Group that bankroll One Nation linked to anti-Islam group

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Group that bankroll One Nation linked to anti-Islam group

Postby mothra » 10 Mar 2018, 20:21

Gun lobby group that helped bankroll One Nation linked to anti-Islam group

A pro-gun lobby group that helped to bankroll One Nation’s push for seats in the Queensland state election has links to a far-right anti-Islam group whose leader once advocated for Adolf Hitler’s portrait to be hung in classrooms.

As Australia’s strict gun laws come under pressure from the gun lobby, a Guardian investigation has uncovered links between one pro-gun group and key figures from Australia’s hard right.

Founded in 2016 in response to the controversy around the importation and classification of the Adler lever-handled shotgun, the Firearm Owners United group describes itself as a buttress to “the many hysterical voices calling out for further gun control in this country”.

It seeks to represent the interests of lawful gun owners and advocates for the abolition of the firearms registry set up under John Howard after the 1996 Port Arthur massacre. The group has 60,000 followers on Facebook and claims to have “several hundred” paid members.

But while the group’s founder, James Buckle, says the FOU is a voice for “law-abiding firearm owners”, the Guardian has uncovered evidence linking him to the far-right anti-Islam group the United Patriots Front. The UPF became prominent in far-right politics after anti-Islam Reclaim Australia rallies held across Australia in 2015.

Last year three current and former members – including the UPF leader, Blair Cottrell – were found guilty of inciting contempt and ridicule of Muslims after a stunt protesting against the building of the Bendigo mosque.

A combination of feuding among its deeply fractured membership and its disconnection from a large Facebook following after its banishment from the site meant that the UPF has largely been considered dormant since last year.

But in July 2015, at a demonstration organised by the anti-Islam group Reclaim Australia, members of the nascent UPF marched from the Carlton Gardens to a rally outside of the Victorian parliament in Melbourne. Footage of the event shows Cottrell standing on the back of a utility vehicle railing against a “pestilence” inside Australian society. Later, police used capsicum spray to subdue violent clashes between nationalists and anti-racism groups.

Buckle was among the marchers. Carrying a green and gold flag, he can be seen in footage from the event walking alongside the UPF’s deputy and his close friend and one-time housemate Tom Sewell.

A few months later he attended another UPF rally in Melbourne and this time appeared in a video posted to the group’s page alongside Cottrell, Sewell and fellow far-right gun enthusiast Chris Shortis. In the video, Cottrell describes the marchers as “loyal adherents”.

More recent posts on social media reveal that Buckle maintains a close friendship with Cottrell and Sewell.

Last year the FOU founder posted a photo of himself and Cottrell on his personal Instagram page – alongside pictures of him posing with high-powered, semi-automatic weapons – with the caption “cheeky grins and winks with mr nerd”.

“The only ever photo of me drunk, gratz,” Cottrell replied.

The FOU is currently recruiting electorate captains to lobby MPs and candidates in seats across Australia and members told the Guardian that the FOU conducted organising activities in Tasmania in the lead-up to the state election there.

Last year the FOU made its first financial contribution to a campaign during the Queensland state election, donating $1,000 to Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party and Katter’s Australian party.

The Labor MP and counter-terrorism expert Anne Aly told the Guardian that accepting donations from the FOU could “spell danger” for parties with mainstream ambition.

“First of all I think we have fantastic gun laws and I’d like to see them stay as strict and stringent as they are, especially given the recent events in the US,” she said. “But when you’re talking about taking donations from groups associated with the UPF, I think some caution needs to be exercised.”

Asked about the donations by the Guardian, a spokeswoman from Katter’s Australian party said it was “proud to stand up for law-abiding gun owners”.

“While the KAP does not share the doctrinal beliefs of every donor to the party, we do find common ground in some areas, such as supporting the rights of law-abiding gun owners in Queensland,” she said.

One Nation did not return a request for comment.

Buckle refused to comment on his relationship with the UPF when contacted by the Guardian, saying it was “of a personal nature” and “not relevant” to his gun lobbying activities. He said he believed the UPF had “died with its Facebook page”.

But last week, Cottrell – who has been newly reinstated to Facebook – posted a video to the social media site saying the UPF “never went away” and was “planning big things in the future”.

He also said it had its “own social community group”.

The Guardian has found evidence suggesting the group has simply moved its activities offline and that Buckle is still part of the far-right fraternity.

In January, Channel Seven conducted a widely criticised interview with Cottrell and Kane Miller from the True Blue Crew, another far-right group. The interview was panned for failing to mention Cottrell’s criminal history, his past admiration for Hitler and his claims to have manipulated women “using violence and terror”.

It came after a meeting of far-right groups exploiting fears about so-called African gang violence.

The interview also failed to mention where the meeting was held.

Late last year a group called the Australian Lad’s Society started renting office space in Cheltenham, a suburb in Melbourne’s south-east.

The Lad’s Society describes itself as a “traditional-style men’s fraternal society” but the few publicly available details suggest its activities are political in nature.

In October last year the group posted a photo to its private social media group of a collection of books including one by Oswald Mosley, the 1930s leader of the British Union of Fascists.

At the centre of the photo, open to a page so that the title is not visible, is a copy of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. The caption on the photo encouraged followers to “try to get in a few hours of reading a week”.

“It’s all about a healthy balance of work, play and self-improvement in many areas,” it said.

Australian Security and Investment Commission documents reveal that Sewell is the society’s secretary and director, while an unnamed group of “founders” are listed as shareholders.

Buckle would not talk about the Lad’s Society when contacted for this story, saying it had “nothing to do” with the FOU.

But the Guardian has seen photos of Buckle posing outside of the Cheltenham building and Asic documents also show the same residential address in Melbourne’s east has been used for both the Lad’s Society and the FOU.

Andy Fleming (not his real name), a Melbourne-based anarchist, blogger and long-time observer of the far right in Australia, believes the Lad’s Society is little more than a repackaged UPF and labels Buckle the “quiet achiever” of Australia’s far-right.

“My reading of James is that he seems to be straddling two worlds but it’s a difficult thing to balance when Mein Kampf is thrown into the mix,” he said.

“I think there’s a constituency for the gun lobby in rural and regional Australia, it’s part of the political landscape and not necessarily that controversial. But any association with the more extreme radical politics is not going to help the FOU.”

Cottrell and his followers have publicly distanced themselves from neo-Nazism.

But his past suggests a more complicated relationship with fascism. In 2013 Cottrell wrote on social media in relation to Hitler that “there should be a picture of this man in every classroom and every school, and his book should be issued to every student annually”.

He has also expressed radical anti-Jewish and anti-woman views.

Asked about Cottrell by the Guardian, Buckle said he “seems like he’s just your average sort of guy”.

“He’s a tradie, hard-working and he speaks his mind,” Buckle said.
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