Two weeks ago, the boneheads thought they’d got their man. For a decade, the pseudonym “Andy Fleming” has been troubling Australia’s far right and neo-Nazis – “boneheads” to their opponents – by writing about them. His blog Slack Bastard carries the work of a man who has acquired enormous amounts of intelligence, so much so that it rivals police knowledge. An anarchist, Andy has been exposing, mocking, infiltrating and organising against neo-Nazi groups, and in turn the neo-Nazi skinheads have been trying to expose his identity. So far they have been unsuccessful.
On March 19 the website of the Australia First Party – the far-right political group based in a shop in Sydney’s Tempe – published the photo, home address and mobile phone number of a man they believed to be Andy Fleming. But it wasn’t him. “The morons got it wrong again,” says Fleming. Within 24 hours, the incorrectly identified man had received two threatening phone calls and seven text messages. Police had contacted the man before the messages started. They monitor this subterranean world, and called to warn he was about to be dragged into it.
“I was scared originally, but now I’m just angry,” the man tells me. “If they really meant harm, I don’t think they’d advertise it. I also think what they’ve published could be libellous.”
The threats all came from the same person. One text read: “Hey you left wing anti white bleeding heart race traitor fukn do gooder asswipe ethnic loving piece of shit ur days are coming to a end asswipe!!! Every one on storm front knows ur true name and identity u piece of shit!! Lmfao watch ur back dog!! :-D.”
At 5.57am on Friday, March 20, the aggressor rang, called the misidentified man a “coward”, and hung up.
It happened by accident. Fleming loved punk, hated Nazis, and began researching the obscure relationship between the two. He had a show on a community radio station, where he began singling out fascist bands that had insinuated themselves into local punk and metal scenes. Fleming says it’s not as easy to spot as you’d think – they don’t always display swastika tattoos or Nazi armbands and their lyrics aren’t always explicit, although sometimes they are: “Repatriate, ship ’em out, send the bastards back/ If they don’t fucking like it, it’ll be in bodybags.” In the world of hardcore punk, fascist skinheads can look similar to straightedge ones, while doom-heavy metal lyrics about carnage and honour are par for the course.
So Fleming joined the dots. He studied their lyrics, their personnel, their record labels and album sleeves. He assumed Nazi identities and embedded himself in internet chat rooms. He studied neo-Nazi music festivals – who played, who attended. The largest white power music event is the Ian Stuart Donaldson Memorial Concert, which is basically Woodstock for Nazis. Donaldson was a British skinhead, founder and lead singer of white power group Skrewdriver. When he died in a car crash 21 years ago, he became an instant martyr. Each year in Melbourne, a memorial concert is held – Fleming would find out who was playing and who was going.
Fleming began broadcasting this information. The problem was, the radio station was now receiving threats. Fleming’s show was pre-recorded, meaning it was played while another DJ was behind the desk. Should the neo-Nazis arrive, they’d incorrectly assume the radio announcer was Fleming. Management cut a deal with Andy: he could keep doing the show so long as he was in the studio when it aired. Fleming agreed, but put out a call to his “antifa” (anti-fascist) colleagues in the anarchist party. The first time he managed to wrangle almost 100 to stand outside the studio, but “I could never keep those numbers up each week”. Fleming kept doing it until the threats from boneheads increased and the radio station lost its nerve. The show ended, but Fleming moved online and blogged about it. As of last month, the blog has had 1.25 million visits and twice that number in page views.
For years now, white supremacists have been trying to uncover his identity. To thwart them, Fleming uses an IP address that gives his location as Europe. Regardless, he’s happy to engage his aggressors on the blog’s comments section. Fleming responds to threats and accusations of race treachery with wry mockery – recasting the boneheads’ heroic crusade as rank silliness. Among the detailed and sober surveys of white supremacist groups are irreverent pop-culture gibes – YouTube videos of disco songs and Simpsons references. Fleming is earnest about what he does, he just believes the way to fight them is to not take them too seriously.
