Australian far right agitator Neil Erikson’s latest move might be his most cunning.
The self-proclaimed former neo-Nazi – found guilty this month of inciting serious contempt for Muslims in an offensive online video – is launching a new nationalist group called “Patriot Blue.”
Patriot Blue is also the name of the fictional far right, anti-Muslim group in the upcoming Romper Stomper TV series, which reunites the director and several cast members from the iconic 1992 film by the same name, and is set to air over the Australian summer. In the movie, neo-Nazis targeted Asian immigrants.
The original film, starring Russell Crowe, created a storm of controversy in Australia and Britain for glorifying Nazi violence, and the sequel has already come under fire for giving a platform to extremists. Erikson hopes that appropriating the name will help him recruit the country’s next generation of far right followers.
“People who watch that show will look for something, so they’ll google ‘Patriot Blue’ and there we will be,” says Erikson, who has bought two “Patriot Blue” domain names and is already selling T-shirts online.
“The youth follow popular culture so if there’s a show that can symbolize some sort of counterculture, whether it’s skinheads or patriots, they’ll jump on board,” Erikson tells CNN.
Stan, the Netflix-style streaming service behind the new series, and the filmakers have declined CNN’s request for comment.
Even, if they legally prevented him from using the “Patriot Blue” name and the domains, Erikson’s hoping to generate enough controversy and attention from the stunt to help grow and keep his new movement alive.
‘How do I weasel my way into the conversation?’
The 32-year-old forklift driver pleaded guilty in 2014 to charges stemming from making threatening phone calls to a rabbi. He says he turned away from neo-Nazism after his fellow skinhead gang members beat up a 21-year-old Vietnamese student in Moonee Ponds in 2012.
Today, Erikson says he focuses his energy on supporting nationalistic ideas and strict immigration laws. He believes there’s a direct link between the two.
“If we get more Islamic immigration we are going to get higher terrorism,” he said.
Erikson, United Patriots Front (UPF) leader Blair Cottrell and Chris Shortis, who also says he’s since dropped out of the group, made headlines in early September when they were found guilty of inciting serious contempt for Muslims. Two years earlier, a video posted on UPF’s Facebook page showed the trio beheading a dummy while chanting “Allahu Akbar,” Arabic for “God is great.” Cottrell and Erikson are appealing the conviction.
Erikson, who claims he left the UPF in late 2015, conceived the mock beheading to publicize a rally against a proposed mosque in Bendigo, north of Melbourne. He says he was well aware at the time that criminal charges could be laid. “As soon as we got charged with this we actually high-fived each other because it gave us a lot of publicity,” Erikson says. “I think it’s helped the patriot movement as a whole.”
The attention helped attract followers to the UPF on social media: by the time Facebook suspended their page and personal accounts in May, Erikson says the UPF had amassed 120,000 followers. CNN has been unable to verify that number.
These stunts highlight how the media is being used by extremists to fuel the rise of the Australian far right.
Journalist and author John Safran says it’s a movement with hundreds of thousands of followers that taps into ordinary people’s fears around Islam, gay marriage and the culture wars.
“I think they’ve worked out how to really latch on to what will get them in the press,” says Safran, who spent 18 months investigating Australia’s far-right subculture for his book “Depends What You Mean By Extremist.” He says some far right agitators appear to be asking themselves: “What are the issues the wider public is worried about and how do I weasel my way into the conversation?”
Renaissance began with a siege
The far right renaissance began with nationwide Reclaim Australia rallies in 2015, co-founded by Sydney mother Catherine Brennan who says she narrowly avoided being caught up in a 16-hour siege at a Sydney Cafe in December 2014. Known as the Lindt cafe siege, two people were killed and 18 others were held hostage by an Iranian-born gunman who demanded an ISIS flag.
Brennan, who was going to go to the café that day but didn’t due to a family emergency, soon began organizing rallies on Facebook to call for tougher immigration laws. The rallies generated enormous media attention.
“Without social media we wouldn’t exist, it’s that simple,” she says. “We would never have grown to almost 90,000 people in two years.” A number of far right groups, including the UPF, have followed.
The UPF considers itself a group of “nationalists” and “patriots,” without overt links to neo-Nazis, though in the past its leader Cottrell has backed giving Hitler’s Mein Kampf to every school student.
Safran believes some in the Australian far right cynically latch onto mainstream issues to get media attention – from the controversial Safe Schools program that aims to educate children about homophobia to fears that money raised in Halal certification supports terror groups.
“They might not care about an issue, but think ‘this will get me into the media.’ There’s mainstream acceptability to being anti-Muslim in a way there’s not in having a go at Aboriginal people or Jewish bankers.”