An anti-Semitism expert has called for the white supremacist group that reportedly burnt a cross in The Grampians in Western Victoria to be labelled as a terrorist organisation.
But an army veteran of Jewish descent who lives in the area said he would rather talk to the neo-Nazis than silence them.
Residents were shocked and angered over the weekend when a group of about 30 men were seen performing Nazi salutes and chanting slogans such as “white power” and “heil Hitler” while camping and hiking in the national park.
Some residents claim the group posted stickers promoting the National Socialist Network and their slogan “Australia For The White Man”.
The group’s leader also reportedly posted images on social media of members posing in front of a burning cross during their camp in The Grampians.
Police investigated, but said the group had not broken any laws.
The Chairman of Australia’s Anti Defamation Commission, Dvir Abramovich, said the lack of laws around extremist groups had created an evolving security threat.
“We know that there is a direct link between incitement, between vilification … and shooting rampages that we saw not just in Christchurch, but in other places,” Dr Abramovich said.
“We do not need to wait for a Christchurch in Melbourne to act.”
He said he had been following the National Socialist Network’s movements since last year and had seen a dramatic rise in right-wing extremism.
“They want an Australia without Jews, without Muslims, without the disabled, without members of the LGBTQI [community].
“They’re doing it because they know that the law does not prohibit them from doing those activities.”
Dr Abramovich said the group’s actions needed to be seen as an issue for all sectors of society, and must be labelled as a terrorist organisation.
“There may be a need for a cabinet-level working group to develop a whole-of-government approach, that tears out this terror threat at its roots,” he said.
“In a week [where we] are commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we’ve got these modern-day SS guards, revealing themselves in our state without consequences and without fear.
“I’ve called for Federal and for the State Government to bring the full weight of our law enforcement resources to combat this ticking time bomb.
“You don’t fight the far right by silence and by inaction … these are people who are agitating for a racial war.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews told journalists on Thursday there was evidence that “evil and wicked” anti-Semitism was on the rise in Victoria but there was no place for that kind of bigotry, hatred and violence in the community.
Afghanistan war veteran David Wegman, whose father is Jewish, lives at Wartook in The Grampians and said he was shocked that this “kind of thing was happening in Australia so close” to where he lived.
He said he was happy the community had reacted by calling police.
But Mr Wegman said the solution to such groups was discourse, not silencing them.
“There are often a lot of suffering, pain, and socio-economic factors that allow people to get caught up in movements like this, so I don’t have personal hatred or animosity towards people doing this,” he said.
“But there’s a lot of ignorance [of] the seriousness and severity of what the Jewish people have been through.
“I like to think Australia stands for giving people a fair go and having a real sense of what’s right and wrong, and if [these people] can’t look back and say that the atrocities committed in WWII by the Nazis were something that is objectively wrong then we’ve got a lot to do by way of helping these people.”
He said what these hate groups stood for went “against the core of our fundamental humanity”.
“For me, the way out is engaging in rational open clear discourse,” Mr Wegman said.
“I’m happy to talk to anybody about anything, and that level of openness to discourse [is important].
“We can’t just silence these people, they are entitled to their views — what we need to do is have broader community discussions where they can be heard and acknowledged so people can say: ‘No, we believe in freedom of religion and universal human rights’.
“If we try to silence them and fight them out of existence, they will pop up somewhere else.”
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