Fleming’s campaign is varied. Part of it is using the threat of exposure against skinheads, something he’s wary of doing. “You have to be careful. Many don’t want to be revealed – they have jobs, families. To expose them is escalation. But for those who aren’t ideologically convinced, you can work on them. And then you want them to offer their disavowal publicly. On record, because then there’s no going back.”
Fleming uses assumed identities to ingratiate himself in private forums online – the largest is Stormfront – and gathers intelligence. In 2011, Fleming discovered a ham-fisted plot to disrupt a gig at the Corner Hotel in Richmond, Melbourne by Canadian anarcho-punks – and avowed anti-fascists – Propagandhi. In the end, only 15 boneheads turned up after Fleming passed on their intentions to the venue, before going to the gig himself. Vastly outnumbered, the skinheads went home before the gig finished.
Through similar forums, Fleming learnt of a skinhead barbecue being organised in a park, so a professional photographer was hired to shoot them with a zoom lens. “Another time, someone had physically infiltrated the Hammerskins group. Became a partial member. This person called me, saying they’d done this and that they had information that might be of use. He never told me who he was, so I asked him a few questions to establish his credibility. He got them right – he knew the inside of this group. He gave me some really useful information, and then that was it. Never heard from him again. I don’t know if he was from a Jewish group, or police, or what.”
Andy provided me with some of their correspondence. The unknown agent wrote: “I was undercover for four years as a bone. My job was to get as much information as possible and relay it to my boss. I’ve never met a bigger pack of fuckwits. I can’t tell you who I work for, I can only say that my job was to be one of them. I’m not a spook and your blog gets a lot more views than you think.”
Fleming’s not the only one in this arcane business. Anti-racist organisation All Together Now runs a program called EXIT: White Power, which has received government funding. It’s adopted a model used in parts of Europe that it stresses is evidence-based. Members will join online forums such as Stormfront and diplomatically offer counter-arguments to the skinheads’ thesis. Broadly, the thesis has it that the white race is being existentially diminished – economically, culturally and genetically – by multiculturalism. In effect, a stealth program of genocide against whites is being waged. White supremacy, goes the argument, is not anti-black but pro-white, merely an activist group determined to balance a constellation of black advocacy groups.
This veneer of legitimacy is devastated by the catherine-wheel of race hate and paranoia expressed on the forums. As a ratio, there’s much less discussion about what “white” means, and far more about the malevolence of the “muds”. Among other things – for this is a complex medley of pathologies – is an ahistorical hysteria that Australia is about to fall into a social abyss. It shares something with the broader, mainstream pessimism about Australia’s direction, which runs stubbornly contrary to this country’s staggering economic and cultural development in the past quarter century. For many, we are always on the cusp of disaster, shuffling towards some dreaded immolation. Given the awesome signs that suggest otherwise, one can only ponder the bitter pleasure that comes from being Chicken Little.
EXIT attempts to patiently test these assumptions on the forums, while trained counsellors will meet members who are wavering in their commitment. The director of the program – who did not wish to be named – told me: “Many leave because of the weight of hypocrisy. The hardcore groups preach purity – don’t do drugs, don’t abuse alcohol, don’t beat your women. But then they see them go and do these things. If they weren’t ideologically sure in the first place, this hypocrisy will sometimes be enough for them to leave.” The director is right about the hypocrisy – drug charges abound among these groups.
Fleming doesn’t know that much about EXIT’s work, and doesn’t seem to care to. Despite the similarity of their work and its shared obscurity, EXIT is establishment and he is an anarchist. “They’re not approaching this with radical politics,” he tells me. The director of EXIT was reluctant to criticise Fleming, but seemed suspicious of freelancers – unaided by academic literature on interventions – prodding the viper’s nest.
