Locals ‘unsafe’ as Nazis invade small town
Locals in a picturesque area of western Victoria, thronged by tourists, have said they now feel in danger after a far-right neo Nazi thugs descended on the area during the Australia Day long weekend.
"I came to this area to feel safe. I never thought living out here I'd be in danger of extremist groups," one local told news.com.au.
"You look at these people and they're the ones you fear the most. They're like a cut snake, you just don't know what they'd do."
The anti-terrorism squad of Victoria Police are now investigating after it was reported that almost 40 members of Nazi group the National Socialist Network visited the Grampians region and the town of Halls Gap, about 150 kilometres north west of Ballarat.
The group has openly described Indigenous Australians as "subhuman" and has called for a "white revolution". Online, the group said its hike was "fuelled by pure Cronulla energy".
A leading civil rights campaigner said the bigoted rhetoric from the "Hitler worshippers" could easily turn into violence.
Pictures online reportedly from the weekend show a group of bare-chested men wearing balaclavas next to a burning cross.
HARASSING LOCALS AND VISITORS
Halls Gap resident Saskia Elling told news.com.au she was with friends at Lake Bellfield, close to Halls Gap, on Sunday evening when they spotted the group across the water.
"My partner said he saw someone chanting 'white power' and I was like 'that can't be true'. Then an hour later they chanted Ku Klux Klan.
"It was intimidating, we were happy to be on the other side of the lake."
A local business owner, who didn't wish to be named, said a couple had stumbled on the group of unashamed racists on the popular Pinnacle walking track.
"They asked what they were doing and they said they were neo Nazis and KKK and then they began chanting.
"We came here to keep our families safe and there are these people that make you feel like you are in danger."
Other people said "Heil Hitler" could also be heard.
'DON'T SEEM TO BE VERY INTELLIGENT'
After camping in the bush, the group then went to the Halls Gap tourist town and began harassing locals and visitors alike.
"They did this march through town with swastikas and Hitler salutes and they had these stickers with 'power to the white man,'" Ms Elling said.
Ms Elling added the group seemed unclear as to what, specifically, they were supporting.
"They were taking a horrible part of German history (Nazism) and the KKK from the US and just mixing it all in a bowl to see what came out.
"At one point they were dining at the Black Panther cafe which is named after a movement against the KKK - so they don't seem to be very intelligent people".
She added despite the group being seemingly "ridiculous" their presence was nonetheless sinister.
"We're an Aboriginal community here too, we also call the Grampians by the Aboriginal name of Gariwerd and we have an Indigenous cultural centre by the lake.
"Families (of all backgrounds) visit and enjoy the lake. We're a community where everyone is welcome, but not them; they're not welcome."
Ms Elling, who is German, said she was astounded to find that when police were called there was little they could do to the group. In contrast, in Germany, any expression in support of Nazism is banned.
"They called it a training camp, it's just nuts. I'm just very shocked and so angry," she said.
It's not the first time the Grampians/Gariwerd region has been targeted by neo-Nazi groups. In 2017, a local newspaper published an advert about people looking to form an "alliance" based on "white pride".
Chairman of civil rights organisation the Anti-Defamation Commission Dr Dvir Abramovich said the presence of the groups couldn't be ignored.
"Make no mistake, the dangerous rhetoric that these Hitler worshippers are spewing can cross the line into real-world lethal attacks. We do not need to wait for a Christchurch in Melbourne to act," he told news.com.au.
"neo-Nazi ideologies and rallies are alive and well in Victoria, and these homegrown SS soldiers, who dream of a Fourth Reich with an Australian Hitler at the helm, are a clear and present danger, agitating for a racial war and recruiting like-minded bigots."
Dr Abramovich said the groups should be targeted by state and federal governments and added to terror lists.
"This is the time to fight violent, hateful ideologies that are a dire and evolving security threat and to act quickly".
In September, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) said far right violent extremist groups now made up 40 per cent of its counter-terrorism workload, up from 10 per cent before 2016.
ASIO said it was a "real and growing" threat to Australia and conspiracy theories and frustration at lockdown during the pandemic had helped to radicalise some people which had subsequently joined the groups.
Originally published as Locals 'unsafe' as Nazis invade Vic town