe her speaking are – snaps; sneers, complains; demands; hisses. She also “pushes” a pamphlet towards Safran, and when she tires of the conversation she “huffs off”. Meanwhile, Mr Snort just “asks”, “says” and “tells.” Is it too much of a stretch to imagine Safran hurt that the “hot anarchist” women don’t implicitly trust him, talk to him and fawn over his celebrity. And that in return for this, he paints them as mean, irrational, stupid and annoying?

That said, Mel from No Room For Racism gave Safran her undivided attention on several occasions, let him into the inner machinations of No Room For Racism, and invited him to the bizarre truce talks with Reclaim Australia. Safran repays this assumedly invaluable access by referring to her continually as Mel the matriarch. The UPF guys are leaders, the anarchists have a CEO, but when Safran sees a woman in charge she is a matriarch. I can’t help but feel that word minimizes Mel’s position. It plays into the idea of women being soft, social and family oriented. It’s soft power; not hard power. It’s not that those things are necessarily bad. But you’re not calling Blair “Daddy”, are you? Similarly, a woman who explains herself as being “half-Jewish” and is introduced as Rebecca is referred to by Safran only as the “Half-Jewess”. While some Jewish women have embraced or reclaimed the word – it’s hardly a universal reclamation. As with Mel, Safran is quick to make her title particularly feminine, though this is not crucial to the narrative.

The weird sexism, paired with the lack of political insight have made me really question what John Safran is about. I don’t know the answer to that question, but I would caution activists to remember these things the next time he’s hanging around. It seems clear to me that Safran is neither interested in immersive experiences, nor politics. That, coupled with his careless behavior and problematic depictions of women make me irritated. The political work of others has provided Safran with a successful product to hawk. He has never picked a side, but is not impartial. This book lacks the academic rigor to explain what has been happening in Australia recently, and the energy and personal commitment of true gonzo journalism. Its one success is as a best seller for John Safran.

See also:

Andy Fleming, May 19, Depends What You Mean By Extremist : A Review (of sorts).

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The federal government yesterday announced the creation of an Orwellian super department under the control of former Queensland police officer, Peter Dutton.

The new “Department of Home Affairs” will include the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (itself the product of merging the Australian Customs Service with the Department of Immigration into a veritable “border security” paramilitary), the Australian Federal Police, and ASIO.

Under Peter Dutton, Australia’s already deplorable Department of Immigration was combined with the Customs Service to create an armed black suited paramilitary force that spends more money on medals than the military.

As immigration Minister, Peter Dutton has been responsible for maintaining Australia’s brutal system of “offshore detention” system. Under Peter Dutton’s watch, more asylum seekers have been killed than resettled on Manus and Nauru, and these camps continue to record a critical incident almost every single day.

So far, six people have died in Immigration detention facilities under Dutton’s control, seven others have committed suicide in circumstances likely the product of the immigration system.

When Peter Dutton entered Parliament in 2001, he highlighted his priorities as attacking on refugees and civil liberties. In his frankly bizarre maiden speech to the Parliament, Dutton showed a particular obsession with the Refugee Action Collective, the Civil Liberties Council (whom he described as “criminal lawyers”).

This disturbing, bitter, and nasty little man, a person responsible for the ongoing torturous treatment of of men, women and children on Nauru and Manus Island, now has a national police force and a spy agency at his disposal.

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At the same time the government was announcing plans to merge responsibility for ASIO, AFP and DIBP into a single department, DIBP called for tenders. The government plans to privatize large aspects of the tradition function of the Department of Immigration.

According to the Canberra Times:

the government has floated changes to its immigration system letting companies administer tests, detect fraud and recommend decisions to grant or refuse visas

A privatized immigration system would effectively outsource the assessment of most visas applications. The government invitation for tenders flags the possibility of a largely automated system, with immigration staff only having input on “complex matters”.

People who’ve experienced the Centrelink robo-debt debacle can no doubt attest, this is a great idea that couldn’t possibly go horribly horribly wrong.

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Victoria Police utilize hundreds of fake Facebook accounts to manage their expansive social media presence; their poor online security practices with these accounts have exposed their entire social media team.

Last week, a group of homelessness activists in Melbourne announced they would be holding a public forum to discuss “Melbourne’s rough sleeping ban”.

Shortly after posting this information to a public campaign Facebook page, organizers received a cryptic message from an individual claiming to be from Victoria Police:

This is Victoria Police. We’ve been informed of your protest action and want to let you know we’ll be monitoring this event with interest.