At his suggestion, I meet Fleming at the Birmingham Hotel in Fitzroy. The significance of the venue hits me as I’m a few blocks away. In the late noughties, under the management of Gary Wayne Kitto, the “Birmy” was neo-Nazi friendly. Hatecore groups played regularly, and once Kitto invited American musician and Ku Klux Klan sympathiser Johnny Rebel there to play a few of his songs, which include “In Coon Town” and “Move Them Niggers North”. Community groups organised pickets and boycotts. In 2008, Kitto sold the place – it’s unsure whether it was a result of the campaign. Eager to distance themselves, the new management printed posters declaring: “The Birmingham Hotel: It’s not shit anymore!”
It wasn’t the first time Nazism had touched the pubs of Melbourne’s inner north. In 1990, bonehead Dane Sweetman went to a house party on Hitler’s birthday. A suburban affair, with like-minded people. It soured when David Noble riffed lecherously on Sweetman’s girlfriend, and Dane secured his pride by planting an axe in Noble’s head. He then stabbed him multiple times, ensuring his death and, presumably, the honour of his girlfriend.
In 2005, Sweetman was released from jail. He made the Tote, in Collingwood, his local. He would sit at the bar and drink, while his young lackeys orbited his infamy. Sweetman was hard to miss – like Charlie Manson he had a swastika tattooed on his forehead. Things boiled over when a punter asked Sweetman about it, and was headbutted.
The Tote and Sweetman were a striking combination, and his presence posed a singular problem for the owner Bruce Milne. The Tote was, before its closure in 2010 (it has since reopened under new management), the scuzzy ground zero of Melbourne’s musical bohemia. The place is – or was – a picaresque icon, a beacon for metal, punk and gentler genres. Milne himself is a widely respected promoter, and founded Au Go Go Records in 1979.
Milne ran the place with a laissez-faire philosophy – all were welcome, and censorship was anathema. But neo-Nazi axe-murderers? After the assault, an alliance was formed between the Tote, police and community anti-racism groups. A policy on Nazi symbols was being demanded. Initially, Milne hesitated. “If you ban them, you ban Sex Pistols on the jukebox,” he tells me. Milne isn’t racist – he is a libertarian. As it was, police asked Sweetman not to return and management endorsed an anti-Nazi symbol policy.
There aren’t so many neo-Nazis haunting Australia. EXIT puts the number at 200. Victoria Police has a similar estimation, and paints a picture of sclerotic inter- and intra-tribal disputes. There’s no movement; that would suggest momentum. Rather it’s a tiny subterranean amoeba, incoherent and racked by as much suspicion and animosity of each other as of the “enemy”.
According to police, there are two distinct movements in Victoria’s radical right wing. There are “white pride” and “Aussie pride” groups. White pride groups take their cues from Hitler and are obsessed with Jews; Aussie pride groups are more bent on Asian, Middle Eastern and African immigration. This separation is a weakness, but is only one of many differences. Police fix the Cronulla riots as the latter’s most infamous expression.
The largest white supremacy group in Victoria is the Southern Cross Hammerskins, formed in 1993 by Scott McGuiness. They have chapters in other states also, and are local splinters of what is an international group. Wade Michael Page – who in 2012 stormed a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and shot seven people dead – was a Hammerskin and sang for hatecore group End Apathy.
Perhaps incongruously, police say the Hammerskins take their name from Pink Floyd’s animated film The Wall, which featured goose-stepping claw hammers. The SC Hammerskins have a formal membership structure, much like bikies, and full members display insignia. There is also Crew 38, which serves as a support club for unpatched recruits or for people who can’t become full members because of work or family. Members of both groups are required to practise the hallowed “14 words” of white supremacy – “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children” – and live a “good, clean lifestyle”. They rarely do.
The Hammerskin elders are beefy and tattooed with cobwebs, death’s heads and SS bolts. Sometimes they glare at the camera with self-conscious intensity; most often with an unctuous smirk. There are young acolytes, the ones with something to prove, and they’re much smaller and scrawnier. One day, if maturity doesn’t intervene, they will be like their fraternal papas.
