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Offence is no defence

Ada Lee had an emotional Facebook conversation with the self-professed ‘soldiers’ of the Australian Defence League.

“Fuck anyone who defends Islam. They don’t deserve life, to defend those who align themselves with a death cult that has snatched life and joy and basic human rights away.”

It’s a hate-filled message, wrapped in the proclamation of defending human rights. This is one of the last things the Australian Defence League soldiers (ADL

Soldiers) say in our Facebook conversation.

Inspired by the English Defence League and set up in early 2010, the ADL is a loosely defined group of extreme, anti-Islam advocates in Australia, best known for their provocative presence on social media. A quick Facebook search uncovers dozens of different pages, with different location bases and sometimes, different leaders.

ADL Soldiers was created to be a “more hard-hitting… information page”, according to Ralph Cerminara, page admin and President of the ADL. With almost 3000 followers, the ADL Soldiers page features videos of ISIS atrocities, declarations of war against Islam, Andrew Bolt reports, and defensive words about why they are not racist or bigoted despite what “loonie left wing mates” might say.

Our Facebook interactions are tumultuous, as multiple ADL members reply from the same account. At times, it feels like tiptoeing around an angry and volatile child, one that could snap
in an instant.

At one point, Cerminara reassures me that he hates racism and loves Asian people (“I am married to an Asian girl”). But when I ask if the ADL identifies as neo-Nazi, another user takes the reins and tells me his war veteran grandfather would shoot me if I asked him the same question.

They emphasise that they are not condemning a race but rather, an ideology they perceive as “a religion of war, of deception and slavery, of sexism, of paedophilia”. In organising a Sydney meeting, they remind followers that the ADL welcomes people “from all racial groups and from all religions excepting the death cult of Islam”.

As we have seen in the rising spate of Islamophobic attacks against Muslim women and mosques, more and more Australians are using the atrocities of Muslim extremists to define and justify punishment against all Muslims. For ADL Soldiers, there is no such thing as the moderate Muslim.

The group insists they “have never attacked anyone,” yet they do not condemn those who do. “If people verbally abuse people then that’s them, they are sick to death of islamists raping young girls, planning to blow up people at the AFL grand final, Sharia law, marrying underage girls, it goes on and on,” Cerminara says.

Just last month, Cerminara posted a video on YouTube (now deleted) threatening, “another Cronulla is coming, and I can’t wait until it does, because this time, we’re going to show you who’s boss”. He posted it after five Muslim men allegedly attacked him in Lakemba because he was taking photos of women in niqabs and posting them online.

Cerminara frames the 2005 Cronulla Riots using the discourse of war, emphasising the gang rapes and attacks on lifeguards that preceded it. “All wars have civilian casualties…Aussies had enough,” he says. “Bad thing like any war is there were acts that were not called for, but that’s war, and when a foreign body comes to your country and rapes your women, tries to blow up your buildings and more, we are at war.”

Maybe we are at war. When the West invades the Middle-East, when we hear endless stories of women in hijabs and niqabs being harassed on the streets, when we see images of 5000 flag-wavers attacking people of Middle-Eastern descent in Cronulla, it breeds the perfect climate for people from either side to recede further and further into the shadows of extremism, polarised and marginalised from the demonised Other.

At the end of the Facebook thread, there is a battle among page admins arguing whether to stop speaking to me. The words reek of paranoia, insularity and intolerance of criticism.

“Fuck anyone who defends Islam … We will never stop. We will never stop learning about this death cult.”