The message originated from a “Mark Darryl”, on an account with the URL slug markd.bayly. The account uses a Victoria Police shield as it’s profile picture, contains some generic police related content, and has approximately eighty friends.

The vast majority of these Facebook friends are fake accounts. They all have generic names, no content, one Facebook friend, and the same blank red Facebook profile photo.

Whoever operates the “Mark Daryl” Facebook account appears (at first glance) to have gone to the effort of registering 80+ fake Facebook profiles so that their fake Facebook profile could have some friends.

That said, not all of the accounts linked to this profile are fake. One of “Mark Darryl’s” Facebook friends is a “Mark Bayly”, URL slug mark.bayly.71.

A quick search for “Mark Bayly” reveals that:

Mark Bayly is the manager of online communications for Victoria Police.

Bayly’s hobbies include drumming, his band occasionally plays at Pause Bar in Balaclava, he’s a fan of Pink Floyd, his partner’s name is Margaret, and he has appallingly bad social media security practice for someone who manages the social media presence of a state police force.

It seems that Mark Bayly has received awards for his work in social media, the day to day tasks of which appear to include messaging activist groups to let them know that big brother is always watching:

But back to the fake accounts. Bayly didn’t just register these so that his fake account could have some friends, instead this appears to be the method by which Victoria Police manage their network of “Eyewatch” pages.

Rather than using any commercial solution, it appears that the Victoria Police social media team have registered hundreds of almost identical fake Facebook profiles in order to manage this plethora of different pages. There are presumably fake profiles for every officer who would ever need admin access to one of these Facebook pages.

It’s a clumsy practice but it makes some weird sense. Facebook pages are often subject to mass reporting, and Facebooks’s appalling automated moderation system routinely removes reported content and imposes bans on the admin account that posted the material.

To avoid this problem, most business would just employ a commercial solution (like Hootesuite). Instead, Victoria Police appear to have manually registered an army of paper accounts.

Unfortunately for them, the officers (presumably) using these these fake profiles have appallingly bad security habits. The account names are often similar (or identical to) the names of serving officers, and many of these profiles link back to their personal accounts. Simply by tracking the friends lists of these accounts it is possible to build an extensive map of Victoria Police’s social media presence and the officers who operate it.

The entire operation looks amateurish, but it just gets worse for Victoria Police. Operating fake profiles is a breach of Facebook’s terms of service, and every Facebook user has the ability to report a fake profile.

If sufficient reports are made, the operator of these fake accounts will have to prove to Facebook that the accounts are not fake, that they use real names and so on. Usually Facebook’s system demands a user upload photo ID. If you can’t do this, Facebook will lock your account.

A campaign of mass reporting could see Victoria Police progressively locked out of the accounts they use to manage their sprawling social media presence.

In December, the Andrews government announced that it would establish a “high tech monitoring hub” that would enable Victoria Police to engage in “real-time monitoring of social media”.

I wonder whether this “real time monitoring” system will include a subscription to Hootsuite, and whether it will be available before activists report every single one of these accounts.

Maybe the “manager of online communications for Victoria Police” shouldn’t have taken it upon himself to try and intimidate activists holding a public forum on homelessness.

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The Andrews Labor government has announced a $2 billion bid for the support of Victoria’s Police Association.

In a recent article on the so-called ‘Apex gang’, I noted that:

Victoria goes to the polls in two years, and both major political parties will once again engage in the traditional ‘law and order’ bidding war for the support of the Police Association and the Herald Sun.

The bidding war has now well and truly begun, and it comes complete with thousands of new police, extended police powers, and billions of dollars in spending.

The entire ‘Law and Order’ package is rotten. There is no crime wave, the new powers are not necessary, and the entire thing is rooted in racism.

The premise, pushed by the Herald Sun, the Liberal Party and the Police Association of Victoria, is that Melbourne is in the grips of an unprecedented crime wave.

Liberal opposition leader Matthew Guy has claimed that recent crime statistics are evidence of a “crime tsunami” and that he has “never felt more unsafe in my life”.

For over a year, Victoria’s tabloid newspaper and talkback radio stations have told us to fear a largely mythical ‘Apex gang’.

In reality the ‘Apex gang’ is part of a racist code used by the media to stigmatise young black men from migrant backgrounds. As Anthony Kelly (from the Flemington-Kensington Community Legal Centre) put it in recent comments to the ABC:

“The Apex gang is a convenient code word; essentially it means ethnic or African crime — it’s a code word that can be used by a greater number of commentators, like a dog whistle”

The other common dog whistle used by the media, police and commentators in Victoria is the ever threatening “youth crime”.