They take proud group shots in suburban backyards filled with plastic furniture, brick paving and dogs. At music gigs, you’ll often find them topless – their chests, backs and bellies emblazoned with ink. There will be few women around, and security will stand, arms folded, in front of the stage facing the crowd. While one elder is a teetotal Christian, booze features in most photos they take of each other.
The Victorian Hammerskins’ leader is known to police, Fleming and antifa activists, but he has never been publicly named. He is a hatecore band member and music promoter, and runs a small graphic design firm that creates album covers and band posters. He is also a father.
According to EXIT counsellors, the psychological profile of neo-Nazis is similar to that of bikies – they were once lonely, marginalised or victimised people who have sought the comfort and definition of a fraternity. For many, the transformation from social invisibility to figures of intimidation is thrilling. Bikies like to consider themselves the last free men in society, but many remain hopelessly chained to their pasts. Neo-Nazis proclaim a clear-eyed intellectual superiority – they alone can see what’s coming – but are just as shackled to their histories. It’s also tempting to view the neo-Nazis – and their militantly opposed anarchist rivals, such as Andy Fleming – as similar people: fierce but broken, engaged in a symbiotic struggle on the fringes.
The man incorrectly identified last month as Andy Fleming, and menaced by phone, recorded the number of the person calling to threaten him. He gave it to me and the following day I rang it. Not surprisingly, there was no answer. An hour later, I tried again.
“Hello, this is Glen.”
I was astonished he’d answered; more astonished he’d provided his name. I stated who I was and where I worked. “Glen, I understand that this phone number has been used to harass a man you mistakenly believe to be Andy Fleming.”
There was a long pause.
“Yeah, what do you want?”
“Glen, are you a member of the Australia First Party?”
“Maybe, maybe not,” he sneered.
“I believe you’ve been harassing a man, and you in fact have his identity wrong.”
“What’s this about?”
“The blog that uncovers neo-Nazis.”
He laughed bitterly. “That guy’s anti-white. And there’s no Nazis in Australia. Get your fucking facts straight, mate. If you mean right-wing people who care about their culture and don’t want blacks turning it into a Third World shithole, then yeah.”
He hung up.
Days later, the identities of two other men believed to Fleming – both incorrect – were published on Stormfront and related websites. It seemed that they had implicitly accepted they were wrong in the first instance, and were now trying a buckshot approach.
In 2012, Maurice Girotto became the only Australia First candidate elected to government in Australia when he successfully stood for Penrith council in Sydney’s west. A little over a year later, on Halloween 2013, Girotto resigned from the party, continuing as an independent councillor. He had fallen out with the party’s leader, Jim Saleam, a stalwart of racial politics who has been jailed for his part in a shotgun attack on a member of the African National Congress. He had this to say to his constituents: “I will broadly retain the Australia First Party platform … I remain the same man, with the same beliefs.”
I called Girotto, who works as a mechanic, for comment about the “outing” of Andy Fleming. I found him at work and as we spoke he intermittently gave instructions to colleagues. I asked him if knew about – and supported – the erroneous publication of Fleming’s details. “I have no idea about that, mate. None. I’ve resigned from the Australia First Party.”
“What do you think of what your old party has done?”
“I’m not responsible for other people’s actions. I want to make that clear.”
He had made that clear. In other words, he had quit the party that got him to office to escape the damage that comes when party colleagues practise vigilantism in the name of racial purity. He had, of course, been careful to signal to voters that his views hadn’t changed. He was having it both ways. I put this to him.
“No. I’ve left the party. Do I believe in this country? Yes. But I am not supportive of Jim Saleam and I want to distance myself as much as possible.”
“Why didn’t you say this in your media release?”
He paused. “Well, how do you do a media release?”
For now, Fleming’s identity remains safe. He has no intention of halting his strange and shaggy work against the boneheads in the shadows. “Some of them I feel sorry for,” he says. “Imagine being in their head?”