When the Police Association’s Rod Iddles bemoans “youth crime and the Apex gang and all that” he’s not talking about drunk middle class white kids punching each other after getting pissed at some city nightclub.

No, he’s latching onto a racist media beat-up that demonizes migrant kids from an African background, who we’re told will jack your car, invade your home and beat your white kiddies for want of something better to do on a Saturday night!

Media, police and political commentators on “youth crime” pin the blame for Victoria’s “crime wave” on kids from migrant backgrounds, in particular the Sudanese community and the Pacific Islander community.

Matthew Guy exemplified this with his call for legislation that would allow the government to immediately deport young offenders.

Unfortunately for Matthew Guy’s racist ambitions, the overwhelming majority of people committing the offenses the media has labeled a “crime wave” were born in Australia, and the crime statistics that purportedly prove the existence of this terrifying crime wave actually show nothing of the sort.

There has been an increase in the rate of reported criminal offenses in Victoria over the past year, largely as a result of the increased reporting of family violence offenses.

“Youth crime” over the same period has actually declined as:

crimes committed by people aged between 15 and 19 fell by 5 per cent, and there was a decrease of 4 per cent in crimes committed by people aged under 25.

Related, the ABS records a steady decline in youth crime across Australia since 2009-10.

But of course, it pays not to place too much trust in official crime statistics. Victorian crime statistics are obtained from the Victoria Police LEAP database. The more people the police arrest, the more “crime” Victoria records.

In reality, the number of people Victoria Police arrest for various offenses has as much to do with levels of police resources (more police means more offenses are “detected”), changing police priorities (expect a “spike in crime” among any population Victoria Police decide to target) as well as changes in which behaviors our society criminalizes.

The increased rate of family violence offers is an illustrative example. No one seriously expects that Victorian men became 10% more violent towards women in the past year. Male violence against women is appalling and commonplace, but the change in “levels” of family violence recorded by the police has as much to do with new processes that have been adopted in order to force police to take family violence seriously.

Media reportage on the so-called crime wave has highlighted increases in the number of ‘carjackings’ and ‘home invasions’ (recorded by police as thefts where the owners were present), and often links these to increases in the number of assaults recorded.

But again, this is hardly a crime wave. The Herald Sun might breathlessly report that there has been an 80% increase in carjackings, but they are still talking about an increase of 76 offenses in a city of four million people.

The media’s tendency to link this to increased reports of assaults is also deceptive. In the past two years societies’ attitude to assault has changed as the media has pushed narratives around “coward punches” and “one hit kills”.

A great many assaults that would once have been passed off as part of the standard risk involved in a night’s drinking are now reported and prosecuted. Many others are connected with increased police measures targeting domestic violence. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is hardly proof of a crime wave.

Melbourne is not in the grips of an “Apex crime wave” (as The Australian termed it in a recent racist beat up), but this hasn’t stopped the Andrews Labor government capitulating to the racist narrative pushed by the Police Association and the Murdoch press.

The government has announced “sweeping new measures” that promise to lock up more Victorian children and young people, longer. Due process will go out the window as new powers allow the police to forcefully obtain DNA samples from suspects without a warrant or court oversight. A two billion dollar spending spree will massively expand the police force, with thousands of new cops, a new helicopter and a bunch of new police stations.

The “Apex crime wave” may have been a myth, but the attacks on due process, the adoption of new authoritarian measures, and the growth of police power are very real. And they must be resisted.

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This Saturday’s Age contained a two page spread on “Melbourne’s Trump-land”, which is apparently located in Narre Warren North.

Instead of reviewing the economic and social situation in Narre Warren North, The Age’s Chris Johnston instead interviewed a handful of fringe right-wing figures, including Rise Up Australia’s Rosalie Crestani. The Age declared that Crestani and her fellow travelers were “disenchanted but not deplorable”. I beg to differ.

In 2012, Crestani contested Casey City Council elections on an anti-mosque platform. She won the second of two seats available in the Four Oaks Ward, despite coming fourth (with 8.09% of the primary vote) in a field of 22 candidates. She then joined Danny Nalliah’s Rise Up Australia Party (RUAP) and used her status as a Councillor to promote Rise Up’s peculiar brand of Islamophobic conspiracy theory mixed with a good dose of homophobia.

In 2014, Crestani moved to have Casey City Council ban diversity training, ban the display of materials that promote LBGTI equality, and ban the City of Casey from issuing media releases on LBGTI issues. Crestani and Rise Up Australia oppose same-sex marriage, the “normalisation of homosexuality” and “pro-homosexual propaganda”.

In Johnston’s article, a former Family First candidate claims that issues like “gay marriage … [are] a distraction from the things that really need to be done”. The mainstream political process is apparently obsessed with these ‘fringe issues’ that do not connect with the difficulties facing a community like Narre Warren North.

If anyone is obsessed with a ‘fringe issue’, then surely it is Rosalie Crestani and Rise Up Australia, with their outrageous and obsessive hate campaign directed at rolling back the rights won by LGBTI activists over the past fifty years.

Crestani is appalling when it comes to LBGTI issues, but it is in rank and borderline conspiracist Islamophobia that Crestani has made a name for herself.

In the past year Crestani has announced her support for a ban on Muslim immigration, stating she would oppose Muslim immigration “until there is a fail proof filter we have to stop all Muslims from coming in because we don’t know which ones are going to blow us up”.

Contrary to the racist conspiracy theories pedaled by the likes of Crestani, Muslim immigrants are highly unlikely to “blow us up”. Australian “terrorists” are overwhelming Australian born, tend to be comically incompetent, and despite widespread racism and anti-Muslim bigotry promoted by the likes of Crestani, there are precious few of them.

According to Crestani, on top of banning Muslim immigration, the most important issue facing “disenchanted” Narre Warren North is the threat posed by mosques! Over the past year, Crestani latched onto a racist Facebook led campaign to oppose the construction of a mosque on a vacant site in Narre Warren North.

The mosque’s development application was rejected by Casey City Council on planning grounds, but that didn’t stop Crestani announcing she would always oppose a Muslim place of worship in Narre Warren for “security reasons”. There are approximately 15,000 Muslims in the region covered by the Casey City Council, and a single nearby mosque that seats less than two hundred people.

Crestani routinely denounces mosques, halal certification and Muslim immigration. She claims that allowing a simple place of worship “risks radicalisation and terrorism”. I’ve always thought there was something darkly ironic about these claims, considering Crestani’s own links to the far-right.

Over the past eighteen months Rosalie Crestani has spoken at, endorsed, and even chaired a number of rallies called by violent far-right groups.

Crestani has chaired or spoken at the 18 July Reclaim/UPF rally at Parliament House, the June 26 True Blue Crew rally at Parliament, last year’s Cronulla riots celebration and the Reclaim Australia Rally in Melton.

Shortly before the Reclaim Australia Rally chaired by Crestani in Melton, police arrested a Reclaim Australia admin, Phillip Galea, on weapons charges. Galea has subsequently been arrested again on terrorism charges, and we’re awaiting Galea’s court date next month to learn which left wing target’s he allegedly intended to bomb.

Rosalie Crestani endorsed and promoted a violent far-right rally in Coburg earlier this year. The rally, called by the "True Blue Crew", intended to bust up a previously planned anti-racism event. At the time Blair Cottrell expressed his disappointment that Victoria Police stopped the rally "using force and violence" against their political opponents.

Rosalie Crestani endorsed and promoted a violent far-right rally in Coburg earlier this year. The rally, called by the “True Blue Crew”, intended to bust up a previously planned anti-racism rally. At the time Blair Cottrell expressed his disappointment that Victoria Police stopped the rally “using force and violence” against their political opponents.

If there was any gathering that could be said to pose a “risk of radicalisation and terrorism” in Melbourne, it is surely those far-right rallies addressed and chaired by Rosalie Crestani.

There are interesting and complex issues facing Narre Warren North, not least among them the Islamophobia and racism whipped up by the likes of Rosalie Crestani. But it is important not to overstate the depth of Crestani’s political reach in the Narre Warren community. Despite a massively increased profile in Narre Warren since 2012, Crestani only polled 17.17% of the vote in the 2016 Casey City Council elections. Her increased support is concerning, but claims she represents “Melbourne’s Trump-land” are grossly overstated.

There are plenty of people in the outer suburbs rightly disillusioned with main-stream politics. Unemployment is high (8.1% in the City of Casey), infrastructure is poorly planned and executed, services are taxed by underfunding and a growing population, and public transport is a joke.

But Rosalie Crestani and her fascist fellow travelers are not simply “disenchanted”. Crestani is an Islam obsessed homophobe whose Rise Up Australia Party seeking to build a reactionary political movement on explicitly racist lines. Crestani really is deplorable